IMG_0569
Blog powered by Typepad

« Movie review: Salt | Main | Poetry corner »

Comments

I think there may be different kinds of "Jims"; each with a different motivation. They range from the garden variety neurotic with his incessant need to alleviate anxiety by feeling in control of everything and thus destroying those who disagree with him, to self righteous true believers feeling a need to convert the savages, to the truly rotten (evil?) jerk who gets off on crushing out comfort and hapiness wherever he finds it.

The effect on poor Jules is the same regardless, but his role in the scene could be anything from collateral damage to innocent victim.

Thank you for voicing something I have often wondered. I am soon to be 58 years old and even though my mom died when I was 15 years old I still miss her to this day. I was a real momma's boy. There is hardly a day go by where I don't think of her in some way.

It wasn't till right around the year 2000 when John Edward was on TV on his show Crossing Over that I suddenly developed an interest in finding out about life after death. Watching and wondering about what he did got me to looking up stuff on the internet and started me on a search to find answers.

Science of the Soul came on tonight on History International at 9:00 central time. It's a two hour program. I missed it but I looked it up and it comes on again at 1:00 am so I set up our DVD recorder to record it. It's a two hour program. I watched a few minutes of it and it looks interesting.

I was thinking of something similar recently. Surely it is better or preferable to know the truth about things.

But is it better to know a truth that leaves you permanently miserable than to believe something false which lets you live a life in comfort?

We think of the truth as a good, but what good is it if it empties you of happiness? In what sense is it then good? It's not like taking medicine that is worth the discomfort of tasting to repair your health if it destroys your happiness with no hope of recovery, which we would probably universally agree upon as a bad thing. So how then could that truth still be good?

Now I also have to state, similar to you MP, that this does NOT represent some secret belief in the weakness of the evidence for paranormal phenomenon on my part. This is me thinking about how the idea that the truth is a good blends with atheist behavior.

I DO think it is a good to pursue, but I don't see how an atheist can even recommend the truth as a desirable thing to have for all people if his version of reality is correct. It may be that ignorance and fantasies about an afterlife would have more desirable effects on humanity and civilization than nothing but the cold hard facts, if the universe really is a place without any meaning but the arbitrary forms of it we manufacture.

If that is the case, then it would seem one's justification for recommending the belief in personal extinction after death would be to achieve a state of abject misery as if that were better than being happy.

In other words, the prescription for truth would be to produce despair, and not necessarily a despair that is temporary.

If you haven't seen Shutter Island yet, the ending is a stunner and relates to the same sort of question you are asking.

My brother (incidentally named Jim) has a science degree, but resolutely refuses to even think about there being other "dimensions” to the universe that science describes. I'm more like Jules. I get the impression that he is scared to look at anything that isn't within his "scientific" thinking as it could bring crashing down his perceived universe, which he is very comfortable with.

I think that for each of us, one of our most crucial "possessions" is our Story, by which I mean our concept, whether conscious or not, of how the universe works. It provides meaning, comfort, and helps us to make sense of our pain.

The atheist has his version of the Story, and while it may not seem comforting to you or me, it works for him. Probably each of us, if we think back to our pre-spiritual days (if there were any), can explain why we felt as we did, and why our particular worldview was a natural outgrowth of all that we experienced up to that point.

Now if your Story is at odds with mine, there's a bit of dissonance there. If I can convince you that my Story is the right one, I'll feel that much safer, right?

Of course, that doesn't work in the long run. Safety—real safety—comes from within, not from amassing more votes on your side of the argument.

I've personally come round recently to a kind of philosophical pragmatism that's not so much based on doubting our ability to ascertain truth apart from utility (though I still have some of those doubts) but from the Aristotelian ideas of the golden mean and the unity of virtue.

To me, you have to weigh all of your interests as a human being together even when deciding what to believe. If you concentrate too much on not holding false beliefs, what you get is not reason but a kind of intellectual celibacy.

@dmduncan

"I don't see how an atheist can even recommend the truth as a desirable thing to have for all people if his version of reality is correct."

I've known people who take the materialist view in stride and seem just fine with it. They're welcome to it, and I'm not about to tell them not to.

But, yeah, one of the things I noticed that broke me personally of the "Atheism is superior in every way to theism" attitude was the number of atheists who are unhappy about their own beliefs. Not just the ones who openly express despair, but the aggressive ones: I have always believed that the Christians who were most aggressive were those who were most insecure and least happy in their faith, and I see no reason why this wouldn't be true of atheists.

