Stenger spices up HuffPo again

May 15, 2012 • 11:34 am

Today’s HuffPo features a column by Victor Stenger—”Scientists and religion“—that’s reprinted from “Science + religion today.”  His point is to dispel the old canard that science can’t test God or the supernatural. (I once had a long argument with Genie Scott of the National Center for Science Education about this—she took the “can’t-test” side).  And the reasons he’s right are bloody obvious, but can’t be said too often, especially since the “can’t-test” position appears in official statements by America’s two most prestigious science organizations: the AAAS and the National Academies:

The rationale usually given by those who reject any role for science on religious matters is that science concerns itself, “by definition,” solely with natural phenomena. Since the supernatural is unobservable, then, they assert, science has nothing to say about it.

However, while supernatural entities may not be directly observable, any effects these entities might have on the material world should manifest themselves as observable phenomena. Anything observable is subject to scientific inquiry. On the other hand, if the supernatural has no observable effects on the natural world, then why even worry about it?

In recent years, right under the nose of the NAS [National Academy of Sciences], reputable scientists from reputable institutions have vigorously pursued several areas of empirical study that bear directly on the question of God and the supernatural. Any one of these experiments was capable of providing evidence for at least some aspect of a world beyond the material world. I will mention just two.

Teams of scientists from three highly respected institutions — the Mayo Clinic and Harvard and Duke Universities — have performed carefully controlled experiments on the medical efficacy of blind, intercessory prayer and published their results in peer-reviewed journals. These experiments found no evidence that such prayers provide any health benefit. But, they could have.

For my second example, over a period of four decades extensive investigations have been made into the phenomenon of near-death experiences (NDEs) in which people resuscitated from the brink of death report a glimpse of “heaven.” Despite thousands of such reports, not a single subject has returned with new knowledge that could be tested by further investigations. No prediction has been made of some future catastrophe that later occurred on schedule, and not for lack of opportunity given the many natural disasters — earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, tornados — of recent years. Similarly, no divine revelation has provided an answer for any currently unanswered question in science, history, or theology; such as, where in the universe we will find extraterrestrial life or the location of Noah’s Ark.

Now it’s harder to test one-off interventions like the supposed resurrection of Jesus, but everything we know about nature suggests that dead people can’t come back to life, and there’s no independent evidence for this outside the Gospels. And if you show that the more frequent interventions of God are bogus, one naturally begins to suspect the one-off miracles as well.  Even when one-off miracles are tested, like weeping Jesus statues or the Shroud of Turin, they, too, fail to pass the test of divinity.

I wasn’t able to make any headway with Genie, who was either deaf to my assertions or determined to defend a position that the NCSE has adopted to coddle believers; and I suspect Stenger won’t make headway with most HuffPo readers (watch the comments section). Nevertheless, he’s right. As I pointed out today, Gould’s “nonoverlapping magisteria” brand of accommodationism works only with deistic religions that posit a hands-off God.  And, in the West, that kind of religion is found only among well-fed theologians and extremely liberal believers.

Victor’s penultimate paragraph:

So, scientists and science organizations are being disingenuous when they say science can say nothing about the supernatural. They know better. Their policy of appeasing religion for presumably political reasons only empowers those who are muddling education and polluting public policy with anti-scientific magical thinking.

Can anybody really deny that?  They do know better, or if they don’t, they’re dumb.

I hope they don’t bounce Stenger’s tuchus from HuffPo, since he violates Arianna’s mission of reconciling science and faith. But perhaps he gives them what they want most: traffic. And traffic = $$ (for HuffPo, not Stenger: columnists aren’t paid there).

153 thoughts on “Stenger spices up HuffPo again

  1. On the other hand, if the supernatural has no observable effects on the natural world, then why even worry about it?


    Not for nothing but you can substitute “the supernatural” with Gawd Allsmitey and it orks nicely too.

    1. Actually, this is the one part of Stenger’s piece I disagree with. It’s conceivable that the supernatural would have no testable effects on the natural world, but still be important to worry about. What if we had untestable immortal souls that were untestably judged by Jesus during our lives, and either suffered or prospered after death based on our actions in life? Now I’m an atheist who doesn’t believe in an afterlife, but I could see how a theist could still be rational (well, besides believing in souls, deities and afterlives in the first place) in worrying about the supernatural even if they thought gods never interacted with our universe.

      1. Rational means having reasons and reasons to believe in things that supposedly exist depend on empirical evidence. Otherwise it’s all just imaginary. We can imagine millions of things that have nothing to do with reality. Fairy castles in the sky.

