Critique of Moreland and Habermas’s Immortality
Department of Philosophy
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721
May 19, 1993
Gary R. Habermas
Dept. of Philosophy and Theology
3765 Candlers Mountain Road
Lynchburg, VA 24502
Talbot School of Theology
13800 Biola Ave.
La Mirada, CA 90639
Dear Drs. Habermas and Moreland:
I am a philosophy grad student (majoring in epistemology and minoring in cognitive science) who has just finished reading your book, Immortality: The Other Side of Death (1992, Nashville: Thomas Nelson). I have a number of comments and criticisms which I hope you will find of interest. My first general remark is that there seem to be some serious gaps in your coverage of the issues. There was no mention, for example, of cryonics–a potential physical means of cheating death. There is quite a bit of research going on in this area, and one popular work which has done much to stimulate it is K. Eric Drexler’s Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology (1987, Anchor Books/Doubleday). You might also be interested in contacting the companies which preserve bodies cryonically, such as Alcor (12327 Doherty Street, Riverside, CA 92503; (800) 367-2228; email removed). (I am somewhat skeptical that these groups will succeed, but I see no reason to think their efforts are logically doomed to fail.) There are other technological prospects for immortality, too, such as “downloading.” (I recommend Extropy magazine, P.O. Box 57306, Los Angeles, CA 90057-0306; (213) 484-6383; email removed, for more information. This magazine is edited by Max More, who is a philosophy graduate student at USC writing a dissertation on personal identity.)
Other gaps included a very weak section on personal identity and no mention of out-of-body experiences in the section on near-death experiences (see below). A second general remark is that your book has a tendency (at least in a few sections) to rely on secondary rather than primary sources, and in some cases those secondary sources are of highly dubious reliability. I especially noticed this in the section on reincarnation, where your book endorses falsehoods regarding the self-described psychic Peter Hurkos (see below).
What follows is a chapter-by-chapter critique. I’ve made no attempt to be exhaustive, and I have focused more on points where I have an interest and some specialized knowledge.
PART 1: The Evidence for Immortality
Ch. 1: Some Reasons to Believe
p. 10: A four-step argument is given where the second premise is “Science does not give examples of annihilation.” This is incorrect–quantum vacuum fluctuations involve the production and annihilation of particle-antiparticle pairs.
pp. 10-11: “It makes no sense to ask if my thought of lunch is closer to my left ear than my right one.” Doesn’t it? It seems to me that it does, and that the answer will typically be that, if this thought is a linguistic one, that it is closer to the left ear, since the left hemisphere is implicated in most aspects of language production and comprehension.
p. 12: The dismissal of multiple selves is done without any examination of the arguments or evidence (e.g., Michael S. Gazzaniga, The Social Brain, 1985, Basic Books; Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained, 1992, Little, Brown; Roland Puccetti’s articles arguing for duality in Behavioral and Brain Sciences and elsewhere). (I realize that Dennett’s book was not published when you wrote your book.)
p. 13: In your commentary on a case of fission (Sally’s brain is bisected and implanted into two separate bodies, each sharing the same memories) the possibility that both new persons are Sally is not addressed. In fact, the argument in the second paragraph begs the question against this possibility by including as part of a premise “but they cannot both be Sally.” I don’t see that this possibility is any more implausible than the scenario in the first place. The closest you come to addressing this possibility is option four, “Sally partially survives in bodies 1 and 2.” (If all memories, personality, etc. are the same, I don’t see what’s “partial” about the survival in either body.) Your argument against option four, from Bernard Williams, seems to me extremely weak, as it is based on what a person who knows a fission will occur in the future will anticipate. Obviously, a person in such a position will be very confused about what to expect. (By the way, if souls are distributed at conception, something like this problem arises in reality in the case of twinning–except that there are no memories being preserved. Nor any consciousness.)
I would have expected to see a reference to Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons, 1984, Oxford University Press, particularly with respect to the Bernard Williams argument. I also would have expected to see references to some of the major recent works on personal identity, such as Amelie Rorty’s anthology, Sidney Shoemaker’s work, John Perry’s work, etc.
On the same page, you write that “No sense can be given to the notion that a person is partly in that body and partly in this one.” This is simply untrue–and with the development of telepresence and virtual reality, you can actually experience being in two places at once for yourself. (Also see Daniel Dennett’s famous “Where Am I?” paper, in his Brainstorms (1978, MIT Press) and in Douglas R. Hofstadter and Dennett’s anthology, The Mind’s I (1981, Basic Books). David Hawley Sanford’s “Where Was I?” in the latter book is also worth a look.)
