h1

Lying for Death Ray Part 2 — Cover up of Colleen Conaway’s death continues

April 24, 2016

In the previous post, I got about half way through Lizzie Crocker’s atrocious parroting of the deadly spiritual teacher James Ray’s lies.

Here’s a tip for anyone — journalist, fake journalist, customer — about listening to James Ray: He is not someone who tells the truth. Not a word. It just doesn’t happen. Ray only has two modes:

(1) Advance grinning and spouting lies (teachings, manipulative statements);

(2) retreat, protesting innocence and claiming to the be the victim, while lying and covering tracks.

It is truly difficult for people to believe he is so dangerous, so deceitful, and above all, so utterly and shockingly stupid that he was prepared to risk killing his own customers. But that is exactly what the jury found him guilty of — and they didn’t know the half of it! (Because Ray’s $5 million law team prevented them from hearing the rest… If the facts are really the way Lizzie Crocker presents them, then why did Ray’s lawyers try so hard to keep all mention of such details out of court?)

James Ray is a walking demonstration of the complete lack of standards and ethics in the self-help industry, the total lack of consumer protection, and the reflexive habit of many to hold “spiritual teachers” to far lower standards than they hold anyone else to. Skepticism and deliberate inquiry can be some protection against this, if people are lucky enough to have discovered that it’s necessary. But anyone can be conned — con artists trigger responses in people, that are safe and normal nearly all the time. They exploit loopholes in social customs and weak points in normal social interactions. A skilled con artist can make otherwise secure people feel helpless and insecure. And in that state, people naturally tend to be more trusting and to take risks they normally would not take.

People who were lucky enough to recognize the red flags around James Ray usually make one of two choices. Either:

(a) Get out and warn others; or

(b) Say “Oh well, that’s business, and I might get rich if I kinda sidle up to him nicely.”

Crocker may have chosen some version option (b), but doesn’t seem to have woken up to how extreme and unusual Ray’s behavior has been, or how easily his lies can be exposed today simply by spending 5 seconds on google. We have seen her support Ray through phase 1 (“he still wants to help people”), and 2 (“tragic accident”). In this post, we get some new lies from Ray about his involvement in the horribly sad death of Ray’s first victim, Colleen Conaway, all dutifully reported as fact by his new journalistic chump. (By “lies” I mean, demonstrably false statements that contradict well known and easily confirmed facts, both from direct evidence, and police records.)

Crocker’s train wreck of an article continues:
Read the rest of this entry »

h1

Lying for Death Ray – Crappy PR for James Ray presented as journalism (Part 1)

April 23, 2016

This is a long post and it probably won’t interest all that many people, so I’ve put it below the fold.

Enter failed self-help teacher and deadly criminal, James Ray.

Enter struggling film maker Jenny Carchman, and struggling journalist Lizzie Crocker….

Read the rest of this entry »

h1

From a Theologian in 1909: Stop Deceiving Children About Science

March 18, 2016

I recently found an old book in a second-hand bookshop here in Berlin, entitled Darwin: His Meaning for Our Worldview and Values. It’s a small collection of essays by scientists and academics, and was published in 1909 — 50 years after the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, and 49 years after it appeared in translation in Germany. The essay that struck me most was written by a theologian called Friedrich Naumann. (Biographical details at the end of this post.)

Warenhaus A. Weiss, Schöneberg, 1907. Das Haus steht noch und ist ein lohnendes Objekt um die Verschandelung von Bauwerken zu studieren.

Schöneberg, Berlin, 1907 (source)

Naumann begins by noting that although religious people don’t usually accept evolution, they do concede that Darwin was a decent fellow who was sincerely seeking the truth. This is already a stark contrast to today where the religious frequently hold Darwin more or less to have been inspired by the devil, and evolution to be “lies straight from the pit of hell”.

Naumann then makes an interesting and rarely made point: that Darwin’s ideas were in fact no more “anti-Christian” than a great many other ideas which had already been proposed for quite some time, albeit without any complaint about them from the church. Religious leaders, he says, failed to discuss these new ideas and discoveries amongst themselves, and withheld them from parishioners.

