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Thursday, August 23, 2018

Examples of Atheist Propaganda in Skeptical Inquirer - Example 1: James E. Alcock

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), formerly known as the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), is a program within the transnational American non-profit educational organization Center for Inquiry (CFI), which seeks to "promote scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims." 

CFI and Richard Dawkins Foundation are now formally merged. It is therefore no surprise that CSI is characterized by Richard Dawkins and Atheist Fundamentalism.

Skeptical Inquirer is a bimonthly American magazine published by CSI with the subtitle: The Magazine for Science and Reason. The quality of the articles published varies after how much the writers are associated with CSI. In this blog series I will show how atheist propaganda happens.

In vol. 42 No. 5, September/October 2018, the professor in psychology, and associate with CSI, James E. Alcock, has written an article called The God Engine - How Belief develops, where he claims:

Belief in the supernatural develops as a natural consequence of the way our brains work, so it should be no surprise that religion is both pervasive and enduring.

That sounds very harmless. But then he wants us to consider how nothing seems too bizarre to be incorporated into religious beliefs. He gives us some examples, where I will mention four: Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Christians. Hindus are described as practicing their faith by rubbing butter on a temple lingam that is considered by some scholars to be a stylized phallus. Jews and Muslims are described as snipping away the foreskins on boys in the service of religious faith, and Christians are described as celebrating their faith by eating the flesh and blood of one´s heavenly savior.

One is tempted to use the same description technique on Alcock himself: he has listened very carefully to his guru Richard Dawkins, who said to his disciples: go out into the world, make religious faith look ridiculous, and then call this rational argument.

What is it Alcock is doing here? He is putting up a strawman. A strawman is a caricature of your opponent´s view set up simply so that you can knock it down. And that´s what Alcock then is doing in the rest of the article. All in the disguise of science and critical thinking.

He writes about the “Components of The God Engine”:

A number of automatic processes and cognitive biases combine to make supernatural belief the automatic default.

So, belief in the supernatural is a cognitive bias? This is said by a man who bases his article on a strawman.

It begins in childhood, he says, and in the education of children. He begins with what might be genuine psychological investigations, for example that we are born magical thinkers assuming some magical causation between an assumed cause and its effect. Hereafter he uses selective thinking, where he selects out favorable evidence for remembrance and focus, while ignoring unfavorable evidence for a belief. This is for example seen in his thesis about that we early develop a theory of mind. He claims that this theory of mind is dualism, which then paves the way for belief in disembodied spirits and deities (dualism is a philosophical theory, and I have never heard about this interpretation).

He thereafter correctly claims that children must learn reality testing, which is the basis for critical thinking; that is: the ability to discriminate between fantasy and reality. Religious education, he claims, destroys this ability. But he ought to have studied more philosophy, because this ability actually involves an epistemological dualism, which says that in order to discriminate between fantasy and reality, you must be able to discriminate between subject and object. This kind of dualism invalidates both materialism and idealism (see my online book Philosophical Counseling with Tolkien, chapter 5, Epistemology, part 4: The Core – Rediscovering Truth).

So, finally, let´s look a bit closer at this critical thinking which Alcock, and the skeptical movement, so eagerly defend. The article started with a strawman. A strawman involves a degree of wishful thinking stemming from widespread reluctance to attribute great intelligence or subtlety to someone with whom you strongly disagree. Over-confidence in your own position may lead you to treat dissenting views as easy targets when in fact they may be more complex and resistant to simple attacks. It is namely so, that the origins of critical thinking are to be found in Alcock´s targets. The Skeptical Movement seems to place the origins of critical thinking in some obscure institution they simply call science. Where is this institution? The fact is that critical thinking is philosophy. And there are especially two written sources of philosophy: Plato and The Upanishads. Hereafter it has continued into some of the greatest religious philosophers, such as Thomas Aquinas in the West, and many of the greatest scientists had religious faith in the supernatural, as for example Francis Bacon, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, Louis Pasteur, Wilhelm Röntgen, Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, Einstein, etc., etc. Add to this all the great art, architecture, music and literature, which are produced through faith in the supernatural.

In the best Brave New World style all such historical brilliance are erased from Alcock´s account, and the article therefore confirms how much the skeptical movement itself is a part of the anti-intellectual movement. A tendency which for example Susan Jacoby warned about in her book The Age of American Unreason, which is about the spread of junk thought and corruption of education.

That Alcock can refer to an enormous amount of scientific research, indulge himself in acrobatic explanations, doesn´t hide the fact that his article not is a neutral scientific report but a philosophical viewpoint. And the fact that he doesn´t use philosophical argumentation, but indulge himself in scientific references, makes it look like a pseudoscientific justification of ideology. His article doesn´t explain anything about religion, but exposes itself as an attack on religion which are colored by Alcock´s private opinions.

In philosophy there is a principle called Occam´s Razor. Suppose there exist two explanations for an occurrence. In this case the one that requires the least speculation is usually better. Another way of saying it is that the more assumptions you have to make, the more unlikely an explanation. Occam´s Razor says shortly: assumptions which don´t explain anything, ought to be cut away from your theories. Occam's razor applies especially in the philosophy of science, but also more generally.

Religion must be criticized when it develops into ideology, and so must atheism. And the institution that must carry out such critical thinking is philosophy.


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