Tag Archives: Richard Dawkins

Deepak Chopra tries his hand at a clinical trial. Woo ensues.


By Orac via Respectful Insolence

Of all the quacks and cranks and purveyors of woo whom I’ve encountered over the years, Deepak Chopra is, without a doubt, one of the most arrogantly obstinate, if not the most arrogantly obstinate. Sure, a quack like Mike Adams wins on sheer obnoxiousness and for the sheer breadth of crankery to which he ascribes, which includes everything from quackery, to New World Order conspiracy theories, to Scientology-like anti-psychiatry rants, to survivalist and gun nut tendencies, but he’s so obviously unhinged, as well as intermittently entertaining, that he doesn’t quite get under the skin the way Chopra does. CHOPRAThere’s something about that smug, condescending, incredibly arrogant manner of Chopra’s that grates even more in its own way than the clueless arrogance of ignorance of a person like Adams, Vani Hari (a.k.a. the Food Babe), or Joe Mercola (who appears to be far more about the money than actually believing in the quackery he sells). When Chopra tries his hand at science, woo ensues, as we shall soon see.

Perhaps the best recurring example of Chopra’s smarmy condescension coupled with magical thinking comes in his ongoing war with skeptics (most recently illustrated by his hilariously off-base “million dollar” counter-challenge to James Randi) and atheists, in particular Richard Dawkins. Given that this particular war seems to have heated up again, with Chopra having declared that he’s “pissed off by Richard Dawkins’ arrogance and his pretense of being a really good scientist,” it seems the perfect time to bring up a project of Chopra’s in which he pretends to be a scientist. But first, let’s get a flavor of why real scientists like Richard Dawkins (who, regardless of what you think of his ill-advised and offensive Twitter ramblings, is nonetheless a scientist in the way that Chopra will never be):

Boasting is not becoming of a beacon of inner peace, and Chopra knows it. I don’t want to hear him talk trash, and I ask him why he can’t just let Richard Dawkins go.

“With Dawkins, I am just pissed off. I am pissed off by his arrogance and his pretense of being a really good scientist. He is not,” Chopra says. “And he is using his scientific credentials to literally go on a rampage.”

But it’s more than that, I suggest. Chopra sits back and raises his hands, palms upward, smiling.

“I totally agree. It’s my last challenge,” he says. “It may be a very strange psychological issue.”

I don’t think there’s anything particularly strange about it. It’s incredibly obvious. Chopra, who started out as a real physician (an endocrinologist, actually) somehow got into quantum quackery and turned into a pseudoscientist and quack. Dawkins is a prominent real scientist who reminds Chopra that his blather  .  .  .

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Chopra Shoots at Skepticism and Misses

By via NeuroLogica Blog

CHOPRADeepak Chopra apparently has no love for organized skepticism. This is not surprising and his particular brand of spiritual pseudoscience has been a favorite target of skeptical analysis. He is also not the only one who has decided to fight back against the skeptics – if you cannot defend yourself against legitimate criticism, then shoot the messenger.

In a recent article Chopra renews his attack against what he calls “militant skepticism.” This is a blatant attempt, of course, to portray skeptics as extremist and on the fringe, a strategy that has been used against “militant atheists.” Chopra also uses his article to conflate skepticism with atheism, almost as if he is completely unaware of the internal discourse that has been taking place for decades within the skeptical movement.

Chopra writes:

The rise of militant skepticism clouded the picture, however, beginning with its popular attack on religion. The aim of Richard Dawkins, as stated in his best seller, The God Delusion, was to subject “the God hypothesis” to scientific scrutiny, the way one would subject anti-matter or black holes to scrutiny. In fact he did no such thing with God, for the scientific method requires experiments that can be replicated and facts that can be verified. Dawkins offered no experiments to prove or disprove the existence of God. What he actually did was to subject religion to a barrage of scorn and ridicule, attacking it on the rational improbability – as he sees it – that a deity could possibly exist.

This is an interesting bit of historical revisionism, although I think it probably just reflects Chopra’s complete unfamiliarity with his subject matter. The modern skeptical movement predates Dawkins by decades. We have had a clear philosophy and scope long before Dawkins appeared on the scene.

