Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Would You Believe it? Part 3

A Tale of Two Worldviews

Following on from my previous post which attempted to describe my own worldview alongside others, I'd like to look at two opposing factions in a little more detail. These two are roughly divided into the atheist/materialist and the spiritual/idealist camps. I say roughly because there are no strict boundaries here. These are general terms and there might even be some overlap. I'm not concerned, in this post, with discussing any religious point of view. Religion might crop up but it is peripheral to my main thrust here.

Atheism, materialism, scepticism, etc.

Firstly, then, I want to discuss the atheist/materialist position and please forgive me if I tend to conflate atheism with materialism. I know there are differences but, for the most part, these two points of view seem to go together. So if I use either term, please be aware that I'm generally thinking of both. But further than those two terms, there is a bewildering terminology to comprehend. Read any blog or forum popular with these guys and you will find they have terms they like to be associated with. It would seem that these words apply to themselves but not to those who disagree with them:

Sceptical, debunking, rational,  critical thinking, free-thinking, scientific, reason, occam's razor, bright, secular, peer-reviewed and, of course, real scientists.

They also have their pet pejoratives:

Magical thinking, creationist, IDiots (pertaining to Intelligent Design proponents), supernatural, superstitions, God-of-the-gaps, logical fallacies, fairies, unicorns, flying spaghetti monsters, young-earthers, flat-earthers, pseudoscience, woo, mumbo-jumbo, hippy, New Age, wooly-minded, and so on.

So the first question I would have for anyone who associates with the above terminology is, why are you so nasty? This is not a trivial issue - especially for those of us on the receiving end of such vitriol. I am assured by my atheist friends and family members that the majority don't behave in an insulting or aggressive manner. I'd like to believe that but either they steer clear of the internet, popular atheist literature and newspapers or I'm looking in all the wrong places. Because I see it everywhere.

The second question would be this: why do atheists assume that anyone who does not share their view must be religious? In many cases, not only religious but fundamentalist. There is also an apparent assumption that anyone who has some concept of God must believe in an abrahamic God: the God of the old testament. Atheists include all gods in their sweeping rejection but will generally argue as though they are attacking the idea of single, biblical divinity. So we, who do not necessarily subscribe to religious ideology, find ourselves fending off arguments against something in which we have no intellectual or spiritual investment.

I'm probably off base here and my friends are correct in saying that most don't fit the angry stereotype. Yet here's an article from the Daily Telegraph, written by an atheist and lamenting the nastiness of his fellow atheists.
How atheists became the most colossally smug and annoying people on the planet.
Poor guy, look at the responses in the comments section beneath his article. He will be even less inclined to show his face at an atheist gathering now. Here's another article by another atheist none too happy with his fellows, as this quote demonstrates:
"If you want to find out why I call these guys Reddit Atheists, take a brief dip into the atheism subreddit. It is a place entirely defined by bitter, faux-enlightened young people sharing “thought-provoking” images about the horrific evils of religion (in practice, pretty much just Christianity) and congratulating each other for being “enlightened”. The site was originally intended to be a place where people talk about atheistic ideas, but as is Reddit’s depressing trend, it soon devolved into a swampy mess of endless, banal clichés, memes and general anti-intellectualism. It actually rivals Creationism in terms of having a narrow worldview. They’ve actually had a campaign where they would write “once upon a time” on the first page of every Bible they found in hotels, which is probably the lamest form of vandalism ever." (my bold)

Now, I can understand anger. I have seen the way US christian conservatives operate and I would be angry too. I wouldn't want to be associated with George Bush (Senior or Junior), Sarah Palin or the Tea Party either. Unfortunately, evangelical christians have a lot of sway in right-wing politics - especially in the US. Nevertheless, I don't have to be an atheist to be angry about those things. Nor do I need to be an atheist to be horrified by brutal beheadings carried out in the name of Allah.

So why are these internet atheists so determined to bully me out of my "religious" superstitions? And what does any of that have to do with my belief that my mind is not equal to a blob of meat in my head? Or my doubts that evolution by natural selection and random mutation is the whole truth (see my post here)? Or that NDE patients are experiencing something that cannot be explained by brain chemistry? Is the idealism of Plato, Hagel and Berkeley also responsible for numerous wars and atrocities?

I suspect it comes down to this: science offers an alternative to religion for the atheist. Therefore scientific materialism must be the truth. Anything else is religion or superstition. After all, doesn't all of the evidence point that way? Well, let's see, shall we?

Parapsychology and non-materialist evidence.

In the first part of this trilogy of blog posts I looked in some detail at the evolution debate and the materialist assumption behind neo-darwinism. I don't want to revisit that here except to say that if you want an example of the sheer arrogance and condescension of those who insist on calling themselves "real scientists" then listen to Peter Atkins talking down to Stephen Meyer in the video I posted on that page. Sadly, Atkins isn't even the worst example. 

