Although Kurt Gödel has not become a household name like Albert Einstein, he was one of the greatest logicians in history, a towering intellectual giant who was also a close companion of Einstein and John von Neumann at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. What on earth (or in the heavens) could have prompted Gödel to reject materialism?
Materialism, the metaphysical assumption that only physical things are real, has become the unquestioned foundation of so much of mainstream science. Ironically, the fact is that a great many of the pioneers of modern science, from its beginning several centuries ago to the developers of quantum physics such as Max Planck and Werner Heisenberg, thoroughly rejected materialism.
As Mario Beauregard clarified in a recent guest blog post, there is no scientific necessity to embrace materialism, and here I will add that there is no logical necessity, either. For example, we are logically forced to conclude that the laws of physics themselves are either real, which would make materialism false, or these laws are not real, which would make the foundations of science itself unreal. In other words, if you believe materialism to be true, you can never claim that this supposed truth is a scientific fact, because if materialism were true then there would be no scientific facts in the first place, as all of science would be resting on a delusion, on something unreal. So, either science is delusional, in which case it cannot be said to prove materialism (or anything else for that matter – pun intended), or science is resting on a foundation that is rooted in reality, in which case materialism would necessarily be false. But how can that be?
Let’s see if we can offer a logical argument in support of Gödel’s rejection of materialism (while keeping in mind that a symbol is not the thing that it represents; i.e., the word “tree” is a symbol in English that represents an actual physical entity, but the symbol “tree” is not an actual tree.)
1. The laws of physics are foundational to all of science.
2. The laws of physics are mathematical relations.
3. Mathematical relations depend upon numbers.
4. All numbers are built from 1 and 0 (“2” is merely 1 + 1, and zero is the absence of any 1)
5. Zero itself has no physicality (it represents nothing, after all).
6. One itself has no physicality (you can find 1 tree, or 1 car, but you cannot find a pure “1” itself in physicality – if you don’t believe me, I invite you to look for it).
7. Since numbers represent “something” that is not physical, then the laws of physics represent and/or ultimately depend upon something that is not physical.
8. Therefore, we are left to conclude that either: (a) the laws of physics are real but not physical, which makes materialism false; or (b) the laws of physics are not real, which makes the foundation of all of science unreal.
9. Despite its apparent extraordinary success, if the foundation of science is unreal, then ultimately it cannot provide any basis for objective truth in reality, and therefore cannot be said to prove materialism (or anything else) to be objectively true.
This issue can get far more complicated very quickly, and if you want to know more, then please dive into The Eternal Law. In any case, it doesn’t matter how many logical arguments you present against materialism, or how many pioneering scientists you quote who reject materialism, because in the end the hardheaded materialist will refuse to listen. One is left wondering: was Plato correct in referring to materialists as ‘terrible men’ and ‘very stubborn and perverse mortals’?