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From Skepticism to Cynicism to Savage Antipathy

Posted on 10 December 2012, 14:44

Hardly a day has gone by during the past few weeks when I have not noticed an article of one kind or another by some self-appointed guardian of science attacking Dr. Eben Alexander and his book Proof of Heaven (see prior blog entry). They spew animosity, cynicism, hostility, antagonism, bitterness, rancor, enmity, and contempt.

The attackers seem to be of two types.  First, there are the more educated who write the articles and blogs.  They smirk and snicker in righteous indignation, seeing Alexander as simply deluded and his claims as lacking scientific foundation.  The second type, the less-educated, post comments at blogs or write letters to the editors.  They come across as rednecks who were brainwashed by their high school biology teachers and don’t realize that a belief in biological evolution is not opposed to a spiritual world.  They wave the banner of science but know very little about the scope of science. They scoff and sneer at the “ridiculous” claims of Alexander, as if they are truly enlightened.  Even though it is usually clear that they haven’t read the book, they try to sabotage the book rating by giving it the lowest rating possible in order to bring down the overall rating.  Both types see Alexander as a disgrace to science, a money-hungry traitor out to make millions on his book while leading the gullible astray.

I have often struggled to find a word to describe the attitude of such people.  I don’t think “Skepticism” is the proper word as a skeptic, by definition, is someone who questions and sometimes doubts but has not made up his or her mind, which is open to change.  Some would call it pseudoskepticism, (pseudo = pretend), but this term is not always applicable as not all of them pretend to be skeptics. They simply know it all – no ands, ifs, or buts about it.

Perhaps the term applied to it by Irish journalist Brian Inglis is his 1977 classic, Natural & Supernatural, best describes it.  Inglis calls it “savage antipathy.”  He devotes a chapter of his comprehensive book to the “the growth of scepticism,” using the more British spelling of the word.  (Being a colonist, I’ll opt for the “k” in the word.)  Inglis traces the roots of skepticism back to Aristotle, (below) who began questioning the supernatural stories of his teacher, Plato, and Plato’s teacher, Socrates.  Skepticism’s first manifesto was authored three centuries later by Cicero, who made it clear that he did not accept the reality of sacrificial divination in any form, though open-minded to the more inspirational aspects of divination.  Jumping ahead to the late 14th Century, Inglis cites the Catholic Church’s policy of appointing a Promotor Fedei (Promoter of the Faith), also called the Advocatus Diaboli, or Devil’s Advocate.  It was the Devil Advocate’s job to take the skeptical view of the various miracles credited to the person nominated for sainthood and argue against his or her canonization.  .


According to Inglis, “modern” skepticism’s first manifesto appeared in the middle of the 18th Century with David Hume’s essay on miracles. “Hume (below) did not attempt to disguise that his aim was polemical, rather than scientific,” Inglis explains.  “He was out to undermine the arguments of Christianity’s apologists in order ‘to silence the most arrogant bigotry and superstition and free all of us from their impertinent solicitations.’ To that end, he boasted, ‘I flatter myself that I have discovered an argument of a like nature which, if just, will with the wise and learned be an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusions, and consequently will be useful as long as the world endures.’”


When during the latter part of the 18th Century Franz Mesmer introduced what was at first called animal magnetism, and later mesmerism, and then hypnotism, the skeptics had to rethink their view on miracles and related phenomena.  Drawing from the Cabalist tradition, Mesmer propounded the theory that a subtle fluid permeates the universe and associates all things together in mutual intercourse and harmony.  The fact that some mesmerized subjects demonstrated clairvoyance suggested something other than the mechanistic universe that science had settled upon. A number of advocates of mesmerism believed there was spiritual component to it, but science scoffed at the idea.

Exactly when true skepticism turned to cynicism and then to savage antipathy is difficult to pinpoint, but it seems to have manifested for the most part during the late 19th Century in the Age of Darwinism – a time when true skeptics became total disbelievers in anything spiritual because spirituality and religion were, to them, synonymous, and thus they were unable to reconcile biological evolution with the “myths” and “fables” of the Bible, especially the creation story.  Falsus in uno, falso in omnibus – false in one, then false in all – seems to have been the logical conclusion.  After all, if the Bible had been inspired by God, as religious leaders proclaimed, how could an all-knowing God be so wrong?  Therefore, god must not exist, and if there is no god, then there must not be an afterlife, either, was the “rational” assumption.

Even popular current authors advocating atheism and nihilism are not able to separate the anthropomorphic God issue from the survival of consciousness issue.  Like many religions they somehow conclude that religion’s “God in the sky” must be fully identified before the afterlife issue can be considered, rather than taking the opposite approach.  One recent Internet post, tied to the discussion of Dr. Alexander’s conclusions from his near-death experience, asked a dozen or more modern-day scientists about their views on the afterlife, and several of them started out by discussing the lack of evidence for God rather than addressing the evidence for survival, which they likely have dismissed without even examining it. 

