Respectful Insolence

Wading through more Choprawoo

I tried not to do it. I really did.

I tried to resist the temptation to respond to Deepak Chopra’s latest incursions into woo as he flailed futilely at Richard Dawkins’ arguments for science. Fortunately, PZ Myers and MarkCC have been around to take down his idiocy. But then I thought about it Why should they have all the fun? Besides, the discussion I’ve been having over the last week or so about the infiltration of pseudoscientific woo into the nation’s medical schools and its promotion by medical students is just way too depressing. I needed to switch topics, although I’m not sure that wading through the idiocy that is a typical Chopra “argument” will do anything to lift my spirits. (It’s almost as depressing to see such a panoply of bad arguments, straw men, and brain dead logic as it is to see medical schools, which should be bastions of scientific and evidence-based medicine, being infiltrated with woo.)

And, then, wouldn’t you know it? Deepak Chopra goes and flings a lot more Choprawoo all over the place. This time, the woo comes in the form of part 3 of his squeaking at Dawkins, a little piece called The God Delusion? Part 3 (also here). I don’t know how Chopra is capable of so many strawmen and so much bad reasoning while at the same time being able to speak and write semicoherently, but somehow he pulls it off. Naturally, he begins with a big fat, well-stuffed straw man:

This bring us to another major point for Dawkins.

3. The universe is a complex machine whose workings are steadily being demystified by science. Any other way of viewing the world is superstitious and reactionary.

What is so strange about this argument is that Dawkins himself is totally reactionary. His defense of a material universe revealing its secrets ignores the total overthrow of materialism in modern physics. There is no world of solid objects; space-time itself depends upon shaping forces beyond both space and time. The notion that Dawkins stands for progress while religion stands for anti-progress may be true in a broad social sense. Nobody would pick a Baptist preacher to lead the human genome project.

But arch materialism is just as superstitious as religion. Someone like Dawkins still believes there are solid objects randomly colliding to haphazardly form more and more complex objects, until over the course of billions of years the universe produced human DNA with its billions of genetic bits.

Ack! How many times can Chopra misstate what evolutionary theory is? Repeat after me, Deepak, yet one more time:

EVOLUTION IS NOT RANDOM!

I have to wonder if Chopra even bothered to read The God Delusion. Evolution may rely on randomness as the raw material upon which natural selection and other selective forces act, but as Dawkins tries to explain time and time again in his book, natural selection provides the direction to evolution. Heck, he even wrote a book called Climbing Mount Improbable, which was dedicated to explaining how natural selection can, through the selection for tiny changes over many generations, overcome improbability and lead to complexity, and he discusses this very concept extensively in The God Delusion. The fact that Chopra keeps repeating such strawmen about Dawkins’ viewpoint tells me one of two things: Either he hasn’t bothered to read The God Delusion, or he has read it and he’s just dumb as a rock and unable to understand what was in it. (The two are not mutually exclusive, of course.)

Nor has modern physics “overthrown materialism.” Far from it. To interpret quantum mechanics and modern physics that way is ridiculous. Physics still relies upon the observation of natural phenomena to develop theories that allow physicists to predict their behavior. Indeed, one of the biggest criticisms of string theory, for instance, is that it’s not really testable by measuring natural phenomena (at least not yet). Referring to materialism (arch or otherwise) as being as “superstitious as religion” is a classic example of the tu quoque fallacy, except that Chopra doesn’t even have a point when he labels materialism as a superstition.

The Choprawoo gets worse, though. Much worse:

What’s wrong with this argument is that if you trace DNA down to its individual atoms, each is more than 99.9999% empty space. If you take an individual electron, it has no fixed position in either time or space. Rather, ghostly vibrations wink in and out of the universe thousands of times per second, and what lies beyond the boundary of the five senses holds enormous mysteries.

Enough mysteries, in fact, to be consistent with God. I don’t mean a personal God or a mythic one or any God with a human face. Set aside all images of God. What we observe once we get over the superstition of materialism (a superstition Dawkins defends to the last degree) is that random chance is one of the worst ways to explain how the universe evolved.