What I do want to do here is to present a few pieces of evidence that some scientists take seriously along with some quotes from other well respected scientists and commentators. My aim is to show that, despite the hyperbole, scientific materialism is not a done deal. Here are some views questioning the base assumption.

Thomas Nagel is an atheist philosopher who upset a lot of his fellow atheists when his book, “Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False” was published by Oxford University Press. Here is a quote from an article he wrote following publication.
"Even though the theistic outlook, in some versions, is consistent with the available scientific evidence, I don’t believe it, and am drawn instead to a naturalistic, though non-materialist, alternative. Mind, I suspect, is not an inexplicable accident or a divine and anomalous gift but a basic aspect of nature that we will not understand until we transcend the built-in limits of contemporary scientific orthodoxy. I would add that even some theists might find this acceptable; since they could maintain that God is ultimately responsible for such an expanded natural order, as they believe he is for the laws of physics." (my bold)

Nagel was vilified for daring to question both materialism and neo-darwinism but he stuck to his guns and even recommended Stephen C. Meyer’s book "Signature in the Cell" in a Times Literary Supplement review. This, of course, provoked a predictable response (“It is hard to imagine a worse book”) from mainstream scientists and TLS printed some of the letters from both sides (though giving the last word to the complaining scientist).

How about some quotes from famous scientists?

“The ontology of materialism rested upon the illusion that the kind of existence, the direct 'actuality' of the world around us, can be extrapolated into the atomic range. This extrapolation, however, is impossible… atoms are not things.” Werner Heisenberg

“Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else." Erwin Schrödinger

"On the other hand, however, every one who is seriously engaged in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that the laws of nature manifest the existence of a spirit vastly superior to that of men, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. " Albert Einstein
"I maintain that the human mystery is incredibly demeaned by scientific reductionism, with its claim in promissory materialism to account eventually for all of the spiritual world in terms of patterns of neuronal activity. This belief must be classed as a superstition ... we have to recognize that we are spiritual beings with souls existing in a spiritual world as well as material beings with bodies and brains existing in a material world. " Sir John Eccles (Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine)

And the views of a materialist? 

"Nearly every present-day scientist would agree with Carl Sagan that our explanations of material phenomena exclude any role for supernatural demons, witches, and spirits of every kind, including any of the various gods from Adonai to Zeus…. We also exclude from our explanations little green men from Mars riding in spaceships, although they are supposed to be quite as corporeal as you and I, because the evidence is overwhelming that Mars hasn’t got any…
We take the side of science … because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. … To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen." Richard Lewontin (evolutionary biologist and geneticist)

I'll leave it to you to look up other quotes if you need more balance, although that is hardly necessary as we are bombarded with material in support of the materialist status quo every day on TV and in the press. Lewontin's assertion about "nearly every present-day scientist" is not disproved by the quotes I have used from past generations of the great minds of science but note what he says next: "our explanations of material phenomena exclude any role for supernatural ...". Again, he makes the assumption that material is fundamental and he later confirms "that materialism is absolute". He ignores the fact that there are phenomena that are not explained by materialism.

Finally, for this post at least, I want to share a few examples of how serious, intelligent people, including scientists, are approaching consciousness and parapsychology with an open mind. Perhaps we should bear in mind these people and many like them have put their careers at risk by identifying with these ideas.  There are organisations, particularly the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) and the Centre for Scientific Investigation (CSI/CSICOP), which have been formed specifically to attack (not investigate as they would have you believe) any evidence for the paranormal. Indeed, an offshoot of JREF calling themselves Guerrilla Skeptics has practically hijacked Wikipedia in order to discredit paranormal researchers their work. Also if you scan down the names of those fellows of CSI, you will recognise all of the prominent atheist crusaders. For more information, take a look at these links:

James Randi: debunking the king of the debunkers

The Guerrilla Skeptics: Taking Creepy to 11

CSICOP: True skeptics, or blinkered debunkers

Skeptical about Skeptics

Anyhow, there follows some material of a more positive nature. There's some really interesting stuff here but it will take a whack of your spare time to watch all the videos (though some are very short). I hope you do though, especially if you are in any way committed to scientific materialism.


Near Death Consciousness

Science and the afterlife

Dr. Bruce Greyson is Professor of Psychiatry & Neurobehavioral Sciences and Director of the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia. The following video is part 1 of 5.

Dean Radin PhD on scientific taboo

Monday, 9 March 2015

Would You Believe It? Part 2

Since the last entry on this subject and the subsequent discussion, I have continued to ponder on the nature of beliefs; particularly my own. Why do I adhere to them? How come I didn't decide that reality was otherwise? Can I justify them in the light of the evidence we have at our disposal in the modern world? This page is necessarily introspective: it has to be because I can't answer the above questions for anyone else. But it might, hopefully, have some resonance with whoever should happen by and read it. There will be no revelations or conclusions but it might put a few things in perspective.

Well, what do I believe?

