Yes, But Where
Is His Evidence?
Martin Horton

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[Excerpt]

    From: Martin Horton
    Date: Fri Oct 26 09:38:10 2001
    In Reply To: 18656
    Replied To In: 18664

    Schizophrenics might meet the devil or Hitler on a daily basis.

    During a period of extreme neurotic stress, due to stupid drug abuse on my part, I heard voices and felt a 'presence'....

    Sometimes people, who have never believed in god, during frontal lobe brain surgery often feel a sudden overwhelming, but brief, 'spiritual' experience.

    What does that tell you ? It's all in your head. People with religious faith are unable to distinguish or realise this (or accept it). There is also a similar 'condition' (I don't really like to call it that) in children called 'Magical Thinking', where they think their thoughts can have an impact on the external world.

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From:
Date: Fri Oct 26 09:56:25 2001
In Reply To: 18661
Replied To In: 18666
Message ID: 18664

    Schizophrenics might meet the devil or Hitler on a daily basis.

Not genuinely. Well.. not hitler anyway, he's dead.
 

    During a period of extreme neurotic stress, due to stupid drug abuse on my part, I heard voices and felt a 'presence'....

Many people do and I think it would be foolish to put it all down to the drugs...
 

    Sometimes people, who have never believed in god, during frontal lobe brain surgery often feel a sudden overwhelming, but brief, 'spiritual' experience.

Uhuh... does the fact that your nose is a tool made for smelling mean that nothing actually smells, that it's all in your nose? Does having hands created to hold and feel things mean that feeling exists only within your digits? I should have thought that discovering the fact that the frontal lobe is associated with the "spiritual" would (to less closed-minded people) possibly indicate that one of the physical tools for spiritual discernment had been discovered. It's also quite in line with MPCs statements about Frontal Lobe Seizures being the reason for people falling over in church. Perhaps the frontal lobe is not the reason for these things but is merely a receptor in the same way that the eyes are, the ears are, the nose is, the nerve endings are.

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Martin Horton"
Subject: Re: Little help please.
Date: October 26, 2001 4:48 PM

I would say that we have been able to establish that people have sensed things that were not there. In other words, people do hallucinate and optical and other illusions do occur. This being the case, we cannot trust our senses entirely.

So, since we cannot always trust our senses, we must be on the lookout for evidence that what we think we are perceiving is not really "there": I'm sorry, but evolution did not do a perfect job at creating us, and that's just the way it is. So, what are some of the things we can look out for? Well, I try to look out for things that are physically impossible (among other things).

When I left a dear girlfriend in 1983, she moved to the other side of the country. For several weeks after that, almost every time I went out, I'd see her in public! Then, as I'd approach her to ask her what she's doing back in town, it would turn out not to be her! This was most disconcerting, to say the least.

My brain was so used to seeing her and being with her, and the emotional side of me so utterly regretted my decision (though it was, in retrospect, one of the best decisions I've ever made). So naturally any time I saw someone who even remotely resembled her my brain would "fill in the blanks," so to speak, and would think it was her.

In order to put an end to this most frustrating phenomenon, every time I "saw" her I would deliberately tell myself where she lives now and why it couldn't possibly be her. Eventually my brain adjusted to this new reality and I pretty much stopped "seeing" her (although it still happens now and again, a good 20 years later). This has happened on other occasions: once, a man I had spent a lot of time with died, and a few weeks later I noticed a man who was a ringer for him at the gym where I worked out. Needless to say, every time I saw this fellow at the gym it would throw me for a loop! I even brought a photo of my late friend and showed it to this man and he agreed: the two looked so much alike that this new fellow could see my plight and felt sorry for me! If nothing else, he was admitting that to mistake or hallucinate someone for another person is common enough that even he knew what I was talking about.

If knowing somebody and having the relationship end for whatever reason is a trauma to the mind and the emotions, just think of what a religious experience must be like! At least with the mistaken identity, you can easily come up with an explanation and figure out what's going on. But most people who undergo religious experiences never get a chance to sort it all out. They never get to see that it was just a religious experience and has nothing to do with physical reality. This must be quite confusing, and I don't blame people for running with their hallucinations and assuming them to be an accurate representation of reality. There is no excuse, though, for someone to deliberately use these experiences to try to paint a false picture of how physical reality works.

Your cocky colleague likes to divert your attention by saying things like "Uhuh..." and by otherwise degrading the dignity of the conversation. He then spins a good yarn about the frontal lobe seizure being a method for humans to perceive something that is actually there.

Well, I must ask, what is his evidence for that? Has he provided any evidence or argument to back up his claim that these people are actually experiencing something that nobody else detects? Does he expect us to simply believe him when he tell us that just because some (but not all) people who experience frontal lobe seizures think they have experienced the Christian deity, that that's precisely what they're doing, experiencing the Christian deity?

Just because it's possible, does that therefore make it real? Certainly not, and neither does this mean that what I think they are merely hallucinating is de facto not there, either. (Your main problem was in pronouncing this to be the case; you would have been better off taking the following course.) What we have is a controversy, and any controversy requires much closer scrutiny than a situation that we can all take for granted. Are we to simply go against what most humans take for granted and now start working on the premise that a hallucination during a frontal lobe seizure and a perception made during the "waking" state have equal weight as evidence that we've perceived something? No. If he wants us to believe that it is there, the burden is on him to cough up at least some evidence that that's what's happening.

The burden is his because for now, among those who work in these fields, the preponderance of evidence and opinion points toward the conclusion that problems in the frontal lobe are hallucinatory in nature, that the brain is not working with a full deck and is producing false information, allowing the subject to come to false conclusions. It is not your duty to explain all phenomenon that comes to your attention; rather, it is his duty to explain why we ought to abandon the currently accepted hypotheses and come over to his point of view. Since his opinion is novel and unconfirmed (he hasn't even pointed to any evidence!), it is therefore his burden to come up with strong reasons why the rest of us should come over to his opinion; it is his burden to tell us what it is about this phenomenon that requires something more than a material explanation (that is, that it's just another hallucination).

Until he can do this, you need neither accept his conclusions nor refute them. This may be how religion works, but it's not how science works. And if this is how religion works, then it's easy to see how so many religious people believe so many contradictory things to be physically real! Compare this with scientists, who pretty much believe the same way regarding the basics of how things work. This is because science is a specific set of game rules for determining truth from falsehood, and these game rules specifically address the fact that human perception and human reason is very fallible. Much of what science is about is there to protect us from coming to false conclusions because of the fallibility of our senses and reason. Thus, anybody who examines the same set of phenomena and judges it according to the very strict game rules of scientific method will come up with pretty much the same conclusions.

Therefore, in order for us to examine his claim according to the game rules of scientific method, he will need to provide us with the evidence that he has gathered which leads him to the conclusion that a physical explanation is not sufficient, that something else is going on. We will need the data, we will need to know what methods he used to come up with that data, and we will need to know what protections he put into place to prevent him from coming to false conclusions (such as double-blind studies, and the like). Most importantly, we will need to know a way to show his claim to be false if, in fact, it is false: without this crucial element, his claim is not even scientific.

This is what any scientist would need to do if she wanted the rest of the scientific community (indeed, the world) to take her claims seriously.

As soon as your colleague provides this information, then we can begin trying to replicate his experimentation and we can either verify his claims, refute his claims, or show why it is in our best interest to suspend judgment.

And if he can show, through scientific method, that he is, in fact, talking to God, then I promise you that he will be at the head of the line to receive the very next Nobel Prize.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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