Mod+ 269. DR. MICHAEL SHERMER, SKEPTICAL SCIENCE REPORTING

I agree with those who think this world is not some kind of test or training ground. I never thought the test theory made any sense. Many NDEers report there is no judgement after life, but there is a life review where we witness and evaluate our life experience. This does make sense to me.
Whoa there! There's a difference between a training ground and a test, right? I never said this life was a test, because I don't think it is. I said that I thought it was a training ground, okay? Where we are provided with opportunities to evolve, and if we fluff it, well, maybe we just reincarnate and get another opportunity. The NDE life review makes sense to me in this context: it's something that helps us choose the next incarnation.
 
Whoa there! There's a difference between a training ground and a test, right? I never said this life was a test, because I don't think it is. I said that I thought it was a training ground, okay? Where we are provided with opportunities to evolve, and if we fluff it, well, maybe we just reincarnate and get another opportunity. The NDE life review makes sense to me in this context: it's something that helps us choose the next incarnation.
Wasnt responding especially to you Michael. Thanks for response; you may very well be right.
 
sure, that sounds logically consistent to me.

of course, declaring yourself a "biological robot" is logically inconsistent with every aspect of how you live and experience life (I assume), but that's another matter.
Cool. We have a jumping off point. We can agree that to start there.

But I'd like to just ask about your closing point.
Why is it that you say being a BR is inconsistent with how "I" live my life? (the hopotheticaI I, not me personally)
From my perspective, I am a functioning biological system which consumes fuel and creates and consumes energy through various chemical means. And I've got this brain which somehow through it's enormous complexity creates an illusion that I live within. I may not be able to describe exactly how it works, but I'm very familiar with lots of science that maps out physical correlations between the brain and sensations, memories, though patterns etc. I see what I consider to be reasonable evidence to claim (although not prove) that this stuff is physically based.

You may argue that this is wrong (so would I) but is it "inconsistent"? But that I mean: how is this in conflict with other things that "I" "know" and claim to be true?
(don't worry, I really do have a point here but would love to work through the little things and find points of agreement before just going there.)

Thanks for patiently participating in a dialog on this..
 
Last edited:
Well said. Though I think I see what Alex is getting at... the notion that a falsification of the materialist paradigm also puts to bed the overreaching assertion materialists usually make that the cosmos is somehow fundamentally "faceless". Err... am I right?

I think you're close to the crux of the matter, Dominic, but a strong materialist would swoosh his hand and say there's nothing magical about it, you just haven't understood epiphenomenal processes.

I'm admittedly a newcomer to the podcast, but I think it's probably a dead-end street to get caught up talking about something as tricky as "the meaning of it all" with someone whose view of the matter is dogmatic. If your goal is to show up the materialist viewpoint, better to focus on hammering on the data that falsifies their models, and their refusal to engage with it. That's hard to dodge after a point, and is the surest way to show their dogmatism and cognitive dissonance for what it is.

I was engaging with someone in another thread who seemed to be of the opinion that scientists are immune to cognitive dissonance, and (it is therefore implied) exempt from psychological limitations in general, in effect having transcended human nature. I suspect that if you polled a lot of materialists, you'd find this fantasy to be a pretty widespread one. That's probably a weak point in their armor that could be exploited to make their foolishness really apparent. (How DO you account for the cognitive dissonance problem, Dr. So-and-So? Do you engage unfamiliar material with the rigorous intellectual agnosticism that any high school student ostensibly learns is the basis of scientific method? You do? Great, I have some new data for you to look at. Wait, you're not interested? That seems a bit curious. Say, you're not suffering from psychological discomfort right now, are you?)
David, I think you're wrong to say that skeptics see individual scientists as somehow less biased and more objective than the person in the street. Shermer, for example, has said on many occasions that he does not believe this, and I've heard similar things from Dawkins and Dennett over the years. The idea is rather that science as a SOCIAL PROCESS can give us objectivity, because of peer review and all the rest, even though the individual scientists are anything but objective.

On this world view, we human beings need scientific institutions to save us from ourselves. Without the institutions and practices of science to keep us all honest and on our toes, we'd be lost in our own wishful thinking, magical thinking and armchair metaphysical speculations. We always need to have other people there to point out our biases and blind spots.

As I see it, it's a very important part of the materialist/skeptical world view that individual scientists are just as biased as everybody else.
 
Last edited:
I would have an even more basic question... what the heck is a biological robot?
I suppose Dawkins means an automaton made of organic matter. But that doesn't really define it, 'cause organic matter is not alive in itself.