        1. That’s why I said “well, besides believing in souls, deities and afterlives in the first place”. Sure it’s not rational to believe in the supernatural, but if we ignore that basic irrationality, it can be rational to care about what the supernatural does, even if it doesn’t interact with our universe in a detectable way.

          In other words, I’m only arguing against Stenger’s one reason worrying about the supernatural is wrong (it doesn’t affect the universe in a detectable way), not other potential reasons (e.g. it doesn’t exist).

          1. That’s like saying I look like [random celebrity] if you ignore the fact that we look nothing like each other.

            1. No, because I’m not saying this hypothetical person is basically rational, or mostly rational. I’m just saying that _within their worldview_, worrying about a deity that is scientifically unobservable could make sense. Sure I could tell this person “Your belief in a god that judges your soul is stupid”, but I couldn’t say “If a god existed that science couldn’t detect, you’d always be wrong to worry about it,” as Stenger says.

              1. If pigs lived in trees we’d all need to worry about their awful offal drop on us while we stroll the sidewalks. It doesn’t become rational to carry preventive pig-waste umbrellas just because “within our world view” they might let some fall on us.

          2. OK, let’s assume for the sake of argument that there is some supernatural realm out there that has absolutely no effect on us while we’re alive but that could matter a great deal to us after we’re dead. It follows then that we have no way even in principle to know what criteria we’re going to be judged by or whether we’re going to be judged at all, and that anybody claiming to have such knowledge is a liar.

            I submit that under those conditions it’s irrational to worry about any such hypothetical judgment, since there’s nothing we can usefully do to prepare for it. So the rational thing is to ignore that possibility and govern our behavior according to criteria relevant to this life.

            1. If it has absolutely no effect, sure. But Stenger said if it has “no observable effects”, which I’ve been interpreting as scientifically unobservable effects. Say something scientifically unobservable happened like Paul having a revelation about God in a process scientifically indistinguishable from a hallucination, which begins the spread of Christianity and passes knowledge about how to affect your afterlife to other people. Now of course it’s irrational to believe Paul is correct in the first place, but IF you believe he’s correct, then it would be rational to worry about the supernatural. In this case Paul isn’t a liar and you have a way to know how to act, even if you have no scientific way to justify it or test his accuracy.

              1. Paul’s experience is only scientifically inaccessible in a very weak sense – only in the same way what Robert Boyle ate for breakfast on November 2nd, 1670 is inaccessible, at best.

                As for the main topic of this subthread: believers too resist the idea that their faith is just about poetry and nothing to do with “the way things are”. That there was such a person or such an event is crucial; accomodationism, by making the pretense that these aren’t important, should be (and is, if one listens) rejected by those believers. Shorter: yes, Virginia, it is about evidence. (And why there’s a tremendous “bootstrapping” problem.)

              2. “Paul’s experience is only scientifically inaccessible in a very weak sense”

                I disagree. Since God’s revelation is scientifically identical to a hallucination in my example, it’s scientifically inaccessable in the same way Sober’s occasional God-directed mutation in the sea of random mutations would be. Even with our full battery of tests there in real time, it would all look like a hallucination, because it would be one- just one caused by God.

                And of course, I don’t think this occurs, and if it did I don’t think anyone should believe it since there’s no way to test it. It’s really quite disturbing that when I point out if you believe in the supernatural (as Stenger’s paragraph was granting) then his conclusion doesn’t hold, everyone’s response is to ‘correct’ me by insisting that we shouldn’t believe in the supernatural in the first place, as if I disagree with that. Surely it’s valid to show one section of argument doesn’t work given certain premises, even if you disagree with those premises in actuality

              3. But if the supernatural interacts with the material us in any way, surely it’s scientifically observable (at least in principle)… ?


              4. The interaction would be observable in principle, yes. But my example was using an interaction which would fit within the expected range of natural events, so its supernatural cause would be hidden. Sober or Miller both have given examples, like God changing random quantum effects so that an electron is excited and releases a particle that affects the nucleotide sequence in a zygote. In principle, we would be able to tell the mutation was caused by a random (as far as science is concerned) quantum event exciting an electron, but we could never tell God caused that particular event because the event wasn’t unexpected given purely natural descriptions of the universe.

              5. Well, such an event might not be distinguishable from random chance, such that you wouldn’t be able to identify it from a aststistical analysis of events.

                But, if there is an interaction of the supernatural with the material, that is a physical event that requires energy, and that could be detected (in principle).

                It’s a poor analogy, but think about a perfectly insulated and hermetically sealed room containing a working fridge that’s switched on with its door open: What happens to the temperature of the room?


              6. Yeah, I agree. We can always in principle detect the supernatural affecting our universe, we just can’t always determine the supernatural is what we’re detecting.

