Materialism, Animism, and Evolutionism
by Magnus Verbrugge, M.D.
Man’s substitute for God.
Man has been wrestling with the question of creation ever since he himself was created. Although orthodox Jews, Christians, and Muslims traditionally have been creationists, relatively few modern scientists are creationists, and some claim that this rejection of the Creator is the result of modern scientific discoveries. Actually, however, the negation of God as Creator is as old as man's sin.
The ancient Hindus for example, believed that their god, Brahma, was merely an aspect of reality that somehow reshaped existing material over and over again to form a new universe each time the old one had worn out. Similarly, the later Greek philosophers maintained that matter is eternal, so they too knew no creator. They believed there had to be some power inside of matter that could make it come alive. This "religious" conviction was expanded into a complete philosophical system by the Greeks known today as materialism.
Man also knew that he himself has spiritual functions, including the ability to abstract concepts from the things he sees. Not knowing the Creator, however, many people began to see some hidden power or invisible spirit behind natural phenomena. This belief today is called animism. Jacques Monod, a Nobel Prize winning microbiologist, defines animism as the: " … projection into inanimate nature of man's awareness of the ... functioning of his own central nervous system ... the hypothesis that natural phenomena can and must be explained in the same manner ... as subjective human activity.…" 1 Plato believed that the power which forms all things from chaotic matter was the Demiurg, the personified abstraction of his own power of thinking.
The great naturalist Aristotle declared life to be a special power behind every living thing, called anima ("breath") in Latin. This animistic projection of a life-force into inanimate matter became his substitute for the Creator. Aristotle's materialism thus took the form of vitalism, which has been advocated in modified form by many scientists and philosophers since, including Bergson, Driesch, and de Chardin.
Today most materialists have rejected vitalism, however, because vital forces cannot be measured with physico-chemical methods and instruments. Materialists claim that only physical forces are real: gravity, electromagnetism, and nuclear forces. They can be measured. What cannot be measured is considered by them to be a product of human imagination, and is declared "supernatural." The world-famous Marxist biochemist, A.I. Oparin, declares that: " … life, like all the rest of the world, is material ... but its properties are not limited to those of matter in general ... it is a special form of the movement of matter. ." 2 Thus the materialist denies that life is really different from physical energy, maintaining it to be merely a special form of physical energy to which it can be reduced. Neither is there anything truly distinctive about human life. "With the appearance of man, however, there arises a new social form of motion of matter.…" 3
Scientific data on living things.
We have long known that our body consists of at least 80% water, with the rest composed mainly of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous and, to a smaller extent, a few other elements. Yet our body somehow makes complex molecules out of what we eat (mostly proteins, fats, and starches), after we have first broken these down into smaller molecules. Enzymes for example, are special proteins that can speed up chemical reactions in our body by many thousands of times. Each of hundreds of thousands of different proteins has its own special structure and function. We know some functions of DNA, RNA, and others which are related to cell division and propagation of individual organisms. Each type of molecule has its own characteristics which the cell that has made them needs for its overall functioning. As soon as we take such a molecule out of the cell, it can still display the same chemical reactions as it does inside, but only in random fashion. Its directed activity is gone.
The Gap and the Leap of Science Fiction
Can materialists explain how matter brought forth living organisms without a Creator? Have their experiments given us any indication that life can ever be produced in the laboratory?
Billions of dollars have been spent on trying to bridge the gap between matter and life. We are told, however, that laymen must not concern themselves with these delicate problems. A.I. Oparin, and a spokesman for Marxist dialectics in Russia, wrote a very influential book, The Origin of Life, translated by Sergius Morgulis. In his introduction the latter wrote: "The biologist, unlike the layman, knows no line of demarcation separating plant life from animal life, nor for that matter living from nonliving material, because such differentiations are entirely conceptual and do not correspond to reality." 4 Thus Morgulis has arbitrarily declared that there is no gap. His master, Oparin, knows what power makes dead things come to life; it is motion: "Matter is in constant motion and … life came into being as a special form of motion." 5 This odd notion comes from Communist Friedrich Engels. Engels had discovered a new "law" of nature: "All qualitative differences in nature rest on differences of chemical composition or on different quantities or forms of motion (energy) or ... both." 6 What the anima was for Aristotle as the creative power for living things, the physical forces (energy) are for Engels and his pupil Oparin. Monod called this "cosmic animism." 7 In principle, belief in cosmic animism is little different from worshipping gods of wood and stone.
