Recently, there have been grumblings in the ranks of Orac-philes. All is not entirely well. Or, at least, all is less well than usual. Even more unusual, I feel your pain. I really do. We’ve been enduring a stretch when the anti-vaccine movement has been unusually busy for an unusually long time, leading vaccines to take over and dominate as the main topic of this blog for more than the last week. This has led not only to my getting tired of the topic, but to some of you apparently becoming tired as well of the sheer burning stupid that only the anti-vaccine movement can lay down with such density and consistency. Even so, I like to think that I managed to get at least a couple of “serious” posts about the Internet as an anti-vaccine tool and motivated reasoning as a contributor to the persistence of anti-vaccine beliefs. Still, it’s true that I owe it to myself to do a serious post (or two, or three), if only to maintain my own sanity and to induce regression to the mean as far as the level of discourse on this blog goes.
In the meantime, there’s always Mike Adams.
I know, I know. I shouldn’t give a crank like Adams so much attention, and of late I’ve actually been trying to resist the siren call of his crankery, especially when I’m tired and not up for a detailed scientific treatise, which is the very time when the temptation to attack such a “target-rich” environment is at its strongest. However, Adams has outdone himself this time, and that’s saying a lot. In fact, it is through you, my readers, that I learned about this pièce de résistance of crankitude, entitled The God Within:
You’ve even asked for-nay, demanded!-that Orac apply a heapin’ helpin’ of not-so-Respectful Insolence to this video, and Orac is nothing if not a benevolent blogging Plexiglass box of multicolored blinking lights. Besides, I’m drawn to such things like cats to catnip, so much so that I had thought of saving it for Friday to do an installment of Your Friday Dose of Woo. Unfortunately, when I sat down to blog last night, I couldn’t resist. The power of Adams’ nonsense compelled me. It’s like The Secret, Expelled!, and What the Bleep Do We Know? all rolled up into one, but dumber. Far, far dumber.
Move over, Deepak Chopra, there’s a new quantum consciousness woo-meister in town, and his name is Mike Adams. If The God Within is any indication, Adams is evolving into Deepak Chopra with a lobotomy (crossed with Alex Jones, of course, given Adams’ recent penchant for 9/11 Truth and other brain dead conspiracy theories, and Ben Stein, given that The God Within so blatantly steals its accusations that science leads inevitably to genocide right out of the Expelled! playbook). You’ll see what I mean if you watch his video; that is, if you dare, if you can handle the full 40+ minutes of neuron-apoptosing woo.
Adams goes wrong right from the start when, as narrator, he says:
I’ve always admired physicists. They seek answers by asking questions of nature, and when they follow a rigorous scientific approach to the quest for knowledge they refuse to be sidelined by dogma, personal belief, and trickery.
This is hilarious if you know Mike Adams. While he claims to admire pure physicists who are not swayed by dogma, Adams clearly hasn’t learned the lessons that they teach in that he engages in nothing but dogma, personal belief, trickery, and outright pseudoscience in everything he writes for his website. Adams then proclaims science to be the quest for Truth, which is also nonsense. To paraphrase Indiana Jones, if it’s big-T Truth you’re looking for, go to philosophy or religion; science is about evidence, observation, facts, making models, and testing these models against reality. Particularly funny in this introduction is how Adams castigates current science for being in the thrall of big corporations, a criticism that, if it had been nuanced and not come from a total loon like Adams, has a grain of little-t truth to it. What made me chuckle is how Adams accuses corporate science as appropriating the language of science, which, of course, is exactly what Adams does on a daily basis to promote the rankest pseudoscience, quackery, and conspiracy theories. It’s also exactly what he does in this video.