The final straw for me was a video by an atheist who said he'd rather have his suicidal friend actually kill himself than become a Christian again, because he loved his friend too much to want him to live a lie.

An interesting way of trying to tease out Jim’s motives. But while my views on life after death chime very much with Michaels, and I guess most of those who post on this blog, I do think it conceivable that Jim’s motives could be positive. Grief can be a terrible thing. Losing a young child in particular is perhaps something nobody ever fully gets over. But life goes on, and in this respect religious/ spiritual beliefs can be a source not only of comfort, but also I believe of healing and spiritual growth by – over time – enabling the mourner to place their tragedy in a larger context. It seems to me possible, however, that becoming attached to a particular and perhaps over literal belief in the afterlife for too long could have an emotionally harmful effect in this respect by allowing those very healing and spiritual processes to become blocked.

This certainly looks to be a danger for Jules because his belief in the afterlife is fixed and exists in a spiritual vacuum (remember, Jules has no interest in, or curiosity about, evidence of the afterlife; evidence the rest of us may look for at least in part by drawing on religious/ spiritual traditions and/ or experience). If Jim was a close friend, and became convinced Jules had become blocked in this way as a result of his particular beliefs about the afterlife, then he might seek to challenge those beliefs out of the best of motives. Of course, he would need to be doing this from friendship, or love even; and he would need to be very clear about his own motives. He would also need to be very sure Jules’ grieving had reached the stage where such a challenge wouldn’t be damaging. But for me it’s not inconceivable.

Of course, this isn’t where most of the scepticism about life after death is coming from, a good deal of which has featured in the UK media over the last week following the poor reviews given here to Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter (Michael’s post of 15 September 2010 refers). For anyone interested, this Guardian article is a typical example:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/filmblog/2011/jan/31/hereafter-afterlife-clint-eastwood

Eastwood’s mistake, it is claimed, lies in making a film that takes the supernatural seriously, thus (because of the obviously sad and deluded nature of doing that) ensuring he made a bad film. All the good films concerning the metaphysical or supernatural succeed, apparently, because such elements are introduced solely as a ‘plot device’. A dubious distinction if ever I saw one, but perhaps a subject for another post.

And I have to wonder: Is that what Jim wants?

I believe Jim secretly hopes that Jules can convince about about a life after death.

It's nonsense that scientific minded persons are scared of loosing their worldview etc. It's a cornerstone in a scientific education to learn to question and challenge current theories.

Being sceptical is simply to reject superstition and unfounded speculation.

Michael,

Well stated. I've put that concern to my materialistic friends on more than a couple of occasions. However, the other side of the coin is this: Should those of us who think we have good evidence to support Jules' belief offer it to him and attempt to move him from his blind faith to true faith, i.e., conviction, or should we assume that he is content with his blind faith and leave him be?

My personal feeling is that blind faith just doesn't do it for the great majority of Juleses out there. They still strive to be "one with their toys." Most of them are not receptive to the evidence, but sometimes a seed is planted that may sprout at a later time.

If materialism is actually true, then I think there's no way of getting around the assertion that human values are arbitrary, which would include the value of truth itself.

Take the example above of the atheist who would rather have his friend commit suicide than "live a lie." This person clearly values "living the truth"--but why? If we humans are nothing but matter and energy, then whatever content is in our heads is just the content that's in our heads. It's only important because we happen to think it is important. There is no external validation of "living the truth" of materialism.

The objection to the above line of reasoning could be, as Michael originally points out, pragmatic. Valuing the truth leads to preferable outcomes and a better society. But my counter to this would be that that's an unproven assertion. In fact, it's arguable that people are hardwired for religion and "belief" thanks to evolution and will be much more comfortable "living the lie."

At the end of the day, I think materialists are like fish in the ocean who deny the existence of water. They are steeped not only in the *actual* spiritual reality of the Universe, which is unavoidable, but also civilization's response to that spiritual reality. They would like to reap the benefits of the spiritual side of society (a high degree of altruism, valuing truth for truth's sake, etc.) while mocking that spiritual side.

In my experience, serious atheists (as opposed to people who avoid the question or simply lean that way) are people who more often than not enjoy raining on the parade and feeling superior to others because they are enlightened. Their expression of their atheism is aggressive and malicious.

