Can progressives be fundamentalists?

fundamentalism-progressivism

If you define a fundamentalist as someone believing that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and that the earth has been created 6000 years ago, no.

If, however, you define fundamentalism broadly as a confident adherence to one’s dogma regardless of the evidence at hand, black-and-white thinking, an in-group versus  out-groups attitude and an arrogance that leads you to view all outsiders as either ignorant, stupid or evil…then I think we can answer that question with a resounding “yes”.

A case in point follows.

 

Recently, what seemed to be a terrorist attack in Canada turned out to be the deed of a murderous autistic man driven by his sexual frustration.

180423154416-04-toronto-0423-exlarge-169

The progressive website posted an article entitled “Toxic Masculinity Is at the Heart of This Darkness“.

In it, you can read an interesting (although biased) analysis:

“Toxic Masculinity Is at the Heart of This Darkness”.

 

Why did Alek Minassian allegedly climb into a van on Monday and kill ten people in Toronto? It goes without saying that each and every crime like this is determined by a number of factors. The one silver lining in all of this is that since the alleged killer was arrested, we may have the opportunity to understand what led to Monday’s horrific events.

In the interim, all we have so far is reports that it appears Minassian is a high-functioning autistic man who made a Facebook post in the minutes before the killing invoking misogynist murderer Elliot Rodger and announcing the inauguration of the “incel rebellion.”

For those uninitiated into the heart of darkness called Extremely Online, incels or “involuntary celibates” are a group of sad men so upset at their lack of sexual activity that they fantasize about raping, murdering, and otherwise brutalizing all women as a kind of guerrilla anti-feminist warfare. They first came to media prominence in 2014 after Rodger killed six people in California in 2014 and issued a 100+ page “manifesto” where he crudely turned his personal history of social and sexual frustration into a political crusade against all sex-havers.

 

 

“Western hedonism is at the heart of this darkness”

 

This prompted me to post what follows:

Yes, the deed was driven by a hate of women but we need to dig deeper than that. What are the causes of the extreme misogyny of “involuntary celibates” (an awful phrase I just discovered by the way)?
It is certainly complex but I think that one major factor might be VIRGIN-SHAMING and the capitalistic sex-industry that glorifies the idea that the value of a man is determined by the number of women he manages to seduce.
And that, in turn, drives many mentally unstable or otherwise handicapped men to despair and gravely compounds their mental health condition.
So NEO-LIBERAL sex-positive feminists should recognise they are part of the problem and not part of the solution.

My own title?
“Western hedonism is at the heart of this darkness”

neo-liberal-porn

The post-factualism of triggered progressives

This has led to a flurry of reactions that were neither particularly constructive nor rational.

 

First of all, J. F. shot from the hip:
“Women being part of the problem that these idiots think sex is owed to them. Wow. Get the fuck out!”

I was puzzled by that. Where on earth did I say that women are part of the problem?

I said that neo-liberal sex-positive feminists (i.e. adherents of that ideology who can be both male and female) contribute to this problem by fostering a climate where the worth of a man is defined by how often he can “get laid” and where unsuccessful males are regularly mocked and ridiculed by their peers.
I might be wrong about that but my position is clearly entirely different from the ignoble thing I’m accused of saying.

 

Another (somewhat more polite) commentator wrote this:
Hugh Hefner is not the reason these men have a problem. For Fuck’s Sake! Nor is any woman who chooses to make money from sex, or her body.

As a mantra, that sounds great. But progressives are supposed to look beyond that and to carefully consider the available evidence before making such statements.
So, is it really true that the pornofication of our society doesn’t contribute by any means to the objectification of women?

I think there is one hell of a difference between growing up in the belief that romantic love should be pursued and growing up in the belief that having hedonistic pleasure trough sex is all that matters in life.

I would like to see empirical studies showing this has no influence on the way young men see members of the opposite gender.

loving-relationships
Could it be that viewing relationships in this way may reduce toxic masculinity?

 

On another level, I find it disheartening to see self-proclaimed progressives passionately and uncritically defend a man such as Hefner while ignoring his dark sides.

 

Finally, I’d like to go into the comment of D. J., as it is so typical of the way outraged progressives stifle any reasonable conversation:

It’s quite apparent you’re speaking from your own experience, having the privilege of being a white assumed (cis) male. In a progressive space trying to mansplain what is a feminist to justify toxic masculinity.”

So this man knows very little about me but he believes that my skin colour and gender are sufficient to attribute complex psychological motives to me (and to accuse me of justifying the mass slaughtering of innocent women!). That, folks, is the very essence of racism.

white-privileges

But more fundamentally, this totally misses the point. I can be a terribly flawed human being but that does not in any way, shape or form invalidate my ideas which stand on their own merit. While reacting to opinions they dislike, progressives constantly commit the genetic fallacy and the ad-hominem fallacy instead of challenging them with reasonable arguments.

Conclusion

I did not primarily write this blog post to argue for the truth of my position regarding the link between such hardcore misogyny and neo-liberal hedonism.
I might be wrong about that and I wholly recognise it.
I rather want to illustrate how it is not possible to have a reasonable and mutually respectful conversation with “progressives” on a controversial topic based on facts and a careful reasoning.

Apparently, just holding such an unorthodox position automatically makes you a despicable bigot.

I think it is truly a pity. To people thinking outside the box, progressivism can be as harmful and unwelcoming as conservatism.

This, in turn, contributes to the polarisation of society and the culture war where people talk (or rather shout) past to each other instead of seeking a common ground and having a rational debate where the opponent’s views are fairly represented.

While I have a lot of things in common with progressives (such as the fight against anti-Muslim bigotry, the combat against global warming, standing for gay rights and against the oppression of the poor, an interpretation of religious texts that respects Reason…) I find myself unable to keep discussing with them as I constantly have to stay silent about my sincerely held views in order to avoid on-line bullying.