The centerpiece of The God Within is an extended attack on Stephen Hawking and in particular, Hawking’s recent book, co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design. I haven’t read this particular book; so I can’t comment authoritatively on specific claims that Adams makes about it. However, Adams being Adams, which means being an inveterate promoter of pseudoscience and misinformation, I’m more than willing to take P.Z. Myers‘ and Kim Wombles‘ word against his when it comes to what’s actually in Hawking’s book. There’s plenty of woo left over without my having to point out more than that, as PZ put it, Adams’ video is “more like the bad book report by the sixth grader who skimmed a few chapters the night before it was due, only in this case the sixth grader also has video editing software and has stolen a lot of sciencey-looking clips to gussy up his pathetic efforts.”
More interesting to me is how Adams tries to relate quantum physics to his views on medicine and consciousness. Indeed, he starts right out arguing that physicists are stuck in the “Newtonian era of consciousness,” in which “conventional physics is a lot like conventional medicine.” Never mind that “conventional physics” moved beyond Newtonian physics a century ago; such niceties do not concern Adams when he has a metaphor to pursue, namely that “this mainstream view of physics is to reality what conventional medicine is to healing.” Oddly enough, if Adams had stopped there, what he said would be arguably fairly close to true, just not in the way that he had intended it. As usual, Adams manages to get things exactly the opposite of what is reasonable and scientific. In any case, uses this turd of an argument as a jumping off point to argue that “conventional physics,” like “conventional medicine,” has all the technical jargon of science but none of the soul.
Here’s your first hint: “Soul” is not what science is about.
As he usually is whenever he tries to discuss science, Adams is full of crap when he next argues that “conventional” physicists are not allowed to talk about consciousness, free will, or the “connectedness” that, according to Adams, has been “shown to exist” between all things in the universe. Someone should tell Victor Stenger that or point out that Hawking is a physicist. Of course, both of them speak about such topics in a way that enrages Adams, to whom, as always, it’s all conspiracy, all the time. Scientists are “silenced,” you see (Expelled!, perhaps?); they can’t look at quantum connectedness or discuss free will or speculate about consciousness. Except that they do all these things. Adams just doesn’t like the conclusions they come to while doing so. The reason, according to Adams, is because such questions bring up questions about God or the intersection between “intention” and the physical universe. (The Secret, anyone?) He even defines the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics as “shut up and calculate,” an “intellectual security blanket” that supposedly protects physicists from questions of philosophy and free will.
See why I refer to Adams as Deepak Chopra after a lobotomy?
As if to reinforce that impression, Adams delves into pure silliness at one point. Basically, after taking umbrage at a chapter in The Grand Design entitled The Theory of Everything, Adams actually cites the dictionary definition of physics to argue that physics is not the study of everything and then huffily accuses Hawking of overreach based on his inability to find a definition of “physics” that encompasses the “study of everything.” I kid you not. This is followed by a tirade accusing physicists of arrogance, while castigating them for not trying to answer questions, such as “Is there a God?” or “Why are we here?” or “What happens after we die?” The first question can be a scientific question, depending on the specific claim for God; the second question is not really a scientific question at all; and the third question could someday be a scientific question but at present is beyond the realm of science to answer. None of this stops Adams from making an assertion that “consciousness is physics” in a way similar to E=mc2. This is, of course, a meaningless simile. Not that that stops Adams from arguing that physics cannot be fully explained without taking consciousness into consideration.
It’s at this point that Adams builds up a straw man so tall that it puts the Burj Khalifa to shame by claiming that Hawking, and modern physicists, do not believe in consciousness. This is, of course, a truckload of fetid dingos’ kidneys. First, modern neuroscientists are the ones probing the nature of consciousness. Most physicists have little interest in the topic, and fewer still study it. More importantly, the real argument of modern science is not that consciousness doesn’t exist. That’s the straw man. I have yet to hear any serious neuroscientist actually make that argument. What the findings of modern neuroscience indicate more and more is that consciousness is entirely a product of the brain; in other words, it’s entirely due to the physical brain, not some external “mind” or soul. Adams also conflates the question of free will with that of consciousness and stirs it up into a toxic brew of deterministic stupidity by claiming that Hawking (and, by extension, science) believes that we are all deterministic robots completely lacking free will. Adams, as usual, is a pyromaniac in a field of straw men, firing his flamethrower of burning stupid hither and yon with abandon, frying any trace of reason, intelligence, science, and logic from anything he hits. In fact, his straw man is related to what real scientists say about free will and consciousness only by coincidence. For example, Adams quotes Hawking:
It is hard to imagine how free will can operate if our behavior is determined by physical law, so it seems we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion.
