Science is at its peak. Its triumph seems indisputable. Its influence unassailable. Success after success, discovery after discovery have occurred over the last three hundred years. Atoms have been smashed, a subatomic world revealed, diseases averted, the human genome mapped, and a view of working of the universe created. Science has created the gold standard for determining truth through replicable experimentation, double-blind trials, and objective evidence. Underpinning modern science are two fundamental beliefs: scientism and materialism. Scientism is an excessive belief in the power of scientific knowledge and techniques. It promotes allopathic medicine over other healing traditions, advocates evolution, and dismisses religion and the supernatural. Materialism is sometimes defined as considering material possessions and physical comfort more important than spiritual values. However, in science and philosophy, materialism is the belief that nothing exists in the universe except matter and its movements. There is no room for God within the doctrine of materialism.
Despite the apparent intellectual triumph of scientism, unexpected problems are disrupting science from within. There are serious questions over evidence, objectivity, and fixed scientific laws. There are also fundamental flaws with the philosophy of materialism, which underpins much of modern science. These questions and debates are known to many scientists but are either ignored or glossed over. The Science Delusion explores these problems.
The author is not antiscience. He has spent his adult life as a scientist and is convinced of the importance of the scientific approach. He is well qualified to write on the subject after studying at Cambridge and Harvard, before taking up a Cambridge fellowship. He has authored eighty peer-reviewed papers in prestigious journals, and written ten books. He wrote the book to move beyond a scientific dogma that restricts free inquiry, and imprisons imaginations.
The central doctrine of materialism is that matter is the only reality. Therefore, consciousness ought not to exist, for consciousness and human experience has no material reality. Proponents of materialism hold that there is nothing more to the mind than what happens in the brain. In the early twentieth century, memory was compared to connections in a telephone exchange. Now, memory is thought of as storage and recall similar to a computer hard drive. For the materialist, memories must be stored as physical traces in the brain, because physical matter is the only reality. Therefore when a person thinks or remembers something he is simply accessing a thought stored physically in the brain. Attempts to locate physical memory traces have been unsuccessful, despite a century of trying at a cost of many billions of dollars.
There are logical problems with this understanding of memory. For a memory to be consulted there needs to be a retrieval system. This system needs to identify the memory it is looking for. In order to recognize the memory, the retrieval system must itself have a memory, this in turn would need a retrieval system, which would also need a memory, a never-ending arrangement. There is also a structural problem. Memories persist for decades, yet the nervous system is continually changing, as are the molecules within it. Almost all the molecules in the body, with the exception of DNA, turn over within days, weeks, or a few months. How and where is a physical memory trace stored? The absurdity of the materialist view of memory is further illustrated by a condition called hydrocephalus. The skull of people with hydrocephalus is filled with cerebrospinal fluid, at the expense of the physical brain, which is significantly diminished. Despite having a reduced physical brain, normal mental function is still possible. One young man with hydrocephalus had virtually no brain. His skull was lined only with a thin layer of brain cells about 1 mm thick, while the rest was fluid. He still obtained a first-class degree from a prestigious British university.
For committed materialists thoughts are located physically inside brains, and mental activity is nothing but electrochemical brain activity. Thoughts cannot be read, nor projected, and people cannot influence others at a distance. However, the author’s mind was changed following a conversation with Sir Rudolph Peters, Professor of Biochemistry at Oxford. His friend, an ophthalmologist, had a patient who was severely disabled, mentally dysfunctional, and almost blind. As expected, the patient was usually unable to read the letters on an optician’s board. However, at odd times during testing the boy was able to read the letters. This was variable and inexplicable. It was observed that the almost blind boy could read the letters only when his mother was looking at them. Intrigued, researchers put the mother in a separate room, showing a series of numbers and words. The boy in a different room was able to recite most of them correctly. This was no fairground trick. Cambridge University researchers then moved the mother to a laboratory six miles away from her son. The test was continued by phone, the boy continued to guess correctly. The odds of this happening by chance were billions to one. The boy was influenced by the thoughts of his mother.