Ch. 2: Body and Soul
p. 25: You write that “A completely physical description of the world would not include any terms that make reference to or characterize the existence and nature of consciousness.” This is assuming that consciousness is not a fundamental physical property in the domain of physics, which is probably correct but by no means certain. (I think Roger Penrose, The Emperor’s New Mind (1989, Oxford University Press) can possibly be construed as holding such a view, as can, perhaps, advocates of subjectivist interpretations of quantum physics.) But if this is correct, so what? That doesn’t preclude consciousness being an emergent yet physically reducible property. This “completely physical description of the world” wouldn’t include reference to such things as mountains or wetness (which you use as an example for a related reason on pp. 26-27), either, and that is no motivation for a dualistic theory of geology or hydraulics. (By the way, I don’t think that supervenience of property X on physical properties Y, Z means that X is non-physical, nor that its reducibility to Y, Z means that X is not real. X can have properties that Y, Z individually lack.)
p. 25: “Part of the very essence of pain is the felt quality it has….” I’m not certain this is correct. Patients on morphine, for example, report that they continue to feel pain, yet it does not bother them. It’s by no means clear what to say about this phenomenon, which I personally experienced during minor surgery under “standby” anesthesia (the doctors were prepared to put me under general if necessary; it proved not to be necessary). See Dennett’s “Why You Can’t Make a Computer That Feels Pain” in his Brainstorms, cited above.
Same page, “If there were no conscious beings, there would be no sensations.” This depends on the definition of “sensation,” I think. There are ambiguities aplenty in any discussion of qualia–see Dennett’s “Quining Qualia” in William Lycan’s Mind and Cognition (1990, Basil Blackwell). (I’m surprised that neither this book nor its predecessor, Ned Block’s Readings in Philosophy of Psychology (2 vols, 1980, 1981, Harvard University Press) were cited in this chapter.)
p. 28: You claim that “if J.P. Moreland is five feet eight and Eileen Spiek’s youngest son is five feet eight, but it would be possible for J.P. to be five feet nine while Eileen’s youngest son was five feet ten, then they are not the same thing either.” You need to be careful here when discussing synthetic identity. Is it possible for the Morning Star to be a different star from the Evening Star? In some sense, yes–and I think the difference is notional versus relational contexts, or de dicto versus de re attributions. The phenomenon we observe as the Morning Star and Evening Star could have been produced by a universe set up differently, so that they were in fact different stars (or planets).
Arguments in Support of Dualism
p. 29: You argue that because when we visualize pinkness, there is nothing literally pink in the brain, that mind and brain must be separate. This assumes that there is something literally pink when we visualize pinkness, which is questionable. See Dennett’s “Quining Qualia” and his Consciousness Explained.
Same page, and pp. 30-31: you give private access and incorrigibility arguments. For the former, you state that “A neurophysiologist can know more about my brain than I do, but he cannot know more about my mental life.” This is certainly true at present, but I see no reason that it would be true with a more complete neuroscience. You address this possibility in footnote 22, stating that even a complete neuroscience will be dependent on reports of mental states from experimental subjects. I think that this is true for practical reasons, not out of necessity. I think that it is logically possible that a neuroscientist could investigate cognition by examining the neural “wiring,” just as it is logically possible (but not practical) that a computer scientist could investigate a robot’s behavior by examining its circuits. (To say otherwise is to make the “subjective nature of experience” argument which I will get to shortly.) Regarding incorrigibility, I see no way of determining whether we are or are not incorrigible about our own mental states–though I have occasionally observed other people being apparently mistaken about their own mental states. I have in mind cases of self-deception about feelings.
In footnote 24, you maintain that brain states are not self-presenting. This is by no means clear to me. How do you know that what is self-presenting is not some complex property of neurons, as Churchland argues?
p. 31: You give a version of Frank Jackson’s “What Mary Didn’t Know” argument regarding subjective experiences, in which a deaf scientist becomes the world’s leading expert on the neurology of hearing. Are there things which cannot be described? Ineffable qualities? My objections to this argument are similar to my objections to Searle’s Chinese Room. If enough details are given to make the case convincing that the scientist really does know everything there is to know about the neurology of hearing, the less convincing it is that there is anything about the subjective character of experience that the scientist is missing. If enough details are given to make the case convincing that the Chinese Room really can carry on intelligible conversations, the less convincing it is that the Chinese Room as a whole does not really understand Chinese. (I think the discussion in The Mind’s I is good, as are the critical commentaries which followed the original publication of Searle’s paper in Behavioral and Brain Sciences.)
pp. 31-32: “Physicalism seems to imply that secondary qualities do not exist in the external world. For example, we are led to believe that color is really nothing but a wavelength of light.” I disagree. I think colors are in the world, and are physical properties. See David R. Hilbert, Color and Color Perception: A Study in Anthropocentric Realism (1987, Center for the Study of Language and Information Lecture Notes, Number 9). Ditto for sounds, textures, etc. They are properties defined in relation to human beings (the “anthropocentric” in Hilbert’s title), but there’s nothing non-physical about them. Also see Evan Thompson, Adrian Palacios, and Francisco J. Varela, “Ways of coloring: Comparative color vision as a case study for cognitive science,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 15(1992):1-74.
p. 32: “Now intentionality is not a property or relation of anything physical.” That’s an assertion, where’s the argument? I don’t see one in this section or anywhere else. You just assert that “one physical object is not of or about another one.” That’s true of most everyday objects, but is it true of complex objects, such as language tokens which are part of complex systems of language, or neural networks? I would have expected to see a reference to Robert Cummins, Meaning and Mental Representation, 1989, MIT Press.