Also, there is no analogous of a biological robot that we can use as a parallel to deduce that we are such thing. So this definition is pretty much circular.

"I declare we're biological robots because I define biological robots what we are"
 
I would have an even more basic question... what the heck is a biological robot?
I suppose Dawkins means an automaton made of organic matter. But that doesn't really define it, 'cause organic matter is not alive in itself.

Also, there is no analogous of a biological robot that we can use as a parallel to deduce that we are such thing. So this definition is pretty much circular.

"I declare we're biological robots because I define biological robots what we are"
"'cause organic matter is not alive in itself" - isn't this the intention, to define life as simply another machine?
 
More circles within circles :D
"Life is mechanical because (we think) mechanical is what life is"
The materialist argument is that mechanical processes based on the laws of physics are all we can apply the scientific method to. Sure a magical fairy could be responsible for things like gravity, but such an explanation is superfluous. Shermer claims he is open to the idea that some biological structure like the micro tubules could be shown to interact on a quantum level, but if that's the case then physics would just expand to include that. I actually tend to agree with him here. He is a monist and so am I. If there is indeed something "other" that something could still potentiall be explored by science to discover underlying laws and mechanisms of operation.

To say that we are JUST BR or JUST anything is a mind trick of demystification. It says more about a person's need to feel above the knowledge than anything.
 
The materialist argument is that mechanical processes based on the laws of physics are all we can apply the scientific method to.
There are a myriad of subjects that don't fall under that definition... (psychology, anthropology, sociology, ethology, ...) Aren't these investigable fields too?

How do we know that all there is is mechanical processes? If not by just assuming it?

If consciousness is the "primary stuff" that monists search, are we sure that the definition of science we're using is appropriate?
 
David, I think you're wrong to say that skeptics see individual scientists as somehow less biased and more objective than the person in the street. Shermer, for example, has said on many occasions that he does not believe this, and I've heard similar things from Dawkins and Dennett over the years. The idea is rather that science as a SOCIAL PROCESS can give us objectivity, because of peer review and all the rest, even though the individual scientists are anything but objective.

On this world view, we human beings need scientific institutions to save us from ourselves. Without the institutions and practices of science to keep us all honest and on our toes, we'd be lost in our own wishful thinking, magical thinking and armchair metaphysical speculations. We always need to have other people there to point out our biases and blind spots.

As I see it, it's a very important part of the materialist/skeptical world view that individual scientists are just as biased as everybody else.
That's more hand-waving though, isn't it? Science as a social process is anything but objective, as Kuhn showed.

I think your average materialist/skeptic sees THEMSELVES as somehow being an objective party, or wants to be seen that way by others.

Has anyone ever gotten Dawkins to admit publically that his own belief system is responsible for limiting his thinking? I'm guessing he fancies himself above it.

It's interesting to see the institutions and practices of science lumped together there. Big, big difference. IF you could get a materialist to admit that its the practice of science that keeps us honest and on our toes, I should think you've halfway won the argument, because they should have no valid objection to being shown data that falsifies their view of the world.
 
Despite all my reading, the horror of it still makes me wonder if I'm not existing in some kind of madhouse after all, and maybe Emerson, Roberts, Curran, Greyson, Stevenson, Myers, James, Pauli - all just desperate attempts to justify in their minds a hopeful reality when in truth - all we exist in is this nihilistic, souless reality that Shermer and the rest of his faithful Skeptics so fervently want us to believe.
Except that the skeptics/materialists abjectly refuse to acknowledge the bleak implications of their own philosophy. To a man (or woman). You simply NEVER see them discussing what living in such a spiritually dead and nihilistic universe would imply, would imply about their own personal lives among other things. The unexamined life...
 
Except that the skeptics/materialists abjectly refuse to acknowledge the bleak implications of their own philosophy. To a man (or woman). You simply NEVER see them discussing what living in such a spiritually dead and nihilistic universe would imply, would imply about their own personal lives among other things. The unexamined life...
What are the bleak implications, and what's the alternative to this "philosophy"?
 
Do you think this is what Alex is talking about when he says "meaningful universe" or "meaningless universe"? As in "materialists believe that they are biological robots living meaningless lives in a meaningless universe"?
I am unsure how Alex sees it but he does a good job of speaking out. I would equate meaningful universe, as one where meaning is a stimulus in the environment and living things have evolved to detect and use it. This is quite out-of-the-box and distinct from the idea that all meaning is in grey matter only.

