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What Robert Ringer Said Does Not Seem Correct in All Respects

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I wonder if one of my favorite writers, Robert Ringer, fully understands the nature of the burden of proof, the difference between seeing and detecting, and how and when we are justified to infer causes that we cannot directly observe.

In “Now You See It, Now You Don’t,” an essay distributed to his email list that will probably be posted at some point at his web site, Ringer writes:

“Atheists argue that because you can’t see God, that’s proof (or at least strong circumstantial evidence) that He doesn’t exist. I can certainly see where it’s reasonable to draw an inference that God does not exist based on the fact that no one has ever seem Him. However, in his book The Universe in a Single Atom, the Dalai Lama makes an equally reasonable case for the opposite point of view.

“He suggests that just because you can’t see something, that is not proof, in and by itself, that it does not exist. In other words, invisible phenomena such as mental telepathy strongly support the idea that there’s a whole lot more to life than the material world we are able to see.

“The Hubble Telescope project would appear to give solid backing to the Dalai Lama’s position. Hubble scientists long ago discovered that not only is all matter moving away from all other matter at unfathomable speeds, but those speeds are actually accelerating. Thus, the scientific evidence has forced them to conclude that there is an invisible force in the universe that is greater than the gravitational pull of all matter in the universe combined.

“In fact, there are many things that we know exist, through firsthand experience, even though we cannot see them. We know that wind exists, but we can’t see it. We know that sound waves exist, but we can’t see them. We know that air exists, but we can’t see it (though we can see foreign particles in the air, which is an entirely different matter).”


1. Mental telepathy? What’s that? Does it have something to do with beaming your thoughts into the brain of another without any discernable method of communication like speech or facial twitches, nor any means of intuiting the thoughts of another like long familiarity or shared past? If there were in fact no actual means of transport, how in fact would the thoughts travel between the two minds? What is the actual evidence for telepathy, and will scam-buster James Randi be allowed to test the claim under properly controlled conditions?

I haven’t read Mr. Lama’s book. But it is strange that Robert Ringer cites “invisible phenomena such as mental telepathy” as if the reality of said phenomena were self-evident, so obvious as to immediately illuminate rather than becloud his musings. I can agree that we often infer the existence of thoughts and feelings within the minds of others even though they are physically invisible to us. We are conscious of our own consciousness, and we can observe the sundry manifestations of the consciousness of others. Such manifestations include speech, writing, thumbs-up signs, sex, television watching, etc. But none of this inferential process has anything to do with “mental telepathy.”

2. What is the relationship between “sight” and “the five senses”? Could it be that the sense of sight is one of a panoply of five senses with which most human beings are equipped? Could it be that, even though we’re not able to see it, we can perceive the wind by means of our other five senses? For example, by hearing it and feeling it? Might the wind be detectable by instruments and by the movement of the items that the wind affects? Do we not possess sensory means of observing the fluttering of a gauge or the flattening of a shack? One suspects that Ringer would immediately assent to these points. But by sidestepping relevant considerations he is drawing a parallel to allegedly reasonable warrants for mystical belief that he is not entitled to draw.

3. What is the relationship between perception of a phenomenon and perception of evidence of a phenomenon? Perhaps, that both require perception? There is no need to delve into specialized scientific debates to understand our ability to infer the existence of things that we cannot perceive directly. We don’t, for example, need to witness a murder to know that one occurred; we do need to see the corpse. Nor need we witness our own birth, or the births of others, to know that such births must have occurred. We do need to see something of the consequences of such births.

4. Can an atheist make a firmer claim about the state of the evidence for the existence of a God than simply that we cannot see a God, “just as” we cannot see the wind? Yes. He can say that there is no credible evidence whatever for the notion of a God–none at all, none of any kind. And he can further note that he is not logically obliged to “prove” that an unsubstantiated fantasy does not exist in order to be fully justified in abstaining from believing in that fantasy.

One can only offer evidence for positive claims about reality. One can’t offer any evidence for the nonexistence of things that don’t exist. Proof is about pointing to things in reality that support one’s conclusion. Things that exist either can be pointed at directly, or leave traces that can be pointed at. Things that don’t exist not only can’t be detected by the senses, but also leave no detectable traces. Nonexistent things exert no impact on reality. They don’t exist. They’re not there. There are no footprints of nonexistent things that are characteristic of nonexistent things and that can be cited as proof of their nonexistence. There is no indentation of a certain depth that could lead a sober investigator to cry, “Aha! We are dealing with a nonexistent entity here! Only things that don’t exist leave prints exactly .042 centimeters deep!”

Things that don’t exist leave no footprints, therefore the insistence that one point to such footprints as proof of the nonexistence is unreasonable, a kind of epistemological shell game. All the atheist need do to justify his lack of belief is show that none of the alleged “evidence” of a God actually holds water. The point might be easier to grasp if one considers fantasies one does not already unreasoningly believe in. Few advocates of the God hypothesis hold out for the hypothesis about the invisible naked fairy princesses with a limp breakdancing on Mars. Yet the amount of evidentiary support for each proposition is identical, i.e., zero.

