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2005 Nautilus Book Award Grand Prize Winner! New York Times Best Seller! Every life is a book of secrets, ready to be opened. The secret of perfect love is found there, along with the secrets...

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NEW Spiritual Solutions by Deepak Chopra(Hardcover)
Spiritual Solutions: Answers to Life's Greatest Challenges ( AUDIOBOOK Available )  "Great advice directly from the master on virtually any subject, it just doesn't get any better...

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Soul of Leadership (Hardcover)
ABOUT THIS BOOK Leadership is the most crucial choice one can make—it is the decision to step out of darkness into the light.      Bestselling author and spiritual guide Deepak Chopra invites...

Joyful Wisdom

Joyful Wisdom
ABOUT THEBOOK: Yongey Mingyur is one of the most celebrated among the new generation of Tibetan meditation masters, whose teachings have touched people of all faiths around the world. His first...

Super Brain by Deepak Chopra, MD & Rudy Tanzi, MD (Hardcover)

Super Brain by Deepak Chopra, MD & Rudy Tanzi, MD (Hardcover)
Learn about Deepak Chopra and the Chopra Center's Super Brain dietary supplement - Ayurvedic Brain Support NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER Super Brain by Deepak Chopra, MD & Rudy...

Brotherhood - by Deepak & Sanjiv Chopra (Hardcover)

Brotherhood - by Deepak & Sanjiv Chopra (Hardcover)
BROTHERHOOD Dharma, Destiny, and the American Dream DEEPAK & SANJIV CHOPRA   “BROTHERHOOD is an uplifting account of sibling affection and success, and of the promise and infinite...

GOD: A Story of Revelation (Hardcover)

GOD: A Story of Revelation (Hardcover)
“God is an empty term except through the revelations of all the saints, prophets, and mystics of history. They exist to plant the seeds of spirituality as a direct experience rather than a...

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Ten Poems to Change Your Life
ABOUT THE BOOK: This is a dangerous book. Great poetry calls into question not less than everything. It dares us to break free from the safe strategies of the cautious mind. It opens us to pain...

Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui

Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui
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November 17 2013

The Rise and Fall of Militant Skepticism (Part 3)

Category:  SF Gate

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., FACP and Jordan Flesher, BA Psychology

The bond between militant atheism and militant skepticism has been unusually strong, to the point where attacks on religion are delivered as if no rational, science-mined person could object. In two posts the argument was laid out about how shaky militant skepticism really is in the light of current physics and cosmology. So that the discussion won't seem too arcane and removed from everyday life, this post will examine the fallacies that undermine the skeptical position of two popular skeptics, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.

Since both have scientific credentials, readers of their books should have confidence that Harris and Dawkins are getting their science right. But it takes only a slightly deeper examination to raise doubts. In his book for young adults, The Magic of Reality, Dawkins provides a subtitle: How we know what is really true. It turns out, on reading what he has to say about truth and reality, that Dawkins believes firmly in the truth presented by the five senses, along with the scientific instruments, like telescopes and microscopes, that extend our senses. But reliance on the five senses is the exact opposite of what modern science has been doing for centuries, as far back as Copernicus's discovery that our eyes lie to us when they see the sun rise in the East and set in the West.

The evident reason for Dawkins to make such an elementary mistake lies in his agenda (another thing science isn't supposed to have), which is to discredit all subjective states as unreliable, leading to superstition, credulity, myths, charlatanism (which he intimates is the basis of Jesus's miracles, although a loophole is left open in case Jesus was merely self-deluded), and the ultimate form of deception, belief in God. To date, Dawkins has offered no ontology (theory of reality) that corrects his mistake. Despite a fifteen-minute TED talk on quantum physics, he seems totally ignorant of current theories of perception, consciousness, the mind-body problem, or the observer effect, all of which grew out of the quantum revolution a century ago. In a word, he has made himself irrelevant by his crude linkage of his personal atheism and a fumbling defense of "real" science that was outmoded long ago.

