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The Materialist Narrative and the Power of Bias


Scientists in Western cultures have been trained to see the world through a materialist metanarrative where the only acting players are matter and energy. In other words, the universe is a closed system where no higher power or non-material forces are believed to interact. Those inculcated with this way of thinking see nature through a lens where all evidence for design is assumed to be an illusion, so all arguments for design are treated a priori as false. In contrast, those operating from a non-materialist viewpoint typically see the world though a design-tolerant lens. From this perspective, the materialists appear to demonstrate as much bias and disregard for empirical evidence as they accuse design proponents of exhibiting.

As an example, the evidence for design is found ubiquitously throughout life, and an extremely strong case is made that it can be objectively detected through the same methods used in such disciplines as archaeology, cryptography, SETI, and forensics. This point should be obvious considering that even Richard Dawkins acknowledges that life looks designed. Materialists dismiss all of this evidence by simply appealing to the perceived unlimited power of natural selection, which even leading evolutionary theorists increasingly question. A primary reason for such doubts is that the genetic variation in every species is only sufficient to allow for changes in superficial features, and observed mutations which could potentially expand the range require altering an organism’s basic architecture during development. But such mutations are always harmful.

Materialists also ignore that a general feature of life found at every organizational level is irreducible complexity which directly conflicts with their expectations. However, they often simply assert that cooption can explain it away even though that approach appears to fail upon close examination. From the non-materialist perspective, materialists seem to follow the same pattern they attribute to creationists, disregarding enormous amounts of evidence that conflicts with their beliefs.

In addition, they often recycle arguments against design that stem from a lack of understanding of the underlying theory. For instance, they have pointed to the ability of the immune system to generate random sequences of amino acids which allow antibodies to bind to antigens. They then assert that this capacity demonstrates that natural processes can easily generate specified complexity, thus discrediting the possibility of design detection. However, a main criterion for identifying design is that the improbability of a pattern or sequence far exceeds the number of potential trials available to randomly match it. In the case of antibodies, the probability for a random sequence binding to an antigen is far too high, so this example would not trigger the identification of design.

Similarly, materialists often argue that information can be generated from complex systems theory or thermodynamic processes. However, these claims ignore the need for an information-bearing medium to allow for any possible sequence of letters or symbols without significant bias. Therefore, the sequencing cannot, by logical necessity, be the result of any such physical or chemical explanation. These errors should have been corrected long ago, but they are still uncritically passed along.

Equally problematic, the evolution of complex adaptations faces insurmountable mathematical challenges. For instance, Durrett and Schmidt estimated that the time required for two coordinated mutations to appear in our human ancestors was greater than 100 million years. Yet, the number of coordinated mutations needed to create one new targeted long-range neural connection in the brain far exceeds a single pair. And the minimal number of new highly specified connections required to initiate some new cognitive capacity such as vocal learning is certainly well beyond the hundreds. As a result, the gap between the time available compared to the time required for any undirected evolutionary process to produce such an adaptation is immense.

Materialists are typically not very aware of how their own bias colors their interpretation of data. With such an understanding, thoughtful conversations across perspectives could take place far more often. Most, after all, are attempting to advance their case from sincere motives, but we commonly underestimate how our frames of reference bias our viewpoints.

Unfortunately, for many the materialist narrative has so suffused their thinking that evolutionary theory has become hopelessly intertwined with anti-religious sentiment. We would do well, then, to encourage materialists to look past their assumptions, to objectively examine the evidence for design. They might then discern the reality of intelligent involvement in nature, resulting in a collapse of the materialist philosophical framework. They would then have the freedom to consider the reality beyond the material world. I have seen this process at work numerous times.

A prime example is the story of paleontologist Günter Bechly. To begin with, he had no religious inclinations and naturally mocked the work of design proponents. However, he decided to read the design literature, and he approached the material quite differently from most critics. He read it with the intent of understanding the arguments instead of just attacking them. He then recognized the evidence for design, and this realization opened his mind to broader philosophical horizons beyond materialism. As a result, he began a spiritual journey that led him to faith. In the process, his new framework helped him to see certain features of the fossil record with greater clarity. Such clarity would, no doubt, benefit his entire profession.

Photo credit: PeterKaul, via Pixabay.