Answering Murphy

Murphy, a thoughtful commenter, of my last post, asks:

If indeed your main point is that Harris’ initial response was in haste because he had not read the book, it sounds more as though you are holding a grudge rather than evaluating a situation. He read the same article that everyone else read when the book was still not available. He further listened to a 1-hr interview that he links to in that piece (just like he links to the article) and encourages anyone else who may be reading his piece to do so. And he did in fact read the book when it was available, and posted again when he had more information. Nothing in that process should be described as lazy. I easily grant you, when you posted this original post, he had not yet read the book. But if the book was not out, how can he be lambasted (by you) for not reading the book? I think he critiqued the information that was available to him rather poignantly. He explains at length that his objections do not stem from this point going “against the naturalist orthodoxy”, as you state. His problem is absence of proof.

Further, to say this topic is something that he knows zero about is not correct.

I can and would speak further to this, but I have a hard time believing that you could possibly change your opinion, because I believe your opinion is based more on emotion than logic. I would imagine you are losing interest on this topic, but can you provide me direct quotes that you feel best demonstrate his laziness? Can you tell me specifically what you believe is wrong with Harris’ assertion that unless Alexander can provide proof that his experiences occurred at a point in time when his brain was dead, that his entire account is somewhat pointless? If those experiences occurred at any other point in time, they are no more noteworthy than a dream. I do not understand why you feel this does not qualify as a valid and important point (despite being raised after only reading the article, mind you).

Less importantly (since this was never your original intent), I am aware of qualia and intentionality; I just happen to agree with Daniel Dennett, that while consciousness seems so mysterious to us now, with time, it will be as explainable as anything else we have discovered. The developments they have made in unraveling what seems to be our illusion of a self in the last two decades is astounding. It feels a bit grand to me to impose such a level of importance on ourselves as a species considering everything we do know about the universe (which is still close to nothing). I am, however, always open to other ideas in the presence of sound data, which is why I requested direction to the data on NDE’s you continue to reference. Does this data extend beyond the fact that we currently don’t know for sure, so anything is a possibility?

And I don’t care if Harris’ resume is 20-pages and Alexander’s is one sentence… it still would not only be a weak comparison, but not matter to this argument. I actually do not even doubt Alexander’s qualifications, but that does not change the fact that he has not provided proof of the timing of his experiences.

I apologize for the lengthy response if you are indeed losing interest… but there are so many things about this that interest me.

My response:

So Harris, to you, isn’t being intellectually lazy when he felt reading an article and watching an hour-long interview over at youtube was more than enough to lambast a book of which he first admits could have “a more persuasive account“, yet went on anyway to (prematurely!) conclude that he “very much doubt[s] it“.

Harris says Eben’s reasoning is “so lazy and tendentious” and then calls his (Eben’s) media forays and coming book an “unfolding travesty“, despite not having read a single page of it. And this, to you, is all fine and dandy; “Oh no! He’s not being lazy at all! Come on!”

You’re not being reasonable, Murphy.

Eben in his book, and as told by your fellow skeptic who actually read the book, “did as much research as he could as a neurosurgeon, as a neuroscientist, to try and come up with a conventional explanation for this. He talked to many of his colleagues, many of the brightest and well-respected people in the field. He tried to come up with an explanation for this[..]

Yet, according to Sam, Eben is, well, “Lazy and tendentious“, despite that, if he actually read the book before opening his pie-hole, he would have found out that Eben, again according to your fellow skeptic, “spent months devouring every paper he could get his hands on that might explain what happened to him.”

So, come on Murphy. Sam was being lazy, period. That doesn’t mean Eben is right, mind you, it just means Sam is — was — being lazy. And that’s evidence he knows little — if not zero — of what he’s attempting to critique.

Look, I don’t even know if I buy Eben’s conclusion — primarily because it sounds more Deepak Choprian then Christian. I don’t think he’s lying; I think he really did experience something. But it’s one thing to say some weird thing happened to him, and it’s completely another to say his conclusion that heaven, or at least something like it, is real.

