Summary: Promissory materialism is the belief that anything that cannot be explained by materialist science, such as consciousness and the origin of life, will be explained by materialist science someday in the future. It is based on the belief that in the past, scientific discoveries have always added greater and greater support to the materialist point of view. But this belief is not supported by the history of science. In the cases of the origin of life, cosmology, the evolution of the human brain, junk DNA, catastrophic floods, photoreceptors in the vertebrate retina, the human appendix, and hips bones in whales, scientific progress has contradicted the materialist point of view. And in the case of cosmology and the evolution of the brain, scientific understanding has come to undermine scientific materialism. Developments in cosmology have led to the multiverse theory that overthrows the basic foundations of materialist science: that nature follows intelligible natural laws. The belief that the natural evolution of the brain produced a human brain flawed by susceptibility to superstitions undermines belief in anything including science and materialism.
Promissory materialism isn't even plausible, it is contradicted by the history of science.
The Icon of Materialism: Why Scientism's Cherished Progress Narrative Fails by Jonathan Witt at Touchstone magazine debunks the myth of promissory materialism. When confronted with scientific evidence that seems to contradict atheist materialist beliefs, a materialist often says that that although science might not have a good explanation now, science will eventually find a materialist explanation in the future. For example, current scientific knowledge cannot explain consciousness or the origin of life and these are two areas where materialists frequently reject non-materialist explanations by promising to provide materialist explanations in the future. This is sometimes called "promissory materialism" This faith is science (scientism) is said to be reasonable by materialists because it is supported by the history of science. Phenomenon that were once thought to contradict materialism were eventually explained by materialist science. But if you look at the actual data you see that this faith in scientism is misplaced. The history of science contains numerous examples when the atheist materialist position was wrong.
Jonathan Witt's article makes the following points:
At one time scientists thought life was very simple and could easily arise spontaneously and therefore the origin of life on earth was not mysterious. However later developments have shown that life is very complex and life does not normally arise spontaneously. The progress of science did not solve the mystery of the origin of life, it resulted in the origin of life becoming much harder for science to explain.
In cosmology, it was initially thought that the universe always existed and therefore the origin of the universe needed no explanation. However later developments showed that the universe did have a beginning, the big bang, and it appears to be fine-tuned to support life. The progress of science did not solve the mystery of the origin of the universe, it made the origin of the universe more of a mystery and more compatible with religious accounts of creation.
At the birth of modern science, most scientists believed natural laws were orderly because they were designed. But eventually most scientists came to adopt methodological naturalism and reject supernatural explanations for natural phenomenon. The result of this is that modern scientists, in order to explain the fine tuning of the universe to support life, have had to propose an unfalsifiable multiverse containing an infinite number of universes where anything is possible and natural laws lose all explanatory power. In this case, the progress of science has not provided more reasons to have faith in science, it has led to the undermining of the foundations of science. Promissory materialism promises a scientific explanation for all phenomenon but the multiverse theory makes all phenomenon explainable by mere chance.
In addition to the above points made in Jonathan Witt's article there are other examples from the history of science were the progress of science failed to support the atheist materialist point of view. (See references below.)
Natural Evolution Undermines Materialism (See reference Nancy Pearcey below.)
Scientists who believe in natural evolution believe that the human brain evolved to help the individual survive and it did not necessarily evolve to help him determine what is true and what is false. They say this caused the brain to evolve to be susceptible to superstitions and they offer that as a materialist explanation of religious beliefs. Materialists also say consciousness is an illusion and free will is an illusion. According to their beliefs, any sense you have of what is true and what is false is an illusion. But materialists seem to have a blind spot when it comes to applying these beliefs uniformly. If you accept the materialist scientific point of view, that the human brain is not reliable, then belief in anything is not rational. Applied uniformly, this would include belief in materialism ... materialist science undermines itself. The progress of science didn't support belief that the human brain is rational as materialist atheists believed themselves to be. The progress of science led to the belief that the human brain evolved for survival not truth and is not reliable.
Junk DNA did not stay junk for long.
When biologists first started to examine the genetic material (DNA) in organisms, they could not explain the function of most of it. They called this unexplained genetic material "junk DNA". In this case materialists didn't promise to have an explanation in the future. Materialists were too enthusiastic about using junk DNA as a proof that God does not exist. Materialists made the theological argument that life could not have been created by God because they believe God is perfect (21% of atheists believe in God) and would not produce junk DNA. But if scientists had promised that in the future they would have an explanation for junk DNA, they would have been right. The materialist theory of junk DNA was not supported by later findings. It has been shown that junk DNA is not junk it has functions. The progress of science doesn't show that DNA is full of junk left over by blind, undirected, evolution as materialists promised, the progress of science showed that DNA has many functions beyond simply coding for proteins. Materialist predictions failed again.
