Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne on Science, Faith, and Religion

As part of his book promo efforts, Gnu activist Jerry Coyne was interviewed by Gnu activist Sam Harris (the podcast is on Harris’s blog). It’s probably not worth your time to listen to the interview (as I did) largely because a) not much time is devoted to talking about Coyne’s book; b) very little is said that hasn’t been written about on blogs and c) worst of all, Harris doesn’t seem to understand what an interview is, as about half the podcast is Harris pontificating with his own views, opinions, and arguments in their mutual exercise of back-patting.

But there is one small section of the podcast that is significant, where it looks like Coyne’s version of the “Incompatibility Argument” is going to follow in the footsteps of Peter Boghossian and rely on some rather twisted, idiosyncratic definitions. For example, when talking about religion and science, Coyne says:

the two spheres approach their ways of finding truth in completely different manners and that’s what I define as compatibility, how you seek and find out whats real in the universe

Once again, I will remind people that the term compatible is most commonly defined as “able to exist together with something else.” That’s how I would define it and am quite confident that most of your would define it that way also.

Yet it appears that Coyne is trying to change the definition of compatible from “able to exist together” to “pretty much the same.” That is, the core reason Coyne seems to think science and religion are incompatible is because they approach reality differently. Yet of course they are different. No one ever claims religion is science and science is religion. Pointing out the two domains are different does not purchase the conclusion of incompatibility.

Coyne then argues that faith is the core of the incompatibility, insisting, “in science faith is a vice and in religion it is a virtue.” Coyne tells us it all thus comes down to faith.

So how does Coyne define faith?

“Belief without evidence sufficient to convince any reasonable person.”

So Coyne defines faith in a mushy, subjective sense that amounts to “I know it when I see it.” Afterall, who gets to decide if the evidence is “sufficient?” And who gets to decide if the person is being “reasonable?”

Interestingly enough, according to this definition of faith, it would appear the New Atheists themselves rely on faith. How so? Consider the common Gnu belief that “Religion is the Greatest Evil in the World.” This is a belief that Coyne, Harris, and Dawkins adhere to. It is such an important belief that it serves as the primary motivator for all their activism. But, according to Coyne’s definition, it looks like faith given they have failed to convince the vast majority of the world with their evidence. Never forget that Gnu atheists are only a small fraction of all atheists. And all atheists are only a small fraction of the Nones. And the Nones are a small fraction of the global population. Given that such a tiny minority of people hold to this Gnu belief, we really have only two possible explanations:

1. People like Coyne and Harris, and their followers like Craig Hicks, are the only reasonable people on the planet since only they think the evidence is sufficient.

2. People like Coyne and Harris, and their followers, rely on faith. That is, the evidence for their belief has failed to convince that huge fraction of the population of reasonable people.

The fatal flaw in Coyne’s reasoning is that he doesn’t seem to understand the limitations of science. The reason someone can be a scientist and a theist, for example, is because science cannot tell us whether or not God exists. Coyne would disagree, as he has done so before, but his arguments fail (as I have shown). Yet there is an easy way for any reader to know that I am right. Ask yourself one simple question – how many scientific studies have been published by Coyne that have falsified the existence of God? None. Has Harris, or Dawkins, or PZ Myers, or Pinker, or any other Gnu scientist ever published the results of a scientific experiment that has falsified the existence of God? Nope. In fact, not one Gnu scientist has ever published a scientific study that attempted to address the existence of God.

Keep in mind that people like Coyne and Dawkins are extremely motivated to falsify the existence of God. Given their skills and careers as scientists, and given their extreme motivations, how is it that not a single one has ever published a single peer-reviewed scientific study that has shown God does not exist? How do you explain that? Easy. Science cannot determine whether or not God exists. That is why Gnu scientists have to rely on armchair philosophy, published in popular books or on the internet, to make their case instead of relying on their experimental results.

If you think about it, the fact that Coyne has to write and promote a word salad instead of pointing to all the data he generated during his scientific career should clue you in to the vacuous nature of his claims.

Finally, the podcast does have one noteworthy quote from Professor Coyne. Toward the end, Coyne and Harris reassure each other they are right when it comes to the topic of free will. It’s all the same arguments we have heard before. But at one point, Coyne notes how he and Harris hold to such a distinctly minority position and attributes this to the powerful sense of agency we all have. Harris tries to correct him by preaching about meditation and how meditation helps us discover the illusory nature of the sense of agency.