Arguments in Support of Substance Dualism
p. 33: “If property dualism is true, there is no mental self that has my mental life.” True, but irrelevant–there is a PHYSICAL self that has my mental life.
Our Basic Awareness of Self
p. 34: This section overlooks the fact that self-awareness is learned–and not until eighteen to twenty months (see Richard M. Restak, The Mind (1988, Bantam), p. 62; also see the last chapter of Eli Hirsch, The Concept of Identity, 1982, Oxford University Press). The Hirsch book argues for psychological constraints on self-identity.
p. 36: “In fact, every seven years my cells are almost entirely replaced.” I don’t believe this is true. I think seven years is a half-life for any particular cell’s replacement, and this is not true of neural cells, which are of particular importance for materialist notions of personal identity.
I think your argument that anyone who is not a substance dualist must hold that people are just a succession of separate selves is something of a false dilemma. On the physical level, there is significant physical continuity which I believe is sufficient for personal identity over time–bodily continuity and brain continuity, for example. In some sense, though, I think I am not literally the same person I was at age four. (I think our notion of personhood is actually a quite fuzzy concept–I don’t think there are necessary and sufficient conditions for personal identity.)
p. 37: I don’t believe any of the four “problems for physicalism and property dualism” are problems. I don’t think you say enough about any of them to point out any problems.
Free Will, Morality, Responsibility, and Punishment
p. 37: “If physicalism is true, then human free will does not exist. Instead, determinism is true.” This is a non sequitur. It is logically possible for physicalism to be true, free will not to exist, and determinism to be false. (Many physicalists who believe quantum mechanics to be a true description of the way the world works hold just such a position.) I think there are some senses of “free will” in which we don’t have it, and others (compatibilist notions) in which we do. (See Daniel Dennett, Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting, 1984, MIT Press.)
Same page: “If I ‘ought’ to do something, it seems to be necessary that I can do it.” True, but there are numerous senses of “can.” The only ones needed for a robust notion of responsibility are perfectly compatible with physicalism. (And determinism too, I think.) Keith Lehrer has an article on “can” in his book Metamind, which came out a year or two ago from Oxford University Press.
pp. 39-40: Being determined to believe X is NOT the sole reason for believing it, which causes these self-refutation arguments to fail. If we are determined to believe the way we do, there are also reasons why we are so determined–reasons relating to how our brains and thought processes came to exist in the first place (evolution), and those reasons are reasons which suggest that our belief-forming processes are reliable. The question of interest to rationality is not “Are we determined or not?” but “Are our belief-forming processes reliable or not?” If the answer to the latter question is that they are reliable, then it is irrelevant whether or not they are purely deterministic. (The latter question, by the way, is one which faces epistemologists no matter what their position on philosophy of mind, and we have to use our belief-forming processes in order to answer it. See William Alston, Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience (1991, Cornell University Press), especially chapters 2-4 on sense perception.)
p. 41: The requirements you list for rationality are intentionality, an enduring self, and libertarian free will. I don’t think physicalism has problems with the first two, and I disagree that the third is a necessary condition for rationality. (If it is, we’re in trouble, even if dualism is true–we don’t have voluntary control over our beliefs. See William Alston, “The Deontological Conception of Epistemic Justification” in his Epistemic Justification (1989, Cornell University Press).)
Throughout this chapter, you haven’t given any reason to think that the alleged problems you raise for physicalism and property dualism are solved by substance dualism, with the possible exception of the enduring self. How does substance dualism get you intentionality? (I’d like to see a substance dualist version of psycholinguistics, please.) How does substance dualism get you libertarian free will? (Are spiritual substances deterministic or indeterministic in their behavior?)
Ch. 3: Dualism and Eternal Life
Arguments Against Dualism
p. 44: Your example of two causally connected things for which the mechanism is unknown–colds and drafts–is a poor one. Drafts don’t cause colds, viruses do. (I think your overall argument here is pretty good–I certainly agree that we can find things to be causally connected without knowing what the mechanism is. It’s always nice to have a mechanism, though.)
p. 45: I disagree that scientism is self-refuting. I think it is possible for science to be a legitimate object of scientific study. Ronald N. Giere, in Explaining Science: A Cognitive Approach (1988, University of Chicago Press), argues for a cognitive science of science as a replacement for philosophy of science. Sociologists of science who advocate the strong programme come to a similar conclusion (with sociology being the discipline to study science) with a very different project in mind. (I happen to disagree with both of these approaches, the latter moreso than the former, but I think they give evidence against your self-refutation claim.)
p. 46: I think your claim that “[science] requires philosophical justification before it can be accepted” makes a level confusion (in Alston’s sense). The sentence is literally false. One can certainly accept science without doing any philosophy. I think what is important is not that the philosophical assumptions of science be proven prior to science, but that they simply be true. (I would say similar things about sense perception. We don’t have to PROVE that our senses are reliable in order to BE justified in believing what we perceive, they just have to BE reliable.)