    1. Are you kidding here? What is gained is a refutation of the common religious argument that you can’t test for the existence of certain kinds of Gods. Who care if it offends some peoples’ sensibilities: EVERY questioning of faith does that.

    2. Is this sarcasm? What is gained? Educated people instead of ignorant, incoherent, uncaring buffoons.

    3. Christians don’t seem too worried about offending our sensibilities with their nonsense. So why should we worry about offending theirs with our sense?

        1. Threatening me with hellfire for the crime of using my brain would be an example of the kind of offensive nonsense I was talking about. Thank you for proving my point.

    4. What is gained ?

      Equal rights for gays ?

      Reproductive rights for women ?

      End of life choices ?

      Unimpeded stem cell research and the resulting life saving medical advances ?

      Redress for the victims of of child raping priests ?

      A stop to genocidal religiously mandated opposition to condom use ?

      Sexual education for children based on reason and evidence and not disgust and shame ?

      How’s that for a start ?

      Do you think that any of the above trump the oh so tender sensibilities of xtians ?

    5. Christians legislating the public order offends my sensibilities. And if I’m going to debate them, I’m not going to use their own holy book against them. I’m going to tear down their holy book, show them how science refutes their notions, and generally make it a point to show them that the can’t use a non-present God as an end-all argument.

          1. So is not using their holy books. It’s good to have many tools: lots of arrows in your quiver.

    6. > Why offend Christian sensibilities on this?

      Nobody set out to offend. They pretend to be offended to stop criticism. Like children crying when they dont get their way.

      > What is gained?

      An open discussion. The offending is not intentional. You dont stop a discussion just because one of the participants wants everybody to shut up.

      1. That’s a good point.

        I imagine Christians believe their beliefs are true, which means they should stand up to scientific scrutiny. Why would they be offended that someone is scrutinizing them?

      2. “Nobody set out to offend.”

        I’m sorry, but I have sometimes set out to offend Christians who were bugging me with sanctimonious BS. I’m usually very polite to them, but some jerks just bring out another side of me. I guess I’m not as mature as I should be.

    7. Why teach evolution in schools & offend some Christian sensibilities? What is gained?
      The answer is a working knowledge of the world around us.

    8. What is to be gained? –The same thing that is to be gained by telling people there is no such thing as witches or curses or demons. (Or rather, no good reason to believe in such thing)

      If science doesn’t free those who are afraid they’ll be punished for all eternity for not believing the right magical story, who will?

      Those who coddle religion give the impression that there is something worthy of coddling there. This has gone on for too long.

  2. “In recent years, right under the nose of the NAS [National Academy of Sciences], reputable scientists from reputable institutions have vigorously pursued several areas of empirical study that bear directly on the question of God and the supernatural” If they are doing this nonsense in a place with taxpayer support then I think there are some big problems with that don’t you?

    1. Just because someone is doing research – even at a taxpayer supported institution – that does not mean the research itself is taxpayer supported.

      Just sayin’.

      1. Even if it is taxpayer-funded, so what? The TSA wastes more in a day (I’m guessing) on bogus security measures than has ever been spent on falsifying religious claims. If you’re looking for “big problems” with the use of taxpayer funds, there are plenty to be found of much bigger scale than this.

        Now if there were some rule that said religious claims should be exempt from taxpayer-funded scrutiny, I’d have big problems with that.

        1. More than taxpayer supported, how about institutions that have alums who don’t want to have to deal with a bunch of malicious pop culture dwarfs. Guys like Sam Harris for example are at the level of a Bill Maher. Beneath the dignity of a place like the U of C, that is for sure. Since I put my time in with both the Committee on Evolutionary Biology and Social Thought, I can assure you a Victor Stenger, Sam Harris, or any number of other militant new atheists would not last 30 seconds in a room with the likes of a Mircea Eliade, Leon Kass, Wayne Booth or George Beadle. As if they could even get an invite. At that level the regard for a Richard Dawkins debating someone like Kurt Wise is similar to how interesting they regard the veracity and panache of professional wrestling. Yes, the honest creationist vs. the richest showman in pop atheism. Ridiculous, as are the completely sophomoric statements these idiot new atheists make about philosophy, religion, history and yes, even science and rationality.

            1. “Even if it is taxpayer-funded, so what?” If it is alum and taxpayer-funded so what? Yes, we are doing all of you ignorant ingrates a public service with our scientific research and we need you to give us more money. Not all of us can spend our time writing bestselling books on atheism.

              1. Still not seeing what your point is (if any).

                If you think your alma mater is spending your donation foolishly, stop giving them money and tell them why.

                If Stenger’s books annoy you, don’t read them.

