Posted by: Millard J. Melnyk | January 9, 2014

Why Materialism Will Inevitably Fail

Attempts to reduce life to materialistic terms (also mistakenly referred to as “scientific” terms, which is not the same thing) will inevitably fail. It won’t be a failure to create complete materialistic explanations for important phenomena. We have already shown that we can do that. They will fail not because our materialistic explanations are incomplete, but because materialism is incomplete.

But someone will say, “We can create materialistic explanations for everything, and everything real is grounded in some form of material; so how can you say that materialism is ‘incomplete?'”

Many people do not accept that everything real is grounded in some form of material. But even ignoring the possibility that non-material reality exists, materialism is still incomplete in two important respects: time orientation and level of certainty. By “incomplete” I mean that it falls short of what we want and need a perspective to do for us. What do we want and need to do? We want and need to speak about phenomena with confidence and assurance.

Materialism can justifiably speak with confidence only about the past, less so about the present, but not at all about the future. I’m sure that will raise objections, so I’ll explain in three points:

  1. Materialistic confidence is based on empirical evidence. So, its confidence is relegated to the past, because all evidence belongs to past phenomena, not present or future phenomena. Some might say that evidence belongs to present phenomena, but in the present moment it can’t be called “evidence,” because evidence involves the interpretation of data produced by measurement or, when quantification isn’t possible, by simple observation. There is no data to interpret until after a measurement is taken or an observation made. And the interpretation takes time. So, once we actually have “evidence,” the phenomena it relates to is squarely in the past. The best we have in the present is data from phenomena, but we can’t use data until after it has been observed or measured and then collected. By that time, the phenomena it pertains to is also in the past. So, all evidence and useable data belong to past phenomena, not present or future phenomena.
  2. So, anything materialism says about the present is tentative, because it is not based on empirical evidence, since evidence never exists for present phenomena.
  3. Anything materialism says about the future is speculative, at best a matter of probability. Even if we ignored the problem of induction (and we shouldn’t), probability holds only over large numbers of phenomena. Specific to a single phenomenon in question, the chances of a specific, predicted outcome occurring are unknown, because:

    • A complete correlation of variables used to calculate the probability with the relevant variables of the phenomenon in question, i.e., those that cause its outcome, is undetermined.
    • So also is a comparison of correlated variable values undetermined. Such comparison can never be determined, because the variable values of a future phenomenon are always unknown, since it has not yet occurred. We cannot know those values until we obtain data, which means that we have to wait until the phenomenon occurs and we collect the data.
    • So, we literally can’t apply probability to future phenomena in any measurable, empirical way, not because of practical problems, but by the very nature of the timing of data collection.
    • What’s more, the possibility that a given phenomenon in question involves relevant variables not included in the set of variables used to calculate the probability, i.e., outliers, is never known until after a prediction fails, investigation is undertaken, and the outlying variable is identified. Then it must be incorporated into the set of variables used to calculate the probability before subsequent predictions can address similar phenomena involving the newly incorporated variable. So, prediction is always prone to an inevitable margin of error, part of which is always undetermined.

But that doesn’t exhaust the incompleteness of materialism. At best, materialism enables us to address the least interesting and least important of our questions: what happened. It only marginally addresses what is happening. It only appears to approximately address what will happen. So, we need most to know the very things that materialism tells us the least about.

And all the above doesn’t even touch materialism’s principal shortcoming.

We need to know what will happen with certainty. Materialism doesn’t even claim or attempt to give us that.

Some materialists would love to have us believe that we can do without certainty. Of course they do, because if some other approach could provide the certainty of which materialism is incapable, materialism would quickly find itself eclipsed by that approach. And their claim is ironic, maybe even disingenuous, judging from their own aspirations, because they would certainly embrace certainty if they could find a way; and they do in fact strive to find ways, even though the very nature of the materialistic approach precludes it. Apparently, certainty is so desirable and compelling that even those who decry the need for it seek it, in spite of the fact that their method rules it out.

This is why, even with the amazing successes of science and technology, both heavily dependent on the materialistic approach, people continue to demand something more, a certainty which materialism cannot provide. This is why people resort to amazingly ridiculous beliefs and practices that fly in the face of reason, science, and physical fact. The human psyche requires more; and if reason, science, and physical fact can’t provide it, we are bound to look elsewhere. On the flip side of the same coin, it’s ridiculous to maintain that the psychological necessity for certainty can be avoided or eliminated.

This is why we need more than materialism. This is why materialism will inevitably fail, either by the advent of reasonable approaches that provide certainty, or by our descent into irrationality in search of a Holy Grail. Because, if we don’t find a rational approach that provides certainty, people will continue to embrace irrationalities that promise it, despite the consequences.


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