SCIENCE     versus     MATERIALISM

by     Reginald O. Kapp

SECTION I - CLEARING THE GROUND

Chapter I - WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT


THIS book is an attempt to solve, in a way which any interested layman can understand, a problem which has been hotly debated throughout the centuries. Is Matter the only reality?

Philosophers, theologians, scientists as well as others who can lay claim to no specialized knowledge, but whose concerns range beyond the petty tasks each day brings forth, have all said their say. And some of them have said yes, others no.

Those who say yes are called materialists. Those who say no have no collective name. They all believe that there are other things besides Matter, but they are not all interested in the same things.

"Matter is not everything," say many philosophers. "There is also Mind. This can be proved to have a separate existence."

"Matter is not everything," say the theologians. "There are also a God and the Souls of men. Those who do not realize this will fail to seek that spiritual guidance which alone can raise men above the level of brute creation."

"Matter is not everything," say various idealists. Among them are teachers, moralists, poets. These insist on the non-material reality of "higher things," of beauty, truth and goodness. In the materialism of our age they see the risk that mankind may ignore those things which make life most worth living. Values disappear, or, at least, have but a precarious existence in materialistic doctrine, so that, to the idealist, it seems that the materialist says: "What harm if the temple be destroyed? The stones remain."

"Yes, Matter is everything. Science proves it," says the materialist to this heterogeneous collection of opponents with their various interests, their various reasons for opposing him, their various ways of saying what they think. And always he feels a little contemptuous since they base their beliefs on considerations which he does not regard as valid. Their attitude seems to him to be due to ignorance and prejudice. For they fail to build as he does, or believe he does, "on the facts of science."

Thus a dispute has persisted for many generations which is often referred to as the conflict between science and religion, although, in fact, the theologian is but one of many protagonists supposed to be ranged against the scientist. It is sometimes said that this conflict has now been settled. Would that it had! But how can it be settled when there are those who still believe as firmly as ever that Matter is everything and those others who still believe as firmly as ever that it is not? At most, it can be said that the opponents have ceased to be as rude to each other as they were in Darwin's day when the conflict broke out into a veritable orgy of indignation and mutual vituperation. But the reason why the arguments on both sides are to-day presented with less violence is not because agreement has been reached. It is simply that the opponents have ceased to take so much notice of each other's opinions. This is admittedly one way of securing peace. But it is the way which leads to stagnation; it is not the way to truth or progress.

In this book we want to revive the old controversy and to do so in such a way as to secure the attention of both sides. We want to provide both with a common meeting ground or shall we call it a battleground? We want to put an end to the complacency with which those who hold tenaciously to their own opinions talk much and write much, but listen only to themselves or to those with whom they agree. At the same time we do not intend to seek a compromise. We shall take sides and offer our services (for what they may be worth) wholeheartedly to those who are opposed to materialism.

But we do not propose to justify the testament of faith, or of beauty, or of morality. We must leave that to others who are better qualified to speak of these more transcendental aspects of reality. We intend, instead, to start a new battle with a new challenge; for we propose to attack the materialist where he believes himself strongest, namely in the field of science. We propose to show that every one of his scientific arguments, when examined and properly understood, proves to be a weapon turned against himself.

It may be asked what part an engineer can play in this war of ideas. He is often accused, perhaps with some justification, of being one of the chief contributors to the materialism of our age. His professional training is remote from that of the philosopher. It may be thought presumptuous of him to enter the arena of philosophical controversy and to do so, moreover, as an opponent of materialism.

Perhaps it is. But it must be remembered in our defence, that but few of those with whom we propose to join issue are trained philosophers. At all times most of the greatest of these have opposed materialism. Those who have defended it have more often been amateurs like ourselves. They have been scientists whose concern with philosophy has been secondary to their concern with their own specialized subjects. They have treated their interest in materialism as a spare-time job to be taken up when the work of the day was done. Hence the dispute which is so often described as the conflict between science and religion might, with some reason, be also called the conflict between amateur philosophers and professionals.