Firstly, we humans have a tendency to categorise: to box and label. We invent "isms" and then apply one or more of those ism's to our beliefs. So, I generally say that I'm an idealist - I believe that the fundamental reality is mind and that the world is made manifest from mind stuff: thoughts or ideas, hence idealism. But that does not mean that I have studied philosophical idealism or that I can name all the idealist philosophers from Plato onwards. It is a box with a label. There are many labels and much argument arises from the definitions attached to them. Should my beliefs be restricted to the strict definition of the term, "idealist"? Well, I'd have to say no on the basis that I cannot say what that strict definition is. The label is, for me, a best-fit. 

So someone might approach me and ask, "You say that you are an idealist but do you believe in God?" When faced with that question I have no option but to answer with another question: "what is your definition of God?" And there's the rub. To an idealist such as Bishop Berkeley (sometimes referred to as the "Father of Idealism"), the source of all ideas is God. But some idealist schools of Buddhism maintain that "all is mind" yet without reference to a deity. I suspect that Berkeley's God and the Buddhist's "mind" are philosophically equivalent. And if not for Berkeley and the Buddhists, then they are indeed equivalent for me.

So, for me, God/mind is all there is. There is nothing other: it is infinite and therefore not subject to time and space. All experience occurs within. Physical reality is a manifestation of ideas: a particular framework within which experience of a certain quality can take place. That framework is defined by time and space along with what we call the laws of physics. It is an elaborate, elegant and massively complex mental construct. Think of the Matrix movies and you'll get a clue of the framework I'm attempting to describe. 

What about religion?

First let me say that I do not consider myself to be religious. I don't hold to any religious dogma, I have grave doubts about religious texts such as the Bible and I find the concept of worship utterly unnecessary. There are concepts of God in religion that I cannot entertain yet I will never dismiss the importance of the mythology of religion. Mythology is full of important and useful metaphors which wiser souls will always take seriously.

Religions of all hues tend to be dualistic (one could argue that Buddhism doesn't count as a religion because it is non-theistic: it doesn't have a deity). Dualism maintains that, fundamentally, there are two kinds of "stuff": mind (for religion, read: spiritual) stuff and matter (physical) stuff. Mind is non-physical and expressed as thoughts and ideas - perhaps also love. Matter can be measured: it has physical properties such as weight, energy, odour, electrical charge, etc. In general, dualists attribute mind to God, humans and, perhaps, some animals. God is assumed to exist apart from His creation. 

Therefore, are we to believe that God decided, at some point, to fashion a universe ex nihilo - out of nothing? Or did the material necessary for dualism (mind AND matter, remember) already exist along with God? Come to think of it, is God himself dualistic? Apparently not according to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

"Christianity rejected all forms of a dual origin of the world which erected matter, or evil, or any other principle into a second eternal being coexistent with God, and it taught the monistic origin of the universe from one, infinite, self-existing spiritual Being who freely created all things."

Some theists are, like Berkeley, idealists. Oxford don, Prof. Keith Ward is a Christian philosopher and idealist. Here is a short (20 min) video explaining his metaphysics:

There are many scientists who have a religious faith. I find that surprising and difficult to understand if that faith is in the literal interpretations of religious texts such as the bible. Take Francis Collins, for example.  Here is a famous and influential geneticist, a critic of Intelligent Design and a friend of the late Christopher Hitchens - an arch-atheist. Collins justifies his faith in Jesus as follows:

"For me, that leap came in my 27th year, after a search to learn more about God's character led me to the person of Jesus Christ. Here was a person with remarkably strong historical evidence of his life, who made astounding statements about loving your neighbor, and whose claims about being God's son seemed to demand a decision about whether he was deluded or the real thing. After resisting for nearly two years, I found it impossible to go on living in such a state of uncertainty, and I became a follower of Jesus."
Now, from my reading, there seems to be remarkably little historical evidence of Jesus' life. Most of it comes from the Gospels and a little from Josephus, a Jewish-Roman historian writing shortly after the time of Jesus. For someone who demands reliable evidence for a living, doesn't it seem odd for him to accept the Gospels on so little evidence? I can understand a scientist seeing God's work in nature but cannot grasp the unquestioning way they accept the scriptures. 

My take on atheism.

Atheists appear to love applying several descriptive labels to their non-belief. It can be just as bewildering to determine the tenets of atheist thinking as it is to follow all the threads of religious divergence. You might like to take a side-track to the Humanist website for a more thorough explanation. There you will find out about Atheists, Humanists, Freethinkers, Sceptics, Secularists and more.

They don't list materialism on that web page but atheists will insist that atheism does not require materialism. Yet it might be difficult to find a materialist who is not an atheist. One thing that atheists or materialists will be almost guaranteed to agree on is the rejection of the "supernatural". The assumption here is that nature (the natural) is fundamentally material, i.e. made of physical stuff: atoms, molecules, forces and fields. While Relativity and Quantum Physics might reduce all matter to energy, we are still in the realm of the physical. No spirit stuff here, we are told.