                If you think you have the ability to write a best-selling book on atheism or any other subject, by all means do it; it will be time well spent.

                But I don’t see how spewing incoherent insults at me, at Jerry, or at the taxpaying public gets you any closer to any of those goals.

              2. Hmm… do you realise how many of us “ignorant ingrates” – including our host – are also doing scientific research, often at publicly-funded institutions?


          1. The creationist can be as honest as he likes; it doesn’t mean his arguments can stand up to any kind of scientific scrutiny (pretty much by definition). So what killer arguments would the creationist come up with that would render a Dawkins or a Stenger speechless in 30 seconds? Petrified tree trunks crossing geologic strata? (Assuming we’re talking YECs.)

            1. If the YEC is Kurt Wise then they wouldn’t have an argument since as far as I know, Wise understands evolution on the intellectual level. He just rejects it for emotional reasons.

              If cognitive dissonance were like the Force I’m sure he could push a small moon out of orbit.

            1. Of course Hitchens careful reading of Eliade is where he came up with his dogged support of the Iraq war. Much like Sam Harris’s some knowledge is so dangerous that we must kill you for having it logic.

            2. And what about us who have read both (say) Stenger and Eliade, and find the latter wanting? I even read all of Bellah’s tome, and while interesting, I don’t see how it shows anything from the “new atheists” or whatever to be substantially wrong.

          2. Leon Kass has had a long and storied career as a professional tight-ass. He’s famous as the man who is offended by the indignity of eating ice cream cones in public.

            1. At least someone recognized the irony of putting Kass in that group. I used to shred his “some knowledge should remain off limits” arguments on a regular basis. It is a bit opposed to the motto of Crescat scientia vita excolatur. However, the power of science continuing to create new ways to annihilate all of us, keep grandma and grandpa in zombie-like states and so forth, keeps making that issue not as easy to dismiss as I had thought.

              1. The ignorabimus of biology is one heck of an interesting subject. Kass certainly gets credit for recognizing that and advancing the dialogue vis-a-vis bioethics, regardless of what you think of his conclusions and statements about ice cream eating. If you have not thought in these terms this ignorabimus is immediately relevant for dual questions such as what kind of research and practices we ban, vivisection, even environmental and ecological policy. You will have a hard time making a case that this should be strictly scientific when you have unborn babies, dying parents, baby seals, lab animals, and more to deal with. There seems to be a lack of awareness just how much more powerful technology and science really are now with respect to religion. That goes as far back as Francis Bacon up to Robert Oppenheimer’s trinity quote. Now we have Biology to deal with and guys like uber atheist J C Venter saying we all better get comfortable with them playing god with this technology. Great, I’ll remind my bees in Brazil of that when they get unhappy.

    2. “If they are doing this nonsense in a place with taxpayer support then I think there are some big problems with that don’t you?”

      No, it’s their duty. Public money for public improvements.

  3. This is the crass, mundane and underlying practical and boring driver in all this — getting power over people by selling them lies.

    “Their policy of appeasing religion for presumably political reasons…”

    The theologians, philosophers and other well-paid liars are the worst since they pretend to, literally, be holier than others in their lying and salesmanship — with educational institutions fronting them.

    This is all just salesmanship 101 — lie to people and tell them what they want to hear – life after death, guardian angels, etc.

  4. As I pointed out today, Gould’s “nonoverlapping magisteria” brand of accommodationism works only with deistic religions that posit a hands-off God.

    Or a malicious god, or an inept god.

    It’s one of those three choices, however. Which rules out every god concept of all of the major and minor religions being practiced currently. … Although I think Quetzalcoatl was considered pretty kick-ass back in his day.

    1. I would think that even a non-interventionist God which was Deistic, indifferent, or malicious would overlap into scientific territory, because someone is still presenting the God hypothesis as a Mind or mind-like agency with neither a brain nor a history. What isn’t inconsistent with what we know about minds or agents is cut out by the razor.

      1. Exactly– if someone is proposing some sort of consciousness absent a material brain (whether god, demon, ghost, or fairy) they need to distinguish it from a mythological being if they want science to treat it as other than a mythological being!

        Real beings ought to be distinguishable from imaginary beings when scientifically tested– and so far gods have proven no more real than fairies in this department.

        I think a lot fewer people would believe in gods if they weren’t afraid that they had eternal souls that could be tortured forever if they didn’t believe. Without this fear, why would anybody believe in a god that desired to be believed in? It’s silly and circular. A real god could do whatever she needed to do to get each person to believe whatever she desired them to believe if belief was important to her and would have no one to blame but herself if she was displeased.

  5. “His point is to dispel the old canard that religion can’t test God or the supernatural.”


