Monday, November 17, 2008

A philosopher confronts the errors of debunkers

Debunking has fallen on hard times.

It used to mean explaining how some TV psychic "discovers" info that his handlers have gleaned from conversations with gullible fans.

(File under Rules for living: What you tell people in a TV studio is NOT private )

Unfortunately, in recent decades, "debunking" has come to mean any old hooey lobbed by materialists who cannot make their case with hard evidence.

Philosopher Neal Grossman of the University of Illinois at Chicago, in a letter to the Journal of Near-Death Studies , confronts typical "debunker" errors, including the error of confusing what is logically possible with what is really possible.

Look, it is logically possible that I am not the non-celeb whose profile appears in the upper right corner of this blog, but rather a space alien who is reading your DNA while you are reading this blog. But is that really possible? Is it worth taking seriously? Would you pay for insurance against it?

Grossman calls the people who are completely committed to a materialist view of life, "fundamaterialists."

Addressing the question of life after death, he comments,
... if the fundamaterialist says that the hypothesis of an afterlife is so extraordinary that we should prefer any other hypothesis, so long that it is consistent with materialism and not self-contradictory, my reply is as follows: There is absolutely nothing extraordinary about the hypothesis of an afterlife. The overwhelming majority of people in the world believe it, and have always believed it. I grant, however, that there exists a rather peculiar subgroup of human beings for whom the survival hypothesis is extraordinary. This subgroup consists of people who have been university-educated into accepting materialist dogma on faith. We have been brainwashed by our university education into accepting that the hypothesis of an afterlife is extraordinary. It is perhaps time to acknowledge this, and to acknowledge that we are all suffering from what Gary Schwartz has called ‘‘post-educational stress disorder’’ (Schwartz and Simon, 2002, p. 224). Part of this ‘‘disorder’’ is that we have internalized the academy’s materialist worldview, and we call anything that falls outside that worldview ‘‘extraordinary.’’

But it is the materialists’ worldview that is truly extraordinary, especially when one considers the ridiculous hypotheses that that worldview advances in order to save itself, ..
"Debunking" has become a vehicle for know-nothings to proclaim that whatever they don't know isn't knowledge. Or that solutions to huge problems (like how to understand human consciousness) are just around the corner. Or that if we give them another 200 years and another two million dollars, they'll come up with an answer ... not that you or I will ever know if they did ...

See also: Evidence? If you are a materialist, you need never bother with evidence.


MercatorNet: Explaining Away Religion for the 100th Time

This time, anthropologist Pascal Boyer, author of the ambitiously titled Religion Explained, takes an inept swipe at explaining religion in Nature, and I comment at MercatorNet:

From Part I:

In fairness, it is very difficult for a social scientist to write a book about religion that does not fundamentally distort its nature. Those who can write such a book usually have a background in the humanities -- Peter Berger comes readily to mind. Most attempts sponsored by atheistic materialists do not explain, they merely explain away.

Boyer, for example, constantly compares humans to animals, ending in the swamp of the ridiculous. For example,
Indeed, the extraordinary social skills of humans, compared with other primates, may be honed by constant practice with imagined or absent partners.
Hmmm. I don't suppose lemurs have imaginary friends; they probably don't have actual friends either. So something about humans is definitely different, ....

Tellingly, while natural scientists quite often regard social scientists with contempt (having the style of science without the substance), Nature gladly prints an article by a social scientist if it tries, however inadequately, to explain away religious belief. The journal's editors would not likely print a similar article explaining away Darwinism as a mere "cognitive construct" whose "truths" about nature are no more valid than the "truths" of African mythology or medieval Catholicism. Darwinism is, after all, their cult.

Read all

From Part II:

In "Religion: Bound to Believe?" (Nature: Vol 455 23 October 2008), anthropologist Pascal Boyer does not even try to understand what drives a devoutly religious person; he is concerned only with finding explanations that suggest a cognitive kink or deficit. For example,

We now know that human brains have a set of security and precaution networks dedicated to preventing potential hazards such as predation or contamination. These networks trigger specific behaviours such as washing and checking one’s environment. When the systems go into overdrive they produce obsessive-compulsive pathology. Religious statements about purity, pollution, the hidden danger of lurking devils, may also activate these networks and make ritual precautions (cleansing, checking, delimiting a sacred space) intuitively appealing.

How does this help us understand why people spend their Friday night driving aged parishioners to holy hours or refuse to save their lives during a Rwandese massacre by abandoning fellow believers to their fate? Something is obviously missing from his explanation.

One thing missing is accuracy about obsessive-compulsive pathology. An obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) sufferer knows that her obsessive compulsions are nonsense. That is, she knows that her son will not die if she fails to count all the windows in her apartment building all over again. But due to bad brain wiring, she feels the fear. (See The Spiritual Brain, pp. 129-30.)

Indeed, encouraging the patient to substitute thinking for feeling is the basis of a successful non-materialist treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder, pioneered by Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz.

So OCD would explain religious ritual only if the typical worshipper felt an inner compulsion to engage in the activity while believing it useless - not a common scenario, and hardly a convincing basis for a theory of religion. That anyone would advance such an explanation in a science journal shows how limited the appetite for accuracy is in this area.

Read all here:

See also at MercatorNet: The payoff for straining the brain - how focus and sleep really do improve your academic performance

Labels: , ,