It is true that those scientists who have answered yes most clamorously to the question whether Matter is the only reality have also often disclaimed all interest in philosophy. But this has not prevented them from contradicting trained philosophers on a question which has puzzled some of the most profound thinkers for a score of centuries or more. Perhaps those scientists who have written with such assurance have not considered that their answer belonged to the domain of philosophy. Perhaps they have thought that one is purely a scientist when one says yes to our question and a mere philosopher when one says no. Which would only go to show how deeply ingrained is the notion that scientists are necessarily wedded to materialism.

The fact that materialists are so largely amateur philosophers would, however, not justify our entry into the lists were it not that, in these days, the scientist-philosopher tends to be taken so seriously. Science stands so high in the popular esteem that any pronouncement by a scientist carries weight even when he is not speaking on his own subject. Therefore, it is possible that just because we can claim to be only a scientist-philosopher we may obtain a hearing which would, unfortunately, not be granted so readily to a trained philosopher.

The only question of credentials which we can be required to raise concerns, therefore, ourselves and those scientist-philosophers whose materialism we intend to oppose. These are mostly biologists, and they feel, no doubt, that their method of approach justifies the part they play in the controversy. For they start from the question whether or not Life is separate from the Material Universe. From this they may or may not proceed to deny the non-material reality of Mind, God and the Soul. It may be thought that biologists alone are qualified to follow such a course. For is not Life their own field of study?

No. The field of study of biologists is not Life but living organisms. They investigate the structure and behaviour of these, not the causes of such structure and behaviour. Biologists can and do get on very well without knowing what Life is, just as electrical engineers get on very well without knowing what electricity is.

And even if biologists did know more about the nature of Life than anyone has ever known about the nature of electricity, we would still maintain that such knowledge did not furnish the necessary credentials for an authoritative statement about the truth of materialism. For materialism is not primarily a theory about the nature of Life any more than it is primarily a theory about the nature of God, or about the nature of Mind. As the name implies, materialism is primarily a theory about the nature of Matter. The materialist declares that it is in the nature of Matter unaided to bring about all the things which we can observe or experience. In making this assertion he claims to know a great deal about the nature of Matter.

An engineer is justified in challenging any materialist who makes such a claim, and this fact furnishes us with our credentials. For the nature of Matter is a part of the engineer's field of study. And his knowledge must not be only theoretical. It must be proved by practical experiment. The engineer cannot afford to rely on any untested theory concerning what Matter can do and what it cannot do. If he makes mistakes they will soon find him out. His bridges will collapse, his machines will fail to work, his ships will founder. He has been disciplined in the stern school of hard facts and has been taught to accept a theory only if it can stand the test of such facts. This is why we shall claim to speak with authority when we say that Matter unaided cannot do some of those things which materialists attribute to it.

Many of the theories held by materialists concerning the powers and properties of Matter must, indeed, seem strange to an engineer. But we shall not go deeply into all of them. We shall make a selection. We shall not, for instance, discuss psychology and consider whether it is in the nature of Matter unaided to produce thoughts and feelings. This investigation is better left to trained philosophers. Nor shall we discuss in detail those queer theories about the nature of Matter which follow from the materialist's attitude towards theology, although two of them deserve passing notice at this point.

Some materialists deny the existence of God. "How then can you explain my personal experience, my inner conviction?" asks the theologian. "The answer is quite simple," is the rejoinder. "Your notion that there is a God is merely a delusion." But this answer is not so simple. If the theologian is nothing but a collection of material particles, the answer imphes that it is in the nature of Matter to have delusions.

But all materialists do not deny the existence of God. Though they deny that Matter is ever influenced by things which are not Matter some yet believe in a god. Among these are adherents of the philosophy of emergence about which we shall have more to say in due course. Founded on a metaphysics of value which we owe to the late Professor Alexander, this philosophy has developed some strange growths as it has become more fashionable and permeated the thought of an increasing number of amateur philosophers. One of these growths is the theory that God emerges from the way in which the whole of the material substance in the world is arranged, that He is due to the relationship between the component parts of our Universe. Instead of the theological view that God created Matter, this theory is that God is the result of Matter. Truly a bold theory about the nature of Matter, this.