Great. It’s another God of the Gaps argument, except this time the “gaps” include both gaps in our knowledge and the “gap” of the empty space between electrons and nuclei. (Maybe we should add to that the gaps between Chopra’s few remaining neurons.) Yep, because most atoms are mostly empty space, because electrons travel in waves around atoms, and because there are a lot of “mysteries” out there, that means the explanation for those mysteries must be some sort of “God.” Only it’s not the traditional Christian God that we’re all used to hearing the religious invoke as the “Designer” who guided evolution. Oh, no. Chopra’s too “sophisticated” in his woo to settle for an anthropomorphic God like Jehovah, Allah, or Jesus. Rather, it’s Chopra’s version of “God,” which, apparently, is is some sort of vague and indescribable (at least by Chopra) “consciousness of the universe.” After abusing science, such as the anthropic principle, fallacious uses of quantum theory, and the wave function of electrons, Chopra concludes with a truly astounding flourish of ignorant twaddle:

The ability of objects and events to be everywhere at once seems like an attribute of God–omnipresence. The ability of electrons separated by millions of light years to ‘talk’ to each other seems like another attribute of God–omniscience. This doesn’t mean that God explains the universe. It means that there may be governing forces at work which allow the existence of universal consciousness. The self-aware universe is a plausible theory. Many writers have described it, although Dawkins disdains such theories.

If the universe is self-aware, it would explain the formation of a self-replicating molecule like DNA far more elegantly than the clumsy, crude mechanism of random chance. As the astronomer Fred Hoyle declared (Hoyle was one of the first to seize on the notion of an expanding universe in the 1950s), the probability that random chance created life is roughly the same as the probability that a hurricane could blow through a junkyard and create a Boeing 707.

Don’t you get it? Because objects and events are, like, everywhere, man and because matter is made up of, like, mostly empty space, man, the universe must be self-aware! (Pass another joint, please.) Give me a break. It’s possible that it could mean that, but far more likely it’s just a manifestation of physical forces that we haven’t yet figured out, just like so many other natural phenomena that we once ascribed to God or magic. And, gee, Chopra credulously regurgitates one of the grandest, oldest, biggest, and most idiotic misrepresentations of evolutionary theory there is, the old “hurricane blowing through a junkyard and creating a 707″ canard about abiogenesis and evolution. It’s a canard that’s so painfully easy to debunk that Chopra should hide his head in shame for daring to repeat it.

Except that, as we now know, Chopra has no shame.

What’s so irritating is that Chopra’s concept of God (or God-like universal consciousness) seems so vague and ill-defined as to be utterly irrelevant to the study of physical phenomena, since there appears to be no way ever to prove or disprove its existence. Moreover, unlike the Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim God, it doesn’t care about us, doesn’t answer prayers, and apparently, after somehow having mysteriously caused the formation of matter and DNA, just sits there doing, in essence, nothing. The “consciousness” that Chopra invokes is nothing more than a woo-filled pseudoscientific construct designed to make Chopra and like-minded New Agers feel better about themselves and their place in the universe. Whether or not such a God (or “consciousness”) actually exists, invoking it to explain, for example, evolution or quantum mechanical effects that we can’t yet explain fully, is, in practical terms at least, a useless exercise, because it won’t help us to understand the universe any better than good, old-fashioned science.

That it regularly grants woo-meisters like Deepak Chopra and mercury militia enablers like David Kirby and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (both of whom push the now scientifically discredited notion that mercury in the thimerosal preservative used in childhood vaccines causes autism) a prominent forum to spout their pseudoscience is the main reason that I have little but contempt for The Huffington Post.

Comments

  1. #1 Blake Stacey
    November 21, 2006

    Chopra jabbered as follows:

    As the astronomer Fred Hoyle declared (Hoyle was one of the first to seize on the notion of an expanding universe in the 1950s),

    I find this hilarious, knowing that Fred Hoyle was actually a leading proponent of the steady-state theory (proposed in 1948, it so happens). While it accepts the observed fact that the galaxies of the universe are moving apart, the steady-state cosmology fudges the situation by allowing the spontaneous creation of a very small amount of matter out of empty space. This mechanism permits the expansion to continue indefinitely, and implies that the same type of expansion was happening indefinitely long ago in the past. As the galaxies move apart, new ones arise to fill the empty space. The universe expands but remains, on the average, changeless.