I did not take any pleasure in writing this post. But I thought this had to be told in the hope that other people will be able to move things forward.

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Is a call for decent clothing sexist?

In France, a new controversy regarding the so-called “slut shaming” has just broken out.
French MP Aurore Bergé dressed very sexily during a TV show and she now complains about people who focused more on her appearance than on the content of her statements.
Many view this as a blatant example of sexism.

Aurore_Bergé_sexy
I personally don’t believe this necessarily has to be sexist.

Sexism means that you unfairly treat both genders differently.

But consider now the principle of decency during a political discussion (PMP):

During any political discussion, a person ought not to dress in a sexually arousing way if he or she wants to be taken seriously“.

This principle makes no mention of gender. It is valid for men, women, heterosexuals, and homosexuals alike.

Its truth seems very plausible to me. Human beings are much more driven by their feelings and instincts than by reason and rationality.

Since a good political discussion or speech should be focused on facts and reasoning, it is certainly unwise to dress in a way that would arouse members of the opposite sex. And if you do so, you shouldn’t complain about people commenting on your physical appearance.

Consider now the American Republican politician Aaron Schock.

Imagine he dressed like this during a meeting.

Paul-ryan-sexy

I think that very few people would have objections if he wasn’t taken seriously.
So why should sexily dressed female politicians be treated any differently?
I am not saying that dogmatically and I am willing to change my mind if you give me valid arguments.

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Healed of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease?

Many Christians (especially charismatic ones) have a certain tendency to see miracles everywhere and fail to consider the existence of the Placebo effect that can easily account for many healings following prayer.

miracle-god

But some things seem to defy material explanations based on mainstream medicine.

In two books of J.P. Moreland, an Evangelical philosophy professor and apologist, I found the following touching story. I entirely trust his honesty.

In his book “Kingdom Triangle” he wrote:

Just a few weeks ago I had an amazing conversation with Nathan, one
of my philosophy graduate students. Before coming to Biola University,
Nathan and a friend were on the Long Beach State debate team and were
ranked fifth in the country, having beaten Harvard and other top schools
in debate competitions. Needless to say, Nathan is a very rational person
not prone to being gullible. Nathan relayed that when he was thirteen, he
was diagnosed with GERDS (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease), in which
the valve between his esophagus and stomach did not work properly. He
would wake up at night not being able to breath because of the stomach acid
gathering in his chest and the severe pain that followed. Nathan developed
insomnia — he had to sleep sitting up and did not sleep through the night
for nine years. In 2002, Nathan got married and his wife made him go to a
doctor to investigate surgery. When he did, he was told that he would need
a series of five surgeries and would be on medication the rest of his life.
The next day, Nathan and his wife attended a small group Bible study
at which a missionary couple from Thailand was going to share about their
ministry overseas, a ministry that included miraculous healings. No one at
the Bible study knew of Nathan’s illness. While there, something shocking
happened to him. In Nathan’s own words, “During the Bible study, out of the
blue, the speaker stopped praying for another person, turned and said, ‘Some­
one in the room is suffering from Gastroesophageal Reflux disease.’ This
man had never met me nor could he have known the disease name.”
Nathan went on to say that the missionary described a painful event
that had happened between the person with GERDS (Nathan had not yet
identified himself as the person) and his father when he was diagnosed
with the disease as a young boy (all details of which were unknown to
anyone, including Nathan’s wife, and were accurately described). Nathan
identified himself as the person with GERDS, the missionary laid hands
on him and prayed for his healing, and he was instantly and completely
healed! From that night until the present (about three full years), Nathan
has never had an incident, he has slept through every night since that Bible
study, and the doctor cleared Nathan shortly thereafter of the diagnosis.

 

In his book “In search of a confident faith“, Moreland added some information:

As emotion welled up within him, Nathan relayed to me that at that very moment he was instantly and completely healed!”

I met Nathan’s wife a few weeks ago at a student gathering, and without warning I pulled her aside to ask about the incident. She confirmed every detail of the story to me“.

 

The best materialistic explanation

 

How would a materialist account for this?

It seems extremely unlikely that the missionary would have talked with a close relative of Nathan (or even his father) in order to orchestrate the event.

Otherwise, the missionary’s words of knowledge can only be interpreted as random thoughts generated by his brain. But how likely would he find at that precise moment a man who suffer from GERDS and had a painful experience with his father whilst being diagnosed? Conversely, how likely is the missionary to randomly find the right diagnosis and circumstances instead of, say, “recalcitrant cold”, “lung cancer” or “chronic back pain”?
This type of specific knowledge appears to go well beyond the reach of lucky guesses.

It is worth noting that the missionary not only mentioned that a painful event with the man’s father occurred but also described it in a way that Nathan deemed “accurate”. If the missionary was randomly making things up, it would be unlikely he could provide an accurate description of the incident, as there are countless different types of incidents that could have happened.

Consequently, it seems very unlikely (if not extremely unlikely) that the missionary could have correctly guessed those pieces of information about Nathan.

 

The healing itself is less evidential as cases of spontaneous remissions of GERDS are known. However, it is certainly curious that after having suffered from the disease for nine years, Nathan was suddenly delivered from it after having felt “emotion welled up within him“. The whole encounter seems to have triggered an inner healing.

What we will make of that story depends on one’s prior beliefs. A hardcore materialist will consider this as only an unlikely chain of coincidences.
Someone open to the reality of paranormal phenomena might consider that something really strange took place.

miracle

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Can false memories explain mass sightings of the risen Christ?