    I think you need to replace ‘religion’ with ‘science’ in the first paragraph.

      1. Most Protestants are taught not to test God or the supernatural so they should be comfortable having that task done by scientists. They also are taught to avoid reification by using scientists rather than science.

        1. They also are taught to avoid reification by using scientists rather than science.

          Yeah, if there’s anything the Protestants are known for it’s not reifying things.


  6. Just a question – what does the testing of intercessory prayer or NDEs have to do with the larger question of whether science can test the supernatural? I mean, I get that those might be two examples of supernatural effect on the physical world, but I don’t think debunking two dubious-in-the-first-place really advances the argument.

    1. “Just a question – what does the testing of intercessory prayer or NDEs have to do with the larger question of whether science can test the supernatural?”

      They’re two examples of science testing the supernatural.

    2. If science can’t distinguish the supernatural from a delusion of such– why would we think anyone else can or has?

      Sure, every “woo” thinks their “woo” is true– but science is the only verifiable method for uncovering the truth that is the same for everybody no matter what they believe.

      If you cannot teat an unfalsifiable claim, how can you distinguish it’s usefulness over the myriad of supernatural claims you reject. Why should one magical belief system get more respect than any other myth or superstition or competing supernatural claims? Why should god belief be accorded more respect than belief i demon possession?

    3. Just a question – what does the testing of intercessory prayer or NDEs have to do with the larger question of whether science can test the supernatural?…

      1) Gosh, we can’t test every supernatural claim ever made; particularly those with no effect on the natural world. What is the likely response of a good scientist:
      A) Therefore we should throw our hands in the air and quit.
      B) But at least we can test supernatural claims which do impinge on the natural world.
      2) Supernatural claims which do not impinge on the natural world are pretty much irrelevant, as explained by Stenger.

  7. The only gods that do not fail testing are the ones that cannot be tested.

    Is it that hard to draw a conclusion from this?

  8. The usual response of the religious is that god has performance anxiety or that he won’t do anything when people are watching because that would give away the game and replace your faith with certainty. (But hey – show me a religious person who isn’t certain.)

  9. If supernatural entities have observable effect on the natural world then shouldn’t these entities also be considered “natural” (by definition)?

    E.g. before the discovery of viruses it was generally assumed (in many cases) that the disease was caused by supernatural entities. Influenza (which in Italian means “influence” or “visitation” I believe) was considered to be some sort of supernatural phenomenon. When it was discovered that a virus causes it, didn’t the cause become part of the “natural” domain and thus within the scope of scientific inquiry?

    There are (quasi-supernatural?) entities like dark matter and dark energy about which we know very little to nothing, but we can consistently discern their effect on the natural world. This situation will change of course as we figure out new ways to learn about the nature of these entities.

    I think when the religious people say something is “supernatural” they want to keep it beyond the scope of empirical study. They want to keep the “mystery” alive. But anything “supernatural” that has a consistent effect on the natural world is just itching to be demystified by science.

    1. Yes I think this is the crux of Stenger’s point. You can’t have it both ways and say “Oh my God is outside of the natural realm so the scientific ways of knowing don’t apply to him. Oh, and by the way, he just answered my prayer and cured my cancer.” Either he’s totally outside of the natural realm and doesn’t interact with it, in which case he might as well not be there, or he does interact with us down here, and therefore is susceptible to having those interactions tested. Make your choice, religious types!

    2. The claim that the supernatural is untestable is only going to be made if a test fails. That makes it an immunizing strategy, not a defining attribute.

      There are (quasi-supernatural?) entities like dark matter and dark energy …

      I don’t agree that dark matter and energy would be supernatural or even quasi-supernatural if it were to turn out they have no effects on the natural world or could never be tested.

      What would make them supernatural would be connecting them in some significant way to something mind-like: dark energy is pure love, say — or dark matter moves and shifts in response to good and evil. If science confirmed the existence of something like that, then it would make more sense I think to say that the supernatural has been proven, rather than shift over the semantic goalpost to call that ‘natural.’

    3. Yes… “Science can’t prove me wrong, therefore my woo* is true!”

      *supernatural belief

      Also “Science can’t explain it (to my satisfaction); therefore Jesus!”

  10. I find those examples a bit flawed. I’m not sure that science has tested NDE’s exactly, is a visit to ‘heaven’ supposed to come with accurate predictions of the future or knowledge unknowable by other means? Where does this hypothesis come from?

    The prayer study couldn’t control for prayers said by friends, family and patients in the no prayer group. It could only test if prayers said by a particular group were effective for the people the prayers were said for.

    This brings me to another point, how can you test the efficacy of prayer when the hypothiesis is that someone may or may not intervene in a situation as they see fit?