    Later experimental evidence ruled out the steady-state model. (That’s scientific progress for ya!) The Big Bang, also known as the Horrendous Space Kablooie, has relegated the steady-state idea into the footnotes of astronomy textbooks.

    Hoyle was clearly not a proponent of anything like our modern understanding of an expanding universe. Once again, Chopra reveals his astonishing depth of ignorance.

  2. #2 Blake Stacey
    November 21, 2006

    While I’m at it, I should point out the supreme irony that Chopra is perfectly willing to accept some discoveries of science, like the fact that atoms are mostly empty space, while rejecting other discoveries made by the same methods. He’s a manipulative charlatan, two-faced as Janus, ready and eager to cherry-pick whichever fruits of science he thinks he can use to nourish his mundane mysticism and please the sweet tooth of his victims — the innocent, untrained, paying public.

  3. #3 Mike the Mad Biologist
    November 21, 2006

    What’s wrong with this argument is that if you trace DNA down to its individual atoms, each is more than 99.9999% empty space. If you take an individual electron, it has no fixed position in either time or space.

    Didn’t Buckaroo Banzai make the same argument?

  4. #4 G Barnett
    November 21, 2006

    Yeah, but at least Dr. Banzai could sing….

  5. #5 Dunc
    November 21, 2006

    Because objects and events are, like, everywhere, man and because matter is made up of, like, mostly empty space, man, the universe must be self-aware! (Pass another joint, please.)

    I resent the implication that this nonesense is the product of smoking marijuana. Way too much LSD, perhaps… But even then, you’ve got to be some sort of maroon to take it seriously once you’ve come down.

    The “consciousness” that Chopra invokes is nothing more than a woo-filled pseudoscientific construct designed to make Chopra and like-minded New Agers feel better about themselves and their place in the universe.

    Exactly. See also “spirituality”, which nobody ever seems to be able to define. It all boils down to “the magic reason why I’m really, realy important to the universe at large”. Unfortuntately, I can’t see any way of counteracting it, not until someone invents the Total Perspective Vortex…

  6. #6 Amy Alkon
    November 21, 2006

    more than 99.9999% empty space

    Deepak Chopra’s frontal lobe.

  7. #7 Alex
    November 21, 2006

    If you look at one of Deepak Chopra’s books carefully, you’ll notice that a large percentage of it is made up of blank paper! Behold the fathomless wonders of the self-aware wooniverse!

  8. #8 gengar
    November 21, 2006

    In (vague) fairness to Chopra, Fred Hoyle did in fact coin the phrase ‘Big Bang’, as a derisory description of a theory he didn’t like very much.

    So that bit’s not quite as wrong as the rest of it ;-)

  9. #9 bcpmoon
    November 21, 2006

    Besides, it´s a 747, not 707. That one is much easier.

  10. #10 Sastra
    November 21, 2006

    Chopra:

    Enough mysteries, in fact, to be consistent with God. I don’t mean a personal God or a mythic one or any God with a human face. Set aside all images of God.

    Chopra is not “setting aside all images of God” or avoiding anthropomorphisms. Consciousness and Mind are absolutely central to his version of God. Those are attributes and processes of animal brains — specifically, *human* brains. Us.There is nothing we identify ourselves with more tightly than our inner thoughts, intentions, feelings, and sensations.

    Religious folk who think that an anthropomorphic, human-like, personal god means “a guy with a beard up in the sky” — but THEY have far more sophisticated concepts which avoid all those primitive characterizations which scientists like Dawkins like to kick around — are simply kidding themselves.

    Richard Dawkins attacks the top-down idea that simple matter and energy can come out of a complicated starting-point like a Designing Mind or Higher Intelligence and still be consistent with a science which has revealed that those complex things grow out of a long bottom-up process which begins with simple matter and energy. Shoving Conscious Intention before the beginning of everything, with no explanation for its development, is inconsistent. Chopra’s God may be vaguer, but there is no way it avoids his critique because it’s not “a God with a human face.” It’s a God with Mind, which we are only familiar with through our encouters and experience with humans — who evolved.