Dawkins is a highly respected figure among skeptics because of his powerful writing, his popularizing of science, and his unflinching criticism of pseudoscience. Most skeptics are atheists, and we also respect his defending science from the intrusion of religion and spirituality.

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins

Where many skeptics, myself included, disagree with Dawkins is precisely in treating “the God hypothesis” as if it were only a scientific question. I say “only” because certainly it is possible to treat any supernatural hypothesis as if it were in the realm of methodological naturalism, and there is general agreement among skeptics when approached in this way the only reasonable conclusion is that there is no credible evidence to support the conclusion that any god exists, or that the laws of the material universe need to be extended to account for any alleged supernatural phenomena. If you frame God as a scientific hypothesis, it can be scientifically refuted. Looked at another way, the psychocultural hypothesis is a far better and more parsimonious explanation for belief in God than the actual existence of such a being.

The big “but” is that not everyone believes in God as a scientific fact. Some people choose to have faith in an unfalsifiable god, one that resides outside the realm of science. Once someone’s faith has retreated outside the realm of science, then science is no longer the tool by which one should address such faith. Logic and philosophy are now more appropriate, but you cannot say, by definition, that an unfalsifiable God can be scientifically proven to not exist.

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Open Up Your Mind and Let Your Brain Shut Off

Sharon_hill_80pxBy via The Huffington Post

People tell me I should be more open-minded.

There is a clichéd saying regarding open-mindedness: “Keep an open mind — but not so open that your brain falls out”.

This piece of advice is most often said to come from physicist Richard Feynman (1918-1988), but also a slew of other more or less famous people, most of them from the field of science: Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, James Oberg, Bertrand Russell, J. Robert Oppenheimer. It’s plausible that they all certainly said it at one time or another because it applies every time one is presented with a fringe or alternative explanation for something. It’s well worth remembering as a rule of thumb.

Because I peruse paranormal-themed sites and various “water-cooler” forums on the web, I frequently see ideas thrown out there that would qualify as amazing and paradigm-shifting. So, what do I think about this latest crazy thing, people ask?


The Starchild skull.

Here’s a recent example. With all the recent speculation about “alien” remains, someone on Facebook mentioned Lloyd Pye who contends (for almost 15 years now) that a curiously-shaped skull he has is that of an alien-human hybrid. Called the “star child” skull, Pye promotes the story that this is proof that humans descended from extraterrestrial beings.

The plausibility of this idea is practically nil. There is no decent evidence in support of it except a nifty story. To accept it, we’d have to throw out all of what we know about human history, evolution, and a good bit of well-established physics. Just because of one odd-looking skull? No, thank you. That would be stupid. Thus, to consider such an idea takes me about a minute before I realize that would be unreasonable. It’s an imaginative idea, just like mermaids and remote viewing and time travelers. But in order to accept it, I’d have to discard too much (e.g., my brain and society’s accumulated knowledge). The evidence clearly suggests another more down-to-earth explanation. Since the skull DNA tested as human, and we know that certain genetic conditions can cause the enlargement of the skull in just this way, I’m going to accept the obvious and not some far-fetched story just for kicks.

Calling skeptics closed-minded because we discard wacky ideas is a common ploy. It’s often used as a personal insult because the skeptic has rejected a baseless idea that the promoters fancy. When you don’t have evidence to support your idea, observe that the proponent resorts to derogatory tactics.

But all ideas are not equal. Not all ideas are worthy of consideration.

“But all ideas are not equal. Not all ideas are worthy of consideration.”

It’s not about actually being open-minded towards new ideas. Instead, the proponent is accusing the skeptic of being stubborn, undemocratic and unfair. They see it as the skeptical person, being overly rational, ignoring a possibly worthwhile option to be considered. But all ideas are not equal. Not all ideas are worthy of consideration.

Let’s take another example: energy healing. I should be open-minded, reiki practitioners say, and try these forms of energy medicine where healing energy gets channeled or manipulated for better health. If someone offers these treatments to me and I just say “OK! Sounds good!” (and hand over my money) is that actually being open-minded? No. It’s swallowing what I’m being fed without a thought. The same would apply to . . .

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