Sam Harris presents a more sophisticated example because, to begin with, he claims a background in philosophy and a long-standing interest in Buddhism. Both areas are deeply concerned with what is real, how we know things, what constitutes the truth, and so on. In his atheist mode Harris is nastier and more strident even than Dawkins (for example, he sees all of Islam as a threat and a present danger, since even "good" Muslims are infected with the inherent violence of their religion). But in various footnotes and passing asides, Harris concedes that subjectivity isn't always the enemy of science. There are medical states, for instance, where the patients self-report of pain, depression, anxiety, etc. are the basis of reality. If a patient says "I'm in pain" or "I’m depressed," no brain scan is sufficient to say authoritatively, "No, you're not."

Harris came a cropper, however, in his last book, The Moral Landscape, when he made basic mistakes that a beginner in philosophy would be warned again. His errors earned the book scathing and dismissive reviews. Stung, he added a long appendix to the second edition defending himself, and when that made no dent, he offered a standing prize to anyone who could convince him that he was in fact wrong.

The thesis of The Moral Landscape is that “conscious minds… are… fully constrained by the laws of Nature (whatever those laws eventually turn out to be).” As it stands, the statement is recklessly absolutist, since it assumes that the operations of the cosmos, extending to an infinite horizon, are understandable by the human mind. Leaving that aside, Harris felt on safe ground because current scientific assumptions identify mind as brain, and there is no doubt that the brain is, indeed, constrained by the laws of nature. But reviewers balked when Harris attempted to firmly prove that morality has its basis in scientific principles operating over the course of evolution. He had made a shaky truce with subjectivity in the past. Now he wanted to bury subjectivity in an area, morality, where scientism is weak at best. Natural laws don’t explain why humans are altruistic or love one another, much less do they explain our divided nature, where good and evil contend in an intractable, wholly inexplicable way.

Harris's boldness exposes his allegiance to bad thinking about what is real and how we know the truth. Specifically, this is the misunderstanding that follows from fusing ontology (what may be ‘real’) with epistemology (what may be ‘true’) without first making sure that one’s apparent epistemological ‘truths’ are, in actuality, even real. To arrive at a ‘truth-claim’ in regards to consciousness and morality via the scientific method, without first understanding the fundamental subjective nature of either consciousness or morality, Harris cannot be certain that his claims are based in reality. For all truth-claims, are made by the human neurological system, and the human brain is not a reliable or valid guide to the actual ‘reality of things’.

In a word, while Dawkins makes a crude claim that the five senses are reliable indicators of what is real, Harris makes a sophisticated claim in the same area, by assuming that the human brain, a physical object that evolved over millennia, is reliable as the model for everything that happens inside our minds. But if the five senses can't be trusted, neither can the brain, which processes the input of our sense organs and fashions them into a three-dimensional model of the world. The model isn't the same as reality. At best it is only provisional; at worst it may be very far from the truth, as witness hundreds of models from the past that have been thoroughly exploded (e.g., the Earth is the center of creation, blood washes back and forth in the body like the tide, etc.)

Harris may argue that the scientific method can “stand on its own” apart from the nervous system of the experimenter via the use of technological systems that run on the logic and language of mathematics, etc. However, the data which computers churn out still has to come in contact with the nervous system of the scientist in order for a theory of morality and human consciousness to be constructed. (The deep question of whether mathematics is universal or somehow mediated by the human nervous system has yet to be answered with any certainty.)

If Harris hadn't stretched his assumptions to the breaking point, he wouldn't have revealed that he was making the same mistakes when arguing against God. For God, of all things, exists on the cusp between what we know, what we think we know, and what is indisputably real. An arthritis patient's pain is indisputably real, even though subjective - in fact, it is real because it is subjective. There is no scientific proof that a report by a mystic that she feels the presence of God isn't real, and the subjectivity of the experience is the measure of its realness, not the measure of its illusory quality.

