December 03, 2007

Anti-Matters: A Wooful Journal of the Immaterial

The science blogs I follow are all abuzz this morning with news of something called Anti-Matters, an online publication billing itself as

A quarterly open-access journal addressing issues in science and the humanities from non-materialistic perspectives.
Just about every science-related blog I follow has mentioned this publication. Jason Rosenhouse has weighed in on EvolutionBlog and Blake Stacey blogs about it on Science After Sunclipse, among others. There seems to be a general impression that Anti-Matters is being put out by the usual ID crowd, but in looking it over I don't see evidence for that.

Instead, this rag appears to be coordinated by the Sri Aurobindo people. For those not familiar with Eastern esoterica, Sri Aurobindo was a yoga swami who pitched a great deal of woo in his time. The Sri Aurobindo Institute of Culture follows in their founders footsteps, and their mission statement can be viewed in full on their website. A quick snippet reveals what's behind this alleged journal, however:
The West has made the growth of the intellectual, emotional and material being of man its ideal but it has left aside the greater possibilities of spiritual existence..... The East has the secret of that spiritual change, but it has too long turned its eyes away from the earth. The time has now come to heal the division and to unite life and spirit .......

Our first object shall be to declare this ideal, insist on the spiritual change as the first necessity and group together all who accept it and are ready to strive sincerely to fulfil it: our second shall be to build up not only an individual but a communal life on this principle...

Our call is to young India. It is the young who must be the builders of the new world,—not those who accept the competitive individualism, the capitalism or the materialistic communism of the West as India's future ideal, nor those who are enslaved to old religious formulas and cannot believe in the acceptance and transformation of life by the spirit, but all who are free in mind and heart to accept a completer truth and labour for a greater ideal. They must be men who will dedicate themselves not to the past or the present but to the future. They will need to consecrate their lives to an exceeding of their lower self, to the realisation of God in themselves and in all human beings and to a whole-minded and indefatigable labour for the nation and for humanity...
All of which sounds very nice and very noble and quite a lot like the Center for Renewal of Science and Culture (CRSC), an arm of the Discovery Institute that does, indeed, have a very similar mission, albeit a Christian-centric one as opposed to one founded on Eastern mysticism. Nonetheless, while the two certainly have some common interests (most notably, one of the articles in Anti-Matters is a plug for the upcoming crapulence entitled Expelled!: The Movie), they wind up with very different ends religiously. In fact, in Sri Aurobindo's fundamental opposition to capitalism (Aurobindo can fairly be described as having been a small-c communist), they arrive at very different conclusions about the role of religion in society and have almost nothing in common politically.

Looking at Anti-Matters at the highest level, the first thing one might notice is their table of contents. Of the 15 articles listed, 5 have been authored by a single person, Ulrich J. Mohrhoff. The listing of the editorial team for Anti-Matters notes that Mohrhoff works for "Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, India." Nothing is given about what he actually does there, but searching on Google reveals that while he might have had a respectable background in physics, Mohrhoff is primarily focused on the paranormal and has a long history of pitching the usual sort of New Age Woo about "quantum consciousness." He's like a German version of Deepak Chopra. In fact, the entire editorial team seems cut from this sort of cloth; not one is a real scientist engaged in reputable research. Then again, Anti-Matters doesn't say it's going to tackle science expressly; it's vague statement notes that it's dedicated to looking at "issues in science," but what issues?

The answer to that question is revealed by the table of contents, which lists a number of articles with titles that immediately betray their religious bent. For instance, we get an article by Aurobindo himself entitled Sri Aurobindo on Subliminal Consciousness. And why not? This is, after all, a "journal" dedicated precisely to advancing Aurobindo's ideology. As others have noted, Mohrhoff brings back the same old, tired, and thoroughly debunked Creationist arguments about evolutionary biology violating the second law of thermodynamics in his tremendously misleading Sewell on Darwinism and the Second Law. Other gems include What Does Mysticism Have To Teach Us About Consciousness?, The Secret of the Veda, and Mysticism: A Study in Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness.

I've written in the past about being cautious in thinking that science denial is a viewpoint held mainly by fundamentalist Judeo-Christians. In fact, there may well be as many people worldwide, and there is certainly a substantial number in the USA, who come to their science denial through the New Age movement, and Vedic/yogic literalism is certainly a part of that. What we have in Anti-Matters is something intended to be a flagship, a rallying point, if you will, for devotees of Indian-based science denial. This isn't something that's going to be embraced by hardcore Christian believers in the US, and I would imagine that for the Discovery Institute to openly embrace the publication would result in even more cracks in their "big tent." To fundies in the US, yoga is seen as something alien, an enemy religious ideology, even Satanic in its origin and practice. Cooperation, if it happens at all between these two anti-science factions, would have to be clandestine.

So, do we have a scinetific journal here? Of course not. Real peer-reviewed journals (and note that Anti-Matters doesn't claim to have a peer review process) aren't published by religious organizations and you will never see a legitimate journal in which a third or more of the articles it comprises are authored by the journal's editor-in-chief who is employed not by a research organization but by a religious cult. That's all Anti-Matters is, then; it's a publication written by members of the cult of an Indian mystic, the purpose of which is to promulgate a very particular religious view, not evidence-based research in any discipline.

As a side note, I find the title of the journal itself rather humorous. The intention, clearly, is to sound scientific (anti-matter is seen at once as scientific and mysterious in popular culture), but there's another connotation. "Matters" are things of importance. "Anti-matters," then, are things which are inconsequential — the very opposite of important. These are, indeed, things that don't matter, and I suspect that's the ultimate fate of Anti-Matters. People who already believe in the woo it pitches will see it as validating their beliefs. People who believe in non-Asian woo will ignore the thing, and scientific types will do the same. In the end, this isn't a journal that's going to prove anything and it absolutely won't change anyone's mind. Within a couple of months, if that long, it will be relegated to a link on a few New Age websites and largely forgotten.

Nonetheless, I think I'm going to pick a few articles and dissect them over the next few days. It'll be fun. I have a good deal of background in Indian esoterica as well as some knowledge of science; it's not often that I get to combine the two on a pet project and I wouldn't want to miss the opportunity. It being Monday morning as I write this, however, I have to get ready to go learn about, do, and teach some real science today. I expect that I'll get started on my Anti-Matters Dissection Project tomorrow morning. I like acronyms, so I'll refer to the results of that effort as AMDP in the titles of future entries as well as creating a new label for it to be able to find those entries later.

Stay tuned. This is going to be fun!

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