This is not an isolated example. Since 1880 there have been several hundred studies and papers on the subject of telepathy. Many of the studies were carried out at highly respected universities such as Duke, North Carolina, and Cambridge. Often the studies were carried out in strict laboratory conditions far removed from how telepathy might be carried out in everyday life. Often the senders and receivers were strangers; sometimes the senders of thoughts were many miles away from the receivers. Time and time again the results are statistically in favor of some form of telepathy. The point of these studies is not to promote a belief in telepathy. It is to question a materialist understanding of the mind and human experience, which limits human experience and all mental activity to physical traces located within the brain.
In 1927, a Roman Catholic priest first proposed the Big Bang theory. It was not widely accepted, and did not become scientific orthodoxy until the 1960s. The theory proposed that the universe sprang from utter nothingness in a single moment, and with it the appearance of all matter and energy, with all the laws that govern them. Astronomers were slow to adopt the Big Bang theory precisely because of its theological implications. One leading British physicist suggested the Big Bang theory was part of a conspiracy to shore up Christianity, bringing in God as Creator of the universe. However, following further research by astronomers, the Big Bang theory was adopted as scientific orthodoxy in the late 1960s.
Cosmologists prefer to think that there are innumerable existing universes, each with different laws and constants. We occupy the universe that is just right for us, and it is the only universe we can observe precisely because it is the only one right for our needs. This multiverse theory assumes that particular laws were built into each separate universe at the moment of its big bang. These laws and constants of nature explain why conditions are just right for human life on this planet. The principle holds that even slightly different laws and constants would make it impossible for carbon-based life to exist. Even if this is so there is still an unanswered question: how does a universe know which laws it is meant to follow, how are these imprinted? To date, we do not understand how this might be the case. The multiverse theory also violates the scientific canons of testability, observation, and replicability. It only finds support from mathematical speculation. Another possible solution is to suggest an Intelligent Designer that imprints and tunes the laws of the universe at the point of the Big Bang. This creates conditions exactly right for human life. But this is an appeal to a Divine Mind, and that is contrary to the atheist spirit of scientism, so is not subject to discussion.
Another speculative theory holds that the universe is part of a series of universes, each one the progeny of a previous one. While yet another theory, called the Big Bounce, holds that the universe expands for billions of years, then slows, stops, and contracts under the force of gravity, finally collapsing in on itself in a Big Crunch. As with the theory of the multiverse, the competing notion of the Big Crunch is not possible to replicate, nor observe. And herein lies the rub: theological beliefs are challenged on the basis of lack of evidence, but the various cosmological beliefs of physicists in multiverses and Big Crunches are also devoid of evidence and no less fanciful. They are just another narrative woven and promoted by proponents of scientism.
Some physicists who reject Intelligent Design and the multiverse theory point towards what they term the “Final Theory.” This is a unique mathematical formula that predicts every single detail of the universe, including every constant of nature. The uniqueness of the universe is then a necessary consequence of mathematics. The discovery of this formula is far from becoming a reality. Suppose it was formulated, what then? The next question should be where did it come from and for what purpose?
The creation narrative explained by physicists is based on the premise that fixed laws and constants govern the universe. These constants are implicated in all scientific method. Due to these laws any experiment should be repeatable anywhere at any time. Perhaps one of the most famous laws is Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. This holds that the speed of light in a vacuum is an absolute constant. Modern physics is based on this assumption. However, between 1927 and 1972 the speed of light varied considerably. This should not have happened. To overcome this variation, the speed of light was fixed in 1972 by an international committee, making it immutable to change. Think about this for one moment. The speed of light varied over time, but scientists decided to ignore this evidence, deciding instead to fix the speed as fact. This was done in order to support the laws of modern physics. If such laws are undermined then it calls into question how the universe runs, and how it was created. The general public are often not aware of these uncertainties within science, and advocates of scientism do not publicize them. The speed of light and the Theory of Relativity are not the only scientific laws that are subject to change. As we will now hear, the Law of Energy Conservation needs to be reconsidered.