Coyne reponds:

That’s a level of spiritual advancement I haven’t attained yet.

Perhaps Coyne should attend one of Harris’s meditation seminars.

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23 Responses to Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne on Science, Faith, and Religion

  1. Coyne’s views on compatibility of science and religion are really awkward, to say the least. In his 2012 talk, The Odd Couple: Why Science and Religion Shouldn’t Cohabit, he presented as one proof of incompatibility that most scientists in America are atheists (and the more academically successful a scientist, the likelier he/she is to be an atheist), then dismissed the fact that scientists such as Ken Miller and Simon Conway-Morris are religious, saying it is proof of cognitive dissonance rather than compatibility.

    Also, let a Nobel laureate educate him about the pivotal role of faith in the progress of science:

  2. GeoffSmith says:

    I like that spiritual advancement comes from meditating ones sense of agency and responsibility away. What is funny is that I disagree entirely with Harris’ conclusions about free will, but I agree with his method. If there is a spiritual discipline, one should utilize it to determine if it will help them advance spiritually (read: come to know God or conform oneself to nature) rather than simply wishing they had evidence that it would work.

  3. Billy Squibs says:

    … he presented as one proof of incompatibility that most scientists in America are atheists (and the more academically successful a scientist, the likelier he/she is to be an atheist …

    There are a number of things that could be said about this.

    1) So what? Why are scientist considered especially knowledgeable when it comes to matters about God?
    2) At what point did the erstwhile theist become an atheistic super scientist? Many people reject theism when they are in their teens and early 20’s. A rigorous knowledge of science may not have bee a primary factor in their de-conversion. For example, Jerry Coyne atheism appeared to be heavily influenced by a drug fuelled epiphany rather than an investigation of the facts. It is highly doubtful that every scientist who is an atheist is well informed about the theistic religions they reject. This is especially the case if theism is assumed to be wrong in the Old Boys Club that is academia.
    3) Self-selection. George Yancey has done some research into anti-Christian bias in academia.

  4. Dhay says:

    > Coyne notes how he and Harris hold to such a distinctly minority position [on not having free will] and attributes this to the powerful sense of agency we all have. Harris tries to correct him by preaching about meditation and how meditation helps us discover the illusory nature of the sense of agency.

    Perhaps Coyne should attend one of Harris’s meditation seminars.

    Perhaps not. The 16 May 2015 New Scientist includes an article by two psychologists; they have researched meditation and mindfulness; they found that although twenty minutes practice a day is likely to provoke only mild changes in perception, a meditation retreat with six hours or more a day is will cause 7% of meditators — both novices and experts — to experience “profoundly adverse effects”. Effects reported include twitching trembling, panic, disorientation, hallucinations, terror, depression, mania and psychotic breakdown.

    Perhaps not. Looks like, for every fourteen people who go on a retreat, one will experience something pretty horrible and upsetting. I don’t dislike Coyne and his ideas enough to wish upon him those odds of that outcome.

    (Of course, you don’t need to practice mindfulness and meditation to get these effects: taking LSD — which it very much looks like Sam Harris eulogises as a “taster” for the effects of meditation practice — can also have these side-effects; and Jerry Coyne ended up trembling and sweating and OCD anti-theistic while just listening to the Sergeant Pepper album — perhaps Coyne had definitely better stay away, he’s obviously the type to be susceptible.)

    The psychologists also tell us that Arnold Lazarus, one of the developers of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, reported some of his patients had serious disturbances after practising meditation.

    Why? Well, one reason is that in the Buddhist and Hindu original religious traditions, and in Harris’ Neo-Buddhist teaching too (as spotted by Michael, above, highlighted), the purpose of meditation is not relaxation, stress-reduction and improved well-being: it is to “challenge and rupture one’s sense of self to the core so you realise there is ‘nothing there'”.

  5. Mr. Green says:

    So how does Coyne define faith? “Belief without evidence sufficient to convince any reasonable person.”

    Of course, there is a term for exactly that condition: blind faith. Not to understand the difference between “faith” and “blind faith” is an egregious error for anyone setting out to write on the topic.