However he leaves out what Hawking wrote next:
While conceding that human behavior is indeed determined by the laws of nature, it also seems reasonable to conclude that the outcome is determined in such a complicated way and with so many variables as to make it impossible in practice to predict. For that one would need knowledge of the initial state of each of the thousand trillion trillion molecules in the human body and to solve something like that number of equations. That would take a few billion years, which would be a bit late to duck when the peron opposite aimed a blow.
Because it is so impractical to use the underlying physical laws to predict human behavior, we adopt what is called an effective theory. In physics, an effective theory is a framework created to model certain observed phenomena without describing in detail all of the underlying processes.
So basically, Hawking appears to be arguing that free will probably doesn’t exist, but that the functioning of the brain and body is so incredibly complex that it’s impossible to predict thoughts and behaviors with any degree of accuracy. In other words, free will might not truly exist if one could precisely know what is necessary about these trillion trillion molecules to be able to make precise predictions of their behavior, but in the real world the illusion of free will is so good that it, for all practical purposes, it suffices. This is a lot different than claiming that human beings are nothing more than deterministic robots, utterly devoid of consciousness, mind, and free will. These sorts of arguments are also the kind that make my brain hurt. To me, for all practical intents and purposes, it doesn’t matter whether we actually have free will or not, because to all intents and appearances we do, whether it’s illusion or not, and there’s no real way to prove it one way or the other.
In any case, Hawking appears to be asserting the conventional view among neuroscientists that “it is our physical brain, following the known laws of science, that determine our actions, and not some agency that exists outside those laws.” Adams does not like this; he does not like it at all. However, as they say, you are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts, although Adams sure thinks he is, misrepresenting Hawking as “utterly denying” the existence of the mind, consciousness, or the “connection with spirit.” Well, the latter Hawking does deny, but the first two, not so much. To Adams, just like to Deepak Chopra, there is an external thing called “the mind” that communicates with the brain, which then controls the body. Adams even uses the hoary old example of a remote control helicopter, whose rotors can be made to turn by applying current to the wires leading to the motor but that is really controlled from a distance by the remote control, an argument that is no different, and no less ridiculous, than when Michael Egnor used an analogy in which a cell phone is the brain receiving signals from the mind. Of course, all of this makes me wonder if Adams, for all his belief of having free will, is in fact a robot, the only difference between him and the rest of us “biological robots” being that Adams is remote-controlled, perhaps by aliens.
But I digress.
What Adams’ video comes right down to is the complaint that so many woo-meisters have against science, namely that it goes against what they want to believe. In this, he is no different than a young earth creationist denying evolution and using incredible contortions of science and logic to try to “prove” that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that those fossils don’t demonstrate that the earth is actually much, much, much older. Adams, like Deepak Chopra, does not like the implications of the science suggesting that consciousness resides entirely within the brain because he wants to believe in a greater mind and that his mind (such as it is) is somehow “connected” with the universe. Similarly, he doesn’t like modern medicine because he doesn’t like how it does not support his magical, mystical, vitalistic beliefs about how the body works, such as the existence of a “life energy” that distinguishes living from dead, flows through certain channels, and can be manipulated by magical healers (like reiki masters) to produce miraculous healing.
So here’s Adams engaging in a pleasant fantasy of life forces, cosmically connected minds that are separate from the body, and total free will, when along comes science to tell him that physics and biology don’t work that way. It’s a bummer maaaaan, a total buzz kill. So Adams lashes out, just as creationists lash out, and just as Ben Stein lashed out against science in Expelled! Like Ben Stein, Adams even rails against determinism for absolving people of all responsibility of their actions and will absolve all criminals of any crimes.