Catastrophic Floods of Biblical Proportions
When geological evidence of ancient catastrophic floods reminiscent of the biblical flood story was first described, it faced fierce resistance. Geologists tried to explain its cause as gradual erosion from glaciers. But eventually these catastrophic floods were confirmed by science. This evidence of ancient catastrophic floods which seemed to support the flood myths found in many religious traditions was never proved by science to be anything other than evidence of ancient catastrophic floods. Despite fierce resistance and unfair tactics, the progress of science did not support the materialist view, it supported the view that was more consistent with religious beliefs.
Photoreceptors in the Vertebrate Retina
(Reference: Phys.org: Specialized Retinal Cells Are a "Design Feature," Showing that the Argument for Suboptimal Design of the Eye "Is Folly" by Casey Luskin)
It used to be thought that "the vertebrate eye is 'poorly designed' because the optic nerve extends over the retina instead of going out the back of the eye." Materialists argued, as they did with junk DNA, that this 'poor design' is evidence against intelligent design. However, later research has found that the structure of the retina improves visual acuity:
"Having the photoreceptors at the back of the retina is not a design constraint, it is a design feature. The idea that the vertebrate eye, like a traditional front-illuminated camera, might have been improved somehow if it had only been able to orient its wiring behind the photoreceptor layer, like a cephalopod, is folly."
Fiber optic light pipes in the retina do much more than simple image transfer by John Hewitt
The progress of science didn't add support to the materialist's view that the structure of the retina is a poor design better explained by natural evolution than intelligent design. The progress of science showed that the structure of the retina is actually an excellent design.
(Reference: The Useless Appendix and Other Darwinian Myths by Casey Luskin)
Materialists argued that because the appendix in humans had no known function and was subject to infection causing appendicitis, the appendix was better explained as a product of natural evolution than of intelligent design. However, later research showed that the appendix has important functions as part of the human immune system. The progress of science didn't add support to the materialist's view that the human appendix is better explained by natural evolution than intelligent design. The progress of science contradicted the materialist's belief.
Hips Bones in Whales
(Reference: Now It's Whale Hips: Another Icon of Darwinian Evolution, Vestigial Structures, Takes a Hit by David Klinghoffer)
Hip bones in whales were also thought by materialists to be vestigial organs for which natural evolution was a better explanation than intelligent design. However later research has shown that hip bones in whales have a function in reproduction. Once again the progress of science contradicted the materialist point of view.
- A fossilized whale bone is found that is older than fossils of animals that are supposed to be the evolutionary ancestors of whales.
- Fossil tracks from a land animal are found that are older than the fossil of the supposed intermediate between fish and land animals.
- Feathered dinosaurs supposedly intermediate between dinosaurs and birds are found not to be dinosaurs but birds that have lost the ability to fly.
Promissory materialism is not plausible: the materialist view is often contradicted by the progress of science.
Promissory materialism is based on the belief that anything that cannot currently be explained by materialist science will be explained by it someday in the future. But this belief is not supported by the facts of history. In the cases of origin of life, cosmology, human brain, junk DNA, catastrophic floods, photoreceptors in the vertebrate retina, the human appendix, and hip bones in whales, the progress of science has shown the atheist materialist point of view was wrong. And in the case of cosmology and evolution of the brain, scientific understanding undermines materialism. In order to maintain belief in materialism, cosmologists have had to construct a multiverse theory that overthrows the basic foundations of science: that nature follows intelligible natural laws. The belief in the natural evolution of the human brain undermines belief in anything including science and materialism.
For instance, through much of the nineteenth century, the scientific consensus was that microscopic life was relatively simple, little more than microscopic sacks of Jell-O. The scientific community also accepted the idea of spontaneous generation—that creatures sprang to life spontaneously out of things like dew and rotting meat. Taken together, these pieces of conventional scientific wisdom suggested that the origin of the first living cell deep in the past was hardly worthy of the term mystery—a material explanation seemed obvious.
But in 1861 Louis Pasteur conducted a series of experiments that discredited the notion of spontaneous generation. And in the next century, scientists began amassing evidence of just how complex even the simplest cell is. Today we know that cells are microminiaturized factories of astonishing sophistication and that, even more to the point, such sophistication is essential for them to be able to survive and reproduce. Matheson himself conceded in his debate with Meyer that no adequate material explanation has been found for the origin of the cell.
In sum: We have come to learn that spontaneous generation was a fantasy. We have discovered that even the simplest cells are highly sophisticated and information-rich organisms. And the only cause we have ever witnessed actually producing novel information is intelligent design.
Cosmology and physics provide another counter-example to the grand narrative. In Darwin's time, conventional scientific wisdom held that the universe was eternal.