Summary

It is widely recognised that the Christian religion could not have emerged without the first Christians experiencing the risen Christ after his death on the cross. These appearances are considered as hallucinations by secular scholars. Mass sightings of Jesus are problematic, however, as collective hallucinations are unknown to clinical psychologists. The world-renowned Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman proposed they can be accounted for through one person hallucinating Jesus and thereafter inducing false memories of having had the same experience in the mind of all other people present at the event. I argued that the experimental evidence presented by Ehrman is totally inadequate to show this is a plausible scenario. It is very unlikely that the testimony of the hallucinating person would be sufficient to make hundred of other persons “remember” having seen and heard Jesus if they had had no such experiences at the time of the gathering.

Introduction

Those of us who have an interest in unusual, paranormal phenomena that seem to question and event contradict the modern scientific paradigm know there are incidents where a whole group of people pretend to have witnessed something that isn’t supposed to exist.

One good example are the visions of Fatima where groups of people saw on several occasions strange phenomena they attributed to the Virgin Mary.

Fatima_Sighting

One other example of great importance to the philosophy of religion is the sightings of the risen Jesus after his humiliating death on the cross.

jesus-resurrection

According to the apostle Paul, Jesus “appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

The problem is that we have no evidence whatsoever that two (let alone 200) brains can produce the same hallucination at the same time. The corresponding psychological literature just doesn’t exist. In that case, I think that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence. If collective hallucinations were real, we would have (in 2017) many reports from mental health specialists describing their occurrences in their patients.

What is more, all examples of putative mass hallucinations beg the question by assuming from the outset there are no paranormal phenomena.

 

Can a person’s hallucination create false memories in other people’s mind?

Bart Ehrman is a renowned secular Biblical scholar who aims at explaining the beginning of Christianity in purely naturalistic terms, i.e. without appealing to any miracles he views as incredibly improbable by definition.

Whilst he seemingly first defended the idea that Jesus’ apparitions were due to collective hallucinations, he backtracked from this position in a later blog post.

Instead, he proposed that such alleged mass sightings (and the reports thereof) are produced from a combination of  a single individual experiencing a hallucination with the false memories stemming from the contamination of the minds of other people who were present with him at that time.

For starters, false memories are seemingly real memories that actually do not correspond to what truly happened.

Following the great psychologist Elisabeth Loftus, I find it useful to make a distinction between “ordinary” false memories and “big” (or “radical”) false memories.

“Ordinary” false memories are basically your misremembering things about a real event without distorting its main features. Examples can concern the colour of a car that sped away from the police, the physical appearance of a rapist or having watched a movie about a real catastrophe even if you didn’t.

“Big” false memories, on the other hand, mean that you have memories about an event that never happened, neither to you nor to anyone. Examples are memories of being the victim of satanic rituals, alien abductions, or more mundanely of having been sexually abused by one’s parents even though this never happened.

false-memories

Granted, that distinction is not sharp and there is certainly a smooth transition between both categories. But I find it useful nonetheless. As I argued in another post, whilst “banal” false memories are widespread, “radical” false memories are much less likely to emerge spontaneously. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the latter are spawned by (conscious or unconscious) psychological manipulation such as the assertion by a person of authority that the event (e.g. getting lost in a mall as a child) happened and that she is in a position to know this.

Bart Ehrman’s argumentation

Bart Ehrman begins by presenting a well-known Dutch study exemplifying the emergence of spontaneous false memories.

On October 4, 1992, an El Al Boeing 707 that had just taken off from Schipfol Airport in Amsterdam lost power in two engines.  The pilot tried to return to the airport but couldn’t make it.  The plane crashed into an eleven-story apartment building in the Amsterdam suburb of Bijlmermeer.   The four crew members and thirty-nine people in the building were killed.   The crash was, understandably, the leading news story in the Netherlands for days.

Ten months later, in August 1993, Dutch psychology professor Hans Crombag and two colleagues gave a survey to 193 university professors, staff, and students in the country.  Among the questions was the following:  “Did you see the television film of the moment the plane hit the apartment building?”    In their responses 107 of those surveyed (55%) said Yes, they had seen the film.   Sometime later the researchers gave a similar survey with the same question to 93 law school students.  In this instance, 62 (66%) of the respondents indicated that they had seen the film.   There was just one problem.  There was no film.

These striking results obviously puzzled the researchers, in part because basic common sense should have told anyone that there could not have been a film.   Remember, this is 1992, before cell phone cameras.   The only way to have a film of the event would have been for a television camera crew to have trained a camera on this particular apartment building in a suburb of Amsterdam at this exact time, in expectation of an imminent crash.   And yet, between half and two-thirds of the people surveyed – most of them graduate students and professors – indicated they had seen the non-existent film.    Why would they think they had seen something that didn’t exist?

Even more puzzling were the detailed answers that some of those interviewed said about what they actually saw on the film, for example, whether the plane crashed into the building horizontally or at vertical and whether the fire caused by the plane started at impact or only later.   None of that information could have been known from a film, because there was no film.  So why did these people remember, not only seeing the crash but also details about how it happened and what happened immediately afterward?

Obviously they were imagining it, based on logical inferences (the fire must have started right away) and on what they had been told by others (the plane crashed into the building as it was heading straight down).  The psychologists argued that these people’s imaginations became so vivid, and were repeated so many times, that they eventually did not realize they were imagining something.  They thought they were remembering it.  They really thought that.   In fact they did remember it.  But it was a false memory.   Not just a false memory one of them had.   A false memory most of them had.

The researchers concluded:  “It is difficult for us to distinguish between what we have actually witnessed, and what common sense inference tells us that must also have been the case.”   In fact, commonsense inference, along with information we get by hearsay from others, together “conspire in distorting an eyewitness’s memory.”   Indeed “this is particularly easy when, as in our studies, the event is of a highly dramatic nature, which almost by necessity evokes strong and detailed visual imagery.”

plane-crash

This was a memory of a large group of people who all remember seeing the same thing (or nearly the same thing) at the same time, even though none of them saw it.  If you don’t want to call that a group vision, that’s absolutely fine with me.  What I’m saying is that a group of people thought they saw something they didn’t see.  (The difference in this example, of course, is that the people in this study were not all standing together at the time when they had the vision – but we have records of that sort of thing happening as well.)