Yet at the same time, Adams goes Stein one better, invoking a Minority Report-like scenario and claiming that the implication of a deterministic view is that humans can be held responsible for “pre-crime.” Basically, Adams takes Hawking’s observation that predicting behavior would require “knowledge of the initial state of each of the thousand trillion trillion molecules in the human body and to solve something like that number of equations” to infer that if such a thing were possible then it would be possible to predict who will be committing crimes in the future. This is utter nonsense as well, and not just for practical reasons. The reason is that behavior is an incredibly complicated interaction between the brain, body, and environment. Currently, it is impossible to predict what sorts of environments a person will be in that would influence his behavior. A criminal exposed to one environment might be an upstanding citizen in another. Sometimes, all it takes to trigger a crime is a single incident, which can be random and completely unpredictable. In other words, behavior is probabilistic and influenced by what happens to a person, the latter of which can’t be predicted with any accuracy.
Given this buildup, I bet you know what the finale is. Yes, it’s the same as Ben Stein visiting the ruins of a Nazi concentration camp in Expelled! Near the end, Adams states that the view that we are all deterministic robots with no free will or mind inevitably leads to genocide. To underscore the point, he even includes a shot of a pile of skulls and bones. (Subtle, Mike Adams is not and has never been.) This hoary argument is tarted up and trotted out again to bore yet another generation of scientists with the claim that, without a view that there is a consciousness or soul, there is no reason that, for example, the U.N. couldn’t or shouldn’t reduce regional overpopulation by just going in and slaughtering the surplus population because, you know, we’re all just robots and not “real people,” anyway. At its core, this argument is no different than the argument that we need religion or God to behave morally.
Of course, no attack on science as leading to evils such as this would be complete without just one more thing, and, quite frankly, I’m rather surprised that Adams was able to restrain himself long enough so that this one thing didn’t appear until well into the film. Eventually, though, Adolf Hitler, as was always inevitable in a film of this sort, does make an appearance, with Adams intoning that it’s “all the easier to poison millions of Jews if you don’t think of them as human beings and instead consider them mindless robotic machines waiting to be exterminated.” He even shows a Photoshopped picture of a smiling Hitler reading Hawking’s book while ominously warning us that, had Hawking’s book existed at the time of Hitler, Nazi crimes would no doubt have been carried out under the name of science and the idea that the Jews were nothing but “mere soulless animals,” robots without consciousness. Actually, just because someone carries out horrific acts ostensibly in the name of science doesn’t make that science wrong; it just means that person found a way to use it as a justification for evil.
Adams obviously doesn’t know history. The Nazis did invoke science to justify their atrocities, or at least gussied up their rationale in scientific-sounding language. Nazi doctors were told that they were “physicians to the volk,” not physicians to individual Germans, and Jews were denigrated as parasites and bacteria endangering the health of the volk, a cancer that needed to be cut out. In Nazi propaganda, Jews were portrayed as subhuman. Indeed the opening scene of arguably the most infamous Nazi propaganda film Der Ewige Jude consisted of shots of rats emerging from a sewer juxtaposed with shots of Jews in a Polish ghetto. The voiceover informed the audience that, as rats are the vermin of the animal kingdom, Jews are the vermin of the human race and, like rats, Jews spread disease and corruption. In other words, the Nazis did just fine portraying Jews as less than human two years before Stephen Hawking was even born!
Evil always finds a way to demonize the target of its hate, and portraying the enemy as being less than human is a tactic that’s been used to justify murder and genocide for thousands of years. To argue that this parody of Hawking’s view is uniquely dangerous because it permits the dehumanization of people, making the justification of their extermination easier reveals a profound ignorance of history, is basically the same brain-dead argument that Ben Stein made about evolution and atheism in Expelled! Sadly, evil always finds a way, and always has. In fact, it took Expelled! three or four times the time to plumb the same depths of stupid that Adams manages in less than 23 minutes.