SBU, "I believe Jim secretly hopes that Jules can convince about about a life after death.

It's nonsense that scientific minded persons are scared of loosing their worldview etc. It's a cornerstone in a scientific education to learn to question and challenge current theories.

Being sceptical is simply to reject superstition and unfounded speculation."

Sorry, but I don't buy it.

If Jim wants to privately question these things himself to his own satisfaction, then you might have a point. When he becomes insistant on attempting to divest someone else - Jules - of his beliefs, something else is in operation. Jules has no evidence to offer and does not question. So it cannot be that Jim wants to engage in a potentially mutually educational dialog. Rather, Jim just wants to beat up on Jules. Why does Jim see it as his mission to trample Jules' beliefs? This is the question MP asks. I wonder too.

More generally, I wonder why the athiests are so focussed on "truth" as it pertains to one specific area of human thinking and behavior (i.e. religion/spirituality)? Why skew efforts toward this one topic?

We are surrounded by lies; very real lies that do tremendous harm. The political arena comes to mind instantly as an example. Why isn't "Jim" more concerned with truth in our democratic system where scientific methodologies really could be employed to get to the most acurate and best answer to serious social problems, international policy, etc., but isn't?

Or how about misrepresentations in educational material like history books? Or even the silly Hollywood myths that flood our homes every night? Or a media that rarely gets the story right? Or "truth" in his own personal interactions with friends, family and associates? Does Jim stay hard at work 24/7/365 objectively examining all of these situations and challenging all participants in them, as well as himself, to arrive at unadulterated reality? Is Jim constantly dwelling in a hardcore face to face with "reality" or does he, at least occassionally, slip into his own little fantasy escapes? If so, why then would he want to deny Jules of his form of respite (even if that's all it is)?

No, Jim has a bee in his bonnette concerning religion and various spiritual beliefs; something that should be largely a private matter. This, to me, points to some specific - dare I say, pathological - issue on Jim's part.

"More people like ourselves--that's really what politics is all about."
I heard Averell Harriman make that statement (almost certainly a quote from somewhere) on TV about 35 (?) years ago. It's stuck with me ever since. Here's another such quote, from page 204 of Henry Bauer's Science or Pseudoscience?
"much of the polemics between true believers and true disbelievers is just warfare between opposing ideologies. Perhaps it’s part of what seems to be instinctive human xenophobia, to want everyone to believe exactly as we do…. CSICOP desperately wants the rest of society to believe as it does."

Here's another statement from Bauer, page :


"5: Science has itself become a sort of church, and scientists are in that sense also priests (Knight, 1986). Science nowadays like the church in earlier centuries feels responsible for the intellectual orderliness of society. Thus pseudoscience is heretical belief—not merely wrong but an actual danger to the proper functioning of society and the welfare of humankind. The passion that authority always vents against heresy is directed nowadays in the name of science against pseudoscience."

"Now if your Story is at odds with mine, there's a bit of dissonance there. If I can convince you that my Story is the right one, I'll feel that much safer, right?"

Yes. I'm aware of that as well. I think you can view all sorts of dogmatism/authoritarianism as attempts to impose one's STORY on others, because the ultimate safety for YOU is when EVERYBODY tells the same Story.

"I've known people who take the materialist view in stride and seem just fine with it. They're welcome to it, and I'm not about to tell them not to."

Well I was an atheist once as well. Not a very happy one. I was full of the cranky nobility of the atheist. What I wonder is how often atheists actually contemplate the abyss they must believe in and what effect that has on them, and how much their ability to cope with that depends on actually NOT thinking about it, which correlates to ignoring the truth. Also, how the atheist copes may also change the closer he comes to dying...

If he is correct, then one cannot even take comfort in leaving some legacy behind because even THAT will someday vanish completely; by the atheist's view, a day will come when no atom of evidence will remain that we were ever here.

That may be more important for the old and dying atheist to NOT think about than the young one who still has a long way to go.

But the point remains: How is that truth a good to the person who does NOT believe in an afterlife and must NOT contemplate the abyss to be a caring and decent human being?

@no one:

Rather, Jim just wants to beat up on Jules. Why does Jim see it as his mission to trample Jules' beliefs? This is the question MP asks. I wonder too.

But isn't it just fundamental human trying to pursuade others to the same beliefs, values and viewpoints as your own? I find this true whatever the talk is on politics, religion or even sports and culture sometimes.