Dualism vs. Naturalistic Evolutionary Theory
You argue that philosophy trumps science. This may also be a level confusion similar to the one I just pointed out. I do know that much of science is much better established than anything in philosophy, and this is so regardless of what philosophical assumptions science is based on. Ditto for sense perception. Brains in vats and Cartesian demons don’t have to be disproven in order to be justified in believing that there is a computer in front of me. I think that many philosophical debates will never be resolved, but scientific debates frequently are.
p. 48: “But why should we accept premise 2? [‘We are merely the result of naturalistic, evolutionary processes.'” I think the “merely” is nothing more than prejudicial language. “Completely” would be less biased. I think we actually have quite good evidence for this, and I suspect that pseudogenes are one example of evidence for common ancestry of all life that you probably haven’t heard of. (I know Phillip Johnson was not aware of it when he wrote Darwin on Trial, and Alvin Plantinga wasn’t aware of it when he wrote his article in the Christian Scholar’s Review.)
Substance Dualism and the Case for Eternal Life
p. 51: “As we saw in the last chapter, physicalism and property dualism cannot account for this literal sameness through change.” What literal sameness through change? I think physicalism and property dualism can account for any sameness through change which can be demonstrated.
In this chapter I saw nothing about neurological disorders–deficits and enhancements, such as those described in Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1987, Harper & Row)–or about fascinating and unusual cognitive phenomena such as the cutaneous rabbit described in Dennett’s Consciousness Explained. Dennett makes a strong case against the existence of a “Cartesian theatre” in which a homunculous (or soul) sits in a chair observing our perceptions. But that seems to be the view of consciousness you are arguing for (or asserting is the case without argument).
Ch. 4: The Resurrection of Jesus
p. 57: Of your “twelve historical facts” I question 1, 5 (depending on the interpretation of “real experiences”), 6, and 10. I think that you don’t adequately consider “body stolen” hypotheses, and you certainly don’t give arguments against the better ones. (“Schweitzer lists no proponents of the fraud theses since the work of Reimarus in 1778,” as you say in footnotes 3 and 30, is no argument.) Robert Sheaffer, in The Making of the Messiah (1991, Prometheus Books), makes the case that the early Jewish writings and the Toldoth Jeshu contain the most accurate account of Jesus’ life and death–that he was executed by Jews, by being stoned and hung in a tree. (Sheaffer also appeals to Celsus, or at least what we have of Celsus.) The body was moved by a gardener (or some other person), a hubbub about a resurrection was raised, the location of the body was revealed and the body publicly displayed.
The question “if Jesus’ disciples took the body, why were they willing to die for their conviction that he had actually been raised from the dead by God?” is not relevant to this theory, in which someone else moved the body, presumably to keep the disciples from venerating it or stealing it. As for the disciples experiences, the period of time during which the body was missing could well have been the catalyst for their faith. As for why the revealing of the body didn’t crush the new faith, please see Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails. (I suspect we will see the surviving followers of David Koresh’s Branch Davidian sect continue to preach Koresh’s religion.)
p. 58: The reference here to Mary Magdalene talking to the gardener is ironic in light of the Toldoth Jeshu (and Sheaffer’s theory).
pp. 60-61: I am glad to see you cite Zusne & Jones on collective hallucinations. Presumably this is a result of my review of J.P. Moreland’s Scaling the Secular City in The Frontline, which I sent to J.P. Moreland and which also prompted Ed Babinski to bring up the subject in correspondence with Gary Habermas. Your discussion seems fair, but overlooks some significant evidence. UFO hoaxes have produced remarkable agreement among observers regarding things which the hoaxers knew were not present (see, e.g., David I. Simpson, “Controlled UFO Hoax: Some Lessons,” Skeptical Inquirer vol. 4, no. 3, Spring 1980, pp. 32-39). Similar examples may be found in claims of Satanic ritual abuse, UFO abduction, and faith healing. Basically, I think you are overlooking various social effects independent of “hallucination.” (You do realize, don’t you, that the Satanic ritual abuse claims got their start from people who made them up, like Mike Warnke and “Lauren Stratford”? Cornerstone magazine exposed both of these liars.) Also see Lawrence Wright, “Remembering Satan,” New Yorker May 17, 1993 and May 24, 1993.
pp. 61-62: As for legends, please note that 1 Corinthians 15 has no evidence whatsoever for the crucifixion of Jesus, only for his death. Sheaffer’s Making of the Messiah gives reasons why early Christianity had strong motivation to change the mode of his death from stoning by the Jews to crucifixion by the Romans.
p. 64: Reference is made here to “the fulfilling of Old Testament predictions.” I know of no clear, specific, remarkable prediction of the coming Messiah in the Hebrew scriptures which has been demonstrated to have been fulfilled by the historical Jesus. I do know of numerous verses which are taken out of context as proof texts. (Enclosed is a copy of my Fabulous Prophecies of the Messiah, which criticizes alleged messianic prophecy fulfillment.)