    The irony, though, is that scientists require faith more than anything else in order to do actual science. This has been noted many times before (Bilbo just pointed it out in the previous thread!) and it will be noted many times again. It’s virtually impossibly to conduct even the most simple of experiments without relying on a tremendous amount of faith, in matters both large and small, so anyone who was somehow unable to reconcile science and faith would end up having to reject science altogether.

  6. Dhay says:

    Another interview as part of Jerry Coyne’s book promo efforts was a phone interview by ‘Five Books’, published online as, “Jerry Coyne on the Incompatibility of Religion and Science” and subtitled, “Embracing a scientific worldview excludes the possibility of also believing in God, says the evolutionary biologist. He picks Five Books that help explain why this is the case.”

    http://www.fivebooks.com/interviews/jerry-coyne-on-incompatibility-religion-and-science

    It’s a fascinating insight into Coyne’s worldview, particularly because it makes very explicit Coyne’s extreme Philosophical Materialism, which seem to be very close to the views of Alex Rosenberg, apparently differing from Rosenberg primarily in his attitude to what’s usually referred to as The Humanities.

    Edward Feser’s “Rosenberg roundup” webpage, gives links to the many pages of his own extended critique of Rosenberg’s (hence also Coyne’s) extreme materialism; also, “finally, just to pile it on, some links to critical reviews of Rosenberg’s book by philosophers otherwise sympathetic to his naturalism: Michael Ruse, Philip Kitcher, and Massimo Pigliucci.”

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/rosenberg-roundup.html

  7. Josh says:

    Your definition of compatible needs to be extended. A better and more precise definition is:

    “(of two things) able to exist or occur together without problems or conflict”.

    Science and religion are incompatible. When it comes to truth claims, they are in zero-sum conflict for precisely the reasons that Coyne outlines. The conflict between the two is palpable and historically well-documented. Only a religious person who also respects science is wont to do the cognitive work necessary to generate an (unwittingly sophistic) argument for compatibility. Otherwise such individuals will necessarily find themselves in one of the following three situations:

    1) Having to live with a heavy dose of cognitive dissonance (unpleasant).
    2) Having to reject science (unreasonable).
    3) Having to abandon one’s faith (terrifyingly disorienting).

    It’s ever-likely that attempting reconciliation is the favoured strategy amongst this demographic. If one succeeds, one gets to have their cake *and* eat it. Delicious!

  8. TFBW says:

    So, Josh, given this terrible and drastic inability for science and religion to exist or occur together, what’s the deal with all the great scientists of the past, after whom most of our scientific units are named, many of whom were quite religious Christians. I mean, take Newton, for example. I’m not seeing a lot of incompatibility there. Did science and religion only become incompatible post-Lyell and Darwin, or is there some other explanation?

  9. Crude says:

    ““(of two things) able to exist or occur together without problems or conflict”.”

    If any possible or real historical conflict makes science and Y incompatible, then science is incompatible with political philosophies, secular humanism, anti-theism and just about everything else worth talking about.

    Science and religion are broadly compatible. In the ways they are narrowly incompatible – where it’s possible for religion to make a claim that science speaks against – they are no different from any other schools of thought. Even Coyne himself doesn’t escape this, as Mike has illustrated.

    What’s really amusing is this: Coyne claims that science and religion are incompatible. But what really runs afoul of science is Coyne’s own claims about both science and religion.

    Which will people choose? Science, of Coyne’s anti-theism? Should be an easy choice, eh?

  10. Kevin says:

    The majority of science historians reject the overhyped conflict thesis, and numerous scientists, theologians, and laypeople have no trouble accepting both science and religion. Asserting non existent cognitive dissonance is thus the only option left for those desperate to perpetuate the incompatibility myth.

  11. Michael says:

    Your definition of compatible needs to be extended. A better and more precise definition is:
    “(of two things) able to exist or occur together without problems or conflict”.

    I don’t think that is better. According to this definition, two people who are married would have to go through life without problems or conflict to be compatible. Yet almost every marriage has problems or conflict. This does not mean almost every marriage is between incompatible people.

    Science and religion are incompatible. When it comes to truth claims, they are in zero-sum conflict for precisely the reasons that Coyne outlines.