He continues:

Through the writings of Darwin and Haeckel, what was until then the preserve of scientists erupted into public awareness. For many, “Darwinism” came as a completely unexpected “anti-religious” revelation… Those of us who experienced the years 1860 to 1890 in the company of pious Christians, remember how powerful the waves were. Even today the waters have not been stilled.

From his tone, I suspect Naumann would be quite surprised if he knew that the shock waves would still be felt in many countries more than 100 years later.

Next, he makes an important and I think undeniable point — undeniable even from a Christian perspective:

Darwinism would have come as less of a shock to the pious if they had already been speaking more openly with each other about scientific discoveries and the implications for religion. This rarely happened. Although some religious thinkers like Schleiermacher familiarized themselves with current scientific learning and “adjusted” their Christianity accordingly, those who preached in the church or taught in the schools deliberately and timidly avoided presenting these new ideas and discussing their implications.

Deliberately and timidly avoided teaching such ideas in the churches and schools. Exactly.

There follows another noteworthy passage.

Look, we’ve long known that the Bible does not place the sun at the center of the solar system; that it presents heaven as being located above the earth… Similarly, the Creation and the Great Flood were known even before Darwin to have been derived from earlier oriental myths, and cannot be taken as historical events. Had the faithful already been clearly and unreservedly informed of these facts, then Darwinism would not have arrived like a hailstorm on the field of religion.

A hailstorm on the field of religion. And how telling it is that even science teachers today avoid teaching evolution for fear of upsetting the faithful (or losing their job). It is even customary for academics to place trigger warnings and apologies prior to any mention of human origins. 

Yet in 1909 it was already clear that such pussyfooting ultimately serves no one. Those who reject science, merely find that they have to push back harder and harder in their denial as science progresses — and become proportionately stupider and stupider. Naumann would have been stunned to discover that climate change is rejected by political leaders in the US because they and the voters believe that God promised Noah that there would be no more floods. I can understand why people are shocked by the idea that we are a species of ape, but…. getting upset about Noah’s Ark being a myth????

Our theologian continues, to make a rather rhetorical argument that Jesus would have embraced Darwinism, because he was the quintessential reformer. I am in no position to comment on that (and neither was he of course, but it’s his religion not mine, so I will let it pass). The Bible, he points out is itself a historical record of reform and changes in religious thought. And he makes another excellent point when he says that by failing to teach the facts of science:

we allow people to develop false hopes. This sets them up for disappointment and confusion if they ever discover the truth.

These days, theologians are reluctant to write as boldly as this. Even the most science-friendly theologians keep one hand cautiously on the hand brake whilst discussing anything to do with science. But Naumann clearly believes that if God created the earth and its creatures, then the study of nature is a path to God. Modern theologians are far more nervous about that “if” being in there.

Religions of course, always face a dilemma, not only with science but with facts in general. Even St Augustine noticed it’s hard to proselytize when some doctrines are clearly false or hilariously stupid. He saw no option but to “interpret” the craziest parts of the Bible allegorically. But once that decision has been taken, it’s hard to stop reality swamping in and ruining dogmas that useful or even essential to the whole faith. Once Noah’s Ark is accepted as a myth (as Naumann conceded in 1909, and as Ken Ham doesn’t concede in 2016), then why not also concede that the “Virgin” Mary was a mistranslation that even the early Christians were informed about by the Jews? Don’t expect a coherent answer from any theologian. There’s too much riding on it. Naumann himself could have, or maybe should have known about this, but he says nothing about it. Is it too close to the bone? Did he know it and simply blend it out? 

I see no way to rescue believers from this collision of their faith with reality. But I also see no alternative to Naumann’s positive attitude to science.

——–

For the record, Friedrich Naumann (1860 – 1919) was a somewhat recognized theologian, priest, and author, who was involved in politics, (for the most part on the progressive side). A foundation named in honor of Naumann is connected to the mainstream but distinctly right-wing Freie Democratische Partei (FDP) in Germany. This Foundation, ironically, promotes climate-change denial. Unfortunately, he advocated a mild form of eugenics — a position that was opposed on ethical grounds by other writers in that book. Naumann was, however an outspoken activist for women’s rights, and other worthy causes. 