Ch. 5: Near-Death Experiences
This chapter and the next cite sources of dubious reliability: Moody, Kübler-Ross, Haraldsson. Moody travels the New Age circuit and you should take a look at another book of his: Elvis After Life. (You don’t think Elvis resurrected, do you?) Kübler-Ross is also a New Ager with a fascination with Shirley MacLaine-esque past lives. Haraldsson is the author of Modern Miracles: An Investigative Report on Psychic Phenomena Associated with Sathya Sai Baba (1987, Fawcett Columbine) which credulously accepts the claims of Sai Baba to perform miracles ranging from the materialization of objects to the resurrection of the dead. In many cases, you can read between the lines to see that the claims are bogus, but Haraldsson fails to do so. Dale Beyerstein has published a devastating critique of Sai Baba which shows without a doubt that the man is a phony (Dale Beyerstein, Sai Baba’s Miracles: An Overview (1992, Privately published by Beyerstein, Apt. A, 1267 W. 70th Ave., Vancouver, B.C. Canada V6P 2Y4, $10 U.S.)). Beyerstein gives such information as where to look in the videotapes distributed by Sai Baba’s followers to see sleight-of-hand manipulations. He also refutes Sai Baba’s claims of omniscience and omnipotence.
p. 77: “Now it is conceivable that the EEG may not measure all brain activity; there may still be some residual action in the brain.” I believe this is a major understatement. It’s not just conceivable, it’s certainly true. EEG’s measure only gross surface effects–they do not measure brain activity below the cortical surface.
p. 78: There’s a typographical error in the heading on this page: “Love Ones.”
p. 82: The reference to “B. Libet” appears to be second or third-hand. The man’s name is Benjamin Libet, and there is great controversy over what he has established. There was a good exchange on this subject between Libet and Patricia Churchland in, I believe, Philosophy of Science. Dennett discusses Libet in detail in Consciousness Explained, and construes his evidence as evidence for multiple selves–or at least against the “Cartesian theatre.”
p. 83: The electrical stimulation of the Sylvian fissure resulting in out-of-body experiences looks like evidence for a physical mechanism, to me. Why is there no discussion of out-of-body experiences on pp. 89-90 or 96-97? The fact that this part of the brain is in the temporal lobe also suggests a possible connection between temporal lobe epilepsy and these experiences. Your discussion of TLE on p. 96 is pretty weak–TLE may be difficult to diagnose. Within the last two days I heard (over the computer network) that a man’s wife had recently been diagnosed with TLE after visiting a new doctor. The previous doctor had, despite repeated examinations, failed to diagnose it.
A few recommended sources you’ve overlooked, by people who specialize in this stuff: Gerd H. Hövelmann, “Evidence for Survival from Near-Death Experiences? A Critical Appraisal,” in Paul Kurtz, editor, A Skeptic’s Handbook of Parapsychology (1985, Prometheus); Barry L. Beyerstein, “The Brain and Consciousness: Implications for Psi Phenomena,” Skeptical Inquirer vol. 12, no. 2, Winter 1987-88, pp. 163-173; Barry L. Beyerstein, “Neuropathology and the Legacy of Spiritual Possession,” Skeptical Inquirer vol. 12, no. 3, Spring 1988, pp. 248-262; Susan J. Blackmore, Beyond the Body (1982, Heinemann); S.J. Blackmore and T.S. Troscianko, “The physiology of the tunnel,” Journal of Near-Death Studies 8(1989):15-28; Susan Blackmore, “Near-Death Experiences: In or Out of the Body?” Skeptical Inquirer vol. 16, no. 1, Fall 1991, pp. 34-45. Of these, I especially recommend the Hövelmann article, which has a very good survey of the NDE literature up to 1985. Blackmore also has an interesting physiological explanation of the tunnel phenomenon in the last two sources cited.
Ch. 6: NDEs: Questions and Objections
p. 96: Regarding temporal lobe epilepsy, see above.
p. 98: Dr. Habermas, you say that in your own research you have found several cases of corroborative evidence for NDE experiences. Where are these published? In how many cases did you fail to confirm the reports from the NDE subjects? In how many cases did you find that their experiences were not veridical?
PART 2: The Nature of Immortality
Ch. 7: Life in Between: The State Between Death and Eternity
p. 113: “In fact, the very notion of timeless existence for finite conscious beings is unintelligible.” How is it any more intelligible for infinite conscious beings? How can a timeless being act?
Ch. 8: Reincarnation: Is It True?
p. 128: Regarding Peter Hurkos, your reliance on secondary sources has resulted in your stating falsehoods: “In carefully documented situations, Hurkos demonstrated very precise knowledge of cases as famous as the stolen Stone of Scone…and the Boston Strangler murders.” Your only source for this is John Snyder’s Reincarnation vs. Resurrection. I bet that Snyder himself cites only secondary sources (probably Hurkos’ autobiography and/or Norma Lee Browning’s biographies). Why, then, do you say “in carefully documented situations”? The best book to date on psychic detectives is Arthur Lyons and Marcello Truzzi’s The Blue Sense: Psychic Detectives and Crime (1991, Mysterious Press/Warner Books).