Another reason for Jim’s bullying behaviour is that it helps him male-bond with his peer group (ie his gang). It’s always males (usually immature) that do this kind of thing.

In the past, there have been matriarchal societies. I hope the next one will be too, gentler and more in touch with Mother Earth, but retaining the best of our civilisation.

Here's an interesting comment by Mencken, from "Sabbath Meditation":


"Iam anything but a militant atheist. ... Among my curious experiences, years ago, was that of convincing an ardent Catholic who balked at the dogma of papal infallibility. He was a very faithful son of the church and his inability to accept it greatly distressed him. I proved to him, at least to his satisfaction, that there was nothing intrinsically absurd in it - that if the dogmas that he already accepted were true then this one was probably true also. Some time later, when this man was on his deathbed, I visited him and he thanked me simply and with apparent sincerity for resolving his old doubt. But even he was unable to comprehend my own lack of religion. His last words to me were a pious hope that I would give over my lamentable contumacy to God and lead a better life. He died firmly convinced that I was headed for Hell, and, what is more, that I deserved it."

As I hoped, this post is generating many interesting comments and perspectives. Keep it up!

Ordinarily I wouldn't write this kind of thing anymore, because - believe it or not - I don't like to be too confrontational. But this issue interests me. Admittedly it's an exaggerated situation, with Jules set up as the most inoffensive believer imaginable, and Jim as a pretty obnoxious antagonist. But that kind of exaggeration helps clarify the point, or at least I hope it does.

Bruce Siegel suggested we look back to our own atheist-skeptical days for insight into Jim. In my case, I would characterize my younger skeptical self this way: I wanted to be very sure of myself and pretended I was, but it was mostly a bluff, since I had neither the life experience nor the technical knowledge to back up my assertions. When I encountered someone with a radically different outlook, I felt threatened on an ego level, and I reacted defensively by putting him down and dismissing his views as irrational and stupid. This protected my ego, allowed me to feel superior, enabled me to continue my charade of certainty, and saved me the trouble of actually examining contrary opinions and possibly having to admit I was wrong.

I'm not saying this mindset applies to others, necessarily. It's just what I get when I introspect.

The key part to your story is the notion that Jim and Jules exist in a world where evidence for the afterlife does not exist.

In the real world, there is an incredible amount of evidence for the afterlife. This is what prompts the supernatural/skeptic wars, because there is real material which the Jims of the world can attack. This makes it more of a scientific battle versus a battle of beliefs.

If this were merely a battle of belief, removed from experiential and scientific evidence, Jim would have a lot less to work with because it would be a philosophical discussion. And for any skeptic to attack personal belief is monumentally immature. As immature as when Muslims and Christians clash.

Because we really do have all this incredible evidence for the afterlife, anybody can say "I believe in the afterlife, here's why" and this is a staggeringly powerful position to hold because it transcends religion and belief systems. It is no longer a matter of faith but a matter of the natural world.

And, this intimidates skeptics and forces them to fight back. Which, some could argue, is good. The skeptics push us toward stricter research.


As for the Hereafter review in the Guardian, I agree with some of the people who wrote a comment on the review in that it is more of an opinion article on the reviewer's lack of belief in the afterlife rather than an actual review. I also noticed a lot of people who say they are scared of eternal existence, too.

SBU, "But isn't it just fundamental human trying to pursuade others to the same beliefs, values and viewpoints as your own?"

Saddly, it does seem to be a human tendency. But why? I can't avoid pointing to the psychology of neurosis and anxiety. And I don't particulary care for psychology ;-)

Cyrus -

That's what's interesting about the Guardian article (and all the comments I was able to read through) linked above- there is no discussion of, or even knowledge of, the evidence. For the dyed-in-the-wool materialist, there's no need to investigate the evidence, since there can be no evidence of impossible things, and anyway the Amazing Randi "proved" such and such and so and so, didn't he?

I don;t see many skeptics actually engaging with the evidence, because to them that is given the crazies too much credit.
They "know" the answers already, they don't need to argue with flat-earthers.

Great comment by "no one." Indeed, are they really worried about truth in all areas? To they have their truth priorities straight? Good questions.

Matt Rouge—

"If materialism is actually true, then I think there's no way of getting around the assertion that human values are arbitrary, which would include the value of truth itself."