Indications are that the spirit world took notice of this loss of belief during the 19th Century and tried to do something about it by initiating various phenomena through sensitives, called mediums.  This “spiritualism” movement was simply too much for the “rational” man and was countered, at first, by simple skepticism, which gave rise to cynicism, and then savage attacks.  One of the best recorded instances of savage antipathy involved the medium D.D. Home and poet Robert Browning.  Even though Browning had witnessed some amazing spirit phenomena with Home and initially attested to it, he apparently became upset because his wife, poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, was so enamored of Home, and, perhaps out of jealousy, Robert Browning called Home a cheat and impostor, writing a disparaging poem about a Home-like medium called “Mr. Sludge, the Medium,” in which he portrayed the medium as a psychopath and fraud.

As Inglis observes, Sir David Brewster, a renowned British scientist, followed a similar course, first praising Home but when he was criticized by his scientific colleagues, he retracted his testimony, calling Home a fraud, and saying that he must have hidden something under the table, and that nobody was allowed to look under the table.  After Brewster’s death, however, his daughter published his memoirs, inadvertently including a letter in which Brewster disclosed that he had been invited to make an inspection under the table and in which he implied that it was all beyond trickery. 

After hearing the explorer Galla praise another medium, Brewster commented that “the world is obviously going mad.”  Before retracting his testimony about Home, Brewster suggested that the phenomena he had witnessed might be genuine, but he rejected the idea that spirits were behind it all.  “Yet here were the spirits – or, at least some force with the ability to manifest a measure of intelligence – moving tables, a process which could not simply be dismissed as occultist nonsense, because so many intelligent and skeptical people were witnessing it,” Inglis offers.

Sir Oliver Lodge, a world-renowned physicist and pioneer in electricity and radio, was also mocked by his scientific colleagues when he reported on his research into psychic phenomena and what he saw as the reality of it.  “It is not easy to unsettle minds thus fortified against the intrusion of unwelcome facts; and their strong faith is probably a salutary safeguard against that unbalanced and comparatively dangerous condition called ‘open-mindedness,’ which is ready to learn and investigate anything not manifestly self-contradictory and absurd,” Lodge reacted to the criticism.

As mentioned in my prior blog, in his recently-released book, Science Set Free, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, a world-renowned biologist and a clear exception to the more fundamentalist scientist, points out that many scientists are unaware that materialism is an assumption and only think of it as science.  He further states that certain beliefs are taken for granted without any thought being given to them.  “In no other field of scientific endeavor do otherwise intelligent people feel free to make public claims based on prejudice and ignorance,” Sheldrake writes. “…Yet in relation to psychic phenomena, committed materialists feel free to disregard the evidence and behave irrationally and unscientifically while claiming to speak in the name of science and reason. They abuse the authority of science and bring rationalism into disrepute.”

Note:  The above-referenced book, Natural & Supernatural, by Brian Inglis, (below) is available from White Crow Books. 


Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die is published by White Crow Books. His latest book, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife will be available on January 14, 2013. 


Next Post:  December 24.



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Bennyseery, Tue 10 Jul, 20:37

I’d say something like “Neo-Orthodox” might help.  What they want is for their faith, materialism (naturalism, physicalism,...) to vanquish all other beliefs and all dis-confirming information.  There is a small clergy of professional pseudo-skeptics, and total phonies like Randi and Jillette who have a financial and professional stake in enforcing their orthodox view on everything.  The laundry list that Carl Sagan once wrote up for CSICOP is a partial list, though as the Neo-Orthodox response to something as innocuous as Harry Potter shows that it’s just about anything they can object to.  In that they have a lot in common with some of the more ignorant members of their opposition.

So many of those who don’t have a financial or quasi-professional interest in it are mostly in it to make themselves feel superior to everyone else and to gain status among other such snobs.  That’s what many of the obnoxious pseudo-skeptics and new atheists are in it for.  It’s boy bonding among intellectually incurious and ignorant jerks.

Anthony McCarthy, Sat 12 Jan, 19:24

As I understand it the only objections that these vicious bigots can make is that the experience happened just before he went into coma or just before he came out. This doesn’t make any sense because he fluctuated back and forth between the hyper real and the earthworm view many times but remembered that THAT happened before he was coming back at the end of the experience. And shutting down brains don’t keep turning on and off.
Furthermore, reductionist scientists shouldn’t be ignoring their own brain science principles namely that his memory shouldn’t have been functioning. This amount of trauma to the brain should wipe out short term memory as it should in cardiac arrest.
The other possibilty is that he’s made it all up.grin
And yes. these vicious bigots would say that.

tim, Sun 23 Dec, 22:29

Re:  Julie Worley’s comment (see above)

I agree with Julie in regard to Johanne Greber’s work - Are there others who are familiar with same ...