I also recommend Piet Hein Hoebens with Marcello Truzzi, “Reflections on Psychic Sleuths” in the previously cited A Skeptic’s Handbook of Parapsychology; Joe Nickell’s forthcoming The Psychic Sleuths (probably 1994, Prometheus; I am a contributor to the volume); and Ronald A. Schwartz, “Sleight of Tongue,” Skeptical Inquirer vol. 3, no. 1, Fall 1978, pp. 47-55. The Lyons and Truzzi book has a full chapter on Hurkos, the “clown prince” of psychic detectives, which specifically discusses the “Stone of Scone” and Boston Strangler cases with ample references to primary sources. Hurkos did not provide any useful assistance in either case. In the former case, Hurkos said the Stone was hidden in Glasgow, where he went but failed to find it–it was in Arbroath, nowhere near Glasgow. Scotland Yard denied that Hurkos provided anything of value. In the latter case, Hurkos was given a letter from a shoe salesman who had written to the Boston College of Nursing for a list of their nurses (looking for matrimonial prospects), and Hurkos claimed he was the murderer. The shoe salesman was picked up by police and found suspicious and psychotic. Protests were raised that the salesman’s civil rights had been violated, and Hurkos was arrested by the FBI for having posed as an FBI agent two months earlier. By the end of the year, the real Boston Strangler confessed–and it was not the shoe salesman Hurkos had fingered.
The Hoebens and Truzzi article also has some discussion of Hurkos, the Nickell book will have a chapter on Hurkos, and the Schwartz article is about Hurkos in action using some tricks of the mentalist profession (pretty poorly, but effectively nonetheless). Most of what is in these other sources (except, perhaps, the Nickell chapter) may be found in the Lyons and Truzzi book–it is quite exhaustively researched.
Some other sources I would have expected your chapter on reincarnation to refer to: Paul Edwards’ four-part series, “The Case Against Reincarnation,” Free Inquiry vol. 6, no. 4, Fall 1986 to vol. 7, no. 3, Summer 1987; Sarah G. Thomason, “Past Tongues Remembered?” Skeptical Inquirer vol 11, no. 4, Summer 1987, pp. 367-375; Nicholas P. Spanos, “Past-Life Hypnotic Regression: A Critical View,” Skeptical Inquirer vol. 12, no. 2, Winter 1987-88, pp. 174-180. The Thomason article (she is a linguist) discusses a case from Stevenson’s Xenoglossy. Either the third or fourth part of Edwards’ series discusses Stevenson’s Indian reincarnation cases. I believe Edwards also has a book out now criticizing reincarnation claims.
I agree with your conclusions about reincarnation being unfounded, but I very much disagree with how you get to those conclusions. This is, I think, one of the weakest chapters in the book.
Ch. 9: The Afterlife’s Ultimate Model
Ch. 10: Heaven: The Great Adventure
Will we be unable to sin in heaven?
pp. 150-151: I think that no matter what option is chosen here, there are serious problems for Christian doctrine. If people in heaven can sin, but always freely choose not to, then why didn’t God simply create people with that ability in the first place? (This position seems to assume compatibilism.) If people in heaven can’t sin, then what does that do to the free will defense of the problem of evil? Free will can’t be such a worthwhile good if it isn’t available in heaven. And again, if this is the case, why didn’t God just create people with perfect natures in the first place? He didn’t have to create a bunch of people and let them actually choose heaven or hell, because his divine foreknowledge would already inform him how people would choose.
Ch. 11: Hell: The Horrible Choice
p. 170: “It [mental/physical anguish in hell] is not due to God himself inflicting torture.” That depends on what hell is like. If hell is a lake of fire, as certain Bible verses explicitly state, then this is just false. God created hell, so he is responsible for what it’s like. If people in hell are kept isolated from one another when they would prefer otherwise, then God is responsible for that as well.
pp. 172-173: I agree that argument #4 is the strongest one–and your response to it is the weakest. I think your potential/actual infinity distinction does nothing to allay concerns about the injustice of hell. A never-ending punishment is no less unjust than an infinite completed one–and perhaps it is even more so. In the latter case, at least, it’s over. Your claim that rejecting an ultimate God deserves an ultimate punishment is using “ultimate” in two senses, as your book itself points out. Gomes’ argument about sins committed in finite time is not to the point. It’s not just that the sins are committed in finite time, but by finite beings. How can finite beings perform infinitely bad acts in finite time? (What does it even mean for an act to be infinitely bad?)
You write that “it is clearly more immoral to extinguish humans with intrinsic value than to allow them to continue living in a state with a low quality of life.” Hell as a place of eternal torment is a place without hope, without relief. It is arguably not just a low quality of life, but a negative quality of life. I know I would choose annihilation over eternal torture. Wouldn’t you, if those were your only options? (Imagine the worst pain you’ve ever felt. Imagine enduring it for an eternity, and never getting used to it. Wouldn’t you rather cease to exist?)
pp. 174-180: I think this argument #5 is pretty good, too. You never do answer what happens to people who don’t hear the word, and you don’t face up to the dilemma that whether they get heaven or hell (or a post-death choice), injustice will occur. If those who don’t hear go to heaven automatically, then missionaries are sending people to hell and would be better off not trying to convert people. Ditto for a post-death choice–I really can’t imagine many people choosing hell (except those who think that God is immoral and don’t want to be with him). If those who don’t hear go to hell, then they never got a chance at heaven.