What they consider to be evidence

Of course, for many theists, the wind itself constitutes “evidence” of a Supreme Being, just as all phenomena constitute evidence of one. “How could we even have all this stuff surrounding us–and so well-designed too–unless there were a God? If the universe hadn’t been created by such a being (an all-powerful being with good design instincts), the universe couldn’t exist.”

One need only inquire who then created and designed God to expose the futility of this alleged proof. Certainly if evolutionary forces aren’t enough to explain the intricacies of the birds and the bees, the God who confected them would be surpassing wondrous enough in constitution to require a maker to explain his own existence as well. And that back-creator would be more stupefying still in his creative abilities, requiring some sort of further causal explanation. That way lies infinite regress. In any case, any uber-creative factor would already have had to be in existence itself in order to do anything, and hence could not have created the whole of existence from scratch. So what is gained by fabricating an undetectable yet magically omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-benevolent Factor X or supernatural overlord? Why not simply accept the universe as a given, which must have always existed in some form or another, some aspects of which we can understand, some of which we cannot, at least not yet?

All the “evidence” provided for the existence of God is of just this character, some easily ripped tissue of fallacy. What it comes down to in the end is mere faith, mere belief, despite the lack of any evidence for the belief. It comes down to a feeling. Well, people believe an awful lot of things, many of them mutually contradictory, based on their strong feelings. What you need to justify substantive claims is evidence. Evidence and reasoning. This requirement does not injure but rather greatly assists the attainment of moral values and personal meaning. The evidence of the senses is the sine qua non, what gets the ball rolling.

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About David M. Brown

  • Interesting article (and discussion afterward).

    I’ll save the response for my newsletter and web site, of which I can assure you is not published because of my philanthropic nature… 🙂

  • On a semantic note, “Dalai Lama” is the title given to the head of state and spiritual leader of Tibet. His name, given at birth, is Tenzin Gyatso. (Doubtless, though, he would be good-naturedly amused to be addressed as “Mr. Lama”.)

    Now to address some points given in the above article: The universe, at least as much of it as most humans are able to observe, is actually finite and did begin at some point probably 12 to 15 billion years ago. The background radaition of the universe is the result of the big bang. So, if we point the hubble telescope into space and try to see 15 billion light years into the distance, what would we see? Nothing, of course, and that is because of a phenomonon called “red shift”. With regards to the theory that space is “infinite”, that simply can’t be true. Tonight, look up at the stars. (Assuming, of course, it isn’t too cloudy.) See all those little points of light? If the cosmos were infinite, there would be an infinite amount of stars in it that have had an infinite amount of time for their light to reach the Earth, ergo wherever you look in the night sky, you’d be looking directly into a star and thus nighttime on Earth would be just as bright as the daytime. Stephen Hawking explains these points quite excellently.

    So where does that leave God? That’s actually quite simple. God exists. Please, let me finish. What is “God”? It’s a word. Here it is, right here: God. There’s God. There are lots of ideas behind that simple word, and alot of them don’t quite make sense. Not to say that there aren’t some good ideas presented in the context of religion, of course there are. But, as was pointed out, alot of concepts and anthromorphic qualities that are so often applied to dog-spelled-backward don’t really hold up to scrunity. Ah, but there is a sensible explanation above it all. Look at any religious text, anything that mentions the word “God” or “Allah” or “Ra” or what have you. Substitute the word “Energy” for “God”. Now does it make sense?

    Michael M. Koch

  • The best proof that you don’t have to see something to believe it exists is your own mind. You cannot see it yet it exists. You cannot see thoughts but they exist. Some scientists including some behaviorists say that it either doesn’t exist or that you can’t prove it exists. I say the fact that they can disagree with me proves that the mind, consciousness whatever you want to call it does in fact exist.

  • I quoted your own summary of Schroeder, Ruvy. If I misunderstand his project of trying to reconcile reason and faith, perhaps you could tell me in what cardinal respect I do so. But my criticism is of all such attempts. For the reasons I stated, I argue that they must per se be fundamentally misguided.

    Sure, I could pause to read his works. But how many illogical babblers are out there publishing books? That’s right, oodles and oodles. How many of them do I have to read before I know that illogical babbling is illogical and babbling? That’s right. Not the entire set of all such books. I’ve imbibed my fair share.

    Rational investigation is fundamentally opposed to myth and mysticism as a “means” to knowledge. Either the mythology and the mysticism adds nothing to the rational investigation, in which case it is superfluous–or else it contradicts the rational investigation. In the latter case, of course, one would have to go with what can be shown based on the evidence. So once again, the mysticism and the mythology would be irrelevant, and would constitute no actual contribution to the inquiry.

    As for Jewish law, I obey this commandment because it is commanded by G-d. That is reason enough. And that is all the reason I need give you.

    I agree that you’re not obligated to me or anyone else to justify your world view. You are presumably obligated to yourself, however. And why participate in a discussion forum such as this unless one wishes to share and explain one’s viewpoint, and perhaps persuade others or learn something oneself? I’m willing to be persuaded by you if you can show that my viewpoint is wrongheaded in some basic way. For your part, do you want to believe what is actually true, or merely what is convenient for whatever reason to believe is true, regardless of whether it actually is in fact true?