    Not only that but this person is all knowing, notoriously thin skinned and prone to tantrums. At least according to some versions of the hypothesis.

    1. Well, the funny thing about the prayer efficacy study is that the group that was being prayed for and knew it fared less well that the other groups (not prayed for and prayed for but didn’t know it). And yes, you hit the usual excuse that’s made of the negative results of prayer studies: “God will not be tested!” The religious have an endless supply of Get out of Jail Free cards.

      1. Well if you don’t have a coherent hypothesis to test then you can’t falsify it. It’s like throwing rocks at the invisible pink unicorn until you hear it say ow.

        My point about the prayer study is that if you don’t know who isn’t being prayed for then what are you testing?

        1. Why don’t you read the paper before presuming the method’s invalid?

          You could start with the wiki page ‘Studies on intercessory prayer’

          1. As I remember it the big templeton study didn’t ask people to not pray for themselves, nor did it ask friends and family not to pray for a patient.

            I suspect it would be deemed unethical to ask a religious person not to pray for themselves or a seriously ill friend or family member.

            Do you know of any studies that overcame this?

    2. I don’t think the examples are ‘flawed’ just because believers can come up with excuses. The major point is what would happen if NDE’s and prayer DID contain accurate prophesies or astonishing new information. In that case, the believers wouldn’t be coming up with excuses which discount the results, would they?

      It can’t work both ways: science can’t address supernatural claims …. unless it can and did and the results are positive.

      1. I think if there was any real evidence for souls or afterlives, scientists would be at the forefront testing, refining, and honing that evidence.

        There would be a race to find out more. And the funding would flow from places like Templeton. Also James Randi would be forced to part with his million dollars, but I’m sure a great number of others would want to invest in the exciting findings as well…

        If there was anything there. -Instead it’s just word games and excuses and a rush to silence those who declare the emperor is naked.

        1. But how could you test it? If consciousness has truly an uncreated nature, that would mean it is not a thing, that it has no form, no contour, no beginning and no end. In other words, it would mean that all the perceptions that are giving birth to the individualized sensation of our self has an immaterial origin, i.e. that our body is a physical interface that allows consciousness to interact on a material level.

          But since all we know is caused by the discontinuity of our perceptions, we cannot imagine a process that would escape the binary, on/off mode of existence on which our own intellect is based on. In other words, discontinuity is what fuels the ego. But if what gives the condition for the ego to emerge is uncreated, it means that it is beyond the discontinuity and the opposites by which the ego grasps the world. The ego is the veil between us and God. You cannot stay on a dual mode of perception and ask proof for God. As I said below, this is like trying to light up the sun with a flashlight and wonder why the sun doesn’t get brighter. Our consciousness, on a dual mode is not capable to recognize its uncreated nature because the dual can’t see what is non-dual just like a bi-dimensional wouldn’t be able to see what the 3rd dimension looks and feels like, even if it is everywhere around him…

            1. It is because the tongue is empty of flavors that when you pour vinaigrette in the salad, you can taste it. If the vinaigrette taste was already present in your tongue, there wouldn’t be a discontinuity and you wouldn’t be able to taste it. That works for all our senses and this is how the self emerges. Physical sensations shape our self and our thoughts.
              And it is because our self is caused by that binary process, we can’t see how an “uncreated constant non-binary conscious no-thing” is what allows the egotic self to emerge. Unless you can remove the ego, you’ll always believe that our senses are giving us the right picture about the world and our self.

              1. The new WEIT Challenge: Write a comment to which JF Fortier can’t respond using one of the phrases “uncreated conscious”, “binary process”, or “egotic self”. Go on, I dare you!

              2. Pete, I don’t think that is possible. Or if it is possible, it is only possible in the sense that Russell’s teapot is possible.

              3. It is impossible Pete since the egotic self, which results in our dual mode of consciousness, is precisely what prevents us to be aware of the uncreated nature of consciousness.

          1. Have you ever even considered the possibility that consciousness is actually created? Somehow I doubt you really have.

            1. I believed this for a long time. I used to be a hardcore atheist and think that spirituality and crutch were synonyms.
              Despite a strong catholic presence, atheism is now the default religious position where I come from so I was following what is considered in French-Canada (Québec) the common sense.
              But the study of buddhism and a few other things gradually changed my (dual) mind…

              1. I believed this for a long time. I used to be a hardcore atheist and think that spirituality and crutch were synonyms.

                Ah, but I don’t think this. And I’ve also studied Buddhism. And I still conclude, on the basis of the character of consciousness, that it is created. There’s so much about consciousness that simply doesn’t make sense otherwise.