In nineteenth-century Berlin scientists believed all living organisms depended on some form of life force energy. Materialists dismissed this theory. They believed all living organisms were like machines. Energy in the form of air, food, and water was consumed. This energy was then conserved, used, or released. The amount of energy expended must match the amount of energy consumed. This became known as the Law of Energy Conservation. It was a hypothesis that was tested repeatedly in the early twentieth century. In controlled conditions, human subjects were given precisely measured amounts of food and water. Researchers then measured the amount of energy expended by the volunteers. The results from these experiments demonstrated that the amount of energy released matched the amount of energy consumed. These results were unchallenged for seventy-five years. The Law of Energy Conservation was vindicated.
For materialists this law is important. It neatly demonstrates a closed system of energy within the universe. There is no energy or force that is not accounted for. But there was a significant problem with this law. It was dead wrong.
From the very beginning other scientists struggled to replicate the results of the early experiments. Faulty equipment and inexperienced operators were variously blamed. This highlighted a general problem with scientific research: results that differ from earlier experiments or expectations are often seen as flawed. In the late 1970s the data on human energy consumption and output was re-examined. It did not add up. There was unknown energy present, and not just a little. On average 27% of energy used by humans is unaccounted for. Its source is unknown; it appears to be generated out of nothing. It is a form of energy not known to modern physics. After 150 years of research we appear to have come full circle, back to the scientists of nineteenth-century Berlin, who hypothesized the existence of vital life force energy. The current evidence suggests that living organisms draw on unknown energy. A form of energy that a yogi might call “prana,” or a traditional Chinese healer “chi.”
A greater challenge to the Law of Energy Conversion comes from the notion of inedia, meaning fasting. Throughout history there have been accounts of people living and thriving without food over extended periods of time. In the eighteenth century, the Royal Society was aware of a Scottish girl who lived for four years without food. The author, Rupert Sheldrake, met an Indian lady whose followers claimed had not eaten for forty-three years. Such people and claims are not isolated examples. In 2010 a team from the Indian Defence Institute of Physiology investigated an eighty-three-year-old yogi who claimed not to have eaten for seventy years. In a hospital setting, under constant observation, and under the watchful eye of CCTV, he did not eat nor drink. In the 1920s a Bavarian lady stopped eating food. She was monitored by a doctor and team of nurses, who took turns to constantly observe her. She was found to take no food.
The immediate reaction to such tales is skepticism. However, research about inedia and energy consumption would considerably widen the scope of science. By treating the laws of energy conservation and matter as testable hypotheses rather than dogmatic truths, physiology and health would become more scientific, not less so. It also begs the important question as to whether there are new forms of energy not currently known to science, and whether this energy can be tapped by living organisms. It would also mean that the flow of energy into humans is not necessarily due to to calorific consumption, nor the physiology of digestion and respiration. Remember, up to 27% of human energy expenditure is unaccounted for, which seemingly comes from nowhere. It may be that humans draw this energy flow from energy in nature, the cosmos, or universe. We simply don’t know. It would also suggest that we have a great deal to learn about health and physiology from nonmechanistic forms of healing.
Modern medicine is amazingly successful. Transplants, surgery, in vitro fertilization, immunization programs, and antibiotics are some of the successes. It works very well, but there are important limitations that are becoming apparent. The rate of discovery is slowing despite increasing investment, there is a lack of new drugs, and medicine is becoming prohibitively expensive. The mechanistic approach to medicine is best when dealing with mechanical aspects of the body, like defective joints, accidents, and blocked arteries. The problem is that it renders all living organisms into physical-chemical machines. It treats them with surgery and drugs, while ignoring treatments that do not fit this paradigm. Modern medicine is less good at treating chronic, non-life-threatening illnesses.