As for Craig’s argument on p. 178, I think his first premise is true but that there are very few such people in actuality. I think his second premise is almost certainly false. The p. 179 example designed to illustrate how some people may have to go to hell is very much like Plantinga’s free will defense, which I think also fails. I think the claims about the nature of free will are mistaken (and that God can change things piecemeal while respecting freedom, at least freedom in the compatibilist sense). It is also not necessary that any of the people doomed to hell in whatever circumstances are actual be real people–simulacra would do just as well. (I can’t prove that this is not the case, except that I know I am not a simulacrum and that I believe Christianity to be false.) (One possible objection to this which I haven’t considered fully is that any simulacrum capable of fully simulating a human being would be just as real as a human being. I think this is a strong possibility, though I am pretty sure you do not, given your dualism.)
Part 3: The Implications of Immortality
Ch. 12: Becoming Heavenly Minded
Ch. 13: Overcoming the Fear of Death
Ch. 14: Dealing with Abortion, Infanticide, and Euthanasia
p. 218: “cases will be very rare where medication cannot manage pain and suffering and stay within acceptable limits.” Rare is not nonexistent. “suffering and pain are not without meaning and purpose and should not be avoided at all costs.” True, but some suffering and pain is without meaning and purpose. (That in hell, for example.) I think the best reason you give against active euthanasia is the third–that it will have negative effects on health care professionals. That is perhaps solved by having somebody else do it. The second argument doesn’t apply to all cases, as I have already pointed out. The first one, that mistaken diagnoses can be reversed in passive euthanasia, is also not true in all cases–there is frequently a point of no return in passive euthanasia. I think the fourth argument is also weak. Murder need not be involved, as Dr. Kevorkian has repeatedly demonstrated.
p. 221: “this argument proves too much, for, if it’s true, it shows we ought to kill all children before they leave the womb or reach a certain age, say four years old. But this alleged moral and merciful act cannot be consistently universalized ….” I disagree. Life on earth is of negligible value in the Christian scheme of things, which postulates an eternal afterlife. Wiping out the species will result in everybody going to heaven. If God wanted more people, he could just create some more–those who he knows would have chosen heaven. At the very least, the argument shows that it is a good idea to kill those who are in great danger of not becoming Christians–e.g., those in non-Christian nations. It’s also not clear to me that the fourth argument doesn’t apply to passive euthanasia as well as active. (By the way, this and the missionary argument remind me of the following paragraph from Paul Churchland’s Matter and Consciousness (2nd edition, 1988, MIT Press), p. 15:
History aside, the almost universal opinion that one’s own religious convictions are the reasoned outcome of a dispassionate evaluation of all of the major alternatives is almost demonstrably false for humanity in general. If that really were the genesis of most people’s convictions, then one would expect the major faiths to be distributed more or less randomly or evenly over the globe. But in fact they show a very strong tendency to cluster: Christianity is centered in Europe and the Americas, Islam in Africa and the Middle East, Hinduism in India, and Buddhism in the Orient. Which illustrates what we all suspected anyway: that social forces are the primary determinants of religious belief for people in general. To decide scientific questions by appeal to religious orthodoxy would therefore be to put social forces in place of empirical evidence. For all of these reasons, professional scientists and philosophers concerned with the nature of mind generally do their best to keep religious appeals out of the discussion entirely.
p. 222: “Suffering gives me an opportunity to teach others in the community how to live well.” This is certainly not true in all cases. In many cases, suffering of the terminally ill who cannot care for themselves is a humiliating dependence on others. And this certainly doesn’t apply in the case of hell.
Those are all of my comments. I hope that this is of some use in either revising a future edition of your book or in other future work of yours.
cc: Ed Babinski
Reply to Moreland
Department of Philosophy
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721
June 8, 1993
Talbot School of Theology
13800 Biola Ave.
La Mirada, CA 90639
Dear Dr. Moreland:
Thank you for your undated letter postmarked June 1. While I am somewhat disappointed that you cannot spare the time to reply to a critique of your work, it is probably for the best since I have numerous constraints on my own time. I was pleased that you found something of value in my letter, and I hope that it will enable you to improve your future work in some way.
I would like to respond to your perception that my letter “was dripping with anger and hostility.” I reread my letter before writing this reply, and I think that you are simply reading your own preconceptions into the letter. You should not mistake terseness for anger. I have had numerous correspondences with people I strongly disagree with on various issues, Christianity in particular. Only three come to mind which have been exceptionally heated, and only one of those was with a Christian. (The others were with a prominent UFO skeptic, whose positions I agree with but whose methodology and refusal to engage in internal criticism I strongly disagree with, and with a crackpot self-proclaimed genius who is a Holocaust revisionist.) I have had quite pleasant exchanges, for example, with William Lane Craig, with someone involved with the Christian Research Institute, and with numerous Christians I have encountered through the Internet. What is notable about the exceptions is that in each case my correspondent chose to engage in armchair psychoanalysis of my motivations rather than address my arguments.
I may well have been somewhat pedantic at points in my letter, and if so I apologize. The last time I sent you a critique of your work, I was very disappointed with the response you sent me, and my opinion of Dr. Habermas is colored by my low opinion of the book he co-authored about the Shroud of Turin and of parts of his contributions to your Immortality book.