"Supernatural" is quite a loaded term. It is used by atheists in a pejorative sense to mean the same as "superstition". Bible stories of miracles, virgin birth and healing are considered superstitions. Ghosts, telepathy, clairvoyance and spirit communications are also superstitions. Atheists seem hard-pressed to speak of these subjects without the obligatory sneer. 

The scientific method, developed and honed to an effective and productive tool ever since the enlightenment, has done so with the unquestioned assumption of materialism. The fact that it has produced such reliable results and technological progress is seen as justification for that assumption. If God were involved, they say, we would have seen evidence of His handiwork. But, they will affirm, every time God was proposed as a explanation, science eventually showed there was a naturalistic mechanism which did the job without the need for divine intervention. 

Discuss these subjects, even with a reasonable and fairly open-minded atheist, and you will inevitably receive the following challenge: "Show me what non-materialism has added to science - where are the non-materialist cancer cures or space probes?" I've even asked myself those questions. 

My answer to myself is threefold:

1. There is a category confusion in the question. Drugs and space probes are physical technologies and in the domain of the physical sciences. The nature of spirit or mind belongs in philosophy or metaphysics. The scientific method is not concerned with metaphysics. Should we expect the tools of physics be used to determine the nature of the non-physical?

2. Quantum Mechanics - the most successful scientific theory of all time - has been shown to require a conscious observer. This is hotly disputed but many of the most respected scientists in the field have said something similar. I'll add links below.

3. Despite the unsuitability of scientific equipment and methods to investigate metaphysical phenomena, there are areas of human experience which can be subject to experimentation and research. Parapsychology has long been attracting a few highly curious and qualified scientists and evidence has been collected and verified to exceptional standards. This is so despite denials and dismissals from the mainstream. Again, I'll add links later.

Scientific paradigms change. Until the late 19th century, the paradigm was based upon Newtonian mechanics. This was a mechanistic worldview of a clockwork universe. It explained much of the observed universe and, for many purposes, is still relevant today. Yet Relativity and Quantum Mechanics forced science to adopt a new paradigm and perhaps it is again time for science to expand its horizons.

I am trying to show here why I, personally, don't have an atheistic or materialist worldview. I rejected religion at an early age because I felt I was being fed stories which didn't make sense when I thought them through. I later rejected atheism for many of the same reasons. In the end, they both lack a clear vision of the bigger picture. They both make assumptions that can't be justified. Religion with its dualism and personal, judgemental and all-too-human-like God. Atheism with its assumption of materialism, of randomness and coincidence. Science is a wonderful tool but it is not an oracle. Beware of promissory materialism: the promise that things like consciousness and the origin of life, while something of a mystery right now, will soon be found to have purely physical causes. I doubt that.

In my next entry, I'll try to provide the evidence I hinted at above. Links and videos to back up the statements I have made here. I hope someone will find it all interesting and I hope I have not offended anyone. 

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Would You Believe It?

This time, we shall be considering the beliefs we hold and why. Now, for obvious reasons, I can't really write a blog page listing your beliefs and why you hold them. Nor would I want to list mine with my reasons. I'm quite willing to talk about them at the meeting but wouldn't want to pre-empt that here and, lets face it, a page about my beliefs would be somewhat self-indulgent.

So I was a little stumped about what to write until I realised that the debate has already started on the group's Facebook page. Several subjects have been tackled, from conspiracy theories to scepticism but one that I'd like to concentrate on is the evolution debate. I think this subject highlights all the aspects of belief vs evidence, science vs religion, philosophy vs empiricism and intuition vs reason. This in no way means that I think we should limit the debate in the meeting to evolution - only that I'm using it as an example here on the blog.

The Battleground

Firstly, let us remind ourselves of the state of play. Even before Darwin, scientists were already moving towards a naturalistic worldview but Darwin provided the dynamite with which to blast the remaining supernatural explanations from the realm of science. And so it has been ever since. God was expelled from the science lab, the science classroom and, increasingly, from academia and even the media. Philosophy was downgraded while materialist scientists have been elevated to be regarded as almost infallible. Hardly any serious topic is discussed in the media without the input of some scientific "expert". Even topics such as love, fear and grief are reduced to chemical interactions according to the materialist dogma. Nothing is more appropriate for the label, "materialist dogma" than Darwinian evolution: the theory (which we are urged to consider as nothing less than the truth) that life, from the microscopic workings of a cell nucleus to the body plan of a human being, is the result of an unguided process called Natural Selection.

Until relatively recently, the opposition to Darwinism came from fundamentalist religious dogma. The Bible has its own version of how God created the world and everything in it. The Bible is considered, by fundamentalists, to be the word of God and is not to be challenged: again, it is considered to be nothing less than the truth. So here we have two dogmatic positions: Darwinism and Creationism.

In order to eliminate dogmatic belief from the search for the actual truth, those concerned would aim to argue from evidence alone, without recourse to metaphysical assumptions.

