Objectivity of the supernatural
blind men and elephants, and the argument from locality
A famous atheist argument against religious views, is the argument
from locality. Roughly the same idea is also expressed as Argument
from Religious Diversity. The main idea is that if God, or more generally the supernatural, is real,
then, just like any reality in general, diverse independent observations or sources of information
about it should confirm each other as complementary pictures of a coherent reality; while if it is
unreal and the only information about it are fruits of errors, illusions or lies then any independent
"observations" or sources of information, are likely to contradict each other.
Related to this topic, there is a famous metaphor from India, of the blind men and the elephant:
the idea that if different observations do not look the same then they might still be observations
of real but diverse aspects of a bigger reality. Can they ? The idea is that it may be hard to say
so as individual perceptions are limited, while the coherent reality to be understood may be
bigger than what a single individual may directly perceive. Indeed by its very nature, the
supernatural may be complex and hard to grasp. The question whether different data would
contradict each other or be distinct aspects of a diverse reality, may be a hard one. It may
require special attention. But we do have some data in this world. So let's review it a little !
How are our traditional monotheisms undermined by this argument
Christians speak about "life with God", "receiving Jesus in our hearts".
Some go further speaking about "being filled by the Holy Spirit",
with some messages by "speaking in tongues" and their "translations".
If they so had a directly link with God or some divine entity then they
should agree with each other about... whatever the main lesson from
there should be.
Instead, this leads them to disagree with each other :
At a time when I was Evangelical Christian I had the impression of seeing Christianity
confimed by the fact that while I travelled and met Christians from different places they
all had the same main creeds. Finally I understand where this consensus comes from:
it comes from a general program of dogmatism and conformism, where all followers
refer to the same book and blindly decided to follow the same teachings, the same
rumor, and (for Catholics and Orthodox), the same institutions, that is just humanly
spread and carefully copied by people who forbid themselves from putting in any new
information, any personal thought and experience. This conformism is in the very
essence of Christianity. That was the way by which a doctrine could somewhat
preserve itself against natural variations in a natural environment where, well,
such doctrines being developed with no root in reality, would naturally run into
a wild diversity of variants if no artificial strive for conformity was undertaken.
But despite this strive, a significant diversification into incompatible variants still
occurs there. From its beginning Christianity often struggled against "heresies".
But visibly no matter how strongly Christians decide to give their life to God,
and even believe they do know God/Jesus personally, all observations
seem to infirm the claim that they would be guided and corrected in their
beliefs by any single, coherent or wise supernatural entity with any clear purpose.
- On some of the rest of the world's objects of agreement
such as the age of the Earth, or (among those accepting its old age) how
much Intelligent Design is there, or what concerns Global Warming
(a big moral concern, for who claims to have "moral values" !)
- On their internal affairs: multiple divisions between branches of Christianity,
between branches of Islam, of Judaism... the Holy spirit filing the ones being
routinely dismissed as demonic possessions even by members of very similar Churches.
Why this does not undermine supernaturalism in general
By their historical weight in society, these raditional religions have long
been a focus of attention of the debate for atheists who took them
as their main adversaries, assuming their atheism to be a priori the main
alternative if these religions were wrong. I consider this assumption ill-founded.
Indeed just by looking at things rationally outside religious mindsets, this whole
situation of the big mistake and religious internal diversity of our traditionally Unique God,
appears as a huge but well-explainable accident with no rational implication on the
validity of supernaturalism in general.
Here is the explanation: these whole
experiences and failures of traditional religions imply nothing about the supernatural, just because...
they were not even actually looking into that direction. Instead, ignoring any possible matters
of fact and observation, they remained stuck on an arbitrary, culturally fixed choice of
a very narrow candidate window to the supernatural (reading and learning the doctrine,
developing faith in it, "giving one's heart" to God, praying and asking God for guidance...),
explictly rejecting any possible other channel of contact with it,
or any information from there which would not agree with our given institutionalized
dogmas, by condemning them as deals with "deamons".
Their failure only means one thing: their very specific narrow chosen window to the supernatural
is a wrong one. While genuine links to the supernatural still appears to exist there in some
groups (in penticostal churches and the like), it still falls prey to the severe restriction (bias)
of how they require their ghosts to repeat the same doctrine, keeping their minds closed to
any possible alternative teaching. Also rationally looking further, we can observe
how their whole doctrine is built as a labyrinth of excuses for doing as if they had
supernatural confirmations for their beliefs while they really have none: stuff such as
"if that is God's way/words/etc then who are we to criticize ?", "the kingdom of Jesus is not of this
world", lots of mutual encouragements to pride themselves of their "humility" in the face
of their victorious failure to acheive and understand anything under the sky,
using their assumed "knowing God" as the best of all excuses for them to
remain absolutely failing and ignorant about any more effective matter.
