Saturday, February 09, 2008

Rock you or shock you: That's Salvo, a non-materialist popular science mag.

Here's my recent piece in Salvo, a pop sci mag that either rocks or shocks, depending on whether you think that popular science MUST front for materialism (it doesn't). Here's my article about a nutritionist who did a study on whether prayer helps, found that it did, and was subjected to a savage onslaught from materialists and religious conventionalists, all of whom just wanted to shut him down.


Consciousness: Recent public squabble between philosophers of mind rates better than most sitcoms

Better even than a Britcom, which it actually is.

A hilarious public feud between two philosophers - Ted Honderich and Colin McGinn over consciousness (as recounted by Stuart Jeffries in The Guardian Unlimited), mainly shows how little is known of the subject:

The row started decades ago over a girl (well, that's the claim, anyway) and culminated with a damning review of yet another book on consciousness:
"Is there anything of merit in On Consciousness? Honderich does occasionally show glimmers of understanding that the problem of consciousness is difficult and that most of our ideas about it fall short of the mark. His instincts, at least, are not always wrong. It is a pity that his own efforts here are so shoddy, inept, and disastrous (to use a term he is fond of applying to the views of others)."

Meanwhile, Jeffries asks the dissed author Honderich for a response:
What does the man on the receiving end think of this review? "It is a cold, calculated attempt to murder a philosopher's reputation," says Honderich. The review has reignited a feud between the two philosophers that shows how bitter, unforgiving and (to outsiders) unwittingly hilarious academic disputes can be. It certainly makes the bear pit that is journalism seem like sunshine and lollipops by comparison.

and, last I heard, he wanted compensation from the journal.

In case you thought philosophy of mind was boring ...

Chill, guys. Books on consciousness are difficult by their nature. We all know we're conscious, but what does that mean? Maybe they should just have kept going on about the girl?


Are you a believer? You must be if you think that the future is real ...

In an interesting article in Canada's National Post, Charles Lewis introduces a point so obvious that many miss it:
"I presume that you assume that the future is real," said Prof. Peterson, who teaches psychology at the University of Toronto and has studied the impact of belief on society. "The future is an immaterial entity. It's composed entirely of possibility. So your belief in it is an axiom of faith."

At its most basic level, belief acts like a set of headlights to guide us through a foggy universe that "is far more complicated than we are smart." So belief is eradicable, he said, because there will never be a time when we know everything.
"Ignorance is a condition of human existence and belief is a necessary means of coping with ignorance," he said. "The assumptions we make about the world directly regulate our emotions and they provide hope and inhibit anxiety."

In a time when some are looking for the brain glitch that causes people to believe that there is an order to the universe (they call it "promiscuous teleology"), it's good to see some common sense injected into the discussion.

I cannot, for example, prove to you beyond any reasonable doubt that democracy and intellectual freedom are better social and constitutional policy than strong-man rule and witch hunts. After all, someone can always find examples of failed democracies and faculty lounges that hosted a mass murder. However, it is reasonable for me to believe what I do on the balance of the evidence - accepting that I do not have time to research everything, some information is not available, and some concepts are beyond my grasp.

If teleology is promiscuous, well, materialism is infertile. And I know where the future lies ...


Reader asks: By what mechanism are near death experiences transmitted?

A reader writes,

... I'm reading The Spiritual Brain, and I already believe in the existence of the soul, in free-will, and life after death. But there is something that puzzles me about Near Death Experiences. If the brain shuts down at death, how can the revived person remember whatever experience he had while out of the body? Isn't memory a physical/chemical process? I'm inclined to believe that it is because you can lose memory through dementia, a blow to the head, etc. If memory were a spiritual process, I don't think a hammer blow would have an effect on one's recall, because a hammer can't have an effect on one's soul. So lets assume I have an NED, and the NED was truly an out of body experience. My brain did not go along with me to record the event. I return to life, and depend on my brain to recall the trip--but the brain wasn't along for that ride. The brain could not remember a remote event when it was not there to "record" it.

I replied,
If a person is clinically dead but on life support, his brain is not functioning but it is also not in the process of being destroyed by lack of oxygen, which is the usual fate of brains apart from high tech treatment.

Therefore, his brain is at least potentially a working organ.