My take on what a meaningless universe does is: Bio-Robo information processing is grounded on electrical/chemical events measurable only by mechanical interaction. There is no awareness of observation capability that confers free-will. Pragmatically this seems as likely as is a valid literal physical sacred text meaning -that is supernatural and akin to a signal with no noise and build-in error correction to any mind that tries to decode it.

A universe that is teleological with a literal bible is not a logical natural process. In the same way a non-teleological model that ignores the complex communication of living things as a natural process, which leverages meaning for fulfilling desires, is illogical.
 
I am unsure how Alex sees it but he does a good job of speaking out. I would equate meaningful universe, as one where meaning is a stimulus in the environment and living things have evolved to detect and use it. This is quite out-of-the-box and distinct from the idea that all meaning is in grey matter only.

My take on what a meaningless universe does is: Bio-Robo information processing is grounded on electrical/chemical events measurable only by mechanical interaction. There is no awareness of observation capability that confers free-will. Pragmatically this seems as likely as is a valid literal physical sacred text meaning -that is supernatural and akin to a signal with no noise and build-in error correction to any mind that tries to decode it.

A universe that is teleological with a literal bible is not a logical natural process. In the same way a non-teleological model that ignores the complex communication of living things as a natural process, which leverages meaning for fulfilling desires, is illogical.
So do you agree with Alex that materialists/atheists don't have meaning in their lives? They live meaningless lives? If yes, why.
 
Except that the skeptics/materialists abjectly refuse to acknowledge the bleak implications of their own philosophy. To a man (or woman). You simply NEVER see them discussing what living in such a spiritually dead and nihilistic universe would imply, would imply about their own personal lives among other things. The unexamined life...
I agree.

They tend to ignore the plight of many individuals, and seem to think meaning can be found in lives that are bound for a great deal of suffering or where lives appear to be arbitrarily cut short within the materialistic reality they virulently insist we all ought to believe is the gospel truth.

There is this complete disconnect with logic regarding how meaning does indeed depend for many people, on a sense of continuity, and of progress. But when progress is arbitrarily cut-off in a universe that only respects universal laws, rather than the individual, there obviously is no meaning for that victimized individual.

Then in addition, they somehow delude themselves into thinking a mechanical universe - where life itself somehow magically appeared via inert lifeless elements, combined purely by accident via a certain set of environmental controls that had no feeling or teleology - is sufficient basis for one to rationalize or feel life is meaningful.

Really what these Shermer brand of Neo-Atheists are up to is old philosophical word games. They have redefined "meaning" existentially - i.e. there is no actual meaning objectively within reality itself. The meaning comes from what we each give it, and that to them is all the meaning you need. Then they rely on a host of existential philosophical polemics that have been built up since Sartre, Kafka, etc. and other modern thinkers to argue their materialistic based existentialism.

So anyone daring to take these guys on, should be ready for a long and dreary excursion into existential argument ad nauseum. But in the end really - it is truly a nihilistic belief system that does indeed view consciousness as a temporary, soulless entity - soulless as in we only exist here and now for a brief moment - only to perish forever on physical death - because consciousness itself is a purely physical phenomena. And that such things as "love" - "hope" - "friendship" - even the desire for longevity and progress, are all kinds of false promises in the human condition - for nothing we love will last, including ourselves. There is no hope, because there is no tomorrow. All that we are given is a brief moment of light - to wonder at it all, and then we are to be put away forever. And from that, we should be sufficiently content to find meaning - individual meaning.

It is to me, a small minded belittling kind of faith. The Neo-Atheists are like children, who go to the ice cream store, and think the only thing that is necessary for man to have meaning is an ice cream cone. It is shallow - about as intellectually shallow as materialism itself.

My Best,
Bertha
 
Last edited:
That's more hand-waving though, isn't it? Science as a social process is anything but objective, as Kuhn showed.

I think your average materialist/skeptic sees THEMSELVES as somehow being an objective party, or wants to be seen that way by others.

Has anyone ever gotten Dawkins to admit publically that his own belief system is responsible for limiting his thinking? I'm guessing he fancies himself above it.

It's interesting to see the institutions and practices of science lumped together there. Big, big difference. IF you could get a materialist to admit that its the practice of science that keeps us honest and on our toes, I should think you've halfway won the argument, because they should have no valid objection to being shown data that falsifies their view of the world.
Of course you're right that the skeptics are very naive here. Most of them haven't read any philosophy or sociology of science. They think it's all a waste of time. My point was only that I don't think skeptics see individual scientists as less biased than other people. On the contrary, their world view demands that cognitive biases are universal and very powerful.