What would naturalism imply : a world with no consensus on the supernatural
If naturalism was true
(a position which has many other troubles with logic and with modern physics), let us think
what kind of world it would naturally imply about the kind of available data and sociology of opinions
on the topic of the supernatural.
In such a world, all claims that could be heard about the supernatural would be mere particular cases of
effects of diverse possible mixtures of the following (did I forget something ?)
Notice that all these sources of wrong information have in common the following characters:
- Illusions (failing perceptions, may they be by external or neurological factors)
- Errors (failing cognition : wishful thinking, failing memory or interpretation of data, bias by prejudices or
partiality of data known by given people)
- Misunderstandings : failing communication
- Lies (may they be well-intended or outright dishonest)
There would be no consensus on any lists of possible genuine supernatural phenomena, i.e. contacts
we may have with the supernatural (maybe except extremely restrictive lists).
There would be no consensus on how thing go for themselves in the beyond.
- They are flaws, and as such they are fundamentally imperfect: while some of these flaws
may happen to delude some people, they are quite unlikely to succeed deluding large numbers
of people. Instead, such flaws could be easily observed and debunked in many circumstances,
so that many people would be naturally aware of them.
- In some sense, to the careful eye they will look like flaws as they are, rather
than look like any supernatural stuff. And even if they don't look like flaws but look like some
kind of realistic stuff, it still does not mean they would look like supernatural stuff.
They can look like very natural stuff, but just wong information about it. For any amount of flaws
which look supernatural, at least a similar amount will look like naturalistic but just incorrect data.
Among these, the amount of flaws which would look like successfully convincing supernatural
stuff able to convince many people would be much smaller; but however big it is, at least similar
amounts would also look like successfully convincing naturalistic but just incorrect stuff. I look
forward to see a review of such naturalistic delusions as popular and consensual as the supernatural ones listed below.
- These natural causes of wrong information are causes which supernaturalists have
no "reason to ignore" the existence of. The fact of the possible abundance of such flaws
does not anyway contradict supernaturalism.
- On the contrary, supernaturalists would naturally find themselves very motivated to put
forward the human flaws underlying each others claims, for two reasons
- As we already observe, religions have an easy game playing on the fear and pessimism towards the
likeliness of human delusions, as an argument to put forward their claim of infallible divine guidance and
revelation as the needed protection in the face of that.
- The diverse naturally occurring claims on the supernatural would most often contradict
each other (since they would all be about diverse independently created false stuff), thus the supporters
of each claim would naturally care to denounce and debunk any flaws underlying claims incompatible
with their own.
Some independent dualities
The atheism/religion debate got some people used to assume that the main opposition
would be between the unscientific supernaturalist believers on the one hand, and the scientific
naturalist skeptics on the other hand. However, looking at other existing oppositions around we
can find quite different configurations, where the 3 dualities science/antiscience,
naturalism/supernaturalism, and belief/skepticism are generally independent of each other.
Consider the opposition between the science of climate change and the denialists of this science.
These denialists are not believers. They don't claim to have witnessed any amazing
phenomenon of non-climate change, nor any phenomenon of non-responsibility of humans in climate
change. They actually reach their wrong conclusions without have made any actual mistakes on the way.
They neither fall prey to error, illusion or lies. They do not claim to know anything. They are only
skeptical towards the work of scientists, which they suspect of being biased by
ideology or financial interest, while they have no real way to know the real situation, just because
these "skeptics" are not themselves experts in the field, while it would be necessary to be an expert
to really know. Now compare this with the opposition between researchers in parapsychology, and
"skeptics" which doubt the validity of results in that field but without having studied them on an
expert level: isn't it similar ?
Other example: evolution vs. creationism. Creationists are just skeptical towards the possibility
for natural selection to account for the development and complexification of life as we know it.
Because well it is also a quite complicated topic indeed.
A core point at the basis of surnaturalism, is the question of the theoretical possibility to account
for consciousness with all its attibutes (qualia, etc) on the basis of neurobiology.
Indeed there appears a radical difference between such material processes and the attributes of
consciousness. Naturalists have faith that such an explanatory science is possible, while we don't
have it. Supernaturalists are skeptical towards such a possibility, or have an intuition of its
impossibility in principle.
Marxism was all about materialism and criticism. The similar Zeitgeist movement is also, in its own view,
all about criticism.
