The Deceptiveness of Pure Reason
Today I read a comment from a materialist who attacked me accusing me of deviating from science and reason and being delusional because I now believe in the survival of consciousness after the death of body. A few minutes later, I opened my mail box and found an email from someone wondering how 1.5 billion people could still believe in a nonsensical religion such as Islam when obviously many of them are not stupid and irrational.
Interestingly the answer to both is the same. It lies in the deceptiveness of pure reason. The limitation of pure reason was already noted by Immanuel Kant who noticed metaphysicians make grand claims about the nature of reality based on reason alone, but these claims often conflict with one another. Kant tried to make his argument through a-priori and a-posteriory knowledge. i.e., the knowledge inherent in human consciousness and the knowledge acquired through experience.
Kant does not follow rationalist metaphysics in asserting that pure reason has the power to grasp the mysteries of the universe. Instead, he suggests that much of what we consider to be reality is shaped by the perceiving mind. The mind, according to Kant, does not passively receive information provided by the senses. Rather, it actively shapes and makes sense of that information. Basically, Kant is saying a person sees the reality from his unique perspective, much like one wearing tinted sunglasses. He then sees the world colored. Truth therefore is relative to the person observing it and not universal and absolute. *
My critique of reason is merely about human inadequacy of knowledge. In other words, since the accuracy of reason depends on facts and since in matters of metaphysics not all facts are known to man, it follows that our understanding of truth will be irreparably incorrect even when our reasoning is correct.
Let me explain this with a story. There was a wise rabbi in a village in Eastern Europe who was respected and his opinion was always sought. One day, two individuals who had a major dispute agreed to go to the rabbi for resolution. The first party to the dispute came to the rabbi and carefully outlined his side of the argument. The rabbi listened intently and finally said, “You are right.” The man went away satisfied. Later in the day, the other party to the dispute arrived and told the rabbi his side of the issue. The rabbi again listened carefully, and replied, “You are right.” Later, the rabbi’s wife, who had overheard the rabbi’s conversations with both men, said to him, “Rabbi, you told both the first party and the second party that they were right. How can this be?” To which the rabbi replied, “Yes you are right too!”
This story is often told as a humor, but it is very profound. Everyone is right according to their reasoning. No one believes in things that they would regard to be irrational.
Recently, a Muslim cleric in Saudi Arabia went on TV to declare that the Earth is stationary and it is the Sun that revolves around the Earth, as believed by Muhammad and stated in many hadiths. He argued that if the Earth was rotating, a plain taking off from Riyadh could never reach China because China would be going away faster than the Jet.
There is nothing flawed in this reasoning. We can show this with an example of a butterfly perching on the roof of a bus moving at the speed of 100 km/h. Since the butterfly cannot fly that fast, taking off from the backend of the bus, it can never reach the front. However, the same butterfly can easily fly from the back of the bus to the front at his normal speed, inside the bus. The difference is that inside the bus the air is also moving along with the bus. The cleric’s reasoning was not incorrect. He simply ignored the fact that the atmosphere (air) surrounding the Earth is also rotating along with the Earth. He also ignored the gravity effect of the Earth on its satellites. His reasoning was not flawed. He was ignorant of some facts.
Muslims cling to a very asinine faith, not because they are irrational, but because they ignore important facts about their religion. When we grew up one of the Sura’s we had to memorize was the sura al Kafirun (The Unbelievers). It rhymed so it was easy to remember. This sura says,
Oh you who turn away
I do not worship what you worship,
nor do you worship what I worship.
And I will not worship what you worship,
Nor will you worship what I worship.
Your way is yours, and my way is mine.
These verses give the appearance that Islam promotes religious tolerance. We were never told the context of this sura. When we grew up we read many other verses that call for slaying the unbelievers. Yet the early indoctrination always overcame any doubt. We never allowed facts influence our thinking and change our mind.
The fact is that the above sura has nothing to do with tolerance. Ibn Ishaq says that when the Apostle was going round the Ka’ba, several dignitaries of Mecca met him and told him, “Muhammad, come let us worship what you worship, and you worship what we worship. You and we will combine in the matter. If what you worship is better than what we worship we will take a share of it, and if what we worship is better than what you worship, you can take a share of that.’ So God revealed concerning them, ‘Say, O disbelievers, I do not worship what you worship, and you do not worship what I worship, and I do not worship what you worship, and you do not worship what I worship; you have your religion and I have mine,” i.e. If you will only worship God on condition that I worship what you worship, I have no need of you at all. You can have your religion, all of it, and I have mine.” [Sira p. 165]
Those Muslims who still believe Islam is a tolerant religion are not irrational people. They simply ignore facts, often deliberately. As Ibn Ishaq shows it were the Quraysh who were tolerant and Muhammad was intolerant.
The situation with materialists is no different. Materialists use reason to support their views. However, like Muslims, they ignore some facts and often do so deliberately. As long as you ignore facts you can rationally prove any absurdity. The ancient Greek Sophists perfected this art to a science.
When Galileo said the Earth was rotating and moving, his critics ridiculed him and asked then why we don’t get dizzy and fall off the Earth. Those were not irrational questions. If you ignore the gravity, for example if the earth were a hollow balloon, in fact we would fall off from it. Reason without facts is meaningless. Reason is a tool of measurement. It is accurate only as long as our facts are accurate.
Imagine you want to weigh yourself. You stand on a scale. But to have an accurate reading you have to put all your weight on it. If you put one leg on the scale while keeping another on the floor you get a reading which is inaccurate. The scale is reading accurately, yet the weight shown is not true. Likewise, I can have a correct reasoning, but as longs as my facts are incorrect I will be wrong.