I have the same sense. I personally count this as a reason to dismiss materialism: if it's true, I wouldn't be obligated to believe it, nor would I personally want to. So what motivation do I have to be a materialist if some form of immaterialism is a live option for me?

Truly immaterialism is not baseless but it's as relevant as the opposing side, if not more so.

To piggy back off the last comment, if then I am given an option to pick sides, why would I pick materialism when it is not any-more credible, yet the philosophy prescribes to nihilism and a general dreadfulness about life?

I have absolutely no doubt that being 'immaterialist' provides happiness every single day of my life. The world becomes so big and vast and we all feel so much more important. Every single person is a valuable part of the universe versus little cosmic accidents.

"why would I pick materialism when it is not any-more credible, yet the philosophy prescribes to nihilism and a general dreadfulness about life?" - cyrus
--------------------------------------------

My feelings exactly!

This verse from the gospel of John pretty much boils down my philosophy or belief about who and what we are.

John 10:34 NIV
Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I have said you are gods'?"

We are gods in training!

That's the point I was making. In a truly pointless universe, why is it better to choose a horrible truth than a happy lie? There's no hell for you to go to by choosing the lie, there's no wandering the earth as an unhappy ghost for choosing the lie. There is, in short, no consequence to choosing the lie except that you live a more enjoyable life.

So when the result of choosing the truth is unhappiness, what is the incentive to choose it again please?

You can't say it's because it hurts fewer atheists because in a pointless universe why should the concern of any atheist be our concern at all? If there's no point to the universe or our existence in it, why is there a point in caring how the atheist or anybody else feels? No matter what your crime — and "crime" and "criminal" are here merely emotive words people who don't like what you do are calling you, nothing more, and who then really cares about sticks and stones? — there's no hell to go to for doing so, no karma to suffer, and only social conditioning to overcome which was all arbitrary anyway.

So it would seem the notion that when the truth is ugly it is still always better than the lie regardless of its effect on the knower is self refuting from the perspective of there being common goods for all people. Good and bad are merely relative concepts in the atheist's universe. One person can crush the skull of another and successfully wipe out competing ideas of what constitutes the good.

There's no hell to go to for doing so, and no karma to suffer, so why not?

But an important distinction to make is that materialism is not the 'truth'. All the evidence points against materialism as being real. Materialism is simply an assumption that's made with limited information. And the nihilism / crummy life philosophies ultimately follow.

So it IS a choice, and the choice is unhappiness surrounding a theory with limited evidence (materialism) versus much better mental health surrounding a theory with abundant evidence (non materialism)

Right, dmduncan. There is no rational explanation for Jim's behavior. Odd, because Jim claims to be driven by rationality.

Perhaps Jim has stunted abilities of introspection? That would explain a lot, IMO.

And my pet-theory is that insistence on a nihilistic view of the universe is motivated by a lack of personal self esteem. In other words, you don't like your life and so you choose a way to view life that best suits you.

For a typical person who's 'materialist' when you introduce the best books on NDEs, deathbed visions, mediumship (Scole, Piper, etc), telepathy, precognition, astral projection, etc. most people, based on evidence, drift toward what they already suspected: that the mind is not the sum of our parts.

But if an individual has a strong attachment to the idea of cosmic accidents, artificial consciousness, and social Darwinism, they will not surrender their belief.

There's a particular author I read who discusses dating, relationships, and attraction. He's a firm believer that the purpose to existence is to reproduce, and this attitude justifies almost anything as 'moral' (from a social Darwinist perspective) in the pursuit of the mate. So, if you've just stolen somebody's girlfriend by seducing her, you are justified because you are a man, and you must reproduce with the most fertile females.

This author uses materialism as justification for what is basically unethical behavior. He is also a co-patriot of many people in the skeptical community who reinforce his opinions. i really don't think someone like this would change the negative little world they built in the face of any type of evidence.

@sbu:
”But isn't it just fundamental human trying to persuade others to the same beliefs, values and viewpoints as your own? I find this true whatever the talk is on politics, religion or even sports and culture sometimes.”

I wouldn’t say that it is fundamentally human in the sense that it is an inescapable part of our biological makeup. Rather, it seems to be a part of our psychology, but only at certain stages of psychological development – those that are preoccupied with trying to control the external world as a prerequisite for personal wellbeing. At other stages, where one’s focus shifts inwardly, it is not so important to convince others to believe and value the same because one’s happiness and fulfilment are not contingent on being able to craft and enforce a consensus view of reality.