Enter the ID crowd. Creationism became a pejorative term, spat out by derisive materialists and atheists. The public at large, especially in the USA, had gravitated toward one or the other camps. Then some people started suggesting a third way. They were saying "Let's not assume God did it but even so, let's see if there is evidence of intelligence in the "design" of living organisms." They went on to suggest that, if such evidence could be shown, then the individual could make up his or her own mind as to whether that intelligence was God, some form of universal mind or even, perhaps, some alien race (although the latter still leaves the question of how the aliens evolved).

This approach was greeted with suspicion and cynicism by the materialists. This was nothing more than a ploy: a trojan horse to subvert the science of evolution by introducing a creator. In other words, it was creationism in different clothing and they were having none of it. Intelligent Design has, due to the suspicion about closet creationists, had a pretty bad press. The ID scientists are the subject of disgraceful personal insults and are constantly under attack. Unfortunately, too many of their supporters and sponsors are indeed religiously motivated. Any internet search will show a plethora of creationist blogs quoting ID research as a source of proof that the Bible was right all along. However, a similar charge could be directed at the Darwinian side, with atheist pressure groups under the guise of "scepticism", and so-called rational or critical thinking being the cheer leaders for what is now called Neo-Darwinism.

The Players

The vast majority of scientists are also materialists - nowhere more so than in the field of evolutionary biology and allied disciplines. They do, however, have champions for their cause, chief among them names such as Richard Dawkins, Peter Atkins, P Z Myers, Jerry Coyne and many others.

Few names come to mind from the ID side. The three best known are William Dembski, Stephen Meyer and Michael Behe. It has to be said that, unsurprisingly, these three and many of their Discovery Institute colleagues are religious people. Should that disqualify them from the debate? Again, we could also ask, should the crusading atheism of Dawkins and the others disqualify them on the grounds of their dogmatism? I suggest you watch the video links below and decide for yourself who is arguing from evidence and who is, on the whole, arguing from dogma.

And What About Belief?

When watching these videos, I tried to keep in mind our discussion about belief. As I mentioned above, many scientists will deny that belief comes into their reckoning. Yet it is clear from these videos that it most certainly does. Indeed, you will hear that materialism is practically a given yet, amazingly, they don't seem to consider materialism to be a belief so much as a fact. Peter Atkins says again and again that he starts from the position of the simplest explanation is probably the best  -citing his hero, William of Ockham. How ironic that William should also be quoted thus:
"only faith gives us access to theological truths. The ways of God are not open to reason, for God has freely chosen to create a world and establish a way of salvation within it apart from any necessary laws that human logic or rationality can uncover."
However, it seems to me that the simplest explanation is not that life began and evolved by a process based upon practically impossible accidental combinations of molecules and chance mutations but that it is more likely to be at least guided by some form of intelligence. The philosophical idealist view (which is my view too) would be that we are all manifestation of mind anyway.

Another thing that dawned on me while watching some of the videos is the tactic used by materialists to forbid any concept of God from scientific inquiry. Science, they maintain, is concerned with the natural and God is classified as supernatural therefore not the province of the scientific endeavour. Some of the more generous materialists might allow the philosophers a debate about the supernatural but certainly not scientists. Thus, at a stroke, they have disallowed Intelligent Design - whatever the evidence (which, of course, they deny anyway). By the simple device of a label they have asserted materialism as a scientific axiom. In one debate, Michael Ruse accuses Stephen Meyer of declaring science a failure because an intelligent mind is invoked as a guiding influence. Thus he is saying that evidence is only scientific if it confirms materialism. The discovery of mind in the process would indeed be a failure for materialism but not for science, unless science and materialism are conflated.

Some Food for Thought

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

Here's the movie that caused a stir among the scientific community. Caused outrage might be a better description of the reception the film received. It is the full movie lasting about an hour and a half.

Here are the comments I made about Expelled in our Facebook discussion:
I've watched it now and, yes, it is worth watching. However, I also have reservations. It is one and a half hours and, for me, they should have stopped around the hour mark. It starts by insisting this is a debate about science and that religion is a red herring but it ends by asserting the right of religion to question science. Nevertheless, it would be naive to think that either side are without metaphysical motivation.
It boils down to what is that intelligence in Intelligent Design. Atheists in the movie such as Dawkins and Atkins are keen to have us believe that ID proponents support the God of the Old Testament - that they are biblical creationists. They proudly proclaim that Darwinism has led them into the light of atheism. ID proponents such as Stephen Meyer, while not denying their religion, want the discussion to be directed at the evidence. We then get a lot of assertions from the Darwinists that there is no debate - the debate is settled and only ignorant fools believe otherwise.
Unfortunately, the movie then goes into a more murky and disreputable area when they introduce Eugenics, Social Darwinism and the Holocaust.Yes, links can be made but, likewise, atheists can be condemned for claiming that religious faith is at the root of all the evil in our history. Neither view is helping the debate move forward. I would have rather the movie had followed up on the promising start by having each side explain why the evidence supports their worldview. But that's just my opinion - please watch it and comment.

Atkins and Meyer discuss the issues raised by Expelled.