But it will not be our main concern. Our attack on materialism will be launched, instead, there where it is often held to be most unassailable. We will select those things which biologist-philosophers attribute most confidently to the unaided action of Matter on Matter, namely the structure and behaviour of living organisms. While some may find proof that Matter is not everything in arguments based on ethics or aesthetics and others in their conviction of the existence of God or Mind, we propose to find such proof in the existence of the body. Living substance, we shall show, together with its most vegetative processes, its "lowest" manifestations, provides ample proof that Matter is not everything. This approach alone, we think, can justify an engineer's entry into philosophical controversy.

We shall find that even within the narrower field covered by the dispute between vitalists and materialists many views about the nature of Matter are either expressed or just taken for granted which cannot bear criticism. At one time most biologist-philosophers were mechanists. They asserted that living organisms are mere machines and implied thereby that it is in the nature of Matter unaided to produce machines.

These also invoked the theory of evolution in support of mechanism. They told us that the powers and complexities of living organisms are easily understood when it is realized what a long time has been available for the attainment of the present stage of perfection. In earlier times, they declared, the unaided action of Matter on Matter could not have produced man or the higher plants and animals; at the dawn of evolution it could only result in very simple shapes and very limited behaviour. The least of the properties mechanists attributed to Matter, when they said this, was a capacity for changing its mode of behaviour. They barely avoided the implication that Matter has a capacity for learning, for forming habits, for acquiring skill with practice. They told us that, under the stress of external circumstances, it produces ever better and better machines.

Other more recent biologist-philosophers declare that mechanism is out-of-date. They insist that living organisms are more than machines; they may prefer to call them self-reproducing and self-repairing systems. But as they still declare that these systems are due to the unaided action of Matter on Matter the implication is that it is in the nature of Matter unaided to produce more than machines. Though trained philosophers have, of recent years, tended to leave the nature of reality to the scientists and have given most of their attention to other branches of philosophy, Broad with his wide range of interest has, on occasion, attempted to find expression for the above-mentioned views of the biologist-philosophers. Acting as their spokesman he says, for instance, on page 92 of The Mind and its Place in Nature: "It is perfectly consistent for a man to hold that matter has no tendency to fall spontaneously into the form of machines and that it has a natural tendency to fall into the form of organisms."

As we shall find in later chapters, biologist-philosophers have been forming ever more and more fantastic theories about the nature of Matter. As, in their attempts to improve on mechanism, they have been emphasizing ever more qualities of the organic world not to be found in the world of machinery they have been attributing ever more marvellous powers to Matter. When they have insisted that living organisms are to be called self-repairing systems they have been obliged to assert that lifeless arrangements of objects repair themselves; when they have insisted that living organisms are to be called self-reproducing systems they have had to make a great effort to find arguments wherewith to convince themselves that the law according to which offspring resemble their parents is, in some disguised form, to be numbered among the laws of physics. When, again, they have emphasized that living organisms are more highly organized than machines they have had to credit Matter with a high degree of organizing ability.

It will be one of our tasks to show both that such theories about the nature of Matter really are implied in materialism and that they are untenable. We consider, in fact, that they are the materialist's Achilles' heel. In our opinion it is not a failure to appreciate "higher things," no defective sense of values, no lack of capacity for religious feeling which leads to materialism, but ignorance of the physical sciences, an ignorance only too often coupled with that little knowledge which is a dangerous thing.

In other words, materialism is, in our view, based not so much on the degradation of values as on the idealization of Matter. The former may or may not be involved, the latter is so, inevitably. For, as we have promised to show, even the "lowest" function of the humblest organism cannot be explained on materialistic lines without idealizing Matter.

