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Chopra Wrong Again

“Science cannot guarantee
That God does not exist”;
This is true, although it’s bound to cause confusion.
Science speaks more cautiously
But roughly, here’s the gist:
Simply, God can’t be distinguished from illusion.

Long, involved, science-based rant, after the jump:

Deepak Chopra (wait, you said “science-based”–I know, but I’m arguing against him) has a piece up at the SFGate, where he gets everything terribly wrong. He has found a scientist–a physicist!–to quote, and to tour the country with, and boost his scientific street-cred. Leonard Mlodinow (physicist, Caltech) is quoted lovingly:

While science often casts doubt on spiritual beliefs and doctrines insofar as they make representations about the physical world, science does not–and cannot–conclude that God is an illusion.

True. One cannot disprove an unfalsifiable hypothesis.

It is odd, though, that Chopra gloms onto a physicist, because the rest of his article sings the praises of spirituality–and claims that spirituality plays by different rules than does science:

It’s in the very nature of spirituality not to conform to everyday reason and logic. The point of spirituality is to transcend the ordinary world and reveal something invisible, unknown, and yet part of ourselves.

So why should we care what a physicist says?

Any scientist, speaking outside of her or his field, is at best an interested amateur, and at worst a blinkered fool. The “spiritual” experience of a person is not a physicist’s bailiwick; an expert physicist, all other things being equal, knows Jack Shit about perception and cognition. Chopra’s “science” is physics, chemistry, and biology; his mysteries are introductory level psychology.

Let us assume that Chopra’s god exists. None of this atheists won’t even take the first step of opening their minds… Nope, we start out assuming that his god does exist. Simple question: how can he know it?

It took the invention of telescopes for us to know there were other galaxies. Incredible telescopes to know there were more than a handful. Space-based telescopes to know there are more galaxies in space than grains of sand on the beach. And yet, these galaxies were there all along, ready to be observed and verified. Anyone can look at the pictures. Anyone can look at the optics to see how we are looking, and what we are looking at. Chopra’s god is even more complex, and more hidden from view. How can Chopra know his god exists? Again, even assuming He does?

We know a tremendous amount about the biases and limitations of our senses. We know a tremendous amount about the biases and limitations of our thinking. The way we would know about Deepak Chopra’s god is limited by our human frailties. The honest truth of the matter is, if Chopra’s god did exist, we would have no way at all of distinguishing His existence from illusion.

Of course, we can choose to use other lenses. We can look anthropologically, sociologically, psychologically. We can see simpler explanations, historical traces, functional equivalents of Chopra’s god evolving over time in response to changes in the social environment. We can see perfectly good reasons for Chopra to believe in his god, whether or not his god actually exists.

Mlodinow is quite right–”science does not–and cannot–conclude that God is an illusion”–but in truth, his next sentence should read “all that science can do is show that God is indistinguishable from illusion.”

So, yeah. God could exist, or we could have the exact same perceptions and beliefs without the existence of a god.

Which is more likely?


  1. SteveV says

    It’s beginning to look as though he’s wrong more often than chance would allow.
    Therefore, God!’

    (I’m sure DC could fill in the ‘blahs’ without breaking wind sweat.)

  2. Cor (formerly evil) says

    “Chopra Still Wrong” would make a good title for every article, on every subject, snd in every venue.

  3. says

    The funny thing is that religions tend to produce a lot of testable hypotheses. The argument that you can’t know does not mix well with all of those testable empirical assertions about prayer, second comings, various forms of magic, etc.

  4. martha says

    I heard these guys on NPR a while back, looked at FTB the next day and wondered why nobody had jumped on them. Cuttlefish on the case!

  5. The Lorax says

    Like Greg said, many religions produce testable hypotheses…

    … and they are routinely tested, and falsified. Yet, they persist, because (take your pick):

    A) They must, because faith must continue and facts deny faith.
    B) The scientist are questioning god and thus going to hell.
    C) The science was wrong, the math was wrong, the logic was wrong, omgwtfbbq conspiracy, et cetera.
    D) “No, actually if you REALLY read the Bible, it doesn’t quite say that.” “Um, yes it does.” “No no, see, you have to INTERPRET it. Sure it might SAY that, but everyone knows that’s not what it MEANS.”

  6. Aaron says

    Caltech alum here leaving the traditional, “it’s Caltech, not CalTech,” snarky reply. :)

    I didn’t know Mlodinow when I was there, so I did a quick search, found , and had a good laugh at something so banal happening in Caltech’s Wedding Cake (a.k.a. “Beckman”) auditorium.

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