Agree with him or not, one can only admire Meyer for his tolerance in the face of appalling insults flying his way from the arrogant Atkins. But further than that, this debate is notable for the fact that only one of these two educated gentlemen is prepared to talk about the evidence. The other, Atkins, either retorts with ad hominems or is clearly unprepared to offer a considered response.

There are more examples of such arrogance to come, though none so egregious as that displayed by Atkins.

Michael Ruse vs Stephen Meyer

Stephen Meyer vs Michael Ruse (1 of 2) by nanoprogrammer

Stephen Meyer vs Michael Ruse (2 of 2) by nanoprogrammer

The above discussion is a little more civil. However, watch the body language of Ruse - slouched back with barely concealed contempt for the subject matter. He has the air of someone who finds it tiresome to be asked to defend something which should not be open to question. The host of the show is far more open-minded and willing to take Meyer seriously.

Michael Shermer vs Stephen Meyer

In this one, Shermer explicitly states the position of Scientific Materialism that I described above: that God (or mind) must be excluded from scientific inquiry. With those rules, materialism cannot be challenged.

The Undisputed Science

Below are some educational resources explaining the nature and function of DNA.

From DNA to Protein

This clip is from a PBS educational TV programme followed by another short video sequence showing similar visualisations. I include them to give you an idea of what is so special and astonishing about DNA.

The Genetic Code

Once again, the following video is not about ID, it is a standard explanation of the DNA code. However, it does show a code, as anyone familiar with computer software will readily recognise. My background is in code transmission - Internet Protocols - and I was astounded to find that DNA code has start and stop bits just like TCP/IP.

More on the Code

Finally, a set of slides giving further information about how the code works.

So what, exactly, is Meyer and his colleagues really saying?

Here are some more clips explaining what the ID movement is proposing. The real difficulty for the interested lay person is the lack of reasoned and civil debate available on the internet. At least, that is what I am finding. On the one hand, the web sites and blog who support Meyer are almost exclusively religious and often have the word "creation" in their site title or address. On the other side, those who attack (and attack is the right word) ID are almost exclusively atheist, or so-called sceptical sites and bloggers and they truly are a nasty bunch. I found a couple of relatively civil debates which I will post here after the ID clips below.

Doing the Math

Here is Stephen Meyer explaining the improbability (impossibility) of the origin of life by accident.

Irreducible Complexity

I first heard of this about the same time I became aware of the ID movement. I struggled to find a debate video short enough to include here but I'll post the short clip explaining the idea of irreducible complexity anyway. If you want an extended debate, I'd encourage you to search for videos.

In his own words: Stephen Meyer explains ID

And Finally ...

Two longer videos, the first being a presentation by Stephen Meyer and the second being a discussion between him and two of his critics. Now this is one debate which is an example of civility and how such debates should be conducted. No insults, no creationist slurs, plenty of inspection of the evidence. Yes, they are long but well worth while, in my humble opinion. I just wish that I could find a video of the talk by Douglas Axe, mentioned by Meyer, from the following day of this event.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Myths, Legends and Ancient Civilisations

Wow: not only a long subject title but a huge subject. I hardly know where to start. We could come at this from various perspectives. For example, if we are interested in myths and legends, then we could look at classical mythology or we could concentrate on interpretations of such myths. For the latter, we might look to Joseph Campbell or Carl Jung, both of whom had interesting things to say and are considered to be the authorities in that field.

Another expert is a local man, living here in Dorset, and writing some incredibly deep and perceptive books which build on the work of Campbell and Jung and probe the symbolism of myths from classical Greek to children's fairy stories. His name is Patrick Harpur and I would recommend his book, The Complete Guide to the Soul.

On the other hand, are we intending to discuss the evidence for ancient or lost civilisations? If so, who do we turn to? The accepted academic sources or the alternative history set? My guess is that, for most who favour the orthodox view of ancient history, a visit to the British Museum and a few BBC2 documentaries might satisfy your curiosity. The controversial, therefore exciting, action is in the alternative camp. Here we will find a host of amateur (and some professional) researchers, each with their own theories to lay before a wide-eyed and eager public. Some of these theories compliment each other, while others venture way out on the fringe. Unfortunately, the academics will consider anything which questions their own view as being way out on the fringe, so carefully researched and reasoned theories are lumped together with wild and unsubstantiated speculations. Such is the nature of orthodoxy: there is no tolerance of dissent.

Before I started writing this page, I requested some feedback from some of our membership and, from the replies, I'm getting the impression that it is the Ancient Civilisation aspect which is of most interest. So I'm going with that and, perhaps, we can revisit the symbolism and metaphorical interpretations of mythology in another session?