Posted by Yakaru

h1

The Book That Changed Bruce Lipton’s Life (This is really stupid)

March 18, 2016

Welcome back to the series “Lipton Meets Sheldrake“. This is the fifth and final installment.

Long time readers will probably have scrubbed from their mind (if they ever tortured their mind by reading it in the first place) a statement in Part 1 by Bruce Lipton, where he was blithering incoherently about having read a book that changed his life and convinced him to quit his job as a tutor in biology, get on the spiritual path, and become a wealthy cancer quack. The book was about quantum physics and was called The Cosmic Code. It was written by someone called Heinz Pagels.

Fans of modern esoteric spirituality can waste a lifetime reading any of the thousand or so books about “quantum spirituality”, without ever discovering that what they are reading has little or nothing to do with actual physics. So it didn’t surprise me at all that an ignorant buffoon like Lipton would get sucked in to this fad as well. Even the book’s title appears prescient of later trends (it was published in 1984, long before the Da Vinci Code, the Moses Code, The (fill in blank)____ Code), and even the author’s name sounds suspiciously New Agey. Heinz is a good German name, and Germany is Grand Central Station of Complicated Pseudo-Science, and Pagels reminds one of Elaine Pagels, the nice person who wrote nice books about early Christianity — all impressive “woo” credentials for the book that convinced the young Dr Lipton that “the field” is in fact consciousness, and that everything he learned in biology is “all wrong”.

I’d never heard of Heinz Pagels before, so I googled him. Surprisingly, Lipton had in fact got both the title and the author correct. (Classical pseudo-scientific methodology strictly insists on shoddy referencing, to make it harder to check sources.) Pagels, it turns out, was indeed married to Elaine Pagels, and died rather tragically in a mountain climbing accident. Unexpectedly, however, he was in fact a genuine, highly regarded physicist.

…So what possessed him to write a pseudo-physics book that convinced the gullible young Bruce that the (non-existent) “field of consciousness” equates with one or more of the various “fields” which physics deals with?

….And — more to the point — why, shortly after writing such a book would Pagels write a strongly worded affidavit for a court case against the Transcendental Meditation movement, rejecting any such idea?

No qualified physicist that I know would claim to find such a connection without knowingly committing fraud.

Fraud? Lipton says that Pagels’ entire book centers on making exactly that claim. Pagels continues:

Individuals not trained professionally in modern physics could easily come to believe… that a large number of qualified scientists agree with the purported connection between modern physics and meditation methods. Nothing could be further from the truth….

The claim that the fields of modern physics have anything to do with the “field of consciousness” is false….

To see the beautiful and profound ideas of modern physics, the labor of generations of scientists, so willfully perverted provokes a feeling of compassion for those who might be taken in by these distortions.

I suspect that at this point, readers fall into one of two categories:

(1) those who are thinking “Huh? Why did Pagels change his mind? What’s going on?”; and

(2) those who are familiar with the degree of stupidity that Dr Bruce Lipton is capable of.

I often get attacked by Lipton fans who, when challenged, realize they actually haven’t got a clue what Lipton is talking about. Not one of them has ever summed up any aspect of his ideas succinctly. They won’t even try. It’s no surprise that they have trouble understanding him: even Lipton himself gets his own ideas wrong. It is entirely appropriate that such a spectacular career in random senseless blithering and deadly quackery was launched by reading a book he couldn’t make head or tail of, and which in fact said the opposite of what he thought it said.

Here’s my advice to anyone turning to Lipton in search of a cancer cure or hoping to learn something: there’s a good book to read that will rescue you from Lipton’s insane quantum babble. It’s called The Cosmic Code, by Heinz Pagels.

Posted by Yakaru

 

 

h1

Children’s Conception of God

February 20, 2016

I’ve often wondered what children think when they first start hearing about “god”. 