At this point, it is important to realise that what Ehrman describes is not what I would call a “big” false memory of a totally fictional event. The plane crashing into the building and the tragic death of 39 persons certainly did occur. The test subjects’ mistake was their confusion of their imagining the accident (which they certainly did back then over and over again) with their watching a film capturing it. What is more, the false memories did not emerge spontaneously but through the deliberately misleading assertion of the researchers there was such a film.

As I said in my earlier post, I don’t actually think groups of people all at one and the same time saw Jesus after his death, any more than I think groups of people actually see the Blessed Virgin Mary at one time today.  What I think does happen is that someone has a vision (non-veridical – that is, a hallucination or, as one reader of the blog has suggested, possibly an illusion).   He tells someone else who tells someone else (e.g., someone else who was there at the time) who tells someone else, and soon they all remember seeing it.  Only one of them saw it.  But the entire group remembers seeing it.  Vividly remembers it.

Here, I think that Ehrman makes one hell of an extrapolation. The participants in the Dutch study did not remember a supernatural event that did not happen. They mistook their imaginary visualisation of a plane crash with a movie capturing the drama.

As false memory researcher Giuliana Mazzoni pointed out, the emergence of false memories depends on the initial plausibility/probability you attribute to the event.

And merely believing in the reality of a supernatural world does not suffice if you also believe that miracles happen relatively rarely.

Put it yourself to the test

To understand what I mean by that, consider the last time you participated in a party with your friends. Go to them ten months later and tell them:

Do you remember the male exhibitionist who showed us his genitals, disturbed the whole celebration and had to be driven out of the room by the security personal?”

whereas in fact there was no exhibitionist who interrupted the festivities.

How would your friends react to your assertion?

Would they spontaneously say: “Oh yeah, I do remember him! This was crazy!” ?

I bet you 1 million of Euros that virtually none of them would say this.

They wouldn’t even say: “Ah okay! Actually I don’t remember this but it’s  quite possible.

No instead, it’s very likely they would stare at you in utter disbelief and tell you: “Did you take LSD back then?” or perhaps somewhat more politely: “No, that definitely didn’t happen. You must confuse this with another party you took part in“.

Of course, all your friends believe in the existence of exhibitionists.

exhibitionist

The problem is that merely mentioning this to them does not suffice to radically change their reliable memories of the real event and they know they would remember it clearly if something that unusual had truly happened.

At this point, it is important to realise that most experiments about “big” false memories (such as those of getting lost in a mall as a small child) don’t make you radically misremember an event you really experienced but make you remember an event that never happened altogether (most often at an undetermined date).

Application to the sightings of the 500 “brothers”

Suppose that the 500 brothers (and most likely sisters) were gathered in a meadow while listening to a talented preacher. They felt deeply emotionally moved by the words he spoke. 499 of them did not experience anything supernatural and returned to their family’s homes after the end of the event. One person (perhaps with a schizoaffective disorder) sees the resurrected Jesus speaking to the crowd for 15 minutes and sharing bread with them before rising back to the clouds and disappearing.

Now suppose that this person talked to twenty of the brethren two years after the event and told them: “Do you remember that while Brother X. gave us this amazing sermon, the Lord appeared and stayed with us for more than ten minutes?“.

For the same reasons I gave above regarding the exhibitionist interrupting the party, I think it is very unlikely they would answer: “Oh yeah, that was fantastic!” or even “No, but you’re probably right”. Instead, chances are they too would stare at him in disbelief. Or they would consider he was experiencing a private revelation.

When Bart Ehrman writes: “What I think does happen is that someone has a vision (non-veridical – that is, a hallucination or, as one reader of the blog has suggested, possibly an illusion).   He tells someone else who tells someone else (e.g., someone else who was there at the time) who tells someone else, and soon they all remember seeing it.  Only one of them saw it.  But the entire group remembers seeing it.  Vividly remembers it.”

he is going far beyond what the experimental evidence warrants.

Perhaps, ten years later, some people who believed that the person’s hallucination of Jesus was a private revelation mistakenly believed that their own experience of a private revelation happened at the same time. But I consider it very unlikely that all 500 brethren would come to radically misremember the event in this way.

 

Conclusion

I am not perfect and my PhD is in chemical modelling, not cognitive psychology. Nevertheless, based on my knowledge of the appropriate literature, I consider it very unlikely that the hallucination of one person would be enough to convince 499 other ones they experienced this as well at the same time even though they actually didn’t see or hear anything.

The Dutch study quoted by Bart Ehrman is a false analogy as it concerns a source monitoring error about a real event.

To prove me wrong, you would need to show me the positive results of experiments involving a radical false claim similar to the interruption of a (real) party by an exhibitionist who had to be driven out of the room. I strongly doubt this is possible.

That said, it is quite possible that false memories played some role in the emergence of the Christian religion. But there are limits to such explanations.

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The reincarnation of a WW2 pilot?

Summary

The case of the alleged reincarnation of James Houston Junior, an American pilot being shot down in Japan during WWII, is often seen as the strongest evidence for reincarnation. In this long article, I investigated this claim. While many putative pieces of evidence can have come about through foreknowledge, leading questions and false memories, there are a number of inconvenient facts that remain. Whilst they aren’t sufficient for proving reincarnation, they certainly make this case anomalous.

Introduction

If any alleged case of reincarnation proved to be genuine, both Christianity and Naturalism might be gravely undermined.