  11. #11 jtdub
    November 21, 2006

    To answer Orac’s rhetorical question, I’m almost certain that Chopra has not read The God Delusion.

    In part one of this silly series, he starts off with the (false) argument along the lines of ‘Einstein believed in god, so other good scientists can too’ which Dawkins deals with in the FIRST CHAPTER.

    Infuriating.

  12. #12 Joe
    November 21, 2006

    Blake Stacey- didn’t Hoyle coin the term “Big Bang” to ridicule the hypothesis?

    What the heck, he seems to think Stephen Hawking invented quant mech (according to Bob Park, “Voodoo Science”). How sad is it that a “scientific” person (Chopra) can have his ideas of QM demolished by a lawyer (Wendy Kaminer, in her book “Sleeping With Extraterrestrials”).

  13. #13 Joe
    November 21, 2006

    Ugh. When I wrote “he seems to think,” I meant “Chopra seems to think.”

  14. #14 Lucas
    November 21, 2006

    [quote]“Chopra seems to think.”
    [/quote]

    Don’t exaggerate!

  15. #15 Akusai
    November 21, 2006

    Don’t you get it? Because objects and events are, like, everywhere, man and because matter is made up of, like, mostly empty space, man, the universe must be self-aware! (Pass another joint, please.)

    Thanks for that one, Orac. That will continue to brighten my day every time I think of it.

  16. #16 Blake Stacey
    November 21, 2006

    It is commonly stated that Hoyle coined the term “Big Bang” as an epithet of derision, much like the way the words “Quaker” and “Christian” came about. The Online Etymology Dictionary is more conservative and says, “Big Bang in astrophysics theory popularized (and possibly coined) by Brit. astronomer Fred Hoyle in a 1950 book.”

    This may explain why, as Calvin laments, we don’t have a more “evocative” name for the beginning of everything. Well, we didn’t have a better name until he gave us “Horrendous Space Kablooie”, that is. :-)

    While the language lesson is fascinating, none of it changes the fundamental point that Hoyle “seize[d] on” the expanding universe. In fact, he tried to rationalize away the expansion which the astronomers had seen! Not only is Chopra recycling tired creationist chestnuts, he’s piling additional error and stupidity on top of them. It’s like watching a man fertilize manure.

  17. #17 Blake Stacey
    November 21, 2006

    Oops: insert never between Hoyle and “seize[d] on” in my last post. . . The thought of beginning Thomas Pynchon’s new novel this evening is distracting me something wicked.

  18. #18 llewelly
    November 22, 2006

    I marvel at Chopra. He is, himself, a skilled writer – yet he uses his talents to flaunt his extraordinary disdain for other writers; his words construct a fantastic tower so tall that when he looks down to see what other writers have written, he can see nothing. Furthermore, he has surrounded his great edifice with amazing clouds, so brilliantly colored they have not merely blinded him, they have burned great black abysms entirely through his eyes and deep into his brain.

  19. #19 Thinker
    November 22, 2006

    Alex:

    wooniverse!

    I haven’t come across this term before, but I think it is an absolute bulls-eye in describing the worldview of someone roughly as clear-headed and articulate as Elmer Fudd:

    “Shhh, be vewy qwiet – I’m hunting wespect…”

    And to that, I suppose, the best response is an irreverent, Bugs Bunnyish:

    “Err… What’s up, Doc?”

  20. #20 Lucas McCarty
    November 22, 2006

    I wonder how a wooniverse could possibly be brought into existence?

    Singularity: “Hello there!”

    Supreme Being: “Huh wha-?”

    Singularity: “Oh don’t worry, you don’t exist yet.”

    “Supreme Being: “What do you mean I don’t exist yet? I’m the Supreme Being, I’ve always been here!”

    Singularity: “Well from your perspective you will have of course, but the fact is that time and space don’t exist yet so you can’t possible exist inside of them. You haven’t even been here more than an absolute instant, the smallest amount of time in which the smallest thing can happen. I’m actually suprised we can be having this conversation at all really.”

    Supreme Being: “You’re suprised? I haven’t even created anything, nevermind everything yet! You shouldn’t be here.”

    Singularity: “Oh you never create anything really, just sort of re-arranged a lot of stuff that was already there after I blow up but there’ll be some plebs in a few hundred billions years that will think you did it all.”