This idealization appears in one of its extreme forms in the theory of the emergent school of philosophy referred to above according to which God emerges from the relationship between the objects which compose our Material Universe. Anyone whose gift of faith carries him thus far can retain the highest standard of values and yet put his trust wholly in Matter. Anyone who believes that Matter is a God or is the begetter of a God will have no need to believe in anything else. Materialism will provide him with a perfectly satisfactory working philosophy. Whether a theologian or a philosopher could approve of such idealization of Matter or even of milder forms of the same attitude is another question. As a scientist we feel intensely irritated by it.

It will be found as we proceed that this idealization of Matter is very prevalent and has a long historical background. It represents, in fact, an attitude which we all are only too prone to adopt. This alone seems to explain why the absurdities in all materialistic philosophies pass so often unnoticed.

Matter does not come to be equally richly idealized in all its aspects. Tangible substance such as one can feel between finger and thumb has to bear least, and in these days only very ignorant persons would attribute transcendental powers to liquids and gases. The idealization is applied most strongly to aspects of the Material Universe which are less evident to our senses: to energy, frequently, and to force and radiation, to the concepts employed in the theory of relativity and in quantum mechanics. Being mysterious to the layman (and often to the expert, too), these concepts appeal to amateur philosophers as suitable agents for the solution of all the world's mysteries.

Hence the popularization of modern physics has done much to encourage this tendency to idealize Matter. It is now widely known that substance and energy are interchangeable; that, in the words of the late Lord Rutherford, "the atom is a very empty affair"; that the particles scattered in this empty affair cannot be described in concrete terms at all but only in mathematical symbols; that space curves out into all sorts of elusive dimensions; that descriptions of the world now employ that mysterious quantity square root of minus one. Such facts have led Bertrand Russell to speak of "the evaporation of Matter" and bishops to wrestle with the theory of relativity in the hope of finding therein evidence that physicists are now concerned with immaterial mysteries. The layman is left with the impression that Matter is not really Matter at all, but something transcendental, something capable of the highest achievements which his mind can conceive. Then the theory according to which God emerges from the relationship between the component parts of our Universe, seems quite plausible to him.

This makes it necessary for us to explain that the materialism which we propose to attack is not one which adopts only a narrow definition of Matter. We shall not restrict the name materialist to a person who believes that God, the Soul, Mind and Life are composed of solids, liquids and gases. We shall also call him a materialist if he believes that God, the Soul, Mind and Life are composed of electricity, or radiation, or energy, or the ether of space, or quantum jumps, or the structural relation between any of these things. We shall call a person a materialist if he believes that God, the Soul, Mind and Life reside in a fourth, fifth, sixth, or nth dimension. For our definition of Matter will be the widest which can spell sense. For us Matter will include everything which has location in any system of dimensions.

Can so wide a definition leave room for anything which is not Matter? That it can and does is one of the things which we shall have to prove in due course.

Similarly, in the narrower field of the structure of living substance, we shall dispute the statement that Matter has a natural tendency to fall into the form of organisms, however this statement may be interpreted. We shall deny that even the most recent and difficult discoveries in relativity and quantum physics make it tenable. We shall not only deny that tangible substance lacks the necessary skill for falling unaided into the form of organisms when it falls, like apples, according to the laws of Newtonian mechanics. We shall also deny that particles show a natural tendency to fall into the form of organisms when they make quantum jumps. We shall assert that neither electricity, nor energy, nor radiation, nor anything else which has location can aid Matter to fall into the form of organisms. We shall insist that not even the square root of minus one is a sufficiently powerful operator to help Matter to fall into such forms.

But the task we have set ourselves is wider than the exposure of the fallacies of a few amateur philosophers. We do not want to be purely destructive and polemical. It is our aim to seek the road towards a proper understanding of the relation between Matter and those things which are not Matter. The dispute between vitalists and materialists will occupy our attention during a large part of our journey only because this dispute occurs in territory through which the path lies which leads an engineer most easily to a better appreciation both of the nature of Matter and of the nature of non-material influences.

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