    That depends on the truth claim. “Science” is not incompatible with “religion.” Just certain claims of certain religions can be incompatible with certain scientific findings. For example, if one’s religious belief leads them to believe the Earth is 6000 years old, this is incompatible with what science has discovered about the age of the Earth. On the other hand, is the belief that Jesus rose from the dead incompatible with scientific discovery? Nope. What about the belief that God exists? Nope.

    The conflict between the two is palpable and historically well-documented.

    Oh, please. And it involves two or three specific claims that get used again and again as talking points. Can you spell out the conflict when it came to discovering the Krebs cyle? How about the discovery of centromeres? Or when scientists figured out that ribosomes synthesized proteins? Or how about the time when scientists figured out the role voltage gated channels played in generating action potentials? Please, by all means, tell us about these historical examples of “conflict.”

    Only a religious person who also respects science is wont to do the cognitive work necessary to generate an (unwittingly sophistic) argument for compatibility.

    Only a superificial thinker, with an anti-religious agenda, is wont to do the cognitive work necessary to generate an (unwittingly sophistic) argument for incompatibility.

  12. Dhay says:

    > So how does Coyne define faith?

    Here’s a snippet from a thoughtful review of Jerry Coyne’s FvF:

    In defining faith on page 67 the wheels come off again. He claims that the New Testament gives the definition of faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This is a very lazy claim. It would not take much research to see that the Greek word used for faith in the New Testament and as it has been used throughout Christian history is a kind of trust. Coyne takes the route of giving the OED “theological” definition and then contorts it to mean what he wants, belief without evidence.

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R2NNVQ1SIDHOE1/ref=cm_cr_pr_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0670026530

    Ah yes, the much-criticised Peter Boghossian faith definition fallacy rides again. It was so heavily criticised, it is a wonder that Coyne considers it a definition that can possibly be credibly used. This is especially so, as Coyne’s then favourite ex-Christian New Atheist convert, Eric MacDonald, made two long blog posts, highly critical of Boghossian’s book’s theses in general, and of that faith definition fallacy in particular, in February 2014 – which blog posts Coyne surely read.

    1. http://choiceindying.com/2014/02/08/boghossians-a-manual-for-creating-atheists-a-preliminary-report/
    2. http://choiceindying.com/2014/02/18/boghossians-a-manual-for-creating-atheists-a-preliminary-report-ii/

    Within two weeks after the second post, MacDonald was arguing in the comments on Coyne’s blog; a few days later, MacDonald very publicly and disappointedly left New Atheism for good (as Massimo Pigliucci has now done.) I feel sure from the timing that MacDonald’s strongly negative reaction to Boghossian’s book and its contents was instrumental in his rejection of New Atheism.

    3. http://choiceindying.com/2014/03/09/in-which-i-take-my-leave-from-the-new-atheism/

    There is, however, another angle on this: Coyne announced “The Albatross [FvF in draft form] in August 2014; MacDonald had been Coyne’s theology tutor for at least two years,so it is implausible that Coyne would not have discussed the themes of his book with MacDonald, and he probably sent MacDonald an early draft for comment and approval; what appears on the face of it to be criticisms of Boghossian’s book might also be construed as covert criticisms of Coyne’s draft book, and as a failed attempt to dissuade Coyne from publishing with the contents it has.

    The reviewer continued:

    Knowing that making fideism stick is his best weapon, the author makes a few feeble attempts to claim his definition but fails. Using Tertullian’s out of context statement about absurdity as proof for Christian fideism is a big sign that a person is not doing their own research.

    Interesting. Coyne recently claimed, in response to a “flea” who questioned his qualifications, ”And, as you know, I spent over two years reading this stuff, so it’s not like I’m thrashing about blindly in the muck of theology.”

    As I said in the comments to the 14 April “Jeffrey Taylor Makes a Dumb Comment” post, “Actually, I think he is thrashing about blindly: as my response three above points out, “That “I believe because it is absurd” is anything that a modern Christian would say, or even that it is anything that an ancient Christian would say, is absurd”: Coyne cannot detect absurdity; Coyne doesn’t comprehend the very basics about Christians or Christianity; Coyne doesn’t know his arse from his elbow.”