    Supreme Being: “Bah! You can’t be telling me that you, by sheer random chance will create everything, you don’t even sound that smart.”

    Singularity: “Of course I don’t, if I did that would be intelligent design and that’s a loada hokey.”

    Supreme Being: “Not when I make everything it won’t!”

    Singularity: “Well you better hurry up and make it then, I’ve already been here 1E6M of a second and about to spawn creation and everything.”

    Supreme Being: “Fine! I’ll go make it…erm, right over there away from yours.”

    Singularity: “Ok then, see you in a zillion years.”

    And that is why evolution/the big bang AND creationism/intelligent design are BOTH right: this universe was created by the Singularity doing it’s exploding thing and the OTHER wooniverse that we thankfully don’t live in is a few squillion lightyears away from the edge of the universe, still trying to get started by the Supreme Being guy.

  21. #21 V
    November 23, 2006

    HE CALLED DAWKINS A DISGRACE

    “What’s wrong with this argument is that if you trace DNA down to its individual atoms, each is more than 99.9999% empty space. If you take an individual electron, it has no fixed position in either time or space.”

    ~Deepak Chopra
    http://www.intentblog.com/archives/2006/11/the_god_delusio_2.html

    ***
    “What’s this universe?
    What Dawkins says? asked
    Potli Baba of Lamp Lighter guru,
    his old friend of vedic ages.

    “Dawkins, that random-head,
    that purposeless creature,
    blurts out all crap
    when he reads my

    writings divine, arising
    out of my inner self
    blessed with blessings of
    1008 holy gods that almighty

    destined in the Intelligent
    Design of the creation of
    the universe and the
    intelligent human kind.”

    Lamp Lighter’s flames flashed
    intensely, wet beads of anger
    dripping from his forehead and face
    as if Shiva was all up in arms

    hurling his trident with
    mighty force into the heart
    of the soul-less creature.
    “look,” he said,

    “DNA is almost empty
    at its atomic base,
    so is cosmos empty,
    let’s face

    but God has placed
    spirits in all this space
    so that every thing
    stays in its place

    and create that magnificence
    of consciousness that
    in the universe pervades,
    making us aware of the

    awareness that God wanted
    us to feel in the first place.
    that’s what the universe is,” he said,
    “not randomness of that random-head –

    bodies colliding hither and thither,
    up and down without purpose in space,
    unaware of the Intelligent Design of
    their assignment in the proper place.”

    Lamp Lighter guru rambled
    on and on at such a rapid pace,
    his voice trembled when
    he called Dawkins a disgrace.

    ~white wings

    http://whitewings.sulekha.com/blog/post/2006/11/he-called-dawkins-a-disgrace.htm

  22. #22 V
    November 23, 2006

    HE CALLED DAWKINS A DISGRACE

    “What’s wrong with this argument is that if you trace DNA down to its individual atoms, each is more than 99.9999% empty space. If you take an individual electron, it has no fixed position in either time or space.”

    ~Deepak Chopra
    God Delusion? Part 3

    ***
    “What’s this universe?
    What Dawkins says? asked
    Potli Baba of Lamp Lighter guru,
    his old friend of vedic ages.

    “Dawkins, that random-head,
    that purposeless creature,
    blurts out all crap
    when he reads my

    writings divine, arising
    out of my inner self
    blessed with blessings of
    1008 holy gods that almighty

    destined in the Intelligent
    Design of the creation of
    the universe and the
    intelligent human kind.”

    Lamp Lighter’s flames flashed
    intensely, wet beads of anger
    dripping from his forehead and face
    as if Shiva was all up in arms

    hurling his trident with
    mighty force into the heart
    of the soul-less creature.
    “look,” he said,

    “DNA is almost empty
    at its atomic base,
    so is cosmos empty,
    let’s face

    but God has placed
    spirits in all this space
    so that every thing
    stays in its place

    and create that magnificence
    of consciousness that
    in the universe pervades,
    making us aware of the

    awareness that God wanted
    us to feel in the first place.
    that’s what the universe is,” he said,
    “not randomness of that random-head –

    bodies colliding hither and thither,
    up and down without purpose in space,
    unaware of the Intelligent Design of
    their assignment in the proper place.”

