Yesterday, if you were reading CNN, you might have found yourself suddenly confronted with this Op-Ed piece by Deepak Chopra: My Take: Science and spirituality should be friends.

Oh dear.

If you are like me, just the name Deepak Chopra rings warning bells. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be his full name. Deepak is enough. Hell, I’ve been known to twitch at the word “Chop” which makes watching infomercials late at night troubling for my loved ones, to say the least.

Chopra is actually a medical doctor (an endocrinologist to be specific) who realized he could make more money help more people by getting white people to swallow a load of bullshit eastern mysticism focusing on alternative medicines and New Age spirituality.

He currently runs the Chopra Center where you can sign up for programs to “Experience panchakarma detoxification therapy”, “harness the power of Coincidence” through something called “Synchrodestiny” (wasn’t that a band in the ’80s?) or “meditate with Deepak” all for prices ranging from $800 to $4,000.

As you can probably guess, I’m not a big fan of Deepak. He plays on the fact that he’s Indian to make it seem like he has a direct line to all things spiritual. But above and beyond that, he peddles ayurvedic treatments (at a price) and uses his scientific background to give himself credibility that he simply does not have.

In today’s CNN post, he espouses the opinion that the gap between religion and science is getting smaller:

I’m thinking instead of Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution has proved victorious over the Book of Genesis and its story of God creating the universe in seven days. Since then, God has been found wanting when measured against facts and data. With no data to support the existence of God, there is also no reason for religion and science to close the gap between them.

Yet the gap has indeed been closing.

Religion and spirituality didn’t go away just because organized religion has been losing its hold, as suggested by showing decades of declining church attendance in the U.S. and Western Europe.

Well, I suppose that is *technically* true in that religion and spirituality still EXIST IN THE WORLD. But I think Deepak is implying that just because people aren’t going to church, they are still finding religion in other places and are still highly spiritual:

…two trends in spirituality and science have started to converge. One is the trend to seek God outside the church. This has given rise to a kind of spirituality based on personal experience, with an openness to accept Eastern traditions like meditation and yoga as legitimate ways to expand one’s consciousness”

But a survey from Gallup (the organization where Chopra is actually a ‘senior scientist’) in 2009 showed that religiosity is far higher in the world’s poorest nations; not in the U.S. or Western Europe. In addition, another Gallup poll from the same year showed that an increasing number of Americans claim little or no religious identity at all.

Maybe you could argue that the fact that the practice of yoga and meditation has risen in popularity over the past few years. But I would argue that yoga itself is evolving to be more of a physical and less of a spiritual endeavor. Believe me, when you’re in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit and trying to get your toes to touch your forehead, being one with the universe becomes a lot less important than not falling the hell over.

Ow

But whatever, Deepak, I’ll give you your God of consciousness, the spirituality that resides within our own selves and minds. Or I would, if you didn’t then follow it up with this steaming pile of what-the-fuck:

Twenty years ago, a respectable researcher couldn’t ask daring questions such as “do we live in an intelligent universe?” or “Is there mind outside the body?”
That’s because materialism rules science; it is the core of the scientific worldview that reality is constructed out of physical building blocks – tiny things like atoms and quarks – whose motion is essentially random.

Um. What?

Do we live in an intelligent universe? Is there mind outside the body? I’m pretty sure science STILL can’t ask questions like that, not because they’re not ‘daring’ enough but because they are not testable enough. At least not without additional clarification.

How do you define an intelligent universe? If you hypothesize there is mind outside the body, where would it be? I’ve had a half-drunk cup of tea on my desk at work for about a week now and I’m pretty sure it’s smarter than I am by now. I could test for intelligence in it much more easily than I could test for intelligence in the nebulous ‘universe’ or ‘outside the body.’ Get specific, Chopra!

My conference, called the Sages and Scientists Symposium: The Merging of A New Future, is only one in a wave of gatherings through which hundreds of researchers are working to define a new paradigm for the relationship between spirituality and science.

Oh, for fuck’s sake. That’s what this is all about? Another goddamn conference ($1,995) that Chopra is selling us? What the hell? Kudos to him for getting CNN to give him that much free ad space, I guess.

It is becoming legitimate to talk of invisible forces that shape creation – not labeling them as God but as the true shapers of reality beyond the space/time continuum. A whole new field known as quantum biology has sprung up, based on a true breakthrough – the idea that the total split between the micro world of the quantum and the macro world of everyday things may be a false split.

See what he did there? He took a completely nonsensical sentence (the clue was the use of the term ‘space/time continuum’) and tried to legitimize it by referencing an actual scientific field. And, something that Deepak is famous for, included the word ‘quantum’ in the hopes that it would actually read as “this is too complicated for you to actually understand but trust me I’m a scientist and know what the word quantum means.”

If so, science will have to account for why the human brain, which lives in the macro world, derives its intelligence from the micro world. Either atoms and molecules are smart, or something makes them smart.

That something, I believe, will come down to a conscious universe.

Fuck you, Chopra. What the hell?

That doesn’t even mean anything. Smart molecules? Intelligence in the micro world? Now you’re just throwing words out and hoping that everyone clicked the link to your conference and didn’t bother to read all the way to the bottom of the article.