I have found Jenny Wade’s book Changes of Mind very informative on this subject.

@Cyrus: And I'm not suggesting that materialism IS the truth. I'm just assuming that premise for the sake of following the philosophical consequences.

I think a lot of atheism is naive atheism. The guy doesn't believe in God, what he doesn't see doesn't make sense to him, but he does believe in the Superbowl. The naive atheist doesn't really think through the consequences of his beliefs and that explains some of the happy go lucky ability he has in being an atheist. For me, as I began to actually model the consequences I realized not only how dismal they were, but my own sense of right and wrong, which is something I do not believe was taught to me like the alphabet, forbade me to believe in that sort of pointlessness. If good and evil were purely something that others imparted to you through teaching, then you should also be able to teach anyone anything, including to like the taste of licorice and rootbeer. But it doesn't work that way. The voice of God may be a mere whisper in each of us, and easy to ignore. But if there is good, a real, abiding good that is not a relative or arbitrary thing, there is good because there is God, because good is a chip off the old block.

That also means we must consider that all evil is not merely the consequence of ignorance, but a deliberate thing that some do for itself.

"That also means we must consider that all evil is not merely the consequence of ignorance, but a deliberate thing that some do for itself."

dmduncan, I have too found it true that there are people who knowingly and willfully commit evil acts just for the sake of the perverse pleasure they derive from hurting others and or beating the system. I am even convinced that these individuals recognize that they have chosen evil in a very spritual sense (I have known some criminals in my travels - a couple who had murdered - and it is interesting what comes up over a couple drinks and a conversation on sprirituality). Actually, I think just about everyone that commits evil acts, no matter how minor in consequence, is aware of the choice they have made at the moment they choose to act.

Too much new age thinking has all people being essentially good and doing bad because they don't know any better (the evil = ignorance crowd). Too me, this is squishy feel good nonsense.

The sciences, from criminology to biology, also usually absolve those who do evil with excuses ranging from social environmental influences to genetics and brain structure.

I think people like these excuses because the ramifications of seeing the commision of evil in a more spiritual light are just to heavy.

I think with regards to the Jules/Jim scenario, I think there is a problem of a lack of empathy from both proponents and skeptics. On one hand, the skeptics are dumbfounded that people can believe in what they feel are absurd concepts, and on the flip-side proponents are astonished that there are people who seem to want to wish a permanent death and are content with it. I think the person who said that humans have a tendency to try and change people to similar views is probably right, I think it is done because people feel more comfortable when they are around like-minded people.

There have been times where I feel a bit "disgusted" (maybe too strong of a word, but that's the closest one I can think of) because I find out friends of mine or even celebrities I like subscribe to a materialistic mindset. However, I realize there are probably materialists who feel the same way in a vice-versa scenario, so I think these feelings have more to do with human nature than anything.

I have heard of reverse Jim/Jules scenarios where a skeptic is badgered by a proponent (who may not necessarily be religious) because of their beliefs, and the skeptic does not want to go into a discussion of their beliefs (it is a touchy subject), so I guess this can definitely be a two-way street.

More musings...

A lot of atheists are not deeply committed to their position. It may be a lifestyle choice, like a tattoo. They feel tougher because they reject what the vast majority of people believe in.

A lot of atheists, it would seem, are not rejecting the best evidence for the afterlife, psi, etc. They are rejecting fundamentalist Christianity and a bunch of other awful non-materialists positions, and I can hardly blame them.

Even Randi, Hitchens, Dawkins, and all those other unlikeable fellows seem to be battling not the best versions of our belief system but the worst: again, the oppressive and manipulative religions out there. Of course, they do this out of convenience to a large degree: it's a straw man in a philosophical sense.

But often not in a practical sense. Religions and other dogmatic belief systems are still doing a lot of damage in the world. Indeed, I think that the evidence for the afterlife, psi, ghosts, etc., has been held at bay for so long not so much because of the Randis and hard-core atheists but because of the Christians who, like the atheists, want to push anything away that threatens their worldview--but who, being in the majority, have had the power to push these things rather effectively ("Nya nya, can't HEAR youuuu!").

To Aftrbrnr's point, I do have a lot of empathy for the skeptics. Rarely have I met an atheist who really seems happy. Points here about self-esteem are pretty much on target, I think.