Non-physical entities like elves and gnomes are fairly easy for small children to conceptualize, but what about god? — A formless, all seeing, all-knowing invisible creature that is everywhere and nowhere; and is also somehow three beings in one. Despite being boundless and infinite, it is also a “he”, so clearly it must have genitals and go to the toilet. Whatever the case, it inspires adults to talk in serious, hushed tones and use incomprehensible but significant-sounding rhetoric.

In my case, I’d heard of this character by the time I was four, but I didn’t have any clear notion of who or what it could be. In the “book corner” at my Kindergarten, there was a slim hardcover that didn’t have any pictures. I asked the teacher what it was about, and she said in an odd tone, “It’s a book about God.” I turned the book over, and saw on the back cover a photo of a pleasant looking oldish lady with glasses. I can still remember her face. I asked the teacher, “Is that God?” and she became flustered and said “No, no, no, no…” But it was too late. The neurons had fused, and despite the words of the teacher, my little brain had imprinted the image of this sweet old dear, as God. Having had this initial image immediately invalidated, I have never been able to replace it with anything more intelligible.

Then I went to primary school. Due to a rather traditional old head master, the weekly school assembly was started by singing the national anthem. At that time in Australia (1972) the national anthem was a dreary old dirge entitled “God Save the Queen“. I’d seen a picture of the Queen, and she looked rather like that other lady who I had briefly thought to be God, so something resonated.

But the words were distinctly odd: “Send her victorious”, it droned. What exactly is this “victorious” that we are supposed to send her, I wondered. I never received any meaningful answer. But we were also supposed to send her some “happy” and some “glorious” as well. Okay, but how do you send those those things? And why is she going to “rain all over us”?

But the biggest and most fascinating mystery was the very title of the song. I had understood it as “God Saved the Queen”.

What? When did he do that? And how? ….So she was in some kind of trouble, like tied up or in a net or something, and God came and saved her? What did he look like? Who saw it happen? My teacher explained that I had got the song wrong: “We are asking God to save the Queen.” — So the Queen is still in trouble? “No no, it means if the Queen ever gets into trouble, then… oh, never mind…”

And this God character showed up in other places too. Once a week we had scripture classes with a tubby old fellow with glasses and not much hair. His name was “Canon Veril”, which the older kids in the school — who took him rather less seriously than we mystified first-graders did — turned into “Cannon Barrel”. He taught us to close our eyes when we prayed, and not to start crying or hide under the desk when he talked about the Holy Ghost. 

He also taught us The Lord’s Prayer. Its first line mystified us even more with its arcane language:

Our Father, who aren’t in heaven…

Well if he’s not in heaven, where is he? Did he have to go off and rescue the Queen again?

Hallo, what be Thy name?

So no one even knows who he is, even though they keep asking him every day?

In second grade we were told the story of Jesus being stuck in a cave and lying there for a few days and then getting up again or something. It was all quite weird. We had to draw a scene from the story on the cards that Cannon Barrel handed out. I drew Jesus’ body in the tomb, and then for some reason decided to draw a combine harvester in there as well, driving over him. The Canon didn’t like this at all, and as a punishment, snootily refused to collect the drawing like he did all the others. He was a strange person. Both authoritarian and oddly impotent. Not a nasty man, but given to regular bouts of choleric but strangely passive anger.

One little girl, who was very smart because she had glasses, was made to sit in the corridor and do other work of some kind, because her parents didn’t want her to go to scripture classes. Sitting alone in the corridor was usually a punishment, so we were confused about why she was sitting there if she wasn’t in trouble. But she sat there alone for an hour once a week for the whole six years. (As the top student in 6th grade, she was awarded what is known in Australia and the UK as the “Dux of the School” award — another term that had mystified us first-graders when we first heard it, and left us disappointed when no ducks came waddling out to collect their award.)

Posted by Yakaru

Coming soon: a post on religious instruction in schools 

h1

Bruce Lipton gets his own teachings wrong (Lipton Meets Sheldrake Part 4)

October 10, 2015

Welcome back to this long-running series on the discussion between quack biologist Bruce Lipton and pseudo-scientist Rupert Sheldrake. (Part 1 is here.)