In one of his televised appearances on near death experience, Sam Harris argued that when the brain malfunctions, the person’s perception becomes incoherent. He reasoned that it make little sense to assume a dead brain would suddenly function perfectly and one could even see his deceased grandparents. The audience found this remark very logical and clapped enthusiastically.
There is nothing illogical in this argument. Yet is it false. Sam Harris ignores some facts. He assumes that consciousness is generated by the brain. However, we have irrefutable evidence that consciousness is independent from the brain. The brain is not a thinker, but the processor. The operating system that runs the brain is independent from it as the software in your computer is independent from the CPU. Think of consciousness as the operating system using the brain as a central processing unit to interact with this world. We don’t need a brain to think any more than we need an oxygen tank to breathe or a night goggle to see. However if we want to scuba dive we need an oxygen tank and if we want to see at night we need night goggles.
Our consciousness is completely independent from our body. However, to experience this world we have to occupy a body made of the same substance. It is like you want to play a virtual game; you need to wear a pair of goggles and a headset. The goggles and the headset immerse you in the virtual world while they cut you off from the world surrounding you. If they malfunction your virtual experience becomes blurry and defective. What happens if the computer crashes? Then you remove the goggles and the headset and suddenly your vision becomes perfect. And you find yourself at home among your loved ones.
There are born blind people who say in their NDE they could perfectly see. One born blind woman with NDE saw herself lying in the bed and recognized herself by the engraved image on her ring. She was familiar with that image through her touch. She said the experience of seeing for the first time was confusing and even frightening.
This goggle analogy shows why Harris’ reasoning, although correct, leads to an incorrect conclusion. It’s because he ignores the fact that we are not our body but rather consciousness, experiencing the world through a physical body.
The question that should concern us is whether independence of consciousness from brain is a fact. This is the only argument that matters. Without establishing this as fact or fantasy every argument is irrelevant. Incomplete facts can easily mislead us and no amount of reasoning will help.
Since last four decades, and thanks to the advances of medical science, there have been millions of cases of people being resuscitated, who reported being conscious all the time, hovering over the heads of the doctors, seeing and hearing them from above and even going through the walls and reporting accurately what they saw in other rooms, when their body was lying on the operation table, clinically dead.
There is no way to explain this phenomenon with materialistic reasoning. Materialists are right as long as they ignore this fact and because materialism is a faith, just like any religious person the materialists will do everything in their power to deny the authenticity of the NDE phenomenon. But they are in a losing battle. Every day more people are resuscitated and roughly about a fifth of them remember their NDE.
These experiences cannot be dismissed as hallucination of a dying brain. Despite their diversity, they are consistent. No one for example sees Muhammad or the Islamic heaven. Recently a jihadi was shot down by the Syrian army. He was left for death by his companions. His lifeless body was found by a few Christians who thought he deserved a burial, irrespective of what he had done. However, before they could bury him the dead man came back to life. He reported to have been greeted by demons. He had a life review where he experienced all the pain he caused to others from the perspective of his victims. He saw himself beheading someone, but this time he was the person being beheaded. He felt all the pain, the fear and the horror he caused to his victims. He was then taken to hell. Before being cast into the fire God spoke to him saying he had led a despicable life and that he had the choice to die and go to hell or return to life and amend his ways.
This man was expecting to be taken to Islamic paradise and be introduced to his 72 bashful high breasted wives. His near death experience was not anywhere close to his expectation. There are many stories of people who found the other world very different from what they expected to see. Atheists who did not believe they will live after the death of their body found themselves either embraced by God or thrown in hell. And despite the common belief of religionists beliefs play no role whether a person goes to hell or to heaven. All that counts is how they have lived their life.
NDE is the game changer. There are thousands of such stories on the net and there are millions of people who have had them and never wrote about them. Now that I am talking about it, I am getting emails from people saying they too had it.
Claiming that all these millions of people lie is the acme of bigotry. I can’t think of any argument more stupid than that. And to write them all off as hallucination is no more intelligent. A dead brain cannot create fantasies. And what the materialists say about the verified stories of the near death experiencers? How could these people see their doctors from above, know what they were thinking, read a series of numbers from the top of the respirator that was seven feet tall, or see what happened in the other rooms of the hospital while they were lying dead on the operation table? Some of these experiences were shared by others, often the relatives or the nurses and doctors of the patients. Some of these experiences were reported by toddlers of atheist parents who were never told about God and afterlife.
All a Muslim needs to shut down his mind is to utter the magical phrase “out of context.” After uttering this magical phrase the Muslim recuses himself from thinking. As far as he is concerned this magical phrase seals the case and exonerates him from using his brain. He no longer has to concern himself with the mountain of evidence from hadith and the Quran that disprove the claim of Muhammad. All a materialist needs to shut down his brain is to utter the magical word “hearsay.” After uttering this magical word the materialists recuses himself from thinking. That word, in his narrow mind, absolves him from worrying about the mountain of evidence on NDE.
Materialism is a faith, no less dogmatic, bigoted and arrogant than other faiths. NDE destroys materialism and that is why like Muslims who refuse to look into the mountain of evidence the materialists refuse to look into the evidence of NDE. And like Muslims who when cornered resort to ad hominem and insult, materialists also resort to ad hominem and insult. The mind of the bigot works the same way across the board irrespective of its content.
As the truth is the biggest enemy of Islam, facts are the greatest nemesis of materialism. Already quantum physics has shown that materialism is incoherent with reality. That consciousness is not generated by the matter, but rather the matter is created by consciousness.
Without fact reason can be very misleading. One can make rational arguments about anything, as long as one ignores certain facts. Pure reason is the biggest deception. No one is irrational. But people are often selective about their facts. They choose just those that tip the scale in their favor.