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Horgan on Buddhism

Chopra and Dawkins

I wonder what Richard Dawkins makes of this profuse and lengthy apology that Deepak Chopra has just made to him on YouTube.

Chopra says 'sorry' about comments he made while appearing on Bill O'Reilly's show on Fox News a few weeks ago. O'Reilly had previously had a spat with Dawkins. When the professor talked about 'the Judao-Christian myth', he interjected that it wasn't a myth, it was reality. Myth, insisted Dawkins. No, reality, said O'Reilly. And so on.

Later O'Reilly got Chopra on his show, ostensibly to talk about his new book, War of the Worldviews, but began by asking, what did he think of people like Dawkins? Well, Chopra began, he had once been ambushed by him. Channel 4 had called to ask him to contribute to a documentary, without telling him that it was being made by Dawkins; it was later shown under the title Enemies of Reason.

'Very dishonest guy. Did you kick his butt? I kicked his butt,' said O'Reilly.

'I did kick his butt - for three hours. But only three minutes was used,' said Chopra. 'He uses his scientific credentials to camouflage his bigotry.'

Chopra went on to mention that Dawkins had told Francis Collins, leader of the human genome project and one of the world's greatest scientists, that he, Dawkins, was a far better scientist, and that Collins shouldn't dare to question his credentials.

The problem with Dawkins is he thinks we're all idiots, O'Reilly said.

Quite mild stuff, but a month later Chopra has been having second thoughts about this exchange. In his mea culpa he said he had represented Dawkins 'unfairly and mean spiritedly'. 'Dr Dawkins has been critical of my work for the past several years; unfortunately I reacted by being personally offended and was unfair in my criticism of him in my TV appearances and written criticisms.'

They have different worldviews, he said. Dawkins is concerned with evidence-based science, while he himself is concerned with consciousness as a fundamental reality, 'and facts and evidence are more description of modes of human perception and knowing than descriptions of reality.'

Addressing Dawkins directly, he went on:

The purpose of this blog is to apologise for my behaviour. I need to learn to listen to my worst critics without being personally offended. I understand totally where you come from and also how you feel about dogmatic religion, and how dogmatic fundamentalism and religion can hurt and damage humanity and its future evolution. I also want to let you know that I am more aligned with your thinking than with Bill O'Reilly's, although we have fundamental differences.

I don't suppose O'Reilly will have him back now. Perhaps he'll ask his next guest, 'hey, what do you think about that Chopra guy?'

Sceptics' reactions to the apology are along the lines of, Dawkins was never going to lose any sleep about what Chopra thinks of him.

Quite so. But this is more about Chopra than Dawkins.

When I first became interested in Buddhism, some years ago, the first lesson I learned was about slander. You don't sound off about people behind their backs. This struck me as completely true, and also quite novel. I wondered why it wasn't an equally strong part of Christian culture. Ever since then I have tried to practice it, with occasional lapses but for the most part successfully, I hope.

But it's challenging in a field like this, which is deeply polarised, and when people are constantly bitching about those with opposite views. I have to be on my guard all the time. Particularly sometimes when I'm invited to talk on radio and I feel the host sort of trying to get me to trash the Dawkins and Randis. It just makes me uncomfortable.

So I can see how Chopra got into a jam with someone like Bill O'Reilly. He wanted to be agreeable and do what was expected of him. Weak and reprehensible. But perhaps he was intimidated. For me, being in a Fox News studio would be sort of like being summoned by Darth Vadar: I wouldn't dare antagonise them.

But of course afterwards he felt deeply uneasy about it. The answer is to fess up - publicly and unequivocally. Which is why, in his clip, Chopra doesn't seem discomfited by his very public confession of wrongdoing - on the contrary, he seems relieved.

This is spirituality in action. As I say, I wonder what Dawkins makes of it.


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I think it is unlikely Dawkins will even respond. He didn't respond to my email, after all!

Chopra should have known all along not to get his knickers in a twist and react emotionally to the likes of Dawkins and Shermer. But i don't think Chopra meditates anyway.

He is correct in my opinion for aplogising though, since the likes of Dawkins are better in my opinion than the likes of religious fanatics. Dawkins doesn't strike me as somebody that would deny the evidence for Psi if he experienced it himself. Although i do understand that he has a public persona with a certain style that doesn't leave much room for open-mindedness.

Interestingly, i checked out Jonathan Ross' wiki page and it seems as though he is a fan of Randi. He is also good friends with Ricky Gervais, the atheist. I think it would be quite a funny bit of comedy for Randi and Gervais to meet regardless of their less-than-wholesome psuedoskepticism.