Ancient History: Sources of Knowledge

Generally speaking, what we know (or assume we know) about the ancients has been gleaned from two major sources: physical evidence uncovered by archaeology and human traditions containing myths, legends and sacred texts such as the Old Testament or the Indian Vedas. One has to be very careful with myths and religious texts because, as the Joseph Campbell quote (above) points out: so much is metaphor. Metaphors may have deep and important messages for us, at any point in our history, but they are not necessarily accurate history in themselves. So we need to examine all this evidence in the context of their times. For example, the depiction of an angel with wings might be a metaphor for a soul taking flight to the next world but it might also hark back to shamans who wore feathered cloaks which were, in themselves, metaphors for  shamanistic flights taken in alternate realities.

So, here again, we are presented with a variety of paths to follow. We might be interested in sacred history, symbols and geometry as preserved in hermetic teaching which, until very recently, has been hidden from all but "those who had eyes to see and ears to hear". Hence the term "occult", meaning hidden. Or we might want to probe the evidence for religious figures such as Jesus. Or we might be persuaded by those who maintain that the academic have it wrong and that the ancients date back much further than they would have us believe. That there were civilised and technologically advanced people operating thousands of years earlier than the text books would have us believe. And again, just how sophisticated were these ancients? What did they believe? What do all those myths and symbols mean? Just ceremonial trappings or do they hint at powers and knowledge that we have lost sight of along the way?

For anyone interested in religious or esoteric history, I posted a blog page here in September of last year which is the text of an article I wrote for another web site I used to maintain several years ago. The page was called Esoteric Traditions.

Links and Videos

A really good starting point is this lecture by Graham Hancock from last year. It is something of a summary of his previous book, Fingerprints of the Gods and a preview of his forthcoming book, Magicians of the Gods. Anyone who is a visitor to Dave Haith's Facebook Group may have already seen this video as he posted a link a few weeks ago.

Hancock and his critics

Here, Graham Hancock talks about the critical reception of his books by the mainstream. This looks like it is one of many short videos, mostly about his investigation of psychedelics covered in his book, Supernatural.


Precession of the Equinoxes

At some time during last Thursday evening's Meetup, I was asked about the zodiac and I mentioned the Precession of the Equinoxes but didn't do an explanation justice by any means. Here is Graham Hancock again doing a bang-up job describing that very important subject.

Egypt, The Pyramids and the Orion Correlation

Robert Bauval, co-author and friend of Graham Hancock, originated the Orion Correlation Theory in the mid 1990's. His theory has been dismissed by Egyptologists ever since so who do we believe? I did manage to find a rather technical academic paper on the validity (or otherwise) of the theory by Vincenzo Orofino which, if you are so inclined, you can read here.

Andrew Collins, Watchers, Gobekii Tepe, etc.

I'm a bit of a fan of Andrew Collins. He runs a conference every year, inviting lots of interesting speakers some of whom have been mentioned here on this page. His pet subject is the Nephilim, or Watchers, and the historical evidence for them. A long time ago, I read his book, From the Ashes of Angels, and was impressed by his research and ability to join the dots. I thought I might include a video featuring Andrew but have to admit that I've only just found it and have yet to watch it, so apologies if it isn't that relevant. I suspect it will be, however.

Robert Scoch

Robert Schoch is one of those professionals I mentioned earlier. He is a geologist with a PhD and has researched many ancient sites. He's yet another friend of Hancock and their theories tend to support each other.

Ancient Astronauts

I was in favour of avoiding this particular variation of the ancient mysteries theme but, as Dave Haith pointed out, there may well be others who find it intriguing. Dave has pointed me to a YouTube channel with lots of Video features on this subject so you can all indulge in alien conspiracies to your heart's content.

However, Dave also recommends this video which debunks the whole Ancient Alien genre. Be warned, though - it is a 3 hour documentary.

Cappadocian Underground City

Mike Forte was keen to have Cappadocia included and he sent me some links. I also found some others. Here is a History Channel video and Mike's links are below.

From Mike:

Ref the underground cities in Cappadocia, Turkey. Apparently over 30 have been found. 
The deepest is Derinkuyu (the one I mentioned) which housed over 20,000 people... 

Kaymaki is the widest... 

Vid regarding underground city in Malta...

Michael Cremo and Richard Thompson

Lawrence offered the following advice:
Please don't forget about Michael Cremo and Richard Thompson's 'Hidden History of the Human Race' with a forward by Graham Hancock. Copy attached, or the more concise Forbidden Archaeology again attached.  

I couldn't find an option for attaching PDF documents to this blog so here, instead, is the PDF online. And also, the above mentioned Forbidden Archaeology in PDF format.

For those who would prefer a video, here's Michael Cremo himself delivering a presentation on Forbidden Archaeology.

Online Periodicals, etc.

Here's one that Dave Haith brought to my attention:

This is The Heretic Magazine but it only posts samples - the magazine itself has to be purchased.

The editor of The Heretic is Andrew Gough who has a large collection of interesting articles on his own website:

New Dawn Magazine often has interesting articles. I can particularly recommend anything by Richard Smoley.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Past Lives and Reincarnation

Since ancient times, humans have believed in an afterlife - whether that was because they were promised such by some religious authority or because they just "knew", from personal evidence and from testimony of people close and trusted.