In what follows, I sought to investigate one famous such incidents with the mind of an open sceptic, i.e. someone who carefully investigates the evidence without having a prior belief in the plausibility or implausibility of the phenomenon.

A good summary of the peculiar story involving James Leininger and his parents Bruce and Andrea can be found here.

This is an interview of the parents.

Psychologist Dr. Jim Tucker wrote a concise report here.

I base my analysis of the facts on the book “Soul Survivor: The Reincarnation of a World War II Fighter Pilot” written by Bruce and Andrea Leininger, while, of course, considering the possibility they might misremember some things or get certain facts wrong.

I’ll start by quoting the “explanation” of two naturalistic philosophers John Martin Fischer and Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin in their book “Near-Death Experiences: Understanding Our Visions of the Afterlife

Unlike Internet Sceptics, they are moderate and respectful and their text is a pleasant read.

They start by summarising the case:

“At the age of two, James Leininger began having frightening dreams that caused him to yell out and to kick, and claw in his sleep.
He’d dream that he crashed in an air-plane and was trying to escape. The details James shared about these dreams were astonishing. He demonstrated encyclopaedic knowledge about World War II aircraft, and he recounted facts about a particular aircraft carrier, the Natoma Bay, and its flight crew, including naming a fellow pilot, Jack Larsen.
Jame’s fascination with these aircraft and events in the war was not confined to his dreams. He drew pictures, acted out scenes, and talked frankly and in great detail about the battle of Iwo Jima. He signed his pictures “James 3” because he was, in his words, “the third James.”
As Jame’s parents began looking more deeply into their son’s behaviour and interest in the war, they noticed some astonishing coincidences. The details young James was relating matched historical facts. The Natoma Bay was an actual ship that fought in the battle of Iwo Jima. The names of people James talked about in his dreams were members of the flight crew on that ship. One of the pilot shot down had been named James. They began to suspect that their son might be the reincarnation of that pilot. With the help of Carol Bowman, a therapist known for her work on cases of reincarnation in young children, the Leiningers began to listen empathetically to their son. What they saw and heard in his words and behaviour only further supported their suspicion. They became convinced, even if reluctantly in the case of Jame’s father, that their son had lived a past life as James Huston, who was shot down in his plane over the Pacific during the battle of Iwo Jima.
This brief synopsis should be enough to give you a sense of why many have thought that the best explanation of Jame Leninger’s dreams and behaviour is that his is a case of reincarnation. This was a very young child demonstrating a fascination with certain kinds of aircraft and an apparent knowledge of particular historical people and events in ways that suggested that he was personally and deeply attached to them. It will come as no surprise, we’re sure, to learn that we are not convinced by the reincarnation hypothesis. It may be one possible explanation of things, but it is not an especially compelling explanation. This becomes clear once we take account of the full range of factors, including both details of James Leininger’s life and the overall explanatory context.

First of all, a young boy’s fascination with airplanes, even airplanes of a very particular make and model, should strike no one as remarkable in the least.
In general, and as every parent knows, young children become obsessed with people, places, and things. Often, these obsessions are often explained by exposure to the person or things…But sometimes, these obsessions should seem to come out of the blue. It would be rash, however, to claim that just because one cannot understand how a child came to be fixated on something, the explanation must be supernatural. It is better to think, instead, that one has simply missed or forgotten something relevant to explaining how the obsession began.
Jame Leininger’s obsession with WWII airplanes may strike one as an outlier, perhaps, because it is coupled with extensive knowledge of facts about both the aircraft and historical people and events. But before we jump to the conclusion that the best way to explain what is going on here is to appeal to reincarnation, we should consider whether there are any promising avenues for explaining things by more conventional means. And there does seem to be some possibilities here.

Consider the fact that the Leiningers visited a flight museum when James was eighteen months old. During their visit, James walked around the very type of planes he later claimed to have been flying in his dreams, Corsairs. His parents have even claimed that he looked like he was conducting a flight check. Noting this detail about James’ life seems like a promising start for providing an explanation of his obsession with ww2 aircraft, and his fixation on Corsairs in particular. By all accounts, James was a very bright child. It is possible that a bright 18-month-old could absorb many details at the air museum, especially in conjunction with listening to his parents or tour guides or others discussing the displays. James may not have had the ability at 18 months to put these experiences into words and express them verbally, but many of the details might have registered. Later, when he developed the capacity to verbalise, James would have been able to express the information that had registered earlier. We can thus begin to make sense of why James Leininger was so obsessed with World War II aircraft and how he knew what seemed like an uncanny amount about them. And we can do so without appealing to anything supernatural.

Even if James Leininger’s detailed knowledge of WW2 aircraft were to be explained in this way, it may still seem as though the case presents a serious puzzle. How could James have known the names of the people he recounted as being there within his dreams?

We are not at all sure how the explanation of these facts is supposed to go.
But it does seem possible to explain them without invoking reincarnation. Perhaps James heard these names somewhere. Maybe they were mentioned in a television program he saw (the Leiningers admit to conversing with James about a television program on World War II aircraft on the History Channel) or a book or museum panel someone (perhaps his parents) read to him. Perhaps his parents mentioned them in conversations at home. Children are incredibly perceptive, and their memories often outstrip those of adults. Given that he was obsessed with WWII aircraft, it’d be no surprise if James soaked up titbits of information that went in one ear and out the other for those less intent on the subject.

