Saturday, October 20, 2007

Edward Tabash

Tabash has another interview with D.J. Grothe on
Point of Inquiry. His story moved me quite a bit for reasons similar to my experience-

1. He rejected most of religion around 18 but then struggled for the next 25 years within spiritualism trying to find a way to transcend the human experience. He tried all sorts of meditation techniques, yogic techniques, out of body projection. Eventually he realized, as did I, that every single experience he had was because he *had* a physical brain and body, not because he was transcending it. Tabash has a sympathy for people who rejected traditional religion but tried to find a way to transcend normal experience for spiritualism. I think all of humanity is constantly trying to transcend whether it is through technology, drugs, exercise highs, achievement gratification, power, dominance, and immortality etc....

I look at someone like Ken Wilber as a genius of our times who is flawed in major ways like all other geniuses. I think he has a tremendously desperate drive to believe in the supernatural in order to uphold self-preservation and to uphold the idea that self-improvement can be infinite. Imagine the futility of the spiritual human potential movement if we don't survive death and get reborn, carrying with us all that we have learned. Imagine the futility of spending all your time in life maximizing your potential only to spend 20 of years growing old and eroding slowly like an ornate sand castle. Despite the vast power of Wilber's intellect and his extraordinary gestalt vision, he still thinks that a guru can transmit spiritual power to a disciple and other such claims which I am incapable of taking seriously, and often amazed that he believes. When a friend of his received a grant for ESP research and asked Wilber to design the perfect experiment that would prove the non-local mind once and for all, Wilber declined and told him to invest in a PR firm. He said ESP was already 100% proven.I would love to believe this. But there has been a spew of non-local healing ("prayer")research and non-local healing ("prayer")research corruption. When asked what his favorite two prayer research studies were, advocate Larry Dossey cited two studies which have since been defamed due to poor study design and outright corruption. I see people who have left the field of ESP research despite a beginning where they wholeheartedly believed it was real, only to realize by looking for themselves that there is no ESP. Wilber is more optimistic for reasons I can't understand anymore. He needs to believe.

2. I think Tabash covers the missing element of our secular campaign which is never covered by Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens or Dennett. This missing element is that there is no good evidence for anything transcendent of the body, and that all the evidence seems to point out that consciousness is in the brain. These arguments are lost in debate about a religious god because people are interested in arguing whether a god exists, and missing a subject which is just as key- what evidence do we have that any of our experiences are not entirely body based? What about actual spiritual experience? Sam Harris is the only "enlightened" one on this issue and the atheists don't understand what he is talking about, unfortunately.

I pointed out a comment recently by a Christian commentator after a Richard Dawkins debate where the Christian could not comprehend how Dawkins could possibly suggest that evolution gave humankind a lust for doing good. This lack of knowledge base is revealed again and again in news articles in major publications. The public at large is completely unaware of evolutionary psychology, which was one of the primary things that led me personally to non-belief. People literally have never heard these arguments before, and they are some of the most powerful arguments for atheism. One problem is that believers don't have the knowledge base to understand how powerful these arguments are. I can't even think of a believer I know who would have the slightest idea what I was talking about if I brought up arguments from evolutionary psychology. I suppose that understanding this is partly a definition for not believing anymore. But it is not all that difficult to gather the knowledge base. The problem is that it requires an openness to consider the ideas before they settle in, and as can be seen, believers are not willing to do that. The second problem is that the these people don't understand how well subscribed these arguments are. These are not just some hazy opinions pulled out of the imagination, but generally agreed upon by anyone who is anyone in this realm of scientific inquiry. If you even bothered to begin arguing with a believer about how morals were designed by evolution, you would likely just be cut off midstream and be told how much a mother loves her child. At which point you would quip "like a prairie vole?", and then you'd see a deer in headlights.
There was a point in the Hitchens vs McGrath debate where McGrath left himself wide open for a very easy and obvious shot from evolutionary psychology, but this is not Hitchens' strength. Hitchens managed to catch it and provide a good refutation, mentioning human evolution, however, it would have been a slam dunk were it in the hands of an expert on evolutionary human psychology.

We are not using all the tools at hand to combat religious superstition yet. As the believers become more familiar with atheist arguments, they will begin to be capable of absorbing the bigger and more important argument of whether we survive death. As Tabash says, religious people are more concerned with living forever than whether or not there is a god. And so am I. God is the easy part.

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