Along with thoughts of an afterlife, we must consider the possibility of a life preceding this one. Indeed, a whole series of lives as described by Eastern philosophies. So, the idea of having lived before becomes part and parcel of the whole concept of reincarnation.

Note that I carelessly used the word "series". If we are to take on board the logic and evidence for reincarnation we still need to ask ourselves how it works. For example, do we really live out a sequence of lives, perhaps progressing from undeveloped "young soul" to enlightened "old soul"? Or is it more complicated than that. We don't really understand the nature of time. Even scientists admit to that. What if linear time is an illusion? What if we live thousands of lives but they all exists simultaneously, in ways we can hardly imagine? Is each life lived by the same spiritual being who left the previous life behind? Do we spend some time in-between lives, "convalescing" from the last one and preparing for the next? These are the traditional ways of imagining reincarnation. But are they merely convenient metaphors for what really goes on?

Some time ago, after reading the Seth material, I was convinced that reincarnation was the best explanation for the evolution of the soul. I didn't give a great deal of thought to the "how" of reincarnation - only to the why, which I considered to be self-evident. But something troubled me. Seth maintains throughout that he only uses terms like past and future lives because that is how we, as humans, are used to perceiving events. In reality, however, all the lives happen simultaneously and are interconnected. "Past" lives can influence "present" and "future" lives and vice-versa. So do we, in the between life stage, prepare for the next life and then immerse our "self" into a new physical body, effectively wiping out memories of any past lives? That, to me, just didn't compute with the simultaneous lives concept.

I was drawn to considering other possibilities. Seth also talks of the soul being a gestalt: a holistic entity including all of the individual personalities or incarnations, past and future. Thus, perhaps, each life is unique, as in the physical vehicle is inhabited by a new spiritual entity, yet is also a constituent part of a larger self, or soul. The memories of the whole may be shared by the many parts but, by necessity, are somewhat restricted while living the physical life.

I have to say that I'm far from convinced that this model is correct and I strongly suspect that I'm over-simplifying some of it or, more likely, just don't have the necessary perspective - looking at it from "down here", as it were. Our Meetup Group founder, Ian Lawton, had similar misgivings which he addresses in his book, Supersoul, which describes something similar to the gestalt entity mentioned above.


And so, on to the evidence. I would have trawled through my usual YouTube haunts and compiled a list of interesting videos (and texts) on the subject but am somewhat relieved to find that Dave Haith has done all that and more, so it just remains for me to present his diligent seek-and-find results here. Enjoy!

Dave Haith's contribution: in his own words.


It seems to me we've discussed this many times before as part of general chit chat about the paranormal.

As most of you will know some of us into Seth etc and discussed by Ian Lawton when this group started, lean towards the idea that all time is simultaneous, so in some strange way many different lives are being led at the same time and there may be other concepts such as group souls or fragmented souls, which might explain why I can talk to my dead grandfather through a medium when part of his soul, if you like, has reincarnated back on earth

But to keep it simple, I have  found many links to this subject as it is widely understood - that of linear lives.

Bruce Greyson

Excellent but long lecture by NDE esearcher Dr Bruce Greyson who gets into reincarnation half way through with good evidence from researcher Ian Stevenson.

Peter Ramster

I reckon this next item is the most convincing documentary on the web about reincarnation because it features four strong cases of past lives remembered with clues followed in real time to locations to confirm the accuracy of the memories - often aided by regression ...from Australian therapist Peter Ramster.

It's an old film which in a way adds to its authenticity because it was made long before Google searches, so trivial information about places are that much more valuable.

Below I'll post links to the film which is in four sections on YouTube and definitely well worth finding the time to watch before Thursday's meeting.

Or you watch the documentary (split into several more parts) on the website of Ian Lawton founder of this group here:

James Leininger 

[Note: this Leininger Update video below added by David Chamberlain]

The Ghost Inside My Child

There's a series running on US TV with the spooky title The Ghost Inside My Child.
I watched one of these and although they're not evidential enough to satisfy sceptics, they are still fascinating.

Here are links to some episodes I tracked down followed by an appeal from a UK paranormal researcher looking for new cases.

The Ghost Inside My Child S01E01 by ghostvid

The Ghost Inside My Child S01E02 by ghostvid

The Ghost Inside My Child S01E03 by laracroftbk

Past Life Evidence Documentary

Three year old remembers his past life and identifies his murderer

Other Links

9/11 Baby?

Chilling Reincarnation Stories: Meet 3 Children Who Lived Before

Which includes this statement from the University of Virginia study by Ian Stevenson:

Close to three quarters of the cases investigated by the team are “solved,” meaning that a person from the past matching the child’s memories is identified. In addition, nearly 20 percent of the kids in the UVA cases have naturally occurring marks or impairments that match scars and injuries on the past person. One boy who recalled being shot possessed two birthmarks—a large, ragged one over his left eye and a small, round one on the back of his head—which lined up like a bullet’s entrance and exit wounds.