The New Age Paradigm - An Examination of Beliefs
by Bruce Keener
I developed an interest in the New Age Paradigm because of my interest in the possibility of reincarnation, various aspects of humanistic psychology, Western occultism, spiritual interpretations of modern quantum physics, and the possibility that astrology and use of crystals could have a scientific basis. Other factors that drew my attention to the New Age Paradigm (NAP) were:
- It claims to make spiritual sense of scientific findings and to meet the needs of people who consider themselves to be particularly open-minded, as I believe I am.
- People who are going through a great personal loss, like me, can be attracted to NAP because such people feel that there must be something wrong with their past ways of viewing things.
- There is a declining respect for institutions, such as the church and governments, and people feel less of a need to belong to an institution than in recent past. Part of this is due to distrust of institutions and part of it is due to a tendency for people to give more credence to their own judgments than to official judgments. Instead of turning to authority figures or institutions for help, people often look for ideas and practices to help them personally cope better with life, making the yoga sessions and "we create our own reality" aspects of NAP very appealing to some.
- I had heard of the Jesus Seminar and its conclusions that Jesus said only a small part of what the Bible attributes to him, and have assumed that this view represents the majority of Bible scholars and historians. Plus, I had seen so much news media distortions that I assumed that such distortions were common 2000 years ago too, meaning to me that the Bible probably tells a distorted story. I could see why people would be more willing to believe those who say they communicate NOW with their spirit mediums than to believe something that was written 2000 years ago.
- I had come to believe that science has proven that man evolved, rendering the Bible as a myth, but I still thought it likely that a god guided the evolutionary process.
I could list many more reasons, but these are the main ones that drew me toward NAP, so I can speak more effectively to them than to some of the other reasons. Specifically, I will speak to the occult/psychics, reincarnation and belief in self-divinity, the concept of Christ Consciousness versus the divinity of Christ, evolution, and some of the "scientific" aspects of NAP.
I first became interested in some of the ideas of the NAP after my wife Vickie passed away. This came about primarily through my wanting to communicate with Vickie, so I started reading books by Sylvia Browne and John Edward and other psychics. I had read skeptic critiques of psychics before, as I used to belong to the Skeptic Society, and knew that psychics use techniques like cold reading to make it seem like they are communicating with a deceased loved one. I knew that, overall, their "hit rates" (the number of guesses that they got right out of the number made) are low, often being 20 percent or less for even the best of the psychics. But their books sounded so convincing to my mind at the time because I wanted so much to believe that I could talk with Vickie. By the way, I have no doubt that some psychics are very dedicated to their work and genuinely believe it is a way of helping those in need.
Now that I reflect back on this period, it amazes me that I could begin to reject the teachings of the Bible, because "they are so old." I realize now that I had fallen into the trap of considering historical information to be biased and unreliable just because much of our modern news sources are biased and unreliable. I had come to believe that I could put greater trust in today's psychics, and that it must be God who speaks to them through their "contacts on the other side." And of course the best-selling book Conversations with God would have us believe that God spoke directly and more clearly to its author than to Moses, saying, to paraphrase, "I told Moses about my Ten Commitments to humans, but he thought I gave him Ten Commandments, even though I am totally nonjudgmental. But you are a bright person and I am going to tell you what I told him, and you will really understand it. I like you. By the way, have sex with as many women as you want to. Oh, one more thing: all humans are divine, but you just have a hard time remembering it, so you will reincarnate until you do, and you have had over 600 incarnations so far." While my summary of the book sounds sarcastic, I think the author truly believes what he wrote, and he does write with a convincing style. So, don't feel bad if you have been taken in by his book, because I was, too.
Fortunately I never got to the point of setting up a session with a psychic. I got close. But, I realized that a good psychic could possibly do a cold reading on me, without me realizing it, and would just tell me what I wanted to hear. And, I also considered the possibility that spirits other than Vickie could masquerade as her and give false information to me. So, I feared in part that a spirit could, for example, tell me that Vickie is fine so that I would no longer pray for her soul. (I was not raised to