Agree or disagree, you cannot simply toss the question out the window.

Wanna bet?

It turns out that the opposition of science to religion is a red herring. The real goal of a new science will be to expand our reality so that spiritual truths are acceptable, along with many other subjective experiences that science has long dismissed as unreliable.

That’s actually true. If you define “a new science” as “unscientific claptrap from a person who really doesn’t understand what science is.” But the line that really makes me crazy is this:

We are conscious beings who live with purpose and meaning. It seems unlikely that these arose form a random, meaningless universe. The final answer to where they came from may shake science to its core. I certainly hope it does.

Oh Deepak.

The universe isn’t random or meaningless. If you believe that the only way you can find meaning and purpose is to have a creator, then I pity you. The universe has order and structure and phenomenal beauty.

If you can’t see that in the science of a dying star or a solar flare then I feel sorry for you. We are, indeed, creatures of purpose and meaning. And science doesn’t need to be shaken to its core to understand that. I see purpose and meaning in every new discovery I read.

What could be more meaningful than people working to make burn victims recovery faster and safer? Or learning how a solar-powered hornet turns light into electricity and figuring out what we can learn from that. Look at the real, tangible things that science is learning every day, Deepak. It might shake you to your core instead.

Masala Skeptic

Masala Skeptic

Maria Walters (a.k.a. Masala Skeptic) has spent a lot of time in ‘furrin parts,’ including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Pittsburgh. Although her passport is from India, she’s spent most of her adult life in the United States. She currently lives in Atlanta and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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25 Comments

  1. Avatar of scribe999
    February 16, 2011 at 11:38 am —

    I once saw workers fixing a burst septic tank…it kinda reminds me of Deepak Chopra.

  2. Avatar of Blake Stacey
    February 16, 2011 at 11:48 am —

    Linus Pauling introduced quantum mechanics into chemistry in the early 1930s. His greatest triumph was explaining the structure and stability of the benzene molecule. Benzene gives you leukemia and will make your baby be born without a head. Now that’s spiritual.

  3. Avatar of QuestionAuthority
    February 16, 2011 at 11:51 am —

    Sometimes, I think being a critical, skeptical thinker is like playing “Whack a Mole” with the rest of the world….

    Deepak Chopra…* double facepalm*

  4. Avatar of Steve D
    February 16, 2011 at 12:19 pm —

    Oooh, “quantum biology”. I’ve gotta use that in something. :-D

  5. Avatar of Blake Stacey
    February 16, 2011 at 12:24 pm —

    @Blake Stacey:

    (OK, now I’m worried that I scare-mongered the risks of chronic exposure. . . Point is, chemistry has used quantum mechanics for a long time, and none of it has a jot to do with “spirituality”.)

  6. Avatar of Blake Stacey
    February 16, 2011 at 12:27 pm —

    That’s because materialism rules science; it is the core of the scientific worldview that reality is constructed out of physical building blocks – tiny things like atoms and quarks – whose motion is essentially random.

    And the discovery that atoms and their constituents behave in a fundamentally probabilistic way was the discovery of . . . quantum mechanics.

    Funny, ain’t it?

    Either atoms and molecules are smart, or something makes them smart.

    Atoms and molecules are dumb. The complex arrangement of many molecules makes the arrangement smart, but the molecules are still dumb.

  7. Avatar of DataJack
    February 16, 2011 at 12:43 pm —

    This clown is as exasperating as he is persistent. I am not surprised, but I am offended, that CNN chose to give him a stage for this nonsense.

  8. Avatar of James Fox
    February 16, 2011 at 2:23 pm —

    @scribe999: Yea, some deep packing could burst anyone’s skeptic tank. ;-)

  9. Avatar of khan
    February 16, 2011 at 2:42 pm —

    —Agree or disagree, you cannot simply toss the question out the window.—
    ———————————————
    Some ideas deserve to be defenestrated.

  10. Avatar of Sam Ogden
    February 16, 2011 at 2:43 pm —

    Can’t . . . read . . . post. . . . Still laughing at the title!

  11. Avatar of scribe999
    February 16, 2011 at 2:48 pm —

    @James Fox: He bubbles and froths with a terrible flow of ideas that stink upon their face.

  12. Avatar of AdamVonWillis
    February 16, 2011 at 3:11 pm —

    I stopped reading the Huffington Post when they started posting anti-science articles by this bozo.

  13. Avatar of Laika
    February 16, 2011 at 3:18 pm —

    His website looks like a cruise ship advertisement.

    If you’ve never seen him or heard him speak…

  14. Avatar of hhgttg4desiato
    February 16, 2011 at 3:20 pm —

    (empty line)

    I agree! Chopra is wooing it up for profit and it’s annoying.

    >
    > Chopra is actually a medical doctor
    > (an endocrinologist to be specific)
    > (…)
    > and uses his scientific background to give himself
    > credibility that he simply does not have.
    > (…)
    > a person who really doesn’t understand what science is.
    >

    I’ve always felt reticent to criticize another person’s credibility without first giving some detail of my own credibility that allows me to sit in judgement. I’ve searched Skepchick.org but I can’t seem to find anything that tells me what “chops” Masala Skeptic has. Someone please fill me in?