  13. Dhay says:

    Jerry Coyne says, in his January 24, 2012 blog entry entitled, “New and open science: the end of peer review?”, discussing the pros and cons of the scientific journal/peer review system:

    If there is no peer review of published papers, then there is no quality control, at least not beyond that made on posts following online publication. I myself have benefitted tremendously from the comments of reviewers, and also vet my papers to my colleagues before submitting them to journals.

    Yep. If Coyne has followed his normal practice he will have submitted an early draft of FvF to someone with the theological qualifications to review it and vet it — almost certainly to his theology tutor and mentor, Eric MacDonald.

    Coyne continues:

    Peer review, however flawed, is a sign of professional acceptance and recognition, and peer-reviewed papers (like grants) are appropriate measures of professional success for promotion, tenure, and other ways to climb the scientific ladder.

    Eric MacDonald seems to have withdrawn from New Atheism at about the time I would have expected Coyne to send him the draft of his new book, or portions thereof. He withdrew saying:

    However, as time went on I found myself at loggerheads with much that sailed under the banner of the New Atheism, finding its conception of religion so contrary to anything that I would have said about my faith in earlier years that I find myself no longer able to associate myself with this movement. Much that new atheists say about religion is simply so much straw. Of course, it does apply to the fundamentalists and some evangelicals (two separate points of view), but some Christian theology is so much more sophisticated than this as to make much new atheist opposition to religion sophistical.

    http://choiceindying.com/2014/03/09/in-which-i-take-my-leave-from-the-new-atheism/

    Looks like some or all of the theology in FvF received from MacDonald, not “professional acceptance and recognition”, but rejection.

    Michael > Only a superificial thinker, with an anti-religious agenda, is wont to do the cognitive work necessary to generate an (unwittingly sophistic) argument for incompatibility.

    Looks like MacDonald would agree with you about much New Atheist opposition to religion being sophistical.

  14. Dhay says:

    Spot the absence. It’s also absent from the lists of Sam’s recommendations and reader recommendations.

    http://www.samharris.org/book_store/letter/c#c

    Damned by faint enthusiasm?

  15. Dhay says:

    Back on the 20 April 2014 “New Atheism and Eckhart Tolle” post I commented (altered slightly for relevance here):

    That major leading figure from Tibetan Buddhist monastic life, Dzogchen master teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, “had been having sexual relations with women since he was [a young monk of] 13”, “ drank, smoked, slept with students”; he allegedly “used $40,000 a year worth of cocaine, and used Seconal to come down from the cocaine”; he was “an alcoholic” served “big glasses of gin first thing in the morning”, and he died in 1987 “of an alcohol-related illness”. (Source, Wikipedia.)

    It is probably a rare Buddhist abbot who is like this dissolute wreck; what it does illustrate is that mastery of Dzogchen does not necessarily lead to good physical and mental health.

    Or good sexual morality, either, contrary to Buddhist monastic vows. Here’s another Buddhist Abbot with rubbish sexual morality, and drinking hallucinogenic wine:

    Check out what’s just happened with Zen Mountain Monastery in upstate New York. The abbot had to resign because of sexual misconduct as well as straying into shamanic practices involving ayahuasca. I doubt that anyone reading this has done anywhere near as much practice as that fellow, and yet he was unable to keep to his vows …

    https://www.samharris.org/forum/viewthread/17895/#226672

    > Harris tries to correct [Jerry Coyne] by preaching about meditation and how meditation helps us discover the illusory nature of the sense of agency.

    Looks like meditation, mindfulness and Dzogchen help their advanced practitioners discover sex, drugs, and .. well, no mention of rock-and-roll, and I suppose Coyne would be reluctant to give up the Beatles, bearing in mind how formative they have been on his worldview.

    Sex, drugs, and lack of agency, then; and lack of regret.

  16. Dhay says:

    Sam Harris is the Buddhist who wrote a “Why I am Not a Buddhist” article; he is the alleged non-religious person who strenuously promotes the “spiritual”; his blog post “The Mystery of Consciousness” states that “Consciousness is the one thing in this universe that cannot be an illusion” — so it looks like even Jerry Coyne’s ontological materialism and the external world can be illusions — and “The problem, however, is that no evidence for consciousness exists in the physical world” — which looks just like a claim that consciousness is supernatural; Harris is definitely a maverick among the New Atheists.

