I’m reading a wonderful book by Nancy Pearcey called Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, & Meaning. You can tell she was deeply influenced by the great Francis Schaeffer as she weaves the implications of thought through history and expertly ties them to the consequences that inevitably follow. If we are not “thinking God’s thoughts after him,” in the words of Johannes  Kepler, they will lead to destruction, and there is plenty of evidence of that as she details in the book. I want to quote a section of a chapter called “Meaningless Materialism” because it is brilliant. Every Christian in our secular age needs to understand what she’s saying about materialism, and its inherent weakness, it’s pathetically inherent weakness. Since the so-called Enlightenment, Christians have been on the defensive about the ultimate spiritual nature of reality; materialism reigns in secular cultures. But it is materialists who must defend their materialism, but they can’t. So they mostly don’t try; we ought not to let them get away with that. We can have every confidence that the Christian view of reality is infinitely more plausible, and defensible, than the materialists view. I encourage you to take the time to read Nancy closely, and understand her argument; it is faultless.

The Meaningless of Materialism

Against this background, we can understand why Darwin’s 1859 theory of natural selection invoked a firestorm of controversy. The idea of evolution itself was not all that revolutionary. Various versions of evolution had already been proposed long before Darwin. But these earlier versions had presumed a God or Mind behind the evolutionary process, providentially directing it according to some goal, plan, purpose, or design. The reason Darwin’s theory was so controversial was that he denied any concept of design. As biologist Jerry Coyne explains, Darwin’s ideas “imply that, far from having a divinely scripted role in the drama of life, our species is the accidental and contingent result of a purely natural process.” A biography of Darwin puts it this way: “Where most men and women generally believed in some kind of design in nature—some kind of plan and order—and felt a deep-seated, mostly inexpressible belief that their existence had meaning, Darwin wanted them to see all life as empty of any divine purpose.”

The core of the evolution controversy can thus be phrased in simple terms: Did mind create matter? Or did matter give rise to mind? According to a theistic worldview, mind is primary. It is the fundamental creative force in the universe (whether God created the world quickly by fiat or slowly by a gradual process). Darwin reversed things. According to his theory, matter is the primary creative force, and mind emerged only very late evolutionary history.

To be more precise, mind does not exist at all. Only the brain exists. Our thoughts are merely byproducts of neurons firing in the brain, driven ultimately by the need for survival. In the words of Harvard paleontologist Stephen J. Gould, “Darwin applied a consistent philosophy of materialism to his interpretation of nature” in which “mind, spirit, and God as well, are just words that express the wondrous results of neuronal complexity. That is, they are merely concepts that appear in the human mind when the electrical circuitry of the brain has evolved to a certain level of complexity.”

The problem with this view is that it undercuts itself. If ideas are merely the “result of neuronal complexity,” then that applies to all ideas—including the idea of materialism itself. It too is the byproduct of neurons firing in the brain. In which case, why should we give it any credence?

Materialists like to single out views they disagree with and discredit them by applying evolutionary accounts of their origin. But in the process, they are cutting off the branch they are sitting on. In order to be logically consistent, they must apply the same evolutionary accounts to their own views—which makes their views just as meaningless as those they are trying to discredit. To borrow a metaphor from apologist Greg Koukl, materialism commits suicide. When caught in the noose of its own categories, it self-destructs.

The only way for materialists to avoid suicide is to be logically inconsistent and exempt themselves from their own categories of analysis. As one philosopher puts it, the materialist must function as though he were an “angelic observer” who is somehow able float above the determinist cage in which he locks everyone else. Whenever a philosophy has to exempt itself from its own categories of explanation, that is a clear sign it is logically flawed.

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