Ah, the righteous arrogance of crackpots

It all started when the Everything Else Atheist posted a somewhat scathing exchange between herself and a professor at her college. This professor had been bringing in students to participate in “psychology experiments” which were actually efforts to identify psychic premonitions.

EEA wrote to him with some extremely reasonable concerns about whether proper scientific rigor had been followed in a domain that is traditionally overrun with pseudoscientific hacks. Among other suggestions, the professor responded by asking EEA to read The Conscious Universe by Dean Radin. At that point there was another, somewhat more frosty exchange of emails.

It gets fun here, because Dean Radin apparently googles his name every single day to see who might be talking about him. A commenter found the Everything Else Atheist blog because Radin descended from his ivory tower to dismiss EEA on his blog for being an uppity atheist.

Of course, responding to clueless broadside rants against atheists is what us Tiggers do best, so away we go!


I remember

Ah, the righteous arrogance of youth.

Wait wait, stop right there. Oh, this is going to be too much fun.

So right away after just one sentence, Radin telegraphs his compulsion to latch on to superficial personal aspects of his target… the very definition of an ad hominem. We have a long way to go before we reach the end, but I want to point out that not once in this entire post does Radin ever actually respond to her criticism.

I remember what it was like to feel intellectually superior to my college professors, many of whom seemed to be dullards who understood nothing. I grew out of that phase when I started to apply genuine skepticism, not just to others’ beliefs, but to my own.

Radin mocks the temerity of those who would criticize a college professor, thereby offering an argument from authority, since those in high academic posts must never EVER be challenged. Which is a weird position to take, considering that Radin himself frequently has to explain that the scientific community doesn’t take him seriously because of a massive conspiracy against him. Uh, what is it that he grew out of, exactly? Beats me.

Here is a good example of a young person who fits the profile of adolescent certainty (some people never grow out of this stage). Once a Christian, she lost her faith, followed by a commonly observed flip-flop — she became a fervent atheist.

Atheists, especially young ones in the midst of existential crisis, do not yet appreciate that their strong stance against religious faith is just faith of another color (i.e., scientism). They are also unable to distinguish between beliefs based on empirically testable ideas vs. beliefs based on faith. And like most true believers in scientism, they become very concerned that one might conduct experiments where the underlying mechanisms are not yet understood. I wish I could say that most students grow out of an over-reliance on the certainty of prevailing theories, but as I mentioned in my previous post, unfortunately many don’t.

Oh, this is rich. First, like many apologists for woo striving to assert themselves as Real Intellectuals, Radin performs a little armchair psychology. His hypothesis is that nobody EVER disagrees with his point of view unless they are undergoing some sort of “crisis.”

Then he launches into a tirade about “scientism.” Now I don’t know about you folks, but the only context in which I ever hear this is from smarmy post-modernists who wish to appear clever by deriding science as a legitimate means for finding things out. Wikipedia helpfully supplies:
“The term scientism is used to describe the view that natural science has authority over all other interpretations of life, such as philosophical, religious, mythical, spiritual, or humanistic explanations, and over other fields of inquiry, such as the social sciences.”

Okay, so here’s Dean Radin, exuding scorn for EEA because she applies the concepts of science to a realm in which he implies that it does not belong, since presumably it is information of a “philosophical, religious, mythical, spiritual, or humanistic” nature and not science at all. And you know, that’s cool with me. Radin’s under no obligation whatsoever to care in the slightest about silly concepts like “scientific method” and “peer review” and “academic honesty” or anything like that.

But wait a minute, let’s remind ourselves of the context which brought about this exchange. A professor in EEA’s science department was attempting to perform a science experiment in which he proved that precognition has scientific merit. And as support for this position, in lieu of offering up scientific research, he helpfully steered EEA towards Radin’s book. Gee, I think somebody might want to notify this professor about how Radin really feels about science.

Her angst centered on an experiment studying precognition. Impossible! Violates natural law! Must be pseudoscience! With that attitude, any evidence offered, however obtained, can only be fraud, or worse.

Of course precognition is not prohibited by physics. The laws of classical and quantum mechanics are time symmetric, and there are many serious articles (this link has just a few examples) available on the topic of retrocausation, which is far more interesting and complicated than a superficial scan might suggest.

I’d just like to point out that at no point in EEA’s post did she actually say any of this nonsense. She didn’t say “ZOMG precognition that’s like totally against the laws of NAYCHER!!!” Those hysterics are entirely from the voices in Radin’s head. What she said, rather, was that (1) parapsychology is not taken very seriously among the scientific community; (2) it’s had a really long time to produce the kinds of results that would make it worth taking seriously; and (3) the professor’s techniques are riddled with holes that even an undergrad can see.

What does Radin do to respond to these charges? Well, he makes fun of her, and simultaneously manages to confirm her issues by blowing off requests for scientific rigor as “scientism.” Good job, Dean.

Besides my own books (The Conscious Universe is finally in paperback!), I recommend Larry Dossey’s new book to get a feel for the art and science of precognition.

But doing one’s homework can be so taxing….

Hey, remember earlier when I said that Radin never bothers to actually address EEA’s arguments? Maybe I should apologize for that because here’s where he…

Oh wait, no. No, he’s just trying to peddle his books.

I remember the sanctimonious pride that accompanies feelings of certainty, and I’m glad I outgrew it.

Thank goodness Dean doesn’t have any lingering sanctimonious pride or feelings of certainty, because otherwise his post would have been really hard to read.