                I may be misunderstanding what you mean by “created” because to be honest I find your explanations completely unsatisfactory. It seems to me that you’re going out of your way to seem mysterious or something. I suspect you’ll respond to say that what you’re trying to explain simply can’t be put into language, and maybe that’s true — but if that’s the case then you can’t know I haven’t had a similar experience and that I was not convinced by it as you apparently were.

                I guess my objection boils down to this: How do you know you’re not mistaken about the nature of consciousness?

              2. Another thing I don’t understand…you seem to me to be making a truth claim. Specifically, you are claiming that it is true that consciousness is uncreated. This would seem to imply that it’s false that consciousness is created. BUT…

                That implication only holds under the regime of the dual mode of consciousness. In a unary mode the concepts of “truth” and “falsehood” do not apply.

                So how can you consistently claim that consciousness in uncreated? If we’re really appealing to some unary mode of cognition then wouldn’t it be more appropriate to say something like “consciousness is simultaneously created and uncreated”?

              3. To Dan.
                To make a short story, buddhism, as you know it, is quite precise and methodical in its way to explain the nature of the self. And because what it tells goes against what we seem to experience, it took me a long time before I could get what it was really talking about. Intellectually I mean. But the lectures slowly grew on me and I also could see that a lot of similar things were told in sufism and christian mysticism.
                But the oriental are the one who put the most the emphasis on our average dual mode and why this mode, which fuels the ego, prevents us to see a wider picture.

                I can’t tell about your experiences but I had what I would call, a shift of consciousness where the buddhist concept of dual mind, the ego, our uncreated nature, all what I was merely understanding, all this became very clear. It just hit me. Good for me I guess. Am I absolutely sure that was true? I can’t know 100%. But to be able to see how an ego is shaped and works, how it is fueled by the grasping of opposites, how and why our senses our “fooling” us, how language is caused by that same grasping of opposites and can’t speak about what is non-dual (this is central to zen, why something uncreated seems illogic from a dual perspective, etc, after that my understanding about this became suddenly clearer, I had reasons to believe those were real experiences.

                I do agree that “consciousness is simultaneously created and uncreated”, but before we go there, we have to acknowledge the uncreated state. That one is the harder to accept. But since “uncreated” makes sense because of the word “created”, that is still a dual conception. It is in reality beyond what words can say.

                That being said, because I’m lousy, I didn’t put in practice forward what the experiences I had showed me. I’m like someone who won at the lottery and lost it. I still can say I know what it is like to be a millionaire, but it is not like I was a successful hardworking businessman…

          2. “our body is a physical interface that allows consciousness to interact on a material level.”

            Ergo, it can be scientifically tested.

            “recognize its uncreated nature because the dual can’t see what is non-dual just like a bi-dimensional wouldn’t be able to see what the 3rd dimension looks and feels like, even if it is everywhere around him”

            That analogy is still as fatally flawed as it was the last time you used it. Please put it back in the trash.


          3. Why do you believe all this? Why should anyone else? What makes this any more believable than, say, Scientology? Or any other competing unfalsifiable claim? Why do you think you have a managed to distinguish the true woo from the false woo when science cannot? Why should we think that you are less delusional than those you find delusional. How are the invisible beings you believe in different than the ones you think of has mythological or imaginary?

            Consciousness exists as a product of evolved brais. Beings that survive and reproduce better with a particular kind of consciousness evolved that kind of consciousness (it was naturally selected and honed over time)… disembodied beings (whatever they might be) do not need to “survive” or “reproduce”.

            You have everything all backwards. Your beliefs may make you feel better, but they don’t explain our observations better than naturalistic explanations– moreover, they are as useless as competing magical claims (like gremlin involvement in irritating events).

      2. My point is that if you formulate an hypothesis that cannot be falsified then it isn’t scientific. Isn’t that one of the major objections to string theory?

        I’m not saying science cannot address any supernatural claim, the prayer study would be an excellent protocol for testing psychic healers for instance and astrology has admirably failed all of its tests.

  11. In the film “Hannah and her Sisters” someone says Einstein’s famous phrase to Woody Allen
    “God does not play dice with the universe”. Woody Allen replies “Yes, he likes to play ‘Hide-and-go-seek’.

    1. Exactly. God’s consciousness is fragmented individually among us. That is why he is hidden and right in our face at the same time. Alan Watts resumes well it here (but this is for children):

      God’s consciousness still exists as a whole, uncreated and eternal, but our finite egotic perception prevents us to see it, prevents us to grasp our own uncreated nature. That can’t be detectable. How could you determine this when at the start, the consciousness you’ll use to seek for it would have to detect the boundaries of an uncreated no-thing, while using the same uncreated conscious no-thing? This is like trying to light up the sun with a flash light in the afternoon..
      But remove your ego, remain in a non-dual mode of consciousness and you’ll see that what is called God is just a natural phenomenon.

