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Countering Militant Materialism

From Editor, J. Douglas Kenyon

For fifty years now, the so-called 'skeptical' community, spear-headed by stage magician James Randi, has told us that if any claims of the paranormal (i.e. telepathy, psychokinesis, miracles, etc.) can be proved, the prover can win a million dollars. So far no one has been able to claim the prize, and some have inferred, therefore, that such things must be impossible, else, surely, someone would have won. Few, however, have read the fine print in the 'Amazing' Randi offer, which makes collecting the money somewhat more difficult than actually manifesting paranormal powers. One who has read Randi's fine print, and elected not to compete, is Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, the Cambridge trained biologist and author of the recent bestseller "Science Set Free" ("The Science Delusion" in the U.K.), and many other books.

Sheldrake has demonstrated clearly, with massive evidence, that so-called paranormal abilities, such as telepathy, are, in fact, common in both humans and animals. He has little use for Randi and his ilk, pointing out in a letter to "Skeptic Magazine," "Randi may have done a useful job in exposing fraudulent showmen, but he has no scientific credentials, and has made fraudulent claims himself." Randi and his fellow militant debunkers have made what is an essentially theological argument for the ultimate supremacy of the material world, but, as with most religions, have offered no proof. In what might be called 'The First Church of Reductionist Materialism,' their narrow worldview is held to be a fundamental doctrine which must not be questioned.

Now, best-selling author, Dr. Deepak Chopra, has moved to turn the tables on Randi and his co-religionists. A prize of one million dollars will be awarded to Randi or any of his fellows if--forget the 'paranormal'--they can explain the so-called 'normal.' Chopra's main point is that, so far, no one has been able to explain consciousness itself--aka the "hard problem" of science. Anyone that can publish a falsifiable explanation of consciousness in a peer review journal can win a million dollars to be paid by the wealthy Chopra himself. The announcement came in June in a YouTube video.

The response so far has been predictable. 'Skeptics' have ridiculed the offer. Typical is Jerry Coyne who suggested in his "Why Evolution Is True" blog that Chopra is embarrassing himself and is afflicted with a mental disorder. Among other things, Coyne complains about unkind comments made by Chopra about skeptics.

Suggestions that, while quick to hurl stones, militant atheists and materialists may, themselves, live in glass houses, clearly sting. The 'skeptics' can dish it out but can they take it? Apparently, no more than could the Catholic Church of the Dark Ages. In criticizing Rupert Sheldrake's book "A New Science of life," John Maddox the editor of "Nature," famously called it "a book for burning." Sheldrake described being on the receiving end of such a prescription as exactly like being excommunicated by the pope. He knew, he says, that he had become dangerous for other scientists to know. In the inquisitions of the Middle Ages, forbidden books and their authors were often consigned to the flames. Modern offenders like Sheldrake may not be burned at the stake but are, nevertheless, subjected to ostracism, rejection, and academic sanction. The net effect is comparable. When it occurs, we are all the losers.

For those who long for a more enlightened era when new ideas, which could benefit the world, can be examined on their merits, without subjugation to narrow doctrinal agendas, it is worth remembering that defensiveness of this sort is a sign of weakness, not strength. In their aggressive tactics, the current materialist establishment reveals an insecurity, doubtless born in the unconscious dread that nature itself, thus disrespected, will ultimately return the favor, rendering them powerless and as naked as the emperor with new clothes.

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