With Materialistic Science, You Can't Go Wrong — Or Right
By Denyse O'Leary
I am a blogger. A special-purpose blogger actually, a Toronto-based
journalist who covers the intelligent design controversy. Yes, just a blip
among the hordes of pajamaheddin rapidly reshaping North America media along the
lines of a 1960s prediction by University of Toronto communications
professor Marshall McLuhan-a prediction that is all the more remarkable because
the Internet did not exist when McLuhan first started to reflect on its future
role. But even a blip at the top of the screen contributes to the total
In April 2005 I started the Post-Darwinist blog to catch
some straws in the wind between editions of my book on the controversy,
By Design or by Chance?. The blog has brought me
into frequent contact with scientists who are reflexive, almost robotic,
materialists. Their type is not rare, especially in the higher echelons.
According to a survey by Pulitzer Prize-winning sociologist Edward Larson
and his colleague Larry Witham, most American scientists have religious views
similar to those of the general public. For example, 41% of American PhD
scientists believe in a God to whom one can pray. 
However, as these sociologists also note, the picture changes drastically
for those scientists who belong to elite academies such as the National Academy
of Sciences (NAS). For example, when polled in 1996, only 7% of members
expressed personal belief in God and over 72% expressed personal disbelief. The
remainder expressed doubt or agnosticism.
The elite scientists' views are radically different from those turned up by
typical public opinion polls that show, for example, that 95% of Americans
believe in God. That doesn't mean that the elite scientists are wrong. But it
doesn't show that they are right either. Rather, it prompts the question, what
difference does the difference make?
The part of the story that I find suspicious is this: When NAS president
Bruce Alberts urged the teaching of Darwinian evolution in public schools in
1998, he claimed that "there are many very outstanding members of this academy
who are very religious people, people who believe in evolution, many of them
biologists." Larson and Witham commented crisply: "Our survey suggests
It might be a mistake to assume that the scientific elite holds the views
that it does simply because it consists of elite scientists. Renowned quantum
chemist Fritz Schaeffer III notes that whatever influences people in their
beliefs about God, it does not appear to have much to do with having a Ph.D. in
science. It is true in science, as well as in essentially all other
professions, that after income levels reach perhaps $50,000 per year (in North
America), further increases in salary may be correlated with higher percentages
Does the predominance of materialists in the higher echelons of science
result from the superior usefulness of materialism? As a journalist, I find
such an explanation suspiciously self-serving. It's more likely that informal
deselection is applied by a materialist establishment against people who do not
For example, in 2005 Catholic Duquesne University in Pittsburgh cancelled
its sponsorship of a lecture by a renowned quantum chemist—yes, it was indeed
the very same Fritz Schaefer who is quoted above—because some
biology professors believed him to be friendly to intelligent design. We need
hardly be surprised if the biology profs apply such a criterion to their grad
students. It surely travels with their students all the way up the line.
In that case, materialists—whether they claim to be Christian or not—have
the most to lose from a paradigm change toward recognition of the intelligent
design of the universe. Certainly, such persons lost no time in letting me know
of their disapproval of ID. One incident from my recent blogging career stands
out, for what it helped me understand about their co-dependence with legacy
mainstream American media, to maintain a blinkered view of the world.
How else to interpret the following standout from my early career as a
blogger? In July of 2005, Cardinal Archbishop Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna
started to pointedly attack Darwinism in-of all venues-the New York
Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in
the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation
and natural selection - is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to
explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not
Now that's a shot over the bow, from a church that has often been listed as
one of the supporters of (some conveniently undefined type of) evolution. But
of course the spin started almost immediately-the op-eds announced that His
Eminence doesn't really understand; mainstream biologists don't really mean that evolution is unguided and unplanned (even
though they in fact do), et cetera.
All through the late summer, I wondered, will the Catholic Church, the
world's oldest surviving institution, really stand up to the
Darwinists, before whom so many presidents and chancellors have groveled, the
very Darwinists who claim to have figured out that there really is no design in
life, despite what the vast majority of the human race has always believed?