Thus the question is, how does the mind transmit a perception of an experience to the currently inactive brain? If there is a time delay in the transmission, where is the experience in the meantime?

One thing that is becoming more apparent from studies of psychokinesis and correlations of the separated, which we address in The Spiritual Brain, is that our minds are not as tightly bound to our brains as was formerly believed.

Now, just what THAT proves may take many decades to unravel.


New atheists vs. the ex-atheist

Marvin Olasky muses on the recent popularity of "new atheist" books:
Atheistic authors see themselves as avant-garde, but they merely are echoing the riffs of 19th-century scoffers who predicted the imminent demise of Christianity. Gilded Age orator Robert Ingersoll, for example, said that when Christians dominate schools and media, it is hard to mount an attack on concepts of revelation and miracles, but "now that religion's monopoly has been broken, it is within the compass of any human being to see those evidences and proofs as the feeble-minded inventions that they are."

So what happened? Why are many churches in the U.S. booming? Why is Christianity expanding so rapidly in Africa and China? To begin to answer that, we should let our imaginations run wild: What if in the 20th century, in the biggest country by land area and also in the biggest country by population, leaders had required the teaching of atheism in all schools? Freed of "feeble-minded inventions," wouldn't the world be a better place?

Oh, you say we don't have to imagine? You say the Soviet Union and China did establish atheism and the results were not pretty?

He thinks it's a passing fad. I think it's a last ditch effort to sell atheism before the science evidence for meaning and purpose in the universe makes atheism as implausible as the fairies in the bottom of the garden.

At least in the Western context. You could still be an atheist in the Eastern context, but that wouldn't abolish anything that the new atheists want to get rid of. Yu'd have karma instead of God.

For example, right in the middle of the organized atheist uproar, an atheist who was far more highly respected than any of these others, Antony Flew, came to the conclusion, based on science evidence, that there IS a God. I have written about that here.

The important thing to see is that he did NOT have an old tyme religious experience and did NOT become a fundamentalist. He simply came to the conclusion that the science evidence is best explained by the idea that there is a God. That's more or less what I think too after co-writing The Spiritual Brain.

Yes, yes, I was a Christian before that, but I didn't realize how much science evidence supports theism. I had never been asked to look at my faith that way; it was all experiential. The Spiritual Brain (I am Mario Beauregard's co-author) was a chance to look at one huge line of evidence from neuroscience about the reality of the mind.

One difference between ex-atheist Flew and the new atheists may be that Flew doesn't appear to have bought into materialist ideas of the mind - that here is really no mind, no free will - what Mario calls the central dogma of modern neuroscience.

And if you think that there is a mind, there is free will, why not a Mind behind it all, idf the evidence suggests that? Not proven, but a reasonable assumption, and certainly worthy of further investigation.

Labels: ,

One reason why The Golden Compass tanked at the box office?

Interesting thoughts on The Golden Compass's author Philip Pullman's works from New Testament prof Leslie Baynes, in the Wall Street Journal:
The main problem with "His Dark Materials," however, is not the atheism per se but rather its mindless dogmatism. There is no such thing as an open-minded Christian in the series. Take this quote from "The Amber Spyglass": "I met an angel. . . . She said that all the history of human life has been a struggle between wisdom and stupidity. She and the rebel angels, the followers of wisdom, have always tried to open minds; the Authority and his churches have always tried to keep them closed." To be fair, Mr. Pullman himself noted in a 2000 interview that this one-sided portrayal is "an artistic flaw," but there it is nonetheless.

Given that the film tanked at the box office - contrary to expectations - one reason might be that people sense that the premise is simply false to their own experience.


Thought for the day: Can everyone be wise?

David Warren comments on perennial philosophy:
While reading recently the third edition of After Virtue by the great living philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, I was struck once again by the notion of the "philosophia perennis." This is the notion that there is one, and only one, recurring and inevitable set of mutually dependent universal truths on the nature of man, and of the world in which he appears -- one and only one convincing view of what we can mean by the good, the true, and the beautiful. This view is accessible to all men who can summon the intellectual and moral resources to be wise, which include the patience to deeply consider the alternatives and reject all those that ultimately contradict themselves.

MacIntyre is not a philosopher with whom I feel entirely at home. ...
Mario Beauregard, my lead author on The Spiritual Brain, is a perennialist, and Warren's take is interesting.