As for Sam’s point about Eben being unable to prove the experience happened during brain death, I think it’s a valid one. But it’s not something that’s been completely glossed over by Eben, as he does touch on it somewhere in his 9-point hypothesis which you can read here.

As for Dennet’s promissory note that science will be able to materialistically explain away intentionality and qualia, he’s just plain and simple wrong there.  (Actually, I thought Dennet was an eliminativist? I thought he didn’t think it could be explained, but rather that it didn’t need explaining, as eliminativists are wont to think.) He can issue all the promissory notes he wants, but it ain’t happening since the gap is, as I and some philosophers of mind believe, unbridgeable; the hard problems of consciousness actually show that mind cannot in principle be reduced to brain. You don’t even have to be a theist to believe that; Chalmers, Nagel, and other respected philosophers of mind do, and they scarcely can be said to be sympathetic to theism.

If you’re looking for proof from Eben or others, then you’ll be looking  til wit’s end. There can be no proof that Eben went to heaven, or that he experienced what he did during –and only during — brain death. We’ll just have to look at the data and see what conclusion best fits the evidence.

That being said, Eben, for the most part, knows what he’s talking about. Assuming he’s not lying through his teeth for fame, money, or what have you, then it’s people like him who have, more than others, the credibility to lead us in one direction or another. To dismiss him outright because of a metaphysical commitment to naturalism is, I believe, a big mistake.


Posted on November 22, 2012, in apologetics, science. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. “I just happen to agree with Daniel Dennett, that while consciousness seems so mysterious to us now, with time, it will be as explainable as anything else we have discovered.”

    This is the usual “materialism of the gaps” that you see so prevalent among materialists. If we can’t explain it, then in time science will. It’s as fervent a following as that of many Christians, and is followed sadly to the death by many.

    Interesting that Murphy believes your opinion of Harris is based on emotion rather than logic, when I find that there are always highly emotional reasons behind all the so-called ‘logic’ of materialists for not wanting to consider the possibility of a higher authority. The ‘logic’ is just a thin ego-warming skin over the more embarrassing emotional reasons behind their denial.

    But since materialism must inevitably lead to the illusion of free will, then we can expect that Murphy’s post in and of itself is just a random, meanlingless reaction to being stimulated by your blog, and will sadly dissolve (like Murphy) into the material void of this meaningless pocket of the great multiverse.

    • Absolutely right Todd.

      What’s also hilarious about this science/materialism of the gaps argument is how it’s being taken to the very extreme!

      Science will apparently be able to tell us right from wrong; it can explain how things come from nothing; and, if there’s something that seemingly cannot be explained by science, they’ll say it’s because it’s a meaningless question, or that there’s no fact of the matter, or that it’s an ‘illusion’ even.

      These guys seriously seem to have more faith than us!

    • It’s a misuse of the term ‘logic’ anyway. It’s just a paradigm that precludes an afterlife. It’s pretty unscientific to dismiss data that doesn’t fit the paradigm; that’s observation bias. It’s all backwards.

  2. I am not a neuroscientist. I am trained in the medical field even if it not as specialised as that of Sam or Eban. I also have read Eban’s book and the comments of a provocative nature that have been made prior to the publication of the book, and in the rebuttals there of after have left me amazed at what has been written more so by Harris.

    Has Harris ever had an NDE? Nothing that I have read indicates that this is so and yet he bases his argument on science and evidence, and yet, where is his personal evidence on such a topic to consequently be credible?

    30-40 years ago, the computer was basically unheard of…but oh, look what I’m using! It exists.

    Maybe heaven is there. Quite maybe, Eban’s accounts of something higher is possibly the most accurate account thus far? And cheers to him for publishing something that was always going to cause controversy. Keep an open mind people. Be it Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity…who cares. All religions believe in something higher. It’s hardly worth arguing over.

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