Science in Christian Perspective



Our Attitude Toward Materialism
William J. Tinkle

From: JASA 12 (September 1960): 25-26.

Since materialism often is mentioned in the pages of the Journal and usually without a definition or discussion of the meaning, it may be well to discuss the term.

.For a complete definition of the doctrine of materialism one should consult a book on philosophy. It usually includes a statement that there is nothing in the universe except matter and motion, or nothing except that which can be explained by the laws of chemistry and physics. Such a statement strongly infers a kinship between science and materialism. But we as Christians find it alien to our thought because it rules out God. The philosophers set the doctrine on our doorstep and say, "It is your baby"; but we say we have a good alibi.

We who deny the doctrine of materialism claim that we do not cramp the natural sciences. No science depends upon the doctrine. It has been a fellow traveler in some instances but not necessarily so.

Christians who are scientists recognize mechanism as a reality. Mechanical principles are employed even in our bodies, for the heart is a pump and our limbs are levers.

We do not agree with Berkeley and Mrs. Eddy that matter has no existence. It is true that we can not know objects as they really are, for all we have is our sensations which have come from sight, touch, hearing, etc. But when I have a sensation of one object affecting another object, for instance, an ax cutting down a tree, those objects must be more than sensations in my mind.

Christians part company with materialists, however, when the latter say that there is nothing but that which physical science can describe. Negation is not founded upon observed facts but is merely opinion. A scientist might say, "In my laboratory I have found nothing except that which agrees with the doctrine of materialism," but if he is truthful, he does not say that his research represents all the reality in the world.

Extreme determinism, which is the ultimate goal of materialism, certainly is unproved. But it is not advocated so much as formerly since physicists have demonstrated that the motion of minute particles can not be predicted except as averages of large numbers.

Certainly God is not limited by the average behavior of bodies, large or small. He usually acts in a way which can be predicted and it is well for us that He does so. But to limit God to only one reaction would place Him lower than the animals. Even an amoeba chooses what it will do. When touched with a rod, it sometimes glides away as fast as it can, but af other times it contracts in-to a ball.

As scientists we deal with matter but as men and women we recognize the reality of such entities as courage, faith, hope, and love. We recognize such words as ought and regret which would have no meaning in a system of materialistic monism.