Some doctors are annoyed by the existence of rival medical systems. For the committed materialist such medical systems cannot really work. This has enormous political and economic consequences. Funding and treatment totaling many hundreds of billions of dollars is channelled exclusively into mechanistic medicine. The early years of modern medicine saw advances such as inoculations, improvements in public health, Pasteur’s discovery of germs, plus the prevention of infectious diseases. Yet none of these advances are dependent on the mechanistic theory of life. One of the most important discoveries was penicillin and other antibiotics that followed in its wake. It transformed the perception of the public and of doctors as to what medicine could do. Antibiotics, improvements in hygiene, and mass immunization meant the death rate from infectious diseases plummeted. With such advances in public health the young were main beneficiaries of allopathic medicine. Rates of infant mortality and disease among children plummeted, pushing up average life expectancy. Today, the main challenges to health are rather different. Degenerative diseases associated with old age now test the limits of allopathic medicine. In Europe, patients with dementia threaten to overwhelm healthcare providers over the next twenty-five years. There is unlikely to be enough funding to treat dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Middle age also brings a whole range of illnesses that are difficult to treat. This includes rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, circulatory problems, and cancer. While in the Northern hemisphere autoimmune diseases increasingly affect people of all ages, as do mental health disorders.
The first line of treatment for these diseases is to administer pharmaceutical drugs. The first line of research is to conduct clinical trials for more drugs. It is assumed that the only scientifically valid kind of clinical trial is a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study. This is when both the clinician and the patient do not know whether a drug or a placebo is administered. The results are compared, the research written up, then published in a respectable medical journal, and conclusions drawn as to whether a new treatment is effective. Outwardly it appears to be a robust objective system for developing new drugs. Unfortunately, it is a system riddled with corruption. Many clinical papers are now written by commercial medical ghostwriting companies. One such company called DesignWrite boasts of creating and managing hundreds of advisory boards, over 500 clinical papers, 10,000 speakers’ programs, plus websites and the publication of electronic and printed materials. It also organizes review articles, case reports, and editorials, all of which are published in respected medical journals.
For example, in order to promote hormone replacement therapy, this ghostwriting company wrote the first drafts of clinical studies, sending them on to the pharmaceutical company Wyeth, who advised writing this second draft. At this point, and only at this point, was the paper sent to a professor who would lend his name and appear as the author. With a professor’s name lending credibility, the study would be passed on to a prominent journal for publication. In the case of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) over fifty such articles were commissioned and published. Following publication, clinicians around the world would rely on the studies to justify use of hormone replacement therapy. It was later found that these studies promoted unproven benefits of Wyeth’s HRT. Little wonder when the studies were written by a commercial firm, bolstered by a rent-a-name corrupt academic, and promoted by a pharmaceutical company driven by profit.
This promotion continues at governmental level: drug companies pay out $900 million per year to lobby the U.S. government, influencing legislation, and delaying safety warnings. The point of this example is not to debate the efficacy of hormone replacement therapy. Its point is to question the sacred cow of published peer-review scientific studies. There are no doubt countless good studies, but one should not assume that a published scientific study is untarnished, objective, or unassailable evidence.
Commercial medical writing companies, backed by giant pharmaceutical companies, raise questions over the objectivity of modern science. Product defense firms and public relations companies are hired to skew the scientific literature and influence policy. In academia, fraud is hushed up so that the reputations of universities are protected. There are other additional problems with scientific literature beyond outright dishonesty. The current model of peer-review journals favors original research. This means that replication of a study is rarely performed, and that there is no motivation to repeat the work of others. Data is often taken at face value, raw data from experiments is not supplied when requested, and anomalous results are quietly filed away. Data is also falsified in order to achieve the desired results. This is perhaps not surprising. The sciences are human activities, and humans are subject to social forces and peer pressure. Scientists need acceptance and funding; they need to win the support of others. They are not a pure, priestly class. Many scientists are unaware of the unconscious myths and assumptions that shape their studies. They are not pillars of objectivity above sectarian divisions. Unlike religion, locked in divisions and disputes, science is portrayed as offering a true understanding of material nature. It is a peculiarly European tradition that has spread across the world. Once seen as liberating, materialism is now depressing, isolating humans from their own experience, and cutting them off from their religious traditions. It is a questionable belief system, and it is a philosophy that routinely dismisses or explains away phenomena that do not fit the paradigm. Materialist philosophy and scientism are not an undeniable, objective truth.