There are some things that make me angry, and on the top of the list is dishonesty by advocates of any position, whether I happen to agree with it or not. (Take a look at my “How Not to Argue with Creationists” in the Winter 1991-92 issue of Creation/Evolution, if you get a chance.) Also near the top of the list is the refusal of advocates of any position to acknowledge and condemn dishonest tactics by fellow advocates of the same position. I believe this failing occurs by people on all sides of all positions, but it seems to me that it is particularly bad among Christians, who fail to criticize the purveyors of phony Satanism and conspiracy claims (e.g., the bogus “666 in the UPC symbol” claim and the “Madalyn Murray O’Hair is trying to get the FCC to shut down Christian broadcasting” claim), who fail to criticize the Institute for Creation Research’s habitual misrepresentation and apparent scientific fraud (in Steven Austin’s Grand Canyon Dating Project), who fail to criticize the appallingly bad arguments of certain apologists, who fail to criticize the fraudulent faith healers and dishonest televangelists, who fail to criticize wrongdoing by politicians who are at least nominally Christian. (There are exceptions, of course–the Christian Research Institute, Cornerstone magazine, Ole Anthony’s Trinity Foundation, the Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, the American Scientific Affiliation–but they seem to be unknown to most Christians.)
I think Christian intellectuals such as yourself have a responsibility to speak out about such things. I hope that you agree.
Reply to Habermas
Department of Philosophy
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721
June 26, 1993
B.R. Lakin School of Religion
Lynchburg, VA 24506-8001
Dear Dr. Habermas:
Thanks so much for your cordial response to my lengthy letter regarding your book. It stood in sharp contrast to the response I received from Dr. Moreland, who chose to question my motivations rather than respond to my critique. I very much appreciate the friendly tone of your letter.
I did offer an apology to Dr. Moreland for any appearance of condescension in my critique. I put my critique together fairly quickly (in an afternoon) from the notes I took while reading your book, and some of it was rather blunt. I apologize to you, also, if you took any of it the wrong way as Dr. Moreland apparently did.
I completely understand your time constraints and unwillingness to get involved in an extended correspondence. I also have some serious time constraints, and I’m happy with what you’ve sent me. You should feel no obligation to respond to this letter, but I did want to offer some comments on what you sent me June 16.
Regarding Celsus and the Toldoth Jeshu: You date “writings pertaining to Celsus’ work” at the “Fourth Century.” Origen was third century, and Celsus is believed to have written his work in the third quarter of the second century. The mere fact that one source is earlier than another does give some prima facie justification for accepting the former, but it hardly suffices all things considered. I would recommend that, should you find the time, you peruse Robert Sheaffer’s The Making of the Messiah (1991, Prometheus Books) for his account of the crucifixion/resurrection. His account follows many of the major details of the Toldoth Jeshu, but he makes use of earlier sources as well, and his account explains many otherwise unexplained features of the gospels.
I am curious to know what book of yours deals (however briefly) with the Toldoth Jeshu. (Feel free not to respond–I’ll look for it myself.)
Re: Zusne and Jones on collective hallucinations: I have to agree with you that “collective hallucination” by itself is not a sufficient explanation, but other social effects may work, including hoaxes, self-delusion, false memory, etc. (The Pepsi can/syringe hoax wave is one which was fairly quickly exposed–I believe that this kind of stuff happens all the time with more complicated phenomena which is rarely or never exposed, at least not through the mainstream media. I would also include Satanic ritual abuse and sacrifice and UFO abductions in this category.)
My objection to New Agers regarding NDEs was intended to raise doubts about the credibility of the sources, particularly in the case of Haraldsson. I don’t think it’s safe to take his NDE reports at face value.
You didn’t answer my question about how many NDE reports you’ve checked which turned out to be incorrect. I assume you’ve found at least a few which you could either not corroborate or which you found that the NDE subject’s accounts were incorrect. I think that contact between doctors, relatives, and NDE experiencers after the experience can very quickly contaminate the quality of the report. Collecting reports after the NDE experiencer and the people witnessed (e.g., doctors and living relatives) have communicated would seem to me to be nearly worthless.
I am very glad my remarks on Peter Hurkos were well received. I think that specific criticism was the one I considered to be the most important, simply because it is such a clear cut case of error–most of the rest of my comments were on issues I think are arguable.
I would like to point out a grievous error of my own from my original letter, which I’m sure you noticed but did not comment upon. This was in my comments on chapter four, regarding pp. 61-62, where I stated that “please note that 1 Corinthians 15 has no evidence whatsoever for the crucifixion of Jesus, only for his death.” There are, of course, plenty of references to the cross and crucifixion in 1 Corinthians. My error should in no way be construed to be a result of reading Sheaffer’s book, which I cite in the subsequent sentence–the error was entirely my own.
By the way, should any of your students have an interest in responding to my Fabulous Prophecies of the Messiah article, I would welcome such. I have had great difficulty in getting Christians to comment on this article. In addition to specific critiques of that article, I’m interested in seeing an example of a clear, specific, detailed, remarkable prediction regarding the Messiah, found in the Old Testament, which was clearly fulfilled by the historical Jesus. I am presently aware of none.
cc: J.P. Moreland, Farrell Till, Ed Babinski, Mike Norton