In a word, Harris and Dawkins, by turning their backs and scorning subjectivity, have fallen into traps of their own devising. Militant skepticism builds upon their mistakes, amplifies them, and employs scurrilous personal attacks to cover over their own intellectual flaws. In the end, the militant movement will collapse, not because the people who like God outnumber the people who dislike fear, and are suspicious of God. Skepticism's agenda is doomed because its thinking is basically unsound.

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books with twenty-one New York Times bestsellers. What Are You Hungry For? (Harmony, November 12, 2013)

Jordan Flesher, BA, is a student pursuing a Masters of Arts in Psychology.



 The Rise and Fall of Militant Skepticism (Part 3)

Top comments

  • New sciences are on the verge of becoming more mainstream. We are still in the transition period. Science will become something much more of all the people, due to the Internet. It is hight time too that this discipline descends from its pedestal in order to survive.... Here is the link to a great e-book about the Science of Yoga: http://thaingwizard.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/the-science-of-yoga-the-risks-the-rewards.pdf quite a challenge for young scientists to put their teeth in :) Also Fractal Geometry started as a hype in the nineties. With mathematical formulae you could generate fantastic colourful images on the computer. Now, with the Mandelbrot Fractals, Fractal Geometry is coming of age. Again a new promising science for young scientists to dive into: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s65DSz78jW4#t=14

    heartphone // 2013-11-18 17:19:26 // //
  • Is is is and everything else is nor. Truth simply is the metasense of All =

    MJA // 2013-11-18 12:39:43 // //

 

 

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  • Just what fallacies did Dawkins and Harris create? You use the word fallacy, but you didn`t demonstrate what fallacy was created. What you actually did was mischaracterize their position(s) and then attack it. So you actually created a nice shiny fallacy of your own, a Strawman. Neither Dawkins of Harris are absolutists and neither are their positions. You know this. Dawkins isn`t even a strong atheist and by your own admission, Harris has very unsettled positions on consciousness and metaphysical topics. What Dawkins and Harris do say about God is that (1), define what that means when you assert the existence of said entity and (2), there are no good reasons to believe there is a disembodied conscious mind controlling the universe. Don`t call something a fallacy and then not show what it is. This is actually a critique of your perception of the positions they hold, nothing more. Please be better at trying to understand their position before you critique too. It`s not only the ethical thing to do, it`s efficient. It saves you time from having to correct your own Strawman fallacies.

    Greg Yumbar // 2013-11-27 17:56:29 // //
  • "Do not listen to the voice of the mind--listen to the voice of the heart." https://soundcloud.com/rongreenstein/01-listen-to-the-voice-of-the

    Ron Greenstein // 2013-11-20 08:45:07 // //
  • Science & Faith I was about to enter the hallowed grounds of physics some time or space ago where I thought I would find the truth of everything, the truth of even myself, the truth that would set me free. But then just above the gate I saw a sign carved in stone that read: Ye Must Have Faith, so I turned and went the other Way. I wasn`t looking for faith but rather just the absolute. It was this other Way that made all the unity of me. Truth is this Way. =

    MJA // 2013-11-19 11:37:02 // //
  • Deepak can you please continue to focus on creating a peaceful life with all your knowledge. You don't need to try and convince people who are blind to the understanding of the nature of the universe, it is a futile thing to do.

    Dreamand Do // 2013-11-19 08:01:14 // //
  • Yes unfortunately I have seen this aggressive manner in Mr Dawkins Page. I had to leave the negavity it is of no use to anyone. You must never put your attention to the things you do not want or believe in. I hope not see it here.

    Dreamand Do // 2013-11-19 07:57:15 // //
  • Athiests say "namaste" by saying "excuse me" at the supermarket. Therefore, they are admitting the other is an entity, which is illogical if they admit we have faces. They are two faced and not true athiests. A true athiest believes in God and shudders, and that would be a demon and not the person it controls. So God is who THEY fear and people ought not dabble with demons through bitterness and selfishness, lest they fear God in tandem with destructable flesh. No worry if one seeks God and God enables that. Though we pain and seek a good faith, only good itself is good and an unlabelled gift addressed to our hearts. Or say it any other way, it pays to believe and love. I follow one, but if I name him, what would it be thought of. So I don't name my faith. I know it. It is. So am I. Down with atheism. Down with false ideas, too. Up with happy holidays and joy. Namaste.