With his prolonged rant, all delivered in a sophorific “serious” documentary tone, Adams reveals the depths of his hatred of science. To him, science isn’t just that inconvenient method of discovering knowledge about nature that doesn’t support his quack beliefs, but is a method that leads to evil and mass genocide, even though horrific atrocities have been committed in history by people who fully believed that souls, free will, and consciousness all exist the way that Adams does. In fact, in an accompanying post touting his new video, Adams makes his view of science and scientists even clearer than he does in The God Within, referring to science as “psychopathic in its applications” and stating that science has become evil:
A psychopath is defined as “A person with an antisocial personality disorder, manifested in aggressive, perverted, criminal, or amoral behavior without empathy or remorse.”
Yet this perfectly describes the behavior of many corporations operating under the label of “science.” The GMO seed companies, pesticide companies, fluoride chemical companies, psychiatric drug manufacturers, chemotherapy makers and vaccine manufacturers are, in effect, “psychopathic” in their behavior. They all claim to be operating as “scientific” entities, however, and they aggressively attack those who disagree with them as being “unscientific.” It is this perverted, criminal and amoral behavior — and a total lack of empathy for living beings — that qualifies much of today’s “scientific” corporate behavior as inescapably psychopathic.
In another accompanying editorial, Adams goes even further than just attacking “corporate science” to attacking all science:
Do you now understand how these core, distorted beliefs of the scientific community are evil in nature? They are diabolical. They deny the value of you and everyone else as a living, conscious being. This is why science offers the perfect pretext for genocidal crimes against humanity. This is why the Nazi war machine and its IG Farben chemical experiments on Jews were all carried out in the name of science. This is why “science” can give us atomic weapons, GMOs, population control vaccines, mass chemical poisoning and the rampant destruction of our world — because science is based on an empty, mindless, soulless philosophy that denies our conscious existence.
Then Adams throws in the hoary old “science is a religion” canard:
“Science” has become the Godless, mindless, soulless platform from which the darkest evils of our world now fester and attempt to expand their domination. GMOs, chemical pesticides, rampant over-vaccination of children, fluoride chemicals in the water, chemotherapy poisons… the list seems endless.
“Science” has found a way to measure the electrical impulses of a heart beat but is incapable of understanding what it means to have a heart in the first place. “Science” says you should abandon any belief in your own God or spirit or creative force in the universe and instead put your faith in them as if they were gods! Believe in science, they insist, but nothing else.
And let’s not forget the insistence that only Adams’ woo is the way to “true understanding,” whatever that means:
The real answers to the questions that matter can only be found through channels that are more advanced than science itself: philosophy, spirituality, consciousness and even meditation — these are all channels through which knowledge and wisdom can be gained. These are the pathways of true understanding where the integration of mind, body and spirit takes place.
One person undergoing a spiritual journey in a single afternoon can learn more about life, consciousness and the universe than what would be gained by a scientist with three PhDs and a lifetime of mindless “scientific” research.
Adams even argues that science has produced the atom bomb and other tools of mass killing and now, conveniently enough, a philosophy that justifies mass killing using those tools.
After such a pile of pure idiocy from Adams, I can’t help but wish that Stephen Hawking could respond. Given that Adams fancies himself a rapper, it would be fun to see Hawking school him. It’ll never happen, but if it could, do you think that Adams could withstand the might of a slow Hawking rap like this:
There, I needed that. A little wafer of humor to cleanse the palate of Adams’ hateful idiocy. In fact, it’d be cool to see Einstein and Hawking team up to school Adams. Vaccine Zombie and Don’t Inject Me versus the Theory of Relativity and A Brief History of Time?
The outcome is–dare I say it?-predetermined.
NOTE: This post was written in 2011, and since then Adams has…beefed up…his film. It’s now 44 minutes, instead of 22 minutes in length. Orac has not had the fortitude to watch this updated version, and the original discussion was about the original, shorter version.