Monday, August 5, 2013

Looking for the truth, spiritually

Unfortunately, I don't just blog here. Foolishly, I also get into these online discussions elsewhere. Yeah, it's the old problem of someone, somewhere on the Internet, being wrong. :)

OK, I enjoy an intelligent debate. I like to find intelligent people who disagree with me, because I want my beliefs to be true. So I want to hear what other people have to say. I think I have good reasons for my beliefs, but if they're not challenged, how can I know that?

But most people will only go so far. It's not that we continue to disagree. I expect that. But often, people will simply refuse to answer questions which they can't answer, questions which demonstrate why they're wrong. They'll often just ignore the points I make, apparently because they have no rebuttal.

I'm not surprised by this when it comes to right-wing fundamentalists. But, sometimes, I find people I probably agree with about most things... who still seem to have some faith-based belief which they won't question. And that does surprise me.

(Note that I'm not unaware of the fact that it could be me who's wrong. I don't think I am, but I welcome rational arguments otherwise. That's kind of the whole point of this, isn't it?)

I was reminded of this in comments recently at my local newspaper from a person who calls himself/herself "Just Watching." The thread is a little hard to follow, but it started when he praised my previous comment about faith-based thinking.

Ironically, given how our discussion turned out, he noted how people inevitably make claims before every Olympics. (I don't know why he said this, but it turned out to be surprisingly pertinent to the discussion.)
You know before every Olympics Games there are a wave of people making claims ...This happens all the time, in every country the Olympics are in...They usually never happen.....but if one gets it right, then that person that made that warning , Well, they become a person of great interest.

As I say, I don't know why he said that, but I'm in full agreement with it. It sounds like a perfect example of Sir Francis Bacon's wise observation that "The general root of superstition is that men observe when things hit, and not when they miss, and commit to memory the one, and pass over the other."

If enough people warn of danger at the Olympics (note that we've been facing the threat of terrorism for a long time - and specifically at the Olympics at least since 1972) then, sooner or later, when there is an attack at an Olympics, someone, somewhere, is bound to have predicted that. But to find anything significant in that (at least, unless that person was involved in the attack) is just superstition.

Apparently, as it turned out, that's not what Just Watching was getting at, so I have no idea what he was really trying to say there. But I didn't reply to that, anyway, but to another comment he made: "Keep looking for the truth..and you will find it."

My reply (in part):
I'm afraid I disagree. Everyone claims to be looking for the truth. Indeed, people throughout history have looked for the truth. So I don't think that looking for the truth is the real issue here. The issue is how you look for the truth.

Progress really got going when we discovered the scientific method. It's not perfect, but it's easily the best way we've ever discovered of looking for the truth. It's not just evidence-based. It also works with human nature, instead of against it. ...

Looking for the truth does you no good at all unless your mechanism, the way you look for the truth, is effective.

Yeah, that's pedantic, no doubt. But this is a very important point for me, so I try to make it whenever I can.

Just Watching replied:
When I say "Keep looking for the truth..and you will find it." I mean both scientific and spiritually.

If you've read anything else here, you can probably imagine how I responded to that! :)
Is there an effective method of looking for the truth spiritually, Just Watching? ...

If you really can look for the truth both scientifically and spiritually, what method do you use for the latter? As I know you agree, the scientific method works. It's proven itself to be a very effective method of distinguishing the truth from delusion and wishful-thinking.

Is there a similar method which is effective in looking for the truth spiritually? Given that spiritualists and religious believers never come to a consensus about anything, really, it's hard to think that there is. And if there isn't, then "looking for the truth" spiritually is going to be a complete waste of time, don't you think?

He never answered this question. We continued to debate this, and I must have asked that specific question ("Is there an effective method of looking for the truth spiritually?") five or six times, but he just ignored it every time. Well, clearly the answer was no, that he did not have an effective way of looking for the truth "spiritually," but he simply did not want to face the implications of that.