Another 2 people worth some consideration - Tim Minchin and Derren Brown. Both seem, like Gervais, to have the same textbook style when it comes to armchair skepticism. The typical kind of thing we are all familiar with.

I think if one has made a mistake, or thinks one has, then it is a good thing to apologise. I don't think this is a sign of anything other than a degree of strength of character. I'd try to make sure I didn't have to do it too often though :)

Oddly enough this's the second time today I've been 'steered' into Bill O'Reilly, someone who's never appeared on my radar before.

This morning I watched him doing his Emperor Palpatine act try'n'o make Bruce Willis denounce Hollywood as a den of liberal iniquity and declare himself far to the right of Genghis Khan, but Brucie just kept repeating how liberal he was in so many ways too.

Deepak, though, seems to've fared less well, hence his need for the decontamination chamber, because he clearly knows things like the Bible, the Koran, the Vedas, etc., though archaically written (in the technical language of their respective days) are only 'religious' when studied at their lowest 101 entry levels.

In their respective times they were actually more like 'sentient' technical manuals for safely handling and utilising something not unlike radioactivity (so-called 'spiritual' energies) which is why I suspect Richard Dawkins attacks them as religious fairytales, astutely avoiding their grown up 'mystical' interpretations.


How nice! I found Chopra's apology absolutely refreshing. I can hardly believe what I've just seen. I am just so tired of all the animosity. After a while, you ache for some civility, and that was incredibly civil.

It actually reminds me of a brief (indirectly Dawkins-related) clip I saw a couple of months ago. In it, Christopher Hitchens is signing books and is asked about Christian apologist William Lane Craig. Now Craig and Hitchens are on opposite sides of a vast intellectual chasm, and have publicly debated. But in this brief clip Hitchens extols the strength of Craig as a debater with what is obviously very genuine sincerity. I found myself quite touched by it and actually couldn't stop thinking about it. It was really one of the sweetest things I've seen in the culture wars between religion and atheism, and truly endeared me to Hitchens.

It was all the nicer because it was part of a video on how Dawkins refuses to debate Craig, hurling all sorts of ad hominems in the process.

I'll post a link to the video if I can find it.

I would love to see more of this. The odd thing is that everyone in this argument--the religious convervatives like Craig, the atheists like Dawkins, and the New Agers like Chopra--espouse values of respect and compassion for other human beings. And when some of it does peek through, I find it leaves a more lasting impression than the rest of what they do.

I can't find the video, but I did find a transcription of what Hitchens says about Craig:

"I can tell you that my brothers and sisters in the unbelieving community take him very seriously. He's thought of as a very tough guy: very rigorous, very scholarly, very formidable. I say that without reserve, I don't say it just because I'm here... Normally I don't get people saying, 'good luck tonight and don't let us down' but with him I do."

I think there's an element of the paradox of profound thruth here. Sometimes one feel morally obliged to give another person the 'heads up' when they are about to walk into (say) a dangerous trap - even if it does mean voicing one's concerns about the negative conduct of another and, hence, the reflection it puts on their character.

Perhaps it's a matter more to do with context and intention?

That aside, well done Deepak. It's slways character building to take the high moral ground. It's also the best way to defeat one's opponent. 8)

I don't want to set the cat among the pigeons too much but I see Dawkins and Chopra as the flip sides of the same coin. That is Dawkins as a caricature of the churchly dogmatism and arrogance of Big Science and scientific materialism, and Chopra, the lightweight New-Ager with his own holier-than-thou cant, disguised by a pseudo-humility. I do not like Chopra let me be honest, and remember I'm on your side when it comes to parapsychology. I take it very seriously and you won't find a bigger critic of scientific materialism and reductionism than myself.

I can't take the glib Chopra any more seriously than the glib Dawkins. Neither is exactly scholarly and serious. And they both have big egos (Chopra just does this false humble act).

I actually knocked Chopra quite harshly (and why I don't care for his prattle, I go into some of the details, but only some) over at Dean Radin's blog yonks ago, and even got into a bit of an argument with Radin there and a few others! A bit of back and forth.
I posted there under the same name as here.

PS Chopra's profuse apology to Dawkins is part of his I-am-more-humble-than-thou act. It's not that Chopra is being deliberately opportunistic here, it's second nature with Chopra, an unconscious act.

I'm inclined to like Deepak - and I certainly admire him for his willingness to debate and co-author a book with Leonard Mlodinow, a book that, I believe will go a very long way towards softening the attitude of some of the more reasonable materialist scientists.

What bothers me more is the way that Wayne Dyer has wormed his way into the life (and authorship) of Anita Moorjani whose NDE is truly astonishing and, I believe, wholly genuine. I don't have much regard for Wayne Dyer and fear that his collaboration may serve him but damage Anita's image. (My apologies Robert if that's taken things off topic.)