I have the same sort of empathy for hard-core Christians (the kind that get in other people's face about sexuality, etc.), etc. BUT, people of all religions partake of the basic truths and comforts of spirituality, and I think many if not most of them ARE happy (I would not assert that New Agers like myself are *more* happy).

No One wrote, :"Too much new age thinking has all people being essentially good and doing bad because they don't know any better (the evil = ignorance crowd). Too me, this is squishy feel good nonsense."

Finally somebody else who feels this way. Some people elect to follow chaos instead of order, and this is a conscious decision to be the undoer of light, the destructor of goodness. Not all commit crime out of pure ignorance. Especially those people who commit evil on top of an archetypical figure like 'Satan'. This is undoubtedly a powerful force in the universe.

Great, great article Michael.
I just came across an article by Michael Shermer, I find it quit disrespectful because he fails to mention the rigorous investigations done on mediums during that period and he implies that Spiritualism and talking to the dead is due to ignorance. Can someone please point out his errors, here is the full article:

Houdini's Skeptical Advice: Just Because Something's Unexplained Doesn't Mean It's Supernatural
Before you say something is out of this world, first make sure that it is not in this world
By Michael Shermer | February 4, 2011 | 35

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was the brilliant author of the wildly popular Sherlock Holmes detective stories, which celebrated the triumph of reason and logic over superstition and magical thinking. Unfortunately, the Scottish physician-turned-writer did not apply his creation’s cognitive skills when it came to the blossoming spiritualism movement of the early 1900s: he fell blindly for the crude hoax of the Cottingley Fairies photographs and regularly attended séances to make contact with family members who had died in the First World War, especially his son Kingsley. Perhaps fittingly, Conan Doyle’s fame brought him into company with the greatest magician of his age, Harry Houdini, who did not suffer fakes gladly.
In the spring of 1922 Conan Doyle visited Houdini in his New York City home, whereupon the magician set out to demonstrate that slate writing—a favorite method among mediums for receiving messages from the dead, who allegedly moved a piece of chalk across a slate—¬could be done by perfectly prosaic means. Houdini had Conan Doyle hang a slate from anywhere in the room so that it was free to swing in space. He presented the author with four cork balls, asking him to pick one and cut it open to prove that it had not been altered. He then had Conan Doyle pick another ball and dip it into a well of white ink. While it was soaking, Houdini asked his visitor to go down the street in any direction, take out a piece of paper and pencil, write a question or a sentence, put it back in his pocket and return to the house. Conan Doyle complied, scribbling, “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin,” a riddle from the Bible’s book of Daniel, meaning, “It has been counted and counted, weighed and divided.”
How appropriate, for what happened next defied explanation, at least in Conan Doyle’s mind. Houdini had him scoop up the ink-soaked ball in a spoon and place it against the slate, where it momentarily stuck before slowly rolling across the face, spelling out “M,” “e,” “n,” “e,” and so forth until the entire phrase was completed, at which point the ball dropped to the ground. According to William Kalush and Larry Sloman in their 2006 biography The Secret Life of Houdini (Atria Books), the Master Mystifier then dealt Conan Doyle the lesson that he—and by implication anyone impressed by such mysteries—needed to hear:
Sir Arthur, I have devoted a lot of time and thought to this illusion ... I won’t tell you how it was done, but I can assure you it was pure trickery. I did it by perfectly normal means. I devised it to show you what can be done along these lines. Now, I beg of you, Sir Arthur, do not jump to the conclusion that certain things you see are necessarily “supernatural,” or the work of “spirits,” just because you cannot explain them....
Lamentably, Sir Arthur continued to believe that Houdini had psychic powers and spiritual connections that he employed in his famous escapes.
This problem is called the argument from ignorance (“it must be true because it has not been proven false”) or sometimes the argument from personal incredulity (“because I cannot imagine a natural explanation, there cannot be one”). Such fallacious reasoning comes up so often in my encounters with believers that I conclude it must be a product of a brain unsatisfied with doubt; as nature abhors a vacuum, so, too, does the brain abhor no explanation. It therefore fills in one, no matter how unlikely. Thus do normal anomalies become paranormal, natural phenomena become supernatural, unidentified flying objects become extraterrestrial spacecraft and chance events become conspiracies.
Houdini’s principle states that just because something is unexplained does not mean that it is paranormal, supernatural, extraterrestrial or conspiratorial. Before you say something is out of this world, first make sure that it is not in this world, for science is grounded in naturalism, not supernaturalism, paranormalism or any other unnecessarily complicated explanations.

