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 to.

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.

Daniel Hindes


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