    With respect to the commandment not to utter the word “God,” one issue is whether it was in fact commanded by God, which depends, of course, first (but not only), on whether there is indeed a God. Do you believe there is a God because you have reason to believe there is? What then is the reason?

  • As for Dr. Schroeder, read what he says before you judge what you think he says.

    As for Jewish law, I obey this commandment because it is commanded by G-d. That is reason enough. And that is all the reason I need give you.

  • You have trouble with the convergence of religious ideas with science, with is what I think that Ringer is reaching for with his essay, and which is what Schroder essentially writes about.

    Religious ideas (insofar as we are talking about myths and metaphysical hogwash, as opposed to ethical ideas that might be defended independently, on a common-sense basis) are not compatible at all with going by evidence and logic, which is what good science does. To be sure, persons with agendas of their own can try to ramrod together ideas or methods that are mutually contradictory.

    As for “G_d” v “God,” you’ve merely pointed to a text that says “Don’t say ‘God’!” That doesn’t tell me why you obey the text.

    But I’m getting the feeling that, like many religious people, you are reluctant to defend your theistic views explicitly, sensing that they in fact can’t rationally be defended. You have good reason for this intuition.

  • I’m not criticizing Ringer at all. He has been an inspiration to me and I admire him. But it used to be that to obtain his wisdom, you had to pay up (buy a book). And he got a cut.

    I wish I could point to a passage in the two books I bought of his showing his attitudes towards the Deity, but as I no longer have them, it may be problematic.

    By the way, I’m not the cynic who would say that Robert Ringer holds to these ideas because he is getting older. I was thinking of someone else. And I have no problems with his theism, either, which is why I said what I did.

    The answer to this comment: “incidentally, are superstitiously afraid to say the same w_rd, “God.” Would you be struck dead by a bolt of lightning if you put in all the letters?”


    “Jews are prohibited from saying, writing or depicting the Divinity. See Ex. 20:20 “Lo ta’asún ití…;” “You shall not make what is with Me.” So in practical terms, I do not depict G-d fully spelled out.”

    Both Dr. Schroeder and I attempt to follow the commandments and are bound by Ex. 20:20.

    You have trouble with the convergence of religious ideas with science, with is what I think that Ringer is reaching for with his essay, and which is what Schroder essentially writes about. Thank you for the link. I’ll check it out – I might be wrong in my assumptions about Ringer.

  • Ruvy, I don’t see how promoting one’s work by email is inconsistent with the pursuit of one’s self-interest.

    You also write:

    A cynic might say that Ringer is feeling the fears of mortality and is trying to get in good graces with the G-d he used to apparently dismiss years ago.

    Cynics will say anything, won’t they? I don’t agree with Ringer’s theism, but I think it’s sincere enough. And I don’t recall the dissmissiveness about God in Ringer’s work that you’re alluding too. I’ve read all his books, so perhaps you can point to the passage I’m overlooking.

    This is the kind of nonsense you’re pointing readers of my article to, after ignoring my own observations:

    In the book “The Science of G-d”, he expanded on this notion, pointing out the weaknesses in the theory of evolution as described by Darwin and what the geological record actually does show. He went on in this book to describe “six ages of Creation,” each one roughly half as long as the previous one, all of them adding up to about 15 billion years, which coincide with what the geological record shows.

    What marvelously laser-like scientific acumen, eh, by you and Dr. Schroeder, who can’t make up his mind whether the geological record (i.e., observable fact) or the myths of the Bible (i.e., fantasy) will be his source of “scientific” knowledge; and who both, incidentally, are superstitiously afraid to say the same w_rd, “God.” Would you be struck dead by a bolt of lightning if you put in all the letters?

    Ringer says more about his views of spirituality and religion in my interview with him for Laissez Faire Books, posted at at The Webzine.

  • If Robert Ringer is sending out his ideas for free on e-mails these days, than he obviously doesn’t feel the need he used to to win through intimidation and to watch out only for #1. It was his book that inspired me with the moxie to finish college (and kick bureaucrats butts all over Baruch College), and now that he is gabbing on the internet, I suppose I should thank him for the inspiration. Not that my poli sci degree earned me more than a few hundred dollars in my life…

    A cynic might say that Ringer is feeling the fears of mortality and is trying to get in good graces with the G-d he used to apparently dismiss years ago.

    But it strikes me that Mr. Ringer is tackling the problems that used to bother me about 35 years ago. Why was the water seer able to find water with his stick? It did not fit in at all with the agnostic world of cause and effect that I had constructed for myself.

    Of course, if I had been making money as a commercial real estate broker, and then even more money writing about it, like Ringer did, I wouldn’t have had the time to waste wondering why water seers could find water.

    But I digress…

    I’ll have to put Ringer in touch with Dr. Gerald Schroeder. They’re probably about the same age, and being that Ringer started out as a nice Jewish boy from New York, a nice Jewish boy from Jerusalem with an MIT degree in oceanography and physics should give him a few tips on his reasoning…

    Who knows? Maybe Robert Ringer can show Dr. Schroeder (and me) how to actually pocket that first million?