I remember there was a skeptic who wrote a book about magical thinking, and in many interviews he made fun of Dawkins for the fact that he had an original copy of the Origin of Species by Darwin that he treasured. I never heard Dawkins' response to this, but I imagine he would say, "Yes, I hold my hands up. I'm as susceptible to cognitive biases and magical thinking as everybody else. It's just human nature, and it's why we need science so much."
 
So do you agree with Alex that materialists/atheists don't have meaning in their lives? They live meaningless lives? If yes, why.
People take meaning from their environments and combine it within the context of their experience, to have an intentions. What's important is their actual behavior expressing back to the environment the objective meaning of their lives. How you experience subjective meaning personally does color and affect how one communicates their behavior. But everyone is an actor on the stage of life. I see this as a pragmatic stance and is applicable to all.

There is an Asian expression - "your mantra is everything you say". Being an "atheist inside" doesn't stop a person from being a superior moral person. Many are. Being a Physicalist could lead to social materialism as behavior. I am not much for Valley Girls and entitled yuppies. But that's my problem. No one leads a meaningless life. Saying to yourself, or to others that you are a theist or a humanist, is rather unimportant. unless you walk the walk. Or talk the talk - if one in a position to positively or negatively influence others with communciation.

I think Dan Dennett, in spite of his philosophical assertions, has had a fabulously meaningful life. He has also be a great observer of humanity's inner life. His Materialism doesn't make the reality of his being in the real world, that much different.
 
I may be missing some of your point, and I certainly don't mean to "screech", but what I was trying to get at is not the obscurity of meaning, but that a view where personal meaning might just arise from what they see as a biological impetus rather than a metaphysical one is reasonable. And that one might believe their sense of meaning in their own life stems from that biologic root. ie: it is part of the biological "illusion" of self. And finally whether at the same time this same person might reasonably feel that the universe as a whole is not an active "living" thing but a dead thing with no purpose or what we might call an ulterior motive.
I am trying to characterize meaning as a "pass through" fundamental part of a living being. Living things process ambient gases, as breathing. Some molecules get absorbed, some are exhaled. Living things eat flood and drink water. Some molecules get absorbed, some are expelled. Living things observe and detect meaning and contextual infromation. Some affordances get absorbed (learned), some are ignored. Living things experience social situations and they are transformed into behavior. Some some leave positive feelings in the environment, some leave negative and disorganized circumstances.

Like beer, information and meaning are a "pass through" of a fundamental part of natural reality. I put stock in John Wheeler's Participatory Universe, where we as biological being transform star dust into bodies and meaning into a life worth observing and sharing with others. We don't create life- but are transformers in a field of living activity.I think that a person's sense of meaning is an observer, self-observing her observations.

If a person feels that the universe is a "dead" thing - they need to get pragmatic about a universe teeming with life and potential for life (and maybe jiggy with it)
 
He had done what he could do. He had been a fool to think he could do anything. What was one man alone, against a people bent on war? Worn out, chewing wearily on his defeat, he rode on toward Breygna, the only place he had to go. He wondered no longer why the League delayed their attack so long. They were not coming. They had thought his message a trick, a trap. Or, for all he knew, he had misremembered the coordinates: one figure wrong had sent his message out into the void where there was neither tune nor space. And for that, Raho had died, lot had died, Mogien had died: for a message that got nowhere. And he was exiled here for the rest of his life, useless, a stranger on an alien world.

It did not matter, after all. He was only one man. One man's fate is not important.

"If it is not, what is?"

He could not endure those remembered words.


~Ursula K. Le Guin, 'Rocannon's World'
 
http://www.whypain.org/did_god_create_evil.html

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won't find any rhyme or reason to it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.
- Richard Dawkins, Out of Eden, page 133.
John Lennox points out that according to materialism the 9/11 terrorists, Stalin, or Hitler, cannot be blamed because they were "dancing to their DNA", so it is inconsistent to believe in materialism and then to criticize God or anything else on moral grounds. Materialists do recognize morality despite their philosophical views that good and evil do not exist.

It seems to me that when materialists claim that there are scientific grounds or humanistic reasons for morality, it is just another example of materialist incoherence, another weird thing people believe. If you belive there is no good and no evil, but you believe some things are good and others are evil, then how can you trust your faculties of reason and believe anything?
 
Last edited:
Top