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Richard Brannon, Sat 15 Dec, 23:02

“Savage Antipathy” lovely intellectual turn of phrase, some applause is due, but it’s over the head of most “skeptics”, thus not reaching it’s target. A more widely understood phrase is to call them “headkickers”  That’s all they really do. They behave like Hitlers SA brownshirts, criminals in uniform, in the early 30’s, before Hitler had real political power. All he could do was headkick and terrorise his political opponents into silence.
More should be made of the FBI hate group template described by Tim Bolen. Even more MUST BE MADE of the outpouring of JREF rape and deaththreats toward skeptic Rebecca Watson. Thousands of rape and mutilation death threats coming out of JREF toward her and other women. Skeptoids are basically hate-filled headkickers and will say anything to do your head in.That’s all they do. So “Savage” gets a tick- “Antipathy” is beyond their ken. Skeptics are a Hate group not unlike the KKK, practising headkicking.
Link to Rebecca Watsons story
and the FBI is quoted

Steve Trueblue, Fri 14 Dec, 12:55


It is probably a safe bet that the title was selected by the publisher to promote sales.  I see the title as being deeply counter-productve.


L, Thu 13 Dec, 06:18


The world has always been overly supplied with what I think of as the PIPAOI – “Pig Ignorant And Proud Of It”, characterised by the cry “I don’t need facts, I have already made up my mind.”

They have always been an embarrassment to the intelligent members of the human race but could be largely ignored.  Until the Internet came along!  Now, wow, they have a worldwide sea of likeminded to whom they can appeal.

PIAPOI manifests in many areas. 

About thirty years ago, I was involved in a murder trial that grabbed headlines around the world and in which many very complex technical issues were pivotal.

The sensationalism whipped up by the media was such that absolutely everyone had an opinion.

The several technical experts involved, of which I was one, were attacked by all and sundry (it extended to death threats in my case!) because the technical experts were employing science to defend what the ill-informed saw as ‘indefensible’.

It soon became very clear that, the less a person knew about the case in general and the technical aspects in particular, the more vehement and violent were their opinions, some of which emanated from seriously deranged minds.  The fact that there was a religious element involved seriously exacerbated this reaction.

PIAPOI rules!!!

And this parallels what you are here describing.

It will always be so, Michael, and there is no point any of us being distressed about it.  It will never change.


L, Thu 13 Dec, 06:11

“Every new idea inevitably encounters opposition and there is not one which is implanted without a fight.  Well, in these cases the resistance is always in proportion to the importance of the foreseen results,because the greater these are the more numerous are the interests which are affected.
“If it is notoriously false, if it is taken as inconsequential, then no one becomes alarmed; everyone lets it go, being certain it lacks vitality. 
“If, however, it is true, if it is placed on a solid base, if it appears to have a future, then a secret presentiment alerts its antagonists to the fate that it constitutes a danger for them and to the order of things to whose maintenance they are pledged. Then they throw themselves against it and its adepts.
“So we can measure the importance and the results of a new idea by the amount of emotion its appearance causes, by the violence of the opposition it provokes, as well as by the degree and persistence of the anger of its adversaries.” 
ALLAN KARDEC, Educator & Paranormal Researcher (1804-1869)

Yvonne Limoges, Tue 11 Dec, 01:42

I haven’t yet looked at Alexander’s book itself nor at the online discussions of it, but as a first thought, I wonder if the title “Proof of Heaven” might have helped to set the materialists off all the more.  Proof of survival, after all, is not proof of heaven in the traditional sense, any more than (as Mike points out) accepting survival means accepting traditional religious dogma. 

I also wonder whether Dr. Alexander might have selected a different title himself—this sounds like a somewhat sensationalist title a publisher would choose in the hope of selling books.  Has the author mentioned anything about that?

Meanwhile, even my most materialist friend has started to show some cracks in her armoring against spirituality, and is willing to at least consider ideas she doesn’t like.  There’s hope.

Elene Gusch, Tue 11 Dec, 00:31

I highly recommend a book “Communication With the Spirit World” A Narrative of Scientific Investigations and Experiences, of a Catholic Priest, with Practical Teachings from Spiritual Planes Calrifying the Sacred Scriptures by Johannes Greber, 1932 to anyone interested in open-minded inquiry into how the Bible, Spirituality and Science go together in a way anyone can understand.  Some of the topics include creation, the virgin birth, bi-location, survival without food, etc.  Absolutely fascinating with the ring of Truth!

Julie Worley, Mon 10 Dec, 19:58

Much appreciated, Mike. Thanks!

Jane Katra, Mon 10 Dec, 19:26

You are quite right to criticize the use of the term ‘scepticism’ Mike to describe the prevailing scientific attitude. Aggressive antipathy describes the attitude of the majority of scientists to parapsychology, I am sorry to say. But there are some of us who bother to examine the evidence and keep an open mind until we find the evidence convincing.

I was a sceptical atheist myself in my teenage years, though I had been brainwashed with Christianity as a boy. I did not believe in psychic events because my science teachers told me they were nonsense - brainwashing just as insidious as that from my religious preachers.

But the experimental evidence has been steadily building up for more than a century now and it is only those in denial who can still dismiss the existence of the psychic realm.

Dr Howard A. Jones, Mon 10 Dec, 18:00

“Prejudice and ignorance” is the least path of resistance for the lazy minded.

Steve Sparks, Mon 10 Dec, 17:36

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Facing the Final Choice by Michael Grosso – The editor of my first book suggested I call it The Final Choice (1985). I thought the title was overdramatic and a bit grandiose. I did in part write the book in response to what seemed like the growing threat of nuclear war. Read here
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