At first, he just said that it depended on what I meant by "spiritual." But as I pointed out, I hadn't used the word. He had. It was his statement about "looking for the truth spiritually" that I was questioning. So why ask me to define it?

He never did say what he meant by "spiritual." Eventually, he posted a link to Wikipedia, the very first words of which said, "The term spirituality lacks a definitive definition." Heh, heh. As I pointed out to  him, I didn't care about the debates of lexicographers. All I wanted to know is what he meant by the word, when he used it in our discussion.

But the really funny thing is that he referred back to his first post, repeating this a second time:
You know before every Olympics Games there are a wave of people making claims ...This happens all the time, in every country the Olympics are in...They usually never happen.....but if one gets it right, then that person that made that warning , Well, they become a person of great interest.

But then he added this:
How is it we have records of some people warning us about things they could not possible know about...Our law enforcement, and military, and intelligence groups, know about many of these events. ...

Some things in the history of mankind, can not be explained by our current understanding of science, or science does offer up some possible reason, but we do not see the connection to the spiritual realm at first.

Yup. Instead of being a perfect example of superstition - how many, many people warn about danger at the Olympics and how, every so often, one of them turns out to be right, just through the laws of probability - this is now evidence of psychic powers. Incredible, isn't it?

Indeed, later on he claimed that some people become psychic after brain injuries, too. But where's his evidence of such an extraordinary claim? Where's his evidence that psychic powers exist at all? I tried to pin him down, but he just went back to the Olympics again. "Waves" of people make predictions of danger at every Olympics and, every so often, there actually is danger at an Olympics, therefore... the explanation must be in the spiritual realm, huh?

When he said that "we do not see the connection to the spiritual realm at first," that begs the question: When have we ever discovered a connection to the spiritual realm? Over and over again in human history, we've discovered that things we thought were supernatural turned out to have a natural explanation. (The Sun, for example, is not a god driving a golden chariot across the sky.) But never once the reverse. Ever. So why assume - without good evidence, or even a definition of what you mean by the term - that the "spiritual realm" exists at all?

I was just blown away by his response. He continued to ignore my repeated question, "Is there an effective method of looking for the truth spiritually?" Likewise, he completely ignored my request for specifics on his claims of psychic powers. He just assumed that psychic powers really exist, without bothering to demonstrate that,... and then he further assumed that those powers must be "spiritual," rather than just something science hasn't discovered yet.

Clearly, this is an intelligent guy (or gal). And he's apparently not conventionally religious. But he's still faith-based. He wants to believe what he wants to believe, and if the questions get too difficult, he just ignores them.

I just don't get it. I'd love to believe in psychic powers. And if anything like that could be demonstrated to exist, scientists would fall all over themselves in their eagerness to research it.

Just think about it. This would open up a whole new realm in science. Scientists love this kind of thing! As Isaac Asimov once said, "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny...'" The merest hint of something like this is enough to catch the attention of scientists.

And for the rest of us, it would be amazing. Who could think otherwise? But first - for me, at least - you have to demonstrate that it's actually true. And no, that doesn't mean pointing to newspaper articles where credulous people claim incredible things and gullible - or just ambitious - reporters print them (although Just Watching didn't even do that much).

After all, you can find people who'll claim anything you want to believe - literally anything. You can find 'eye-witness testimony' to alien abductions, Bigfoot, and the resurrection of Elvis Presley, among others. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. (And I'll point out that scientists are the experts on evidence - although even scientists, some of them, can be fooled by a clever magic trick.)

As I say, this exchange really surprised me. But I guess it shouldn't have. Sadly, faith-based thinking is not restricted to right-wing Republicans. It's just human nature, apparently.


AJ said...

I got a headache from trying to follow those postings. Sadly, Bill, what I see is that you are far more intelligent than Just Watching. JW appears to have difficulty explaining any concepts. Keep it simple; maybe you can get some answers, but I doubt it.

WCG said...

Well, that's an explanation I'd like to believe, Ann. :) But I've got to wonder if I just don't explain things very well.