Are Scientists Biased by a Philosophical Commitment to Materialism?
Are scientists interested in simply following the evidence wherever it may lead? Or are many of them committed to interpreting the evidence according to their prior philosophical commitments? Some critics allege that a high percentage of scientists are committed to the philosophy of materialism which says that only the material (i.e. physical) world exists. In other words, scientists claim to “know” (or at least assume) that there is nothing beyond the physical world. As a result, these critics allege that when it comes to issues related to religion and the supernatural (i.e. God, souls, etc.) many scientists are biased by their philosophical commitments.
Is this criticism fair? At least one eminent scientist has made statements that would imply it is. Richard Lewontin was a professor of biology at Harvard University and he made the following remarkable statement about the scientific community.
Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
Richard C. Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” January 9, 1997, https://www.nybooks.com/articles/1997/01/09/billions-and-billions-of-demons/.