What’s the matter with MATTER?


“You…your joys and sorrows…ambitions, your sense of personal identity…are…no more than the vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” *


                     –Francis Crick

                            Nobel Prize winner (1962)**


Gloomy but true?  A lasting–and logical–legacy of modern science?  

[For MORE use the DOOR.]





Crick’s a brilliant man, but his view here falls short.

According to Oxford philosopher Keith Ward, “…this picture of human life is both “scientifically questionable” and “philosophically naive.

In Ward’s  More Than Matter? What Humans Really Are (Lion, 2010), he begins by citing Crick (as given above), then declaring, “Moreover, it undermines the belief that human beings, with their thoughts, feelings, ambitions, and moral challenges and ideals, have intrinsic worth, and that worth lies in their mental lives, not in the behavior of their nerve-cells, however complicated.”

And he speaks from a philosophical, not a particular religious viewpoint.

Later he ends his intro with this statement:

Human persons are not accidental mistakes in a pointless perambulation *** of fundamental particles. They are a window into the inner reality, value, and purpose of the cosmos.”

In his second chapter (of More… ) he identifies 5 of many different philosophical approaches (which I’ll name and you can race over…unless you drag yourself into an endnote ****): phenomenalism, naive realism, materialism (or naturalism), dualism, and epiphenomenalism, all of which have “defenders” which can take you in deep. (Still Ward’s book is readable–and not without humor–and may be just what some of you are looking for…)

Ward’s point (which I’ll risk generalizing): In the discipline of philosophy, before the 20th century, very few philosophers would identify themselves as “materialist philosophers”; in the 20th century, many philosophers, due to the rapid  progress and amazing power of modern science, joined the materialist bandwagon, often identifying themselves as “logical positivists”–which, at present by the way, as a movement, according to Ward (and others), is dead. Now, due to the exciting, but “confusing,” (as we hope we’ve shown) research of modern physics, not many philosophers would declare themselves materialists. At the conclusion of the featured presentation at the annual Boyle lecture at Oxford (in 2007*****), Ward declared that “creationism” (as typically poorly described******) should not be taught in science classes in British schools.

But, shockingly, he ended by saying, “Neither should materialism.” (His point: We shouldn’t force any philosophy upon the discipline of science.)

We’ll examine more about Ward’s way at looking at humanity in future posts. (And, in case you missed it, you might want to examine the second post back, “Starting Scientific Work.”)


* Ward begins his book with Crick’s assertion which is taken from Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1994, p.11.

** Crick shared The Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1962 with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins for the discovery of the structure of DNA.

*** “Perambulation,” an interesting word here. Consider its British meaning: “historically walking around (a parish, a forest, etc.) in order to officially assert and record its boundaries.”

**** The “5 philosophies” by the number (as above): (1) All human knowledge is built up from, and is basically limited to, sense-experience; (2) The world exists very much as we see it, even when we are not observing it; (3–which is materialism) Only material objects, perhaps publicly observable objects in space-time, are ultimately real; (4) matter and mind or spirit are basically different; and (5) [I’ll spare you this one…]. And, if you dig, there are even other philosophical viewpoints. But let’s not go there.  Materialism, though currently popular, is, according to Ward, far less plausible than dualism, or various forms of “idealism.” (The issue here: Can the materialism inherent in science be logically and systematically looked at in more than one philosophical framework?) 

***** See the Oxford Boyle Lecture video, “Misusing Darwin: The Materialist Conspiracy,” (given in 2007, made available in 2012. Turn down the volume at first, however, or prepare to be blasted out by some annoying 30-sec. ad. This video may seem a bit tedious, but some here may really enjoy it.)

****** Please realize that “creationism”–said that way as one word–in public debate, has often deliberately and falsely, been equated with young-earth creationism, or the premise that the universe can be no older than 10,000 years. I will not discuss that issue here, but many Bible-believing Christians who have no problem with the “old age” findings of science, find their conclusions about creation unnecessarily blurred and discarded. And, unfortunately, this needless mixing has been done by people who should know better if they want a focused discussion. “Young earth,” I presume, is Ward’s main concern here. Consequently, those creationists who have no problem with accepting the Big Bang and an age of 13.7 billion years are wise to identify themselves as “old-earth creationists.” Often this spares o-e creationists needless “pre-arguments” with scientists so narrowly focused in their discipline that they haven’t done much homework on creation/evolution issues. Long ago this once happened to me. In a university debate I opened the case for creation by identifying myself as an old-earth creationist and began by briefly showing 8 different ways through history Christians have reconciled an ancient age of the universe, which they had no basic problem with, with Biblical text, and then passed out duplicated charts (before Power-point) to clarify. In rebuttal, my opponent had come only with arguments against a young-earth position, a case I never gave him. The debate was over soon after it started. [And, for the record, old-earth creation in no way demands accepting “Darwinian evolution,” a related but different issue that needs careful defining for reasonable discussion elsewhere.]