And if we look closely at Christianity itself, that is the main reference of the faith, supernaturalism
and anti-science which atheists so proudly oppose, do we find at its basis a pack of errors of the kind which
is the above supposed explanation of supernaturalism from a naturalistic viewpoint ? That is not exactly
what I observe. As I have a long experience with Christians, I noticed that, while many Christians indeed claim to
witness having God in their life, when looking more closely at what they mean, the precise definition of what
they claim to witness usually turns out to be quite elusive to say the least. Unlike Near Death Experiencers
who often insist having problems to put their experience into words, Christians usually don't refer to anything
ineffable in their testimony: all what they "witness" is clear and contained in what they report. And
their reports turns out to be that they merely witness having chosen to believe that God is in
their life, just because they have faith, and they have faith that faith
itself is a sign of God in their life. They may have had a little good luck, and just chose to believe that it
was God's hand. So they are biased, and almost openly acknowledge this. Where are their
errors, illusions or lies ? They just misunderstand logical/rational thinking, and everything is clear
about their misunderstanding for who openly listens to them without having lost awareness of logic oneself.
A rather good consensus appears among supernaturalists about the supernatural
Rather convergent, consensual information can be found both about the list of supernatural phenomena
(our points of contact with supernatural realities) and the contents of these realities themselves.
The basis of such consensus can be, depending on the topic, diverse combinations of observations (experiences)
and natural intution. Indeed, supernaturalism accepts intuituion as a possible genuine (though fallible)
source of information, in the sense that, as conscious beings (instead of machines), parts and representatives
of the universal consciousness at the foundation of reality, we all have sorts of bits of divinity and some
knowledge of the truth deep in us, that we merely temporarily forgot in this life, while, as in Plato's
philosophy, acts of learning may be more or less acts of remembering.
Here is the list of such consensual supernatural phenomena and claims (with some redundancy,
as the diverse phenomena may overlap each other and include synonyms for the same realities):
I found someone disputing the reality of reincarnation: Geoff
Cutler, author of a book "Is Reincarnation an Illusion?" arguing that it is an illusion.
However, letting aside here how his arguments can be disputed, we can still notice that
he no way denies the most visible aspects of the issue, that is the real presence of past life memories
which naturalism cannot account for. There are some testimonies very explictly
reporting the reality of reincarnation (in French: the NDE
of Nicole Dron with memories of her past lives ;
an OBE experiencer reporting
at the end of the video, his witnessing the astral body of an old dead friend being morphed into the shape
of the baby he was entering).
- Near Death Experiences
- Out of Body experiences
- Spiritism/trance/hypnosis/mediumnity, where usually disincared spirits
(of dead people, "guides" or other, sometimes negative spirits) manifest themselves by, either
- acting on (taking possession of) bodily parts of someone alive (such as the arm,
in the case of "automatic writing")
- or possessing the whole body of someone unconscious,
in the sense that when the phenomenon ends, the person does not remember what his/her body did.
- Directly communicating in a way or another, such as by apparitions
- Some other manifestations of spirits over matter, operating on matter other than human bodies
- That the disincarned spirits that may be met in NDE, OBE or meduimnity, include those of dead people, but never of living ones
(this is logical for supernaturalism, but this is an observation which naturalism cannot account for !)
- Precognition, but that is unreliable information
- Mesmerism, often practiced under the label of Ostheopathy (I have the
experience of Boji stones which suffice to produce such effects).
- That animals also have souls and afterlife
- That the main conscious memory is immaterial like consciousness itself, and indestructible;
what seems forgotten will be remembered after death.
- That, except possibly some temporary adaptation period, the main fate after death is not a matter of having believed
any "true religion". There is no such a thing as a salvation by faith. Finding the truth is only our problem for human purposes.
- That in the beyond, communication can occur by direct exchange of thoughts without words
- That consciousness already existed before the development
of biological organisms, back to the time of the Big Bang and even before
- Reincarnation, as we observe some past life memories.
- There is a bunch of pre-birth
memories (another list and another) many of which
giving similar accounts of how souls come to
incarnate on Earth. A video of pre birth memory.
I just addressed what I know of. Surely more elements, and of course lots of details,
can be added to this list by those more familiar with these, or with research in parapsychology
I stumbled on one little detail which came somehow as a surprise: that some living
people may, during their sleep, serve as guides for recently deceased people.
What I found remarkable is that despite the strangeness of this information and the
limits of my modest exploration of the available information, I saw it from 2 independent
sources. One is in the book Seth Speaks (p.74-75).
The other is the comments by Matt Rouge in this page.
The presence of this consensus undermines Naturalism
Anti-spirituality main page