    Lamp Lighter guru rambled
    on and on at such a rapid pace,
    his voice trembled when
    he called Dawkins a disgrace.

    ~white wings

    http://whitewings.sulekha.com/blog/post/2006/11/he-called-dawkins-a-disgrace.htm

  23. #23 V
    November 23, 2006

    “GHOSTLY VIBRATIONS WINK IN AND WINK OUT”
    Nov 20 2006 1:16PM comments rss:

    Tags:
    “Rather, ghostly vibrations wink in and out of the universe thousands of times per second, and what lies beyond the boundary of the five senses holds enormous mysteries.
    Enough mysteries, in fact, to be consistent with God.”

    ~Deepak Chopra
    God Delusion? Part3
    ***
    the guru sees the ghostly
    vibrations winking in
    and winking out of the
    universe as he sees souls and
    the ghostly god of death, Yama.

    air, water, earth, aether, fire
    were the five elements God used -
    as per guru and his vedas -
    to make man and the universe

    and he breathed into man a
    piece of himself – the soul -
    and lo! stood there before him
    a naked man and a naked women.

    enough mysteries,
    in fact so many mysteries
    to be consistent with God,
    all found in bible and vedas.

    but not as many as before when
    man’s mind was like the guru’s -
    mystery of fire in the god of fire,
    mystery of air in the god of air,

    mystery of rains in the god of rains,
    mystery of water in the god of waters.
    now mystery of DNA perplexes the guru
    as the mystery of his own irrational brain.

    the guru invokes God for everything
    he is incapable of to understand,
    scientists invoke logic to understand
    what some pee-wee brains can’t understand.

    ~white wings
    http://whitewings.sulekha.com/blog/post/2006/11/ghostly-vibrations-wink-in-and-wink-out–3.htm

  24. #24 V
    November 23, 2006

    A GURU IN TROUBLED WATERS

    “why do you look so down?” asked
    Maharishi Bingo Ram
    of Lamp Lighter Guru Mahan
    whose lamps were getting
    dimmer with every passing
    phase of the moon.

    “they call me a dingbat,
    they call me a moon bat,
    smarty pants, a money hat,
    a holy cow and a rat,” he answered,
    his hands clenching his head.

    “what do I do now? he asked.
    “go read 12th grade books,
    understand some science,
    carry on spiritual gobbledygook,
    don’t debate Hawkins or Dawkins
    you’re no way their match,” answered
    Maharishi Bingo Ram, his old friend.

    ~white wings
    http://whitewings.sulekha.com/blog/post/2006/11/a-guru-in-troubled-waters.htm

  25. #25 V
    November 23, 2006

    A Vedic Guru Refutes Science, a poem

    HE SLIDES FURTHER INTO MENTAL DELIQUENCY

    he’s a kook,
    too stupid to
    inspire any concern.

    I glaze over guru’s
    new drivel on his
    holy crusade against
    science and wonder,
    if he’s still living
    in Vedic ages,
    or thinks having
    fooled his dimwit
    followers now can
    fool us, scientists.

    he’s begging for
    crumbs for support,
    making silly rebuttals
    to claims that no one
    has made.

    not able to comprehend
    what Dawkins says,
    he goes explaining
    Vedic sciences that
    he understands well:

    up above is heaven
    where lives God,
    down below is hell
    from where comes Devil,
    and here on earth,
    everything is unreal,
    all illusion, all maya.

    Note: PZ Myers’ text at
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/
    is partially paraphrased here.

    ~white wings

  26. #26 Nathan Sherrard
    November 24, 2006

    Mr. Chopra seems confused concerning the meaning of the word “materialism” here. Apparently materialism is not a philosophical position, but refers to “stuff you can touch”. Since you can’t touch an electron, materialism is obviously false! How quaint. I think Wikipedia puts it very well: “The definition of “matter” in modern philosophical materialism extends to all scientifically observable entities such as energy, forces, and the curvature of space.” Oops. I guess that would make the overthrow of materialism by physics pretty much impossible by default, wouldn’t you say, Mr. Chopra?

    Nathan

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