Dr Bruce Lipton has invented a form of cancer quackery based entirely on complicated analogies. Cancer sufferers are in danger of believing his claims — after all, he has a Ph.D, and promises hope. But luckily his errors are easy enough to recognize, once his teachings are clearly explained: something you won’t find Lipton doing, but you can find here!

The central dogma of Lipton’s teachings is the (scientifically implausible) assertion that 

We are made in the image of the cell.

Esoteric people associate this with the ancient mystical idea:

As above, so below; as within, so without.

They think that they can use this idea as a template to understand his rather garbled and convoluted teachings. But what they don’t realize is that not even Bruce Lipton understands Bruce Lipton’s teachings. In fact Lipton does not teach that we are made in the image of a cell. He doesn’t realize it himself, but what he actually teaches is that 

Cells are made in the image of a person.

In other words, he has made a fundamental error of scale. As we will see, this is an important and unbelievably stupid inversion of his own illogical logic.

102Dr Bruce Lipton (right) discusses quackery with… whoops, wait a minute…

101Dr Bruce Lipton (right) explains cancer quackery to Dr Rupert Sheldrake (left, snickering like a fool)

As I have covered elsewhere, Lipton teaches, in effect, that every characteristic a person has, is also to be found in “the cell”.

A person has sense organs to detect things; a cell has receptors to detect things. So receptors are the sense organs of the cell. This analogy only works on the most basic, even childish level, although I wouldn’t even use it with children because it’s too misleading. But for Lipton it’s not an analogy: it’s a fact. He thinks that cell receptors are literally sense organs — every bit as complex and sensitive. (Yes, he does say that. I am not exaggerating.) 

And he pushes it even further, claiming that just as your sense organs perceive, so too do cell receptors “perceive”. But obviously perception occurs in a brain, and a cell does not have a brain…. You know that, I know that, but Bruce Lipton doesn’t know that.

He thinks they do have a brain. Why? Because you have a brain and you are “made in the image of a cell”. Therefore, a cell must have a brain, because this is dictated by Lipton’s teachings. So what part of the cell is its brain? Of course, it’s the cell mem-“brain”. And this mem-“brain” has perceptions, just like your brain does.

Crazy as it sounds, this really is what he is saying. It’s worth taking a moment to look at this, because Lipton thinks it’s his greatest discovery and he bases all his teachings on it. Of course, he’s got it hilariously wrong and we can laugh at him.

Lipton says that biologists believe that the cell nucleus is the brain of the cell. (They don’t — scientists don’t think that cells have brains.) And he thinks he dramatically proved them wrong once in his lab, by removing the nucleus from a cell and finding that the cell didn’t die instantly like it “should” if the nucleus is the cell’s brain.

Well, as it happens, cells can indeed live without a membrane, so by the same Lipton-logic, the membrane can’t be the “brain of the cell” either. Let me break this to you gently, Dr Bruce: cells do not have brains. People have brains, and some of them even use them.

But, regardless of all that, on with Bruce Lipton’s Amazing Cell-Brain Show.

Lipton blabs to Sheldrake:

….when I first saw cells I saw them as sentient beings, I didn’t see them as just moving around in the water. They were, like, the amoeba would go look at something and then back away and then move somewhere else, or the paramecium, and I saw them as people…

According to Lipton, the reason they scoot about like that is not just to do with the chemicals in the glob of goo they inhabit; it’s because cells have hopes and dreams. They have a brain; they perceive; they even have beliefs about the nature of their glob of goo. And of course, in true New Age style, their beliefs “create their own reality”. If they are happy with their lifestyle and perceive their glob of goo as a welcoming place, they will lead fulfilling, rewarding lives. But if they are unhappy and start harboring negative emotions in their teensy little brains, they will turn cancerous… This is where cancer comes from, according to Dr Lipton. 

(No, I’m not kidding. If you bought his book The Biology of Belief but couldn’t make head or tail of it, this is in fact what it says.)

And now we will suddenly start talking about fractals, because that’s what Lipton does.

He continues: 

…and it turns out to be that here’s a very interesting relation if, you know, we talk about at some point in regard to fractals…

Fractals, of course, are a “repeating pattern that displays at every scale.”