Wonderful article Michael, and Kevin thanks for sharing that, it never ceases to amaze me how Michael Shermer claims to be a Professional Skeptic yet he approaches the paranormal or anything that challenges his world view with his mind already made up that these things are not possible. Read Shermers boast carefully here: ''Such fallacious reasoning comes up so often in my encounters with believers that I conclude it must be a product of a brain unsatisfied with doubt; as nature abhors a vacuum, so, too, does the brain abhor no explanation. It therefore fills in one, no matter how unlikely. Thus do normal anomalies become paranormal, natural phenomena become supernatural, unidentified flying objects become extraterrestrial spacecraft and chance events become conspiracies''.

That's exactly like a Religious believer saying that because everybody believes in God therefore God exists. What kind of reasoning is that? Shermer should first investigate these anomolies with an open mind before concluding that they are not real.

Shermer is a funny guy, though I don't think he means to be. He pies himself in the face whenever possible, so it's hard for me to take him seriously anymore.

Shermer is just a glorified Iraqi information minister circa 2003.

My husband is great at shooting me down when I try to tell the kids anything about my afterlife beliefs. He says that I'm making them delusional. I say, if it gives them comfort through life, what's the harm.

There are a few related posts on the subject of evil and ignorance that I will quote for context:

dmduncan:
”That also means we must consider that all evil is not merely the consequence of ignorance, but a deliberate thing that some do for itself.”

no one:
" I have too found it true that there are people who knowingly and willfully commit evil acts just for the sake of the perverse pleasure they derive from hurting others and or beating the system. "

Cyrus:
” Some people elect to follow chaos instead of order, and this is a conscious decision to be the undoer of light, the destructor of goodness. Not all commit crime out of pure ignorance.”


What do you mean by ignorance in this context? I’m asking because I think that there are different kinds of ignorance, and I’m curious whether you are referring to all of them or just some. For example, it makes sense to me that people could knowingly and willfully commit evil acts for the perverse pleasure that they derive from hurting others, AND do this out of ignorance. It wouldn’t be ignorance of cause and effect because they are quite aware of the consequences of their actions, but it could well be ignorance of more desirable states of being and how to achieve them.

This all assumes we have free will. What if the evil we experience while we are here is somehow essential for the soul to learn certain lessons? And what if after we leave our bodies we look back on this life as if it weren't real, like a dream or an illusion? What if after we get to Heaven we find out that all the stuff that we thought happened really didn't happen, but that we had to believe it happened so we would have a strong emotional response in order to imprint on our soul some particular lessons? What if we only have to believe it's all real so we will have these strong emotional responses because emotion and memory are so closely linked? What if the Creator of the Universe were so smart that He or She was able to create a place where we could come and learn all the things our soul needs to learn but that we couldn't really hurt ourselves? Perhaps God isn't as stupid as we believe Him to be?

What if everything happens for a reason and there are no coincidences? What if the education of the soul is too important to leave it up to chance? What if the soul's lessons are embedded in our everyday lives and it is holistically imprinted with what it needs to learn regardless of who we are, or where we live, or what we believe? What if the Creator of the Universe is way smarter than what we give Him/Her credit for?

@j9:

My husband is great at shooting me down when I try to tell the kids anything about my afterlife beliefs. He says that I'm making them delusional.

If I were you, I would tell him to stop practicing psychiatry without a license.

Sure God chose for Stalin and Hitler to be psycotic mass murders. Sure God chose for for the rapist to the rape the young innocent lady.

The notion that we don't have free will and everything happens for a reason tops the list of cruel philosophies.

On the top of the cruelty of such a universe there is also the problem that it would make everything completely meaningless (except for the idea that we all need to experience something tragic that becomes a trauma for the rest of our life).

If we look to science for support, QM states that the universe probably is indeterministic.

@sbu:

While I ultimately agree with you, I think you're missing something crucial to Art's point: Art's suggesting that none of this is really real. So Stalin and Hitler didn't really kill anyone; the rapist didn't really rape anyone.

Now, I don't agree with that, but you'd do better to criticize that than something Art never suggested.

The comments to this entry are closed.