Once his parents and other adults began to ask him about these things, it would not be surprising if Jame’s interest in them increased. He may even have begun to seek out more information about these matters out of a desire to please his parents or other authority figures, such as Carol Bowman and Jim Tucker (another expert on reincarnation), who interviewed him in relation to the possibility that he was reincarnated.
The presence and interests of these people would be powerful influences on a young person at an age when the desire to please an adult authority figure is great. So there might have been a symbiosis between young Jame’s desire to please and his parents’ and certain researchers’ beliefs and prior assumptions about what was happening in his case. This could have led to Jame’s telling a story that suggested he was reincarnated, when in fact he was not.
Indeed, it would not be surprising if James Leininger came to “remember” events from a past life due to repeated, and possibly leading, questioning from his parents and other adults. It is a commonplace that the testimony of children is quite suggestible, and three- and four-year-olds have been shown to be more suggestible than even five- and six-year-olds.
Among the factors thought to explain the phenomenon of suggestibility in children are, first, that their memories are not as firmly implanted as those in older people and, second, that the mechanism for protecting and monitoring memories against suggestive intrusions are not as robust in young children as in older people. If James was repeatedly questioned about his dreams and his claims about a past life, especially by people who were themselves of the opinion that he had a past life, it would be consistent with psychologists’ understanding of how memory works in young children to suppose that he came to falsely remember and report various facts and events..

We stress that we do not take ourselves to have provided adequate explanation of the Leininger case. That is not our aim. What we hope to have done is to have shown how the approach we’ve been sketching in this book may be applied to this case.
*******************

Now, the authors themselves admit it is hard to account for the specific details given by James.

Systematic investigation of the case

In what follows, I shall examine different elements that have been claimed to show that James had memories of a past life.

At two-year of age, James was described as being “the centrepiece of a loving family of three living on the soft coastal plane of southern Louisiana” and Andrea’s “first and only child”.

But Bruce Leininger had four children from a previous marriage.
They didn’t live with James’ half-siblings so that the latter could hardly have contaminated their little brother’s memories.

Natoma’s bay

We know that the parents hadn’t consciously heard of “Natoma” before and that the father had to search the Internet for that name before finding it.

How likely is that little James took in the name “Natoma Bay” while visiting the Cavanaugh Flight Museum when he was 18 months-old?

USS_Natoma_Bay_(CVE-62)_at_Tulagi_on_8_April_1944_(80-G-235018)

Before 2001, there is only one obscure book “USS Natoma Bay (CVE 62), VC 63, VC 81, VC9” written by the “Natoma Bay Association” dedicated to the plane carrier.

Otherwise, the boat is only mentioned in one or two lines of books dealing with WW2 planes.

In the great scheme of things, the Natoma Bay was really insignificant so far as the description of WW2 history was concerned.

Could “Natoma Bay” have been mentioned in a TV show James listened to and the parents overlooked?

As the carrier was far from being famous and only mentioned in very specialised books for historians, this is  implausible. If the Natoma Bay was noteworthy enough to be mentioned in a TV show, it would play a significant role in books.  I am open to challenges if some reader can found documentaries where it is mentioned.

Now what about the possibility that Natoma Bay was part of the WW2 aircraft show?
This cannot be dismissed out of hand as the Cavanaugh Flight Museum mentions an equally (and perhaps even more) obscure aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Cape Glouchester.

That said, we must bear in mind the fact that James was 18 months old back then. What is the statistical probability that a kid of that age would be able to grasp concepts such as the fact that an aircraft has to take off from a big ship?

I think that if you take many children of that age and send them to an aviation museum also dealing with World War II, only a small (if not very small) number of them will take in the name “Natoma” and correctly consider it an aircraft carrier.

It follows from all of this that it is rather unlikely that James would have come up with the aircraft carrier Natoma.

Jack Larsen

The next puzzle concerns “Jack Larsen”. Of course, James had no idea that there was a “Jack Larsen” on the “Natoma Bay” and neither had his parents at first.

As Larsen was still alive and wasn’t famous in the least, it’s extremely unlikely he would have been mentioned in the museum, in a documentary or in any common book.

The probability of correctly identifying Jack Larsen depends entirely on the ease with which James would come up with such a name (or unconsciously absorb it into his memory).

If a close friend of the parents was named “Larsen” or “Larson”, they would most likely have mentioned it in the book.

Let us now assume that the probability that James would absorb the name “Jack Larsen” equals its frequency in the American population. “Larson” and “Larsen” are the family names of 0.065% of all Americans. If we assume that 10% of all those Larson/Larsen are called “Jack”, we find a relative frequency of 0.0065%, i.e. 6.5E-05.

Jame’s “finding” Jack Larsen is not beyond the reach of chance but it isn’t an easy guess either.

I found out that there is a rather famous Jack Larson who recently passed away. He played the role of cub reporter Jimmy Olsen on The Adventures of Superman. But he wasn’t such a celebrity as Clark Kent (the actor of Superman), either. Since little James couldn’t read anything at that age, he must have somehow heard the name.

The probability of his choosing the name could be approximated as p(hearing)*p(choosing|heard), that is the probability of his hearing the name and of choosing it out of the names he heard.

 

It is possible but quite unlikely he would have listened to an interview of Jack Larsen while his parents were watching TV and picked up the name.

 

 

 

James’ GI Joes.

Jamees had three GI Joes with peculiar names.
“Hey, how come you named your GI Joes, Billy and Leon and Walter?”

Bruce’s parents knew no Leon and Walter.

“Because that’s who met me when I got to heaven.” James answered.

Then he turned and went back to play.

Bruce snatched a piece of paper and read it. He read it again but couldn’t bring himself to say what was on his mind.

He was holding the list of names of the men who were killed aboard Natoma Bay. He handled it to Andrea. On the list were James M. Huston Jr., Billy Peeler, Leon Conner, and Walter Devlin. Bruce gave her a flat look, then started shuffling and tossing papers around again. He had files with dates and details and could conjure up the records in a flash.
“They were all in the same squadron”, Bruce said. “VC-81.”

The three men were already dead when James Huston was killed.