Fractal-Steiner-Chain-Orbit-Trap-18(Image from Fractal Science Kit)

Esoteric people love fractals. Not only are they scientific, but they also seem to echo that “as above, so below” idea mentioned earlier. (Actually fractals don’t mean this at all. They mean something more like “as within, so even further within; without is by definition different.” But again, let us not spoil things with reality.)

Fractals are a favorite among Creationists too. The Creationist website, Answers in Genesis says: “Evolution cannot account for fractals. These shapes have existed since creation and cannot have evolved, since numbers cannot change…”

Well, indeed some structures in humans do form something like fractal growth-patterns: the lungs, and the cardiovascular system, for example. But, sadly for Lipton and his fellow Creationists, this is not evidence that we were designed by a divine Creator.

As biologists at Yale point out, “this fractal structure makes the lungs more fault-tolerant during growth” and increases surface area for absorption and transfer of oxygen and blood. In other words, survival advantages — aka evolutionary advantages.

Even more stupidly, Lipton thinks that the same degree complexity is maintained, up and down the scale — that a single cell really is as complex as a being composed of 37.2 trillion cells. He really thinks that cells are basically little humunculi each with their own brains and beliefs. 

The big selling point of Lipton’s cancer cure is that if you change your own beliefs, this will somehow — he doesn’t say how — change the “cancerous beliefs” that cancer cells are harboring. Do that, and this will somehow — he doesn’t say how — stop your cells from being cancerous.

That’s it.

Confused? Incredulous? Well done. That means you understand more about Lipton’s teachings than he does.

The good news is that there is indeed a kind of fractal that is relevant here. It’s called Fractal Wrongness. This term was simply made for Dr Lipton. It means

the state of being wrong at every conceivable scale of resolution.


Got to: the final installment:”The Book That Changed Bruce Lipton’s Life”

Correction: Thanks to commenter “simon” for pointing out a stupid mistake I made when I initially published this post. I used the example of a protoplast as a cell without a membrane, but here a cell wall is removed, not a membrane. In any case, the membrane can be removed from cells, so the joke I was making still stands, and the text has been amended accordingly. Anyway, Lipton himself never specifies which kind of cell he is referring as the supposed in whose image “we” are supposedly made, so I could just as easily argue that according to Lipton’ vague standards, I was completely right. And as I noted in the comments, “simon” is demanding far higher standards of me than he does of Lipton.

Posted by Yakaru

h1

There is No “Western Paradigm”

October 4, 2015

The argument that there is an inherently exploitive “Western” way of perceiving the world, reflects justifiable concerns about neo-colonialist oppression and bigotry. But while it is perfectly valid to criticize lazy or demeaning assumptions about other cultures, the term “Western paradigm” can also be used in a similarly lazy manner, to discredit a particular line of inquiry.

There are other problems with the use of such terminology, too. Often, characteristics that are labeled “Western” are in fact universal. Racism, greed, and colonialism are not exclusively Western; nor, on the positive side, are curiosity and reason. 

It’s neither Western, nor inherently oppressive, to ask straight forward questions about matters of fact. Yet, as we shall see below, such questioning is often dismissed as part of the Western paradigm that tries to subjugate everything to the standard of reason.

The historian Tom Holland made a documentary film a few years ago. in which he asked whether or not the early accounts of the Prophet Mohammed’s life and the development of Islam are really true.

Holland, of course, was aware that the questions he was asking (as well as the evidence he found) were likely to upset some people. He was not merely concerned for his own safety, but also aware that he occupied a privileged position of some academic power, far removed from the people whose history and traditions he was studying. Of course he also comes from a culture that has often exploited and oppressed many predominantly Muslim countries.  

At one point in the film, Holland asked a professor of Islamic Studies if he thought that this line of inquiry was “complicit with the brute fact of Western imperialism”. The professor, Seyyed Hossein Nasr responded:

No, not necessarily, as long as you remain aware of what you are doing. If you come as a western scholar or historian and in all honesty present what your world view is, and say, “When I look at the Islamic world from this paradigm, this is what I see”, and bring out why this is different from how Muslims see themselves, then I think it’s a very honest effort…

This is an intelligent and reasonable answer — an invitation for Holland to do his research and present his results. It is a stark contrast to those who screamed abuse and Holland and made death threats. But Nasr also makes some highly questionable assumptions.