  15. Avatar of Masala Skeptic
    February 16, 2011 at 3:28 pm —

    @hhgttg4desiato: I don’t have any scientific training, if that is what you’re asking. I’m a writer and liberal arts major.

    That doesn’t mean I can’t criticize/question someone who has a scientific background and yet promotes bad science and pseudoscience. :)

  16. Avatar of Elyse
    February 16, 2011 at 3:33 pm —

    @hhgttg4desiato:

    She is Indian. This gives her a deeper understanding of all things spiritual.

    True: Indian people never travel to India for spiritual enlightenment.

  17. Avatar of genjokoan
    February 16, 2011 at 5:36 pm —

    So he graduated from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and has a license to practice medicine in Massachusetts and California. I wonder if anyone in charge at licensing agencies at either place has listened to the rubbish he sells to desperate boomers. If they did, surely they would give him is money back and disavow any and every thing to do with him.

    To be fair, I do not have a MD degree. If you will forgive me a little appeal to authority logic abuse, I will say that I used to teach physics to pre med students. I have never met one that did not make me fear ever needing a doctor. Truly, not a one expressed the mental capacity to grok quantum. Never mind quantum mechanics, they stumbled on quantum all by its lonesome.

    If I may abuse logic once more, I will confess to knowing enough zen to … let’s just say that in my experience pre meds know more about quanta than they know about spirituality.

    If DC had any visible ethics he would have no choice but to die an immediate, public, excruciating death. He could sell tickets to that show too. sigh

    Sorry if that was over the top. Can you tell I do not like the guy? I think I will go take a long shower now. Talking about DC makes me feel unclean.

    Some of the best of youtube chronicles Hitch ripping into DC. Priceless.

  18. Avatar of benjaminsa
    February 16, 2011 at 5:43 pm —

    Seems, just another reason not to be reading CNN.

    Though maybe we should takes this convergence seriously. If Sages want to talk about Science, maybe Scientists need to start talking about Sagery?
    Most of the ones (physicists) I’ve met seem to prefer beer as the way to inner peace and oneness with the world – at least that is what I assume all the hugging the ground and ritual groaning was about – but, who knows, there might be other ideas out there, Feynman had drums, Garrett Lisi surfs, Neil deGrasse Tyson has those funky ties. I say we as skeptics embrace this opportunity, and publish some papers on things like: ‘optimum hammock swing periods’ etc etc

  19. Avatar of James Fox
    February 16, 2011 at 6:15 pm —

    @hhgttg4desiato: …and only Greeks can use the Socratic Method, and unless you’ve held elected public office you can’t have a critical opinion of a politician…

  20. Avatar of andiis
    February 16, 2011 at 6:19 pm —

    I love this Masala !! It is just the way I would express my feelings on Deep Chop if I had the skills. So thanks so much for putting it down on the blog.
    I think your ” chops ” are in your ability to critically analyze and write a succinct article on this subject. I didn’t see it as a scientific report on the efficacy of ‘ eastern ‘ ayurvedic treatments, but as one woman’s perceptive reasoning behind DC’s M.O. One with which I agree .
    Thanks again Masala.

  21. Avatar of sagacioushillbilly
    February 16, 2011 at 10:48 pm —

    Excellent post! These charlatans exist because ignorance is so common. We live in a time when all the information we can handle is at our finger tips yet we remain ignorant. People would rather read about Linsey Lohan’s latest legal problem than something about real science or better understand social issues. Top that with the fact that people don’t read newspapers or magazines anymore and it turns out that the information network that we dreamed would make everyone so much better informed back in the 80s has actually dumbed down the masses.
    Arg. As a scientist and social activist I find it all very frustrating.

  22. Avatar of Buzz Parsec
    February 17, 2011 at 1:30 am —

    Quantum biology? That’s so 20th Century. My new Superduper Complimentary Alternative Medicine is based on string theory. So far I’ve worked out the SCAM diet plan – you eat lots of long thin things like spaghetti, string beans, spiced shredded pork in garlic sauce, shoe-string potatoes and tape worms. And think THIN. It’s all based on the ancient wisdom of the Incas, creators of the Nasca Lines.

    I haven’t worked out the health/wellness aspects yet, but stay tuned.

    P.S. Maria, your last 3 paragraphs were absolutely beautiful.

  23. Avatar of Steve D
    February 17, 2011 at 9:20 am —

    @Elyse “True: Indian people never travel to India for spiritual enlightenment.”:

    Wait. I’ve never traveled to to India for spiritual enlightenment…

  24. Avatar of Drenched
    February 18, 2011 at 11:38 am —

    I don’t have anything particularly incisive to add, but I did really quite like this article, and thanks a ton for writing it :)

    One quibble though:
    “Crazy” is one of those words that has collateral damage

  25. Avatar of geekgirl
    February 18, 2011 at 3:51 pm —

    @khan:

    COTW

    (Hello Skepchicks, btw. Long time reader/lurker.)

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