    Anders Harrison // 2013-11-19 06:41:16 // //
  • Is Deepockets Chopra a millionaire yet?

    Beheading Buddha // 2013-11-19 04:01:08 // //
  • Militant? Hopefully this doesn't mean verbal attacks. Militant means military-esque violence. I think the use of the word "militant" is overkill unless you're talking about violent physical attack. Maybe "vehement" would be more appropriate. "Militant" sounds and feels like over-exaggerative spin.

    Pete Baker // 2013-11-18 20:18:45 // //
  • Science-minDed. I call that purposeful proof reading. Book out soon.

    Deborah Gordon Lewi // 2013-11-18 19:17:01 // //
  • thank you for books you have written. They inspire me so much.

    Olivier Fouqueray // 2013-11-18 17:25:35 // //
  • New sciences are on the verge of becoming more mainstream. We are still in the transition period. Science will become something much more of all the people, due to the Internet. It is hight time too that this discipline descends from its pedestal in order to survive.... Here is the link to a great e-book about the Science of Yoga: http://thaingwizard.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/the-science-of-yoga-the-risks-the-rewards.pdf quite a challenge for young scientists to put their teeth in :) Also Fractal Geometry started as a hype in the nineties. With mathematical formulae you could generate fantastic colourful images on the computer. Now, with the Mandelbrot Fractals, Fractal Geometry is coming of age. Again a new promising science for young scientists to dive into: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s65DSz78jW4#t=14

    heartphone // 2013-11-18 17:19:26 // //
  • Yes Debbie, we have encountered atheists that were as rude as the ones you are describing. In every institution, there are always rude and unkind people. The world is full of them. The problem with mysticism, and spirituality is this. Certain theories that have not been proved, have been said in a thousand ways, and claimed to be true. Most of the people claiming to have all the answers, most of the time, do not put them in practice. They are driven by money. All that creates discontent and miss understanding. It is very important to listen to intuition. It is also very important to make sure that those intuitions, are put into practice, receive good results, and only then share them with the world. It is up to us how we perceive the negative and how we react to it. Learn from criticism. Do not fight it, but embrace it. Do not take things personal <3 "One needs the darkness to be able to see the stars" Many Blessings of Love and Infinite Wisdom, to you, always <3 <3

    Goddesses // 2013-11-18 14:41:55 // //
  • I've ended up in the middle of all sorts of extremism, because I refuse to be extreme in any direction, but I hear, understand and connect to some of what you all say. Either you are with us, or... Well, I just don't want to be part of any hate project, and to me any extremism is a result of standing on one leg, looking at the world with one eye.

    Mari Ann Ree // 2013-11-18 14:20:44 // //
  • I was attacked by two people the other day when I mentioned I wasn't an atheist, along with some of my mystical experiences. They were so incredibly nasty to me. I felt assaulted. The experiences I shared were about love and about the Universe being fueled by love. These people criticized you as well. I was very happy to have found your articles online in response to the God delusion. The interesting thing, too, was I had posted an article about atheists creating their own megachurches, and I was supporting them in doing that. So I wasn't being unkind to them in the least, on the contrary, I was being quite supportive. I live in Texas where we experience the militant Christian Right here, so I thought the atheists might be nicer, but wow, I wasn't prepared for their attacks on anything loving and mystical. I took up for you, too! I love your books! And, I appreciate your writing about militant atheism and militant skepticism as well.

    Debbie Luby // 2013-11-18 12:48:32 // //
  • Is is is and everything else is not. Truth simply is the metasense of All =

    Michael J Ahles // 2013-11-18 12:41:41 // //
  • Is is is and everything else is nor. Truth simply is the metasense of All =

    MJA // 2013-11-18 12:39:43 // //