Witchcraft

It seems Pat Robertson recently brought up the silly “D&D is Satanic” meme, again. It’s accompanied with the usual fainting over players allegedly learning black magic.

For the people who are actually worried about witches going around hexing people, I have one point to make: People like you probably carry the bulk of the blame for witchcraft gaining any sort of popularity. I think it’s ironic. Dungeons & Dragons, Harry Potter, and all the fantasy franchises out there treat magic as fictional. It’s just entertaining escapism. Just like any other hobby, there are people who turn it into an unhealthy obsession, but they’re not the norm. I don’t play fantasy games out of some delusion that it’s a road to magical powers, I play because they’re fun.

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Substance Dualism and the Substance Problem

One of the big problems I have with substance dualism is “how does the soul work?” With monist theories of mind, there are still plenty of unknowns, but there’s a large tapestry of interacting causes and effects we can trace. When someone gets brain damage in region X, it tends to cause problem Y. When there’s an amount of drug X in the system, the production of neurotransmitter Y is inhibited, reducing brain function Z. It’s a complex system, but from what I can tell, it has pretty good predictive value.

Not so much with the soul. It just does complex consciousness stuff without any explanation. You can call that a “mystery” but it says “brick wall!” to me. It doesn’t help that some people misunderstand and abuse Occam’s Razor to claim that souls should be favored as an explanation because they’re allegedly simple. If that were how Occam’s Razor worked, anything could be said to work through “simple” magic, and we’d get nowhere. It’s also heavily against what I’ve seen of the universe: Simple objects have simple interactions. It’s only when you have complex systems that complex behavior results. If you want to assert something so counter-intuitive, you’ll need something other than special pleading to convince me.

One common argument is an analogy: Brain damage, drugs, and such reduce conscious behavior because the brain is like a radio or television, and the soul is like a transmitter, so damage to the radio messes with the reception. I realize this is just an anecdotal account, but that certainly defies my experiences as a conscious person. When medication makes me sleepy, I’m not a fully awake, conscious person in the ether, trying to control a less responsive body, I get sleepy. I’m a teetotaler, so I’ve got to ask: When you get really drunk, are yelling at your body for making stupid decisions?

One persistent annoyance I have is that the non-physical substance posited by dualism is described in terms of what it’s not. Attempts at analogies comparing physical objects to other physical objects, like matter and energy, only serves to spread confusion while allegedly sounding profound. What’s the deal? Opposite that, I’ve seen a lot of assertions that “material” things like brains can’t have consciousness, with no explanation given. Why not? What identifiable properties or circumstances are preventing it?

Newage Culture: An Overview

I discover Yakaru has a blog! It’s got a good post on the front page right now: Blaming the Victim: Comments on Louise Hay. It deals with one of the familiar tropes in both religion and newage that serves to protect the higher-ups when they can’t make good on a promise. It’s given me some motivation to share my extended thoughts on newage culture.

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Doggerel #3: “You’re Just Jealous!”

Welcome back to “Doggerel,” where I discuss words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Fry: This is so unfair! I liked you back when you were a cyclops! That guy’s only interested now that you have two eyes.
Leela: You’re just jealous!
Fry: No, I’m not! Oh, wait, I am. But my point remains valid!

It’s a classic mix of fallacies: appeal to emotion and appeal to motive. An arguer’s emotional state doesn’t make his point invalid. Neither do motives. They may give you a good reason to double-check the quality of evidence, but they do not change the way you should approach the argument.

The way this argument is commonly used is a bit worse than that. Quite often, someone will accuse a skeptic of being jealous of a psychic’s alleged powers, an alleged healer’s skills, or whatever. The problem is that, contrary to what many believers have been led to say, skeptics are skeptics. We simply don’t believe in extraordinary things without good evidence. Lots of people have been harmed by frauds, and it’s a common motive among skeptics to protect people from those frauds by spreading information and teaching people to think critically. We can’t exactly be jealous of someone’s ability if we don’t believe they have it.

Worse, some believers will accuse us of being jealous of their wealth or their fame. This cynicism is quite a toxic attitude. We know quite a lot of the tricks from various frauds we’ve seen, but refuse to sink to that level because of our ethics. It’s also a very shallow way to view humanity, as if no one has desires beyond money and fame.

In the information age, censorship is generally much more difficult. With the Streisand Effect, legal challenges can end up emboldening critics because they signal a lack of rational arguments. The favored alternative method for handling critics is propaganda and indoctrination. Intentionally or unintentionally, frauds and self-deceived believers create a culture that encourages the use of logical fallacies and other ways of evading critical scrutiny. Encouraging cynicism by depicting their critics as having petty, ulterior motives is an effective means to prevent followers from listening to their core criticisms.

Advice to my opponents: Focus on the facts, not the emotions. To a skeptic, employing this argument is a sign of weakness if you don’t include rational arguments alongside it. Assuming we’re jealous of great wealth or fame typically makes us wonder if you’re projecting your own psychology onto us and it shows great cynicism toward humanity in general if you jump to such conclusions so quickly.