I don't know a lot about Chopra. I've always been too turned off to find out more. I read his book on coincidence and was astonished at how vacant-headed it was. I saw his debate with Sam Harris and Michael Shermer where he just bellowed incoherent quantum-babble. My favorite moment in that debate was when Sam Harris flatly instructed him, "Deepak, dial it down." I'm still enjoying that line.

That being said, I loved the apology. I confess. Maybe he was putting on an act, but I didn't hear insincerity in what he said. I didn't hear the undercurrents. Maybe if I was more familiar with him, I would have heard those things. But at this distance, I simply found it refreshing, in part because I have found him to be such a turn-off. Given all the ugliness out there, I'm willing to forgive some ulterior motives in an apology like that. If you find a gnat in your glass of fine wine, it's still fine wine.

Julie, you spoke my thoughts about Anita Moorjani and Dyer. I wonder how many others are thinking that.

I suspect a lot of sincere people are thinking just that, Robert. And when Anita's book comes out - complete with Dyer's introduction - it will give the Skeptics a field day. Anyway, it's too late now, the book is, I believe, already in print. 8(

In my view Richard Dawkins and Bill O'Reilly form a much more credible 'two sides of the same coin'. Dogmatic, self righteous, uncompromising, closed minded and willing to anathametise their opponents, they have much more in common with each other than with Chopra.

I appreciate Deepak isn't everyone's cup of tea, even with those like Lawrence who are sympatheic to a spiritual point of view. But for me, beneath the glitzy new age surface there is a solid base of Vedic Hinduism. And I love his Life after Death, Jesus and Buddha books.

For what it's worth I think his agonising and subsequent apology is genuine.

I have often thought that the debate between the "believers' and the 'skeptics' is a waste of time.....Experience is what it's all about...
The believers, generally, have experienced something..
The skeptics, generally, haven't experienced the same thing....

And that's ok.....whether it be, 'life after Death' or 'Ufo's', or whatever, do we really need to argue..
What I have experienced is my business, and I don't need to prove it to anyone else........
Regards, Badeye......

I couldn't agree more, Brian! 8)


I love civil discussion and debate.
Richard Dawkins isn't civil. He would forcibly silence and jail the lot of us if he had the power.
Richard Dawkins is no Christopher Hitchens. Even if he thinks you're stupid or silly, Mr. Hitchens will at least defend your right to have a religious or spiritual belief, as long as the belief is practiced peacefully. Richard Dawkins represents a type of dangerous fanaticism found in both religious and materialist zealots.

My problem with Deepak Chopra isn't that he apologised, but rather, who he apologized to.

(sigh) I guess I'm the only one here who thinks that Richard Dawkins' ass should be metaphorically kicked, not kissed. Using reason in lieu of violence, of course.
I'm not a zealot :-)

Hello RabbitDawg,

By apologising, Deepak has, in a sense, kicked Richard Dawkins' ass. He's shown himself bigger than Dawkins and done so in front of the world. I like that. One of the hardest things in the world is to remain polite and courteous in the face of prejudice and bigotry.

In such dilemmas I try to ask myself what I think my all-time hero, Mahatma Gandhi, would have done; he would have apologised (and probably starved himself for a week to boot!). ;)

Okey dokey Julie, I concede your point. Sometimes I struggle with discerning the point where we should lay down and risk getting run over, or stand up and fight when it comes to principles of justice, and right vs. wrong. I believe that both positions have their place.

Let's use Jesus as an example. Whether you believe in some version of the faith or not, look at the narrative:
On one hand, we have "No greater love has no one than this, than to lay down his life for his friends" - i.e., Love isn't always what we say of feel, sometimes it's what we do.
On the other hand, sometimes the temple has to be forcibly cleaned. The tables have to be overturned, without physically striking the Pharisee's, so to speak.

There's a time to lay down, and a time to stand up. In the end, isn't that always an internal struggle?

BTW, I realize that in the above example, I'm making a little bit of an apple and oranges comparison, but I hope you get my point. It's a mainstream authority vs. spiritually rebellious underclass kind of thing.
After all, Deepak Chopra is no Jesus, and I mean no offence to the Pharisee's by comparing them to Richard Dawkins. :-)

Yes, I have no hard and fast argument against that. But I feel that one must do these things on one's own terms and not be brought down to the level of foul play (if you get my drift). Sometimes how we do something is more important than what we actually do. Hey, I've just realised, how corny is that:

'It ain't what you do it's the way that you do it . . . . '

'It ain't what you do it's the way that you do it...
Yep, that pretty much sizes it up, Julie.

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