Saturday, April 20, 2013

Mind Over Matter

Barry Arrington at Uncommon Descent has posted a number of quotes from the founder of modern quantum mechanics and Nobel Prize winner (1918) Max Plank. Unlike many physicists of his time and ours, Plank was not a materialist. He believed that everything in the universe ultimately reduces to consciousness, and that mind underlies the phenomena that science studies. Here's a sampling of the quotes Arrington put up at UD:
As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.

I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.
Not only did Plank spurn the materialist faith of many of the scientists of his day (and ours), he also had disdain for the attempts by scientists (like Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, and Stephen Hawking) to bury religious belief:
Under these conditions it is no wonder, that the movement of atheists, which declares religion to be just a deliberate illusion, invented by power-seeking priests, and which has for the pious belief in a higher Power nothing but words of mockery, eagerly makes use of progressive scientific knowledge and in a presumed unity with it, expands in an ever faster pace its disintegrating action on all nations of the earth and on all social levels. I do not need to explain in any more detail that after its victory not only all the most precious treasures of our culture would vanish, but — which is even worse — also any prospects at a better future.
This is an important point, I think. There's so much in our culture that is beautiful and noble, and just about all of it is rooted in the Christian tradition that the secularists and new atheists seek to ignore or eradicate. Read, for instance, what Jurgen Habermas, an atheistic philosopher, says about our culture's indebtedness to its Christian heritage:
Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is post-modern chatter.
Habermas might have added science to his list of goods that are rooted in the Christian worldview. That worldview holds that the universe is the ordered creation of a rational God, that it is governed by logical laws, and that through the use of reason and empirical investigation its secrets can be uncovered. It also holds that the world is given to man for his use and is neither sacred, as the pantheists and others believed, nor contemptible, as the Greeks believed. Thus it is no sacrilege to study it and no defilement to work with it. It was these assumptions, widely held in the Christian world of post-Roman Europe, that allowed science to grow and flourish. It did so nowhere else because no other worldview was compatible with sustained scientific investigation.

Finally, since we're on the topic of Christian contributions to culture, we might also mention the modern university, hospitals, charities, art and music, women's rights and almost everything else that, when we stop to think about it, we consider a blessing. Christianity is the fountain of all this, but the secularists wish to ignore it, and the new atheists want to do away with it. What they yearn for and advocate, however, would amount to cultural suicide.