Leon had blond hair exactly like James’ namesake GI Joe according to his cousin Gwen.
“He was an ideal boy: six feet tall, blond, blue-eyed, a football star who also played the violin.”

The final action figure [Walter] had auburn, almost red hair.

He was described as “Irish, with all that big red hair.”

The action Figure Billy himself was Brown-haired as Billy Peeler based on his photo.

Little James had no plausible way to find these names and these pieces information.

Could it be that James read the names in his father’s documents?

Since the father only got the list of the names of those killed in Natoma Bay after that James got the two first G.I Joes, this cannot explain how he chose “Billy” and “Leon”.

He baptised his third G.I. Joe “Walter” as he was fourth-year-old, at an age he wasn’t supposed to be able to read. It is possible but unlikely he looked into his father’s belongings, found the document, read and was able to understand it and picked out the name.

It is also very unlikely that the father would have read the names aloud and forgot about it.

Given that, it is a fair bet to suppose that James must have guessed the name by chance.

What is the probability of this occurring?

Once again, we have no better choice than to  assume that the probability of choosing a name equals the relative frequency of the name in the American population.

The proportions of Walters, Leons  and Billies (William) are 1.3374E-04, 4.615E-05 and 8.8894E-04. The probability of giving them the right hair colour equals 1/(3*2)  = 1/6.

Overall, the probability is equal to 9.15E-13.

If these were nothing more than false memories, it is very astounding that James correctly found these names along with the right hair colours.

Given that only 21 men attached to the Natoma Bay died, this is really a remarkable match.

James Huston Junior’s sister Annie

Andrea Leininger discovered that James Huston had two sisters, Anne and Ruth, through the census record. Later on, Andrea contacted one of Houson’s cousin’s Jean who confirmed he had an older sister named Ruth who died and a sister Anne who was still alive.

James’ place in the family

James correctly called James Huston Junior’s sister “Annie”, as only her brother called her that way.

He told Andrea that he had another sister, Ruth. Only he pronounced it “Roof”. She was four years older than Annie and Annie was four years older than James. When Andrea checked with Anne Barron, she said it was all accurate. Ruth was the oldest by four years, James the youngest by four years”.

Of course, this relies on Anne’s memory but the year of birth of one’s sibling is something almost all of us remember very well.

James’ knowing the name of the older sister Ruth might be attributed to sensory clues, namely to his overhearing the mother’s phone conversations but this is by no means certain.

We might further speculate that James’ Huston’s cousin Jean mentioned the year gaps between the siblings on the phone while the loudspeaker was activated but that doesn’t seem very likely.

Personal detail about the Huston’s family life

Things get a bit more ambiguous here.

We read: “Five-year-old James knew about their father’s alcoholism. He knew all the family secrets with a familiar intimacy.”

Here, we might envision that “Annie” asked leading questions to James.

“For instance, James recalled in surprising detail when his father’s alcoholism got so bad that he smashed things and had to go into rehab, he knew all about that”.

On the other hand, it also seems unlikely that Anne would herself take the initiative to mention such traumatising details to a five-year-old boy.

According to Jim Tucker, James already spoke of the alcoholism of his “father” when his real mother Andrea entered into his room with a glass of wine.

Given that, it appears likely that James did recall such details on his own, but this isn’t very evidential as this cannot be strictly shown.

James 3

James signed some of his drawing “James 3“. When he was asked why he signed them “James 3“, he said simply “Because I am the third James. I am James 3“.

If the parents recalled correctly, this would be a remarkable coincidence as the other James was James Houston Jr.

However, they might also have unconsciously put this into their son’s mouth in hindsight but that doesn’t seem very likely.

According to Jim Tucker, James continued to produce the same drawing even when he was four-years-old.

Bob Greenwalt

Bruce brought James to a meeting of the veterans of the Natoma Bay.

The man looked down at James and asked in a hearty, robust voice,
“Do you know who I am?”
James looked him in the eye, thought for a second, and replied,
“You’re Bob Greenwalt.”

“How did you know that?” asked Bruce.
“I recognised his voice,” he told his father.

Now, if James had never heard the name “Bob Greenwalt”, this fact alone would strongly point toward a paranormal phenomenon.
But is this the case?

No.

One night, Andrea received a call from Bob Greenwalt she transferred to Bruce.
“A Bob Greenwalt want to talk with you” she said.
“I know who Bob Greenwalt was…” answered Bruce.

It cannot be conclusively ruled out that James heard half-consciously the name and some strong features of the voice because the mother might have activated the loud speaker.

Prenatal choice of his parents

One of the most puzzling episode concerns little James “choosing” his parents shortly before his birth.

“One day, after raking leaves together, Bruce told James how happy he was to have him as a son. James replied, “That’s why I picked you; I know you would be a good daddy.” Bruce did not understand. James continued:

When I found you and Mommy, I knew you would be good to me.”

“Where did you find us?”

“Hawaii. . . . I found you at the big pink hotel. . . . I found you on the beach. You were eating dinner at night.”

Bruce was dumbfounded. In 1977, Bruce and Andrew indeed went to Hawaii and stayed at the Royal Hawaii, a pink hotel on Waikiki beach. On the last evening, they had a moonlight dinner at the beach. Five weeks later, Andrea became pregnant with James.”

We cannot entirely rule out the possibility that James saw the picture of the pink hotel and of the dinner at the beach somewhere in the house.

This doesn’t appear particularly likely because the parents would have remembered the pictures but this cannot be dismissed out of hand either.

Misidentification of the corsair

We now finally come to the only argument AGAINST the reincarnation hypothesis.

An exception was that Huston was shot down in a FM2 Wildcat, not a Corsair: veterans could recall no Corsairs on Natoma Bay. Nor could the details of James’s account of the plane being shot down be confirmed. However, a visit to Huston’s sister Anne Barron uncovered a photograph of Huston standing in front of a Corsair, confirming that at one time he flew this aircraft.