Maybe so. In November I got one of those drop-everything calls from a
reliable source, saying look at Cardinal Schoenborn's Web site now!
Well, that was certainly a chance to dust off my rusty high school German-and
yes, there the Card was, saying that the Pope approves his comments distancing
the Catholic Church from Darwinism.
Better yet, the Pope had used the term "progetto intelligente" - (=
intelligent design) to describe the universe in an Italian
language talk. Fluent Italian speakers informed me that this is the
very term that the Italian media use when reporting on the intelligent design
controversy in the United States.
Now, the really interesting part of this story, for our purposes, isn't
either Cardinal Schoenborn's or Benedict XVI's views, which should not really
have been surprising. The Catholic Church, not to put too fine a point on it,
is not a materialist organization; its view of materialism is best illustrated
by the fact that, in order to be canonized as
a Catholic saint, a person must have at least twice set aside the "laws of
nature" by working a miracle, when asked to do so in prayer. It is irrelevant
whether you accept the Catholic theology of sainthood or not. The point to see
here is that such a view could only be held by people who disdain everything
that the Darwinist earnestly stands for.
The only reason that the Pope's or the Cardinal's views were remotely
surprising to anyone is the fact that American media are so out of touch with
what is happening that they continually turn to misleading sources of guidance for interpretation of official
Catholic views. Typical American media stars include Vatican astronomer George
Coyne and process theologian John Haught, neither of whom are close to
the Pope in the sense that Schoenborn is.
The most interesting part of the story is the reaction of some identified
Christian scientists with whom I have corresponded. Typically, they wanted to
draw a distinction between an alleged American Protestant "Intelligent Design"
and a Catholic "intelligent design," a distinction they fiercely maintain.
Obviously, the Pope is neither an American nor a Protestant, so we need not
suppose that he draws on those sources of guidance. But one physicist of
Episcopal persuasion announced that he wouldn't believe that the Pope had meant
intelligent design unless he said it in English. As if the concept of
functionally equivalent translation had never existed.
But, you know, I doubt it would really matter if the Pope said it in
English. In that case, it would be greeted with a loud roar of silence. In many
science circles, religious authorities are only heeded when they either uphold
the claims of radical materialism or mark off a meaningless "religious" space
that does not directly conflict with those claims (unless materialists choose
to invade and take over that space, which the materialists are free to do at
any time and on any pretext.)
As I reflect on the materialist scientists who have attacked and derided me
for publishing news on my blog over the last few months, I begin slowly to
understand the fatal weakness of materialism: It is a monistic philosophy. It
provides no space for alternative opinions; everything must fit a materialistic
framework and therefore any materialist explanation, no matter how defective or
silly, must be preferred to any non-materialist explanation, however
With a formula like that, you can't go wrong. You can't go right either. In
fact, you can't go anywhere.
 McLuhan was not, it should be noted, a flower-strewn 1960s hippie. It is
true that hippies often appropriated his legacy but he was actually a devout
Catholic and a follower of Thomistic philosophy. He saw the potential of
electronic media to undermine tyrannies based on collectivist ideologies
because they could put individuals in direct touch with each other, overriding
the controlling collectives that channel them apart. That is why he coined the
term "global village." My talk on his role and significance, at GodBlogCon, a
blogging conference in September 2005 at Biola University in Los Angeles, has
been archived as a podcast.
 See Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham, "Leading scientists still reject
God," Nature (1998), vol. 394: 313.
 Quoted in Henry F. "Fritz" Schaefer, III, "Stephen Hawking, the Big
Bang, and God," a public lecture available at http://www.origins.org/articles/schaefer_bigbangandgod.html.
 As a book editor and voting member of the Editors' Association of
Canada, I have simply been unable to get them to see that, in modern usage,
lower case is generally favored and that their distinction will certainly die
the death of a thousand qualifications.
BIOSKETCH: Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse
O'Leary is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or
by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design
controversy. She was named Recommended Canadian Author of the Year in 2005 and
is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming
The Spiritual Brain (Harper 2007), a look at the neuroscience evidence for the existence of a
human mind that is not merely a function of the brain.