      But this debate is very childish. I guess the unique religious context of the US makes it that way. I wouldn’t bring weak arguments like “no revelations came for NDEers” or “that prayer is not efficient” to prove or disprove anything about God…

        1. Spinoza’s God. And Plotinus. Or Buddha’s God, which is a paradox because buddhism is an atheist religion.

          Forget what religion say about God, these were ancient cultural attempts to explain the meaning of existence. I think they have their share of truth but too many cultural and political dated aspects that don’t fit anymore with our reality.

          I still don’t get it when people try to disprove the concept of an uncreated consciousness by laughing at books that were written 2000 years ago…

            1. Doesn’t know Spinoza, either.

              Pretty clear that Spinoza’s belief was exactly what it said on the tin – “god” and “nature” are effectively synonyms.

              (Now, he thought nature had more “mental” qualities than we would think now, but …)

              1. “(Now, he thought nature had more “mental” qualities than we would think now, but …)”

                Just a little detail…

                But the whole point is god = uncreated consciousness. You can’t have a precise theory about this because our intellect works on a certain mode, a dual mode say the oriental traditions, and the uncreated quality of consciousness at its basis is non-dual. When experienced on a dual mode, consciousness isn’t able to grasp what is a non-dual mode. Language
                also being a dual mode of communication, it can,t speak about what is non-dual. That can only be experienced.

          1. “I still don’t get it when people try to disprove the concept of an uncreated consciousness by”

            You have the burden of proof backwards.

            1. No. A lot of arguments brought by atheist to disprove God are based on what is written in the bible. “If God exists and he is al loving, how could he do the great flood.”

              1. Well, that is an argument that is used, but it certainly isn’t shifting the burden of proof onto atheists.

                It’s simply a criticism of the “loving God” hypothesis, to show that it’s inconsistent with the evidence and lacks explanatory power.

                The burden of proof is still on the believer to show that the “good God” hypothesis is consistent with the evidence, has explanatory power, makes falsifiable predictions (and to show that those predications have actually been validated, as appropriate), and that this “good God” isn’t an unnecessary entity.

                Likewise with your “uncreated consciousness”.


      1. “This is like trying to light up the sun with a flash light in the afternoon”

        Another dire analogy.

        A better one would be, “like trying to see your own eye.”


      2. I really don’t see Watts supporting your assertion of an uncreated consciousness… what was your point again?


      3. You speak of your beliefs as though they are truths– like all theists (and all woo), you are claiming to know things you do not know.

        You imagine you know divine truths– just like believers in myths past and all believers in competing faiths to day.

        Why should we take you more seriously than you take someone who tells you they can fly? Can you offer us the kind of evidence you’d require to believe that someone could really fly. If not– why would you expect us to take you more seriously than someone going on and on about how they fly when nobody is looking?

        1. If someone could fly, we would see it. If someone reaches a non-dual state of mind where the uncrated nature of consciousness can be seen, that doesn’t show.

          That there is a non-dual quality to consciousness is backed by centuries of experimentation by those who were able to reach that state.That is why some traditions have developed technics to reach that point. There are levels of non-dualiy, or different intensity. Someone who is enlightened is someone who remains without effort constantly in that state. That is what nirvana is in buddhism.

          I don’t pretend to know divine truth but I pretend to know a bit about non-dual consciousness

          1. Undoubtedly there are certain techniques that can help you achieve a state of mind where you feel “one with the universe” or part of a single universal consciousness. Unfortunately, that provides no evidence that a single universal consciousness actually has anything to do with reality.

            Just like the fact that it’s possible to train yourself to experience OBEs doesn’t mean that OBEs are real in a physical sense.


  12. Teams of scientists from three highly respected institutions — the Mayo Clinic and Harvard and Duke Universities — have performed carefully controlled experiments on the medical efficacy of blind, intercessory prayer and published their results in peer-reviewed journals

    So did scientists from Columbia University, and Elisabeth Targ. Thus we know that fraud is more common than evidence of the efficacy of intercessory prayer.

  13. I don’t know what we should know better. Isn’t it true that science can’t say anything about the supernatural? In other words, can science examine a rare phenomenom and say “confirmed, this is a miracle”? I don’t think it can. All it can say is “there is not enough data or we can’t come up with a smart enough idea to explain this, further research is needed.”

    Science has that a priori commitment to materialism Lewontin described. What this implies is that if science is right, if it’s valid as a method to explain the world, then the supernatural not only doesn’t exist but can’t exist at all.

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