But even if James Leininger was really the reincarnation of James Huston Jr., we don’t have to expect that his memories would always be clear and precise.

What is more, Tucker contacted the Cavanaugh Flight Museum and learned that it had no Corsair on display between 1999 and 2003, the time period of James’s first two visits, so that this description cannot come from his early visit to the museum.

Under the hypothesis of reincarnation, it is not unreasonable to believe that James could confuse the plane he died in with a plane he was also familiar with and was proud to fly, as a photo revealed.

Battle of Iwo Jima

Iwo-Jima

As the battle of Iwo Jima was very famous, it is not astounding that James Leiniger would be exposed to it or claimed he had died there.

That said, it is certainly curious that the only member of the Natoma Bay who died there was James Huston Jr.

Conclusion

The James Leininger’s putative reincarnation case is a complex one.

Many elements can be well explained through foreknowledge, suggestion and false memories.

It is, for example, conceivable that James was able to correctly identify Bob Greenwalt’s voice and describe his parents’ evening at Hawaii before his birth thanks to sensory clues and foreknowledge.

Nevertheless, it is unlikely that little James would have come up with “Natoma” as that ship was rather insignificant and hardly mentioned to the general public. It is rather unlikely he would, by chance, utter the uncommon name “Jack Larsen” who appears to be a member of that very ship’s crew. It is unlikely he would have christened his three GI Joes according to the names and appearances of his real colleagues Billy, Walter and Leon while remembering having seen them in Heaven and it is really dubious he could have gleaned that information by sneaking into his father’s documents.

In light of this, other less evidential elements (such as James’s mentioning the alcoholism of his former “father” to Annie, his remembering his former sister Ruth, “James 3”, his death at the battle of Iwo Jima and his seeing his parent before his birth ) reinforce the credibility of the case.

Does that mean we must believe in the reality of reincarnation?
No. Unlikely combinations of events are bound to happen according to the law of large numbers. And if that proves to be insufficient, information gain through parapsychological means is (at least) as good a paranormal explanation as the reincarnation hypothesis.

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Turning machines into angels

Okay, this isn’t gonna be a deep philosophical analysis of the problem but the very first poem I wrote in English 🙂

Lost wanderer by firepaved

Take heart, hopeless wanderer!
Before your eyes are so many wonders.

You’ve been living like a worthless worm for all these years
But you shall die like a god when everything is made clear.

The feeling of your breath through your nostrils can only be a divine gift
The atoms dancing around in your head could never bring about your bliss.

You cannot know if the world you’ve been so assiduously studying is real.
But there can be no such doubt about the pain of your heart you constantly feel.

So are you an obsolete machine that will trail off into nothingness?
Or are you an amnesiac angel that shall at last experience fullness?

 

Copyright Lotharson 2017.

 

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On the prior probability of Jesus’ resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth after his unjust death stands at the very heart of the Christian faith.

Jesus_resurrection

If materialism is true, it goes without saying that the prior plausibility of a corpse coming back to life through random physical processes is extremely small.

However, some atheist apologists go farther than that and argue that even if God existed, the probability of His raising Jesus from the dead would be incredibly low.

 

Atheistic philosopher Jeffery Jay Lowder (who is a nice, respectful, well-articulated, intelligent and decent man) put it like this:

B3: Approximately 107,702,707,791 humans have ever lived. Approximately half of them have been male.
B4: God, if He exists, has resurrected from the dead at most only one person (Jesus).

B3 and B4 are significant because they summarize the relevant evidence about God’s tendency to resurrect people from the dead (assuming God exists). They show why the resurrection has a low prior probability even for theists. Once we take B3 and B4 into account, the prior probability of the resurrection is less than or equal to 5.0 x 10-12. In symbols, Pr(R | B1 & B3 & B4) <= 5.0 x 10-12.

 

I shall reformulate his argument in a simpler way while emphasising a most problematic hidden assumption.

  1. From the 100 000 000 humans who have ever lived under the sun, none has been resurrected by God’s mighty hands.
  2. Consequently, the probability that a human being chosen at random gets raised from the dead is less than 10-11.

3. God would be as interested in resurrecting Jesus as he would be in resurrecting a random human being.

4. Hence the prior probability of Jesus’ resurrection is less than 10-11.

Although premise 1) might be begging the question against claims of miracles, I shall accept it as true.

Premise 2) is totally uncontroversial. So what truly stands in the way of the conclusion is premise 3).

Why on earth should we assume that Jesus was only a random human being to God? This probability seems unknown to me unless one makes assumptions about the divine Being, i.e. one engages in theology.

(The are good articles written by professional philosopher of science John Norton explaining why epistemic ignorance cannot be represented by a probability distribution [1], [2], [3])

Lowder seems to be aware of this. A (godless) commenter wrote:

“Your estimate of 5.0 x 10-12. assumes that Jesus is a typical human. But if not, if B1A: Jesus is the second person of the Trinity is true, P(B2) becomes much higher, possibly of order 1. In that case the relevant unknown is P(B1A | B1). While that may be small, I doubt if it’s anywhere near as small as 5.0 x 10-12.”

His response was:

“There are not any reliable statistics for the reference class of men who are the second person of the Trinity. Thus, the reference class that must be used is the broadest one for which we have reliable statistics, viz., men.”

But this is clearly begging the question.

  • Why should we  assume that Jesus was a random human being to God?
  • Because this is the only way we can approximately calculate the prior probability of his resurrection.
  • And why should we assume that this value approximates anything if we don’t know whether or not he was just an ordinary man to God?

So I think that unbelievers cannot argue from ignorance here. They should instead give us positive grounds for thinking that Jesus wasn’t special to God.

jesus

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