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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Neuroscientist: Most opposition to new science ideas comes from fundamentalism within science

Well, another non-materialist neuroscientist has just been sighted.

Edward F. Kelly, lead author of Irreducible Mind, writes at the Rowman blog (sponsored by publishers Rowman and Littlefield),
The word “fundamentalism” probably evokes for most of us only images of bomb-wielding Islamic terrorists and other examples of religious extremism, but fundamentalism exists within science as well. When scientific opinion hardens into dogma it becomes scientism, which is essentially a secular faith and no longer science. Galileo was persecuted by the Inquisition, but in modern times the main opposition to new scientific ideas has derived not from religious orthodoxies but from other scientists for whom contemporary opinion established the limits of the possible.

Consider in this light the question of post-mortem survival. The notion that aspects of mind and personality survive bodily death is central to the world’s great religions yet scorned as impossible by present-day establishment science. But few participants in this contentious debate have any inkling that there exists a large scientific literature collectively suggesting that at least some of us, under largely unknown conditions and for some unknown period of time, do in fact survive. The primary threat to this interpretation, ironically, has nothing to do with the quality of the evidence—problems of fraud, credulity, errors of observation or memory, and the like—but with the difficulty of excluding non-survivalist interpretations based solely upon supernormal (“psi”-based or parapsychological) processes involving living persons. The voluminous evidence for such processes includes both spontaneous cases and experimental studies, and in my opinion has long since passed the threshold where competent persons who take the trouble to study it in depth and with an open mind will routinely conclude that these things exist as facts of nature. Indeed, future generations of historians, philosophers, and sociologists will undoubtedly make a good living trying to understand why it took so long for scientists in general to accept this conclusion.


Kelly is Research Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Hat Tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

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