He continues:

Gradually in the West, for the intellectual elite, the sense of the sacred was lost. A tribal person in Africa or in the Amazon has a natural sense of the sacred, whereas a graduate student at Oxford probably doesn’t….. It is from the West that this kind of history came up: that reason is the ultimate decider and judge of the truth…

But “this kind of history” — checking stated facts against available evidence — did not arise “in the West”. It arises pretty much all by itself from human nature. To ascribe it purely to “the West” does a disservice to everyone who has ever asked the simple question, “Is that really true?”

In the 9th Century in Persia, the celebrated physician Al-Razi considered the scriptures of his own culture and started a discussion for which he clearly was not celebrated. He noted that the various prophets contradicted each other and therefore cannot possibly all be right; nor can revelation — varying so wildly between the divine authorities — be trusted as reliable.

Al-Razi:

Prophets are impostors, at best misled by demonic shades of restless and envious spirits. But ordinary folk are fully capable of thinking for themselves and in no need of guidance from another….

How can anyone think philosophically while committed to these old fairy tales founded on contradictions, obdurate ignorance and dogmatism?

Reason, he argued, unlike revelation, is available to all.

Persian_Scholar_pavilion_in_Viena_UN_(Rhazes)Muhammad Zakariyā Rāzī (Al-Razi/Rhazes)

Al-Razi’s genius and importance as a physician no doubt protected him from serious persecution. (His heretical writings, however, were destroyed and are known only from quotations by those who argued against him.) Obviously, anyone daring to speak like that in Iran today would be in grave danger. 

Moreover, if someone speaks like that today in the West, they will probably be accused of letting their imperialist Western paradigm get the better of them. Or, that label’s big brother would be applied and they’d be called an Islamophobe. And, of course, the accusers would remain baffled by the issues raised, and meekly capitulate before their own ignorance for a few centuries more.

Naturally, bigots find it easy enough to doubt the religions of others too — but never their own. (One You-tube user who uploaded a copy of Holland’s documentary used the name martyr4Jesus!)

If there is a peculiarly “Western paradigm”, it would involve the use of the term paradigm.

This idea of a paradigm is quintessentially Western. Of course, the complete package includes the notion of a paradigm shift — which for some reason is only ever predicted to be awaiting those who supposedly hold a “Western” or “materialistic” paradigm. I can’t imagine Professor Nasr predicting that the Amazonian natives will have a revelation and drop their supposed “sense of the sacred” in favor of a materialistic paradigm.

Similarly, the “sense of the sacred” is a vague notion whose only clearly defined quality is a fence that divides it from the “materialistic West”.  The whole of Western scholarship is deemed to be an inherently exploitive paradigm that ethnocentrically distorts and demeans its subject matter, simply to avoid the uncomfortable truth that some stories are myths rather than factual history.

One non-Western academic who took issue with this over-simplification is Ibn Warraq. His book Defending the West identified three aspects of Western culture that are overlooked by those who see Western scholarship as inherently colonialist.

Here is Warraq’s list:

1. Universalism, i.e. recognition that the rights granted to oneself must be granted equally to others.
2. Curiosity and learning for learning’s
sake. (Edward Said had claimed that all knowledge of the Orient was acquired merely to enable colonialist exploitation. Warraq refuted this by pointing to the vast German scholarship of the 19th Century that was carried out in countries where Germany had no colonial interests.)
3. Self criticism.
(I would place the awareness of various paradigms in this category!)

To sum up, it is certainly easier to practice free inquiry in the West. But this should make us want to try to spread this freedom to non-Western countries, not do the opposite: to hinder and devalue it with pejorative labels and lazy judgments. It is ironic, and potentially disastrous, that the only truly Western idea that might ever spread to the Orient is that reason is not a universal quality, but part of an exploitive Western paradigm.

Posted by Yakaru