Near the same time that scientists were realizing this, there was a growing awareness of what is now widely known in cosmology as the fine-tuning problem. This is the curious fact that the various laws and constants of nature appear finely calibrated to allow for life in the universe—calibrated to such a precise degree that even committed materialists have abandoned blunt appeals to chance.
... Satanism's grand progress narrative holds that as we learn more and more about the world, purely natural or material explanations will inevitably arise and grow stronger, while design arguments will inevitably collapse under the weight of new discoveries. But the opposite has happened in cosmology and origin-of-life studies.
the insight that we live in a world with various underlying laws and constants that we can profitably investigate has long been non-controversial. Moreover, the idea was encouraged by the belief that nature is the rational and orderly work of a divine mind
The theological, and specifically theistic, commitments of the early men of science were crucial to the birth of modern science.
Many later scientists abandoned science's fertile theological heritage, opting to restrict themselves to purely material explanations and insisting that science should trade only in hypotheses consistent with materialism.
... The cosmic-sized case in point is their invoking untold billions of unseen, undetectable universes to argue that ours is just a rare lucky one among all these untold universes, one with a life-sustaining combination of physical laws and constants. Never mind that the idea is un-falsifiable, and never mind that such a multiverse would itself require exquisite fine-tuning in order to generate even one life-sustaining universe.
The same dogmatic thinking may help explain how some nakedly misleading arguments against intelligent design continue to circulate among the proponents of scientism. So, for instance, intelligent design is dismissed as an argument from ignorance when it's actually based on people's uniform experience of designed systems and the cause-and-effect structure of the universe.
At other times, opponents of intelligent design attack almost the opposite straw man, warning that design proponents view the cosmic designer as wholly removed from nature except when he comes down to tinker with an imperfect creation.
None of these straw-man attacks hold together under close inspection, and none of them alter the reality that scientism's grand narrative of a manifest destiny is a manifest charade. Its failure presents a golden opportunity to beckon both science and the broader culture out of the flatland of materialism and back toward a richer, and more reasonable, understanding of reality.
Why Evolutionary Theory Cannot Survive Itself by Nancy Pearcey
An example of self-referential absurdity is a theory called evolutionary epistemology, a naturalistic approach that applies evolution to the process of knowing. The theory proposes that the human mind is a product of natural selection. The implication is that the ideas in our minds were selected for their survival value, not for their truth-value.
But what if we apply that theory to itself? Then it, too, was selected for survival, not truth -- which discredits its own claim to truth. Evolutionary epistemology commits suicide.
To make the dilemma even more puzzling, evolutionists tell us that natural selection has produced all sorts of false concepts in the human mind. Many evolutionary materialists maintain that free will is an illusion, consciousness is an illusion, even our sense of self is an illusion -- and that all these false ideas were selected for their survival value.
So how can we know whether the theory of evolution itself is one of those false ideas? The theory undercuts itself.
Applied consistently, Darwinism undercuts not only itself but also the entire scientific enterprise. Kenan Malik, a writer trained in neurobiology, writes, "If our cognitive capacities were simply evolved dispositions, there would be no way of knowing which of these capacities lead to true beliefs and which to false ones." Thus "to view humans as little more than sophisticated animals ...undermines confidence in the scientific method."
The reason so few atheists and materialists seem to recognize the problem is that, like Darwin, they apply their skepticism selectively. They apply it to undercut only ideas they reject, especially ideas about God. They make a tacit exception for their own worldview commitments.
RIDICULED DISCOVERERS, VINDICATED MAVERICKS at amasci.com
J Harlen Bretz
Endured decades of scorn as the laughingstock of the geology world. His crime was to insist that enormous amounts of evidence showed that, in Eastern Washington state, the "scabland" desert landscape had endured an ancient catastrophy: a flood of staggering proportions. This was outright heresy, since the geology community of the time had dogmatic belief in a "uniformitarian" position, where all changes must take place slowly and incrementally over vast time scales. Bretz' ideas were entirely vindicated by the 1950s. Quote: "All my enemies are dead, so I have no one to gloat over."
“crackpots” who were right 17: J Harlen Bretz at blog.vixra.org
Bretz was originally trained as a biologist and worked as a highschool teacher. Later he moved to geology in which he earned his PhD. When he first published his theory in 1923 he was pitting himself against the established works of geologists supported by the authority of respected Ivy-League professors. The idea was quickly labelled as outrageously wrong and his opponents set to work to discredit it.
Pardee was dissuaded from supporting Bretz. Under threats to his own livelihood from his employers he had no choice but to be quiet.
The most thought-provoking aspect of the case of J Harlen Bretz is the extent to which geologists ganged up against him and tried to publically humiliate him. They used heavy tactics to ensure that anyone who might have supported him was silenced. When we look back today we see this as shameful behaviour.