Yet, dialectic materialism is quite popular among modern scientists. G. Montalenti uses it in Studies in the Philosophy of Biology: "The principle of dialectical materialism is well known, that a change in quantity determines qualitative change.... As the molecules become individually different and reproduce ... the laws of physics and chemistry are the only ones that play a role ... what really matters, to start life is ... the faculty of reproduction.…" 8 Dillon wrote a provocative scenario for this process of reproduction: " … two poly-amino acid chains accidentally came into contact which were mutually compatible in such a manner that each could replicate the other (or, alternatively, a single self-replicating peptoid molecule arose) ... This ... was the first living being." 9 He does not mention that when two molecules join in a chemical bond we now have a new single molecule. Nor does he explain how a dead molecule can suddenly take on the function of self-replication. Physicist Elsasser feels that the random formation of poly-amino acid chains and their "accidentally" meeting are events that have a statistical probability of zero. But that does not deter Monod: " … the biosphere … is compatible with first principles (of physics) but not deducible from those principles ... it is unpredictable for the very reason ... that the particular configuration of atoms constituting this pebble I have in my hand is unpredictable." 10 But once they arose, they were to be seen as "chemical machines." 11 How did they arise? Here is how: "Randomness caught on the wing, preserved, reproduced ... and thus converted into order, rule, necessity. A totally blind process can by definition lead to anything; it can even lead to vision itself." 12 Thus "by definition," the impossible can happen!
Harold Blum helps the cause of materialism in a unique way. Why, he asks, did protein molecules originate "spontaneously?" Because: "… they must have been if living systems were to evolve ... (a fact), accepted by the great majority of biologists. 13
An exquisite example of modern philosophical reasoning by Dr. L. Dillon defines life as: " … the capacity for synthesizing proteins in at least sufficient quantities to replace those that are catabolized by normal processes." 14 This means that living beings are chemical entities. Next he concludes: it becomes amply evident that living things are chemical entities, whose fundamental properties are describable in ordinary physico-chemical terms. Hence, to this degree the prevailing mechanistic view of the organic world is firmly supported." 15
Materialists have been repeating over and over that Christians want to introduce supernatural forces into science. But it is really the materialists who want to introduce spirits and animism into science under the guise of creative forces hiding in dead molecules. Christians need no longer try to accommodate these spiritual inventions of pagan philosophy. It is now becoming well known that there are many scientific arguments that discredit evolution. Furthermore, the philosophical bankruptcy of materialism has been exposed by Herman Dooyeweerd, whose life's work has given Christians a mighty arsenal of philosophical weapons against the materialists. As summarized in his theory of the modal aspects of reality, this outstanding Dutch philosopher demonstrates that the various scientific laws of creation, which scientists can discover, cannot be reduced to each other. Each, rather, is a distinctive, irreducible, and specifically created aspect of reality.
He showed that all humanists assign creative powers to some force inside creation, which in effect becomes their god. The different philosophical "isms" arose from whatever force various philosophers chose as the one to which all the others were to be reduced. Thus they worship idols of their own making—idols of dead matter, as helpless as the stone idols of the ancient humanists.
It is now possible for Christian scientists not only to show where materialism went wrong, but even more importantly to build a true scientific endeavor on a Biblical foundation instead of Greek mythology.
If we confess that the origin of this cosmos is: " … the sovereign holy will of God the Creator, Who has revealed Himself in Christ," 16 we can search for these laws, this cosmonomy through which God maintains His world. Science can still be saved from the fictions to which it has fallen victim in so many areas. If we are faithful, it will again be an honor to be a scientist in search of the laws of God's creation.
1. Monod, Jacques, Chance and Necessity, NY: Affred A. Knopf, Inc., 1972, p. 30
2. Oparin, A.I., Life, its Nature, Origin and Development, NY: Academic Press, 1962, pp. 5-6.
3. Ibid., p. 7.
4. Oparin, A.I., The Origin of Life, NY: Dover Pub., 1938 Translation by Morguiis, S., p. viii.
5. Oparin, A.I., op. cit., (1962) p. 6.
6. Engels, Friedrich, Dialectics of Nature, NY: International Pub., (1940), 1960, p. 27.
7. Monod, J., op. cit., p. 31.
8. Montalenti, G. in Studies in the Philosophy of Biology, London: MacMillan, Ayala, F.J., and Dobzhansky, Th., Eds., 1974, pp. 12-13.
9. Dillon, Lawrence, S., The Genetic Mechanism and the Origin of Life, NY: Plenum Press, 1978, p. 412.
10. Monod, J., op. cit., p. 44.
11. Ibid., p. 45.
12. Ibid., p. 98.
13. Blum, Harold, Time's Arrow and Evolution, NY: Harper & Bros., 1955, p. 164 and 173.
14. Dillon, L.S., op. cit., p. 411.
15. Dillon, L.S., op. cit., p. 426.
16. Dooyeweerd, Herman, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Amsterdam and Philadelphia: H.J. Paris and the Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., Vol. I, 1953, p. 101.
* Fellow, Royal College of Surgeons of Canada.
Cite this article: Magnus Verbrugge, M.D. 1981. Materialism, Animism, and Evolutionism. Acts & Facts. 10 (4).