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Health Sciences

Science Beyond Materialism: Cosmology, Astrobiology, Consciousness

When: June 9, 2021, 1:00 pm - Wednesday

Where: Swang 238

Session 1

Session Abstract

Is there a place in science for explanatory constructs that extend beyond the bounds of materialism—or, if not in science, then at least in a renewed natural theology? Here neurosurgery professor Michael Egnor explores the evidence from contemporary neuroscience that the human mind is not reducible to mere brain chemistry; and philosopher Jay W. Richards summarizes cosmological evidence indicating that earth and the physical laws of nature were purposely fine-tuned for creatures like ourselves. Jonathan Witt then maps the rhetorical landscape of origins science, first scrutinizing a restriction on method known as methodological materialism, and then exploring some strategies for maintaining civil, fruitful discourse inside and outside the classroom.


Paper Abstracts

Michael Egnor, Stonybrook University, “How Neuroscience Challenges Materialism”

Modern neuroscience is generally interpreted with a materialist bias, but dualism also can serve as a framework, and both dualism and materialism are empirically testable. Several lines of evidence support the dualist perspective. These include studies of brain seizures, split-brain surgery patients, stroke victims, and patients in persistent vegetative states; observations during brain surgery; and accounts of near-death experiences in which patients recount events in the operating room in the absence of brain function. The empirical evidence best supports a dualistic framework—more precisely, the moderate dualism of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, a dualism distinct from that of Descartes.


Jay Richards, The Catholic University of America, “How Physics and Astronomy Challenges Materialism”

A century ago cosmologists discovered that the universe had a beginning, contradicting the assumption that the cosmos is eternal. Later, physicists discovered that many physical constants appear fine-tuned to allow for organic life. Several leading scientists have said these discoveries suggest creative purpose. More recently, astrobiology has shown that fine-tuning extends to Earth and its situation in our solar system and galaxy. In addition, the many conditions that allow for advanced life on Earth also provide the best overall setting for scientific discovery. This correlation supports the idea that our place in the cosmos was designed, both for life and discovery.


Jonathan Witt, Center for Science and Culture, “Methodological Materialism and the Rhetorical Landscape of Origins Science”

Methodological materialism (MM) holds that scientists qua scientists must consider only materialistic explanations. Leading geneticist Francis Collins invokes it in origins biology but argues that the Big Bang and fine-tuning in physics suggests an immaterial designer. Is this inconsistency reasonable and justifiable? Also, is there a way to construe MM without question begging? For instance, fine-tuning and the Big Bang may support a design hypothesis, but MM rigorously applied prevents science from even considering this hypothesis. The presentation concludes by considering best practices for respectful, fruitful dialogue among theistic scientists who differ with each other on questions of origins science.


Joseph E. Deweese, Lipscomb University, Convener

  • Michael Egnor, Stony Brook University, “How Neuroscience Challenges Materialism”
  • Jay Richards, The Catholic University of America, “How Physics and Astronomy Challenges Materialism”
  • Jonathan Witt, Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture, “Methodological Materialism and the Rhetorical Landscape of Origins Science”

Join us in 2024!

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James Cone with conferee at the CSC in 2017

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Pulitzer Prize winner Marilynne Robinson delivering the CSC plenary address

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Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), delivering the CSC plenary address.

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US Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith delivering the CSC plenary address

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David Brooks engaging conferees during breakfast at the CSC

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