    With that in mind, try looking with alert eyes at the Jesus ‘n’ Mo cartoon which Coyne reproduced in his blog post dated August 12, 2015 and entitled “Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ Elaine Ecklund”:

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/08/12/jesus-n-mo-n-elaine-ecklund/

    Anybody else see Sam Harris lampooned there?

  17. Dhay says:

    Dhay > The 16 May 2015 New Scientist includes an article by two psychologists; they have researched meditation and mindfulness; they found that although twenty minutes practice a day is likely to provoke only mild changes in perception, a meditation retreat with six hours or more a day is will cause 7% of meditators — both novices and experts — to experience “profoundly adverse effects”. Effects reported include twitching trembling, panic, disorientation, hallucinations, terror, depression, mania and psychotic breakdown.

    So a study shows meditation and mindfulness can be, and very often are, harmful. Although these are hyped in the popular press there are questions about the validity of the science:

    Let’s take on the science first. There have been many studies showing the effectiveness of meditation for different conditions (particularly those related to stress). But a meta-review of these studies by the Association for Health and Research Quality showed only moderate evidence for the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation. This overarching review study didn’t necessarily say the effects were not there. Instead, it told us that, taken together, the quality of the studies (based on sample sizes, research protocols, etc.) were not strong enough to support the strong conclusions many mindfulness advocates hope for.

    The clinical trial data on mindfulness for depression relapse, for example, is not a slam-dunk. The results are really not better than those for antidepressants.

    http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2015/07/21/424948567/does-mindfulness-mean-anything

    And there are questions about a secular, watered down non-spiritual “mindfulness” relative to its origins in the definitely spiritual practices of Buddhism and Yoga:

    “Right now, for the first time ever, we have contemplative practices derived from the Buddhist tradition that are being practiced completely independently of any Buddhist context. Secularization has filtered out what we would call “religious elements.” It is those religious elements, those ethical elements, and those intentions that have always formed the context of meditation and that have made meditation make sense.”

    Losing these religious, spiritual, ethical aspects of meditation as a practice when it’s transformed into mindfulness is what worries many Buddhist teachers. Traditionally, Buddhist practice was meant to be radically transformative and a means, among other things, of awaking to the reality that, on the deepest levels, the “self” is an illusion. But by stripping away this context into just “mindfulness,” many teachers fear the powerful transformative effects of the tradition will be watered down so completely that it becomes just a tepid form of “self-help.”

    Michael’s OP > Harris tries to correct [Jerry Coyne] by preaching about meditation and how meditation helps us discover the illusory nature of the sense of agency.

    In Harris’ teaching (as spotted by Michael, above, highlighted), the purpose of meditation is not relaxation, stress-reduction and improved well-being; it is to “challenge and rupture one’s sense of self to the core so you realise there is ‘nothing there’”; that makes Harris’ teaching “radically transformative and a means, among other things, of awaking to the reality that, on the deepest levels, the “self” is an illusion.” Harris intends the mindfulness he is teaching to have the “powerful transformative effects of [his Buddhist] tradition”, not to be the harmlessly watered down secular version of mindfulness.

  18. Larry Olson says:

    “…Christians. I mean, take Newton, for example. I’m not seeing a lot of incompatibility there. ”
    Newton also believed in Alchemy, therefore alchemy, homeopathy, astrology, and other nonsense logically must be compatible with science too. Right? Because Newton believed in strange garbage science. As did Nikola Tesla. Tesla invented AC Electricity for us, what we use today in our houses, and the man believed that numbers divisible by three were some how holier than other numbers, and rewrote his equations so that they were divisible by three. Therefore, superstition must be compatible with science because, after all, many mad scientists like newton and tesla believed in garbage… therefore that means the garbage must be true too (or compatible, rather). Uh, No. Think carefully for a minute. Newton believed in alchemy, therefore alchemy must be compatible with science because newton was a scientist. This is like saying Grandpa who reads the astrology papers when get gets dementia at an old age, must be practicing science since he had a university education at one time. 2 + 2 = 5. Nice logic.

  19. TFBW says:

    Larry, unless you’re saying that Newton wasn’t a scientist, or wasn’t a Christian, then you haven’t actually contradicted me, no matter how much verbiage you use. “Newton was both a great scientist and a serious Christian, therefore science is not incompatible with Christianity,” is pretty much the totality of my argument. All the smoke you’re blowing fails to address that.

  20. Dhay says:

    Here’s a link which adds to my comments above about immoral, leching gurus —

    … in Waking Up, Harris refers several dozen times to his own “remarkable master of meditation” teacher H.W.L. Poonja-ji [and mentions a minor misdemeanour] … But a much more damning imperfection and misuse of power, not mentioned by Harris, is that Poonja later reportedly fathered a child via a blond, female Belgian disciple. If Harris didn’t wind up pregnant from the same “meditation master,” … It’s also because he’s not a hot blonde.

    http://www.strippingthegurus.com/stgsamplechapters/wakingup.html

    — and adds to my debunking of the common health and mental health claims made for the various kinds of meditation, and emphasises the harm meditation can do to both inexperienced and experienced meditators.

    It’s anecdotal, I know, but I realise that I, myself have known of a very keen long term practitioner of Yoga,someone competent at the highest level of the teaching/inspecting hierarchy, who gave up her practice; I was told she had found it had become ‘disturbing’ and she was afraid to pursue it further,.

  21. Dhay says:

    Dhay > The 16 May 2015 New Scientist includes an article by two psychologists; they have researched meditation and mindfulness; they found that although twenty minutes practice a day is likely to provoke only mild changes in perception, a meditation retreat with six hours or more a day is will cause 7% of meditators — both novices and experts — to experience “profoundly adverse effects”. Effects reported include twitching trembling, panic, disorientation, hallucinations, terror, depression, mania and psychotic breakdown.

    Anyone who has read DT Suzuki’s many stories of how Zen masters reached their first satori (enlightenment experience) will realise that “profoundly adverse effects” such as depression, desperation and suicidal thoughts were very common among serious students of Zen Buddhism.

    It’s not just the ancients, either: here’s excerpts from ‘MemesNutation’ comment on Waking Up last year, in one of Sam Harris’ forum threads.

    We start out with: peculiar; scary; weird; don’t feel like I’m me; dissociation; everything’s irrelevant; nihilism:

    Knowing of my automation for years now, and even intuiting it before I read Sams last book, it has increasingly become more peculiar in both a scary way and a comforting way. On the one hand, I feel less shame for myself and hate for others knowing no free will exists. On the other hand, I’ve experienced some weird feelings where I don’t feel like I’m me. I’ll be daydreaming or nearly asleep on my couch and suddenly I feel like I’m watching my life through a window behind the eyes and the relevance of everything seems almost nihilistic.

    https://www.samharris.org/forum/viewthread/17851/#226547

    ‘MemesNutation’ shows that the meaning of the Buddhist (and Yogic, etc) term “detachment” is not the mere disinterested indifference to blame and praise (etc etc) that probably everyone assumes, but dissociation.

    Then there’s: frightening; heavy drinking; attempted suicide by throat slitting

    Its frightening to me when Sam says the illusion of freewill is itself an illusion. I think I know what he is getting at. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to fully be removed from a sense of self and authorship while going through days, weeks and even years. These are some really deep philosophical truths that WILL affect your subjective experience of reality. I do not drink or do drugs at all; totally sober. I did however drink very heavily and even attempted suicide while drunk by slitting my throat which I barely survived—ALL while having full knowledge of my automation. …

    And: trippy; up-Earthing:

    To be honest, these revelations are trippy. I don’t doubt the validity of determinism; it makes perfect sense objectively and subjectively but that doesn’t make these truths any less up-Earthing.

    Meditation is often promoted for its health benefits, especially its mental health benefits. Traditionally, that’s not what its about. One wonders where on the Sam Harris’ moral landscape this partly beneficial but also highly dangerous practice of meditation lies, especially the very seriously practiced meditation he practices himself and which (unless I am very much mistaken) he advocates to all others.

  22. Talon says:

    Not all meditative practice results in the sort of nihilistic realization Sam Harris and others are promoting. The Quakers use a guided meditative practice which have resulted in life affirming and positive personal transformations like the account at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAZUpi03OzU. The meditator had a mystical experience which suggested determinism is false and what plays out in reality includes choices and consequences, though the options are probably limited by the natural laws we experience day to day, like physics.

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