Rudolf Steiner and Materialism
From: Daniel Hindes
Date: Sun Jan 18, 2004 5:38 pm
Subject: Rudolf Steiner and Materialism
Dear Tarjei and Diana,
If I might add a few points to the consideration
of materialism and science that might the help elucidate Rudolf
Steiner's position on the subject.
Materialism supposes that all things and all
actions in the physical world are effects of clauses that themselves
lie in the physical world. The spiritual does not exist, and
even if it did would have no relationship to the physical world.
Consciousness and all thoughts are effects of molecules in the
brains of evolved mammals. This is the essence of pure philosophical
materialism. In common usage the word is a pejorative for people
who enjoyed consumer goods; that may be the common usage but
it is not the philosophical meaning of the word materialism.
And it was a philosophical materialism of Rudolf Steiner objected
Materialism has a few philosophical difficulties,
such as how the world began, or the question of the prime cause,
and how something complex can come from something simple, a process
that has not been frequently observed in nature. In seeking to
explain our current world, materialism is attractive to many,
and expresses the unexamined beliefs of quite a few, but fails
for the ironic reason that it is not actually scientific.
Let us take for example the question of the
origin of life. It is widely supposed to that at some point inorganic
matter became organic matter. This assumption is widely held
in our culture (though not necessarily by scientists who are
specialists in this field). Three billion or so years ago, it
is supposed, in the primordial oceans of the developing planet
Earth simple molecules combined to form more complex structures,
and out of this the rudiments of life evolved. The only difficulty
with this hypothesis is that it has never been demonstrated.
It has, as yet, proven impossible to replicate this process.
Yet this is the essence of science: that a hypothesis must be
proven in experiments that can be repeated. Adhering strictly
to the methods of science and using logic we must say that the
origin of all physical causes has not yet been shown to lie in
the physical world. This means that materialism is an unproven
hypothesis. If someone chooses to believe that eventually this
will be proven, it must be pointed out that this is belief, or
a religion. The faith that this crucial point will eventually
be demonstrated has no more scientific validity then a faith
and the creation of the world in six days. Science itself shows
that materialism is philosophically untenable. This point has
been realized by quite a few astrophysicists as they probed the
question what, if anything, existed before the Big Bang, or why
the Big Bang happened at all. They realize that the Zen question:
Why is there something rather than nothing? cannot be answered
from the matter that exists in the physical world.
It is precisely that modern science shows
materialism to be untenable that Rudolf Steiner was at pains
to point out, and it is ironic that for this he is accused of
being and anti-scientific. For a thinker holdings strictly to
the rules of logic, the hypothesis that the physical world is
a manifestation of clauses that lie in the spiritual world -
as described by Rudolf Steiner - must have equal footing with
the hypothesis that the physical world originates from causes
within the physical world. As far as we have come with the idea
in this examination, belief either direction is just that, belief.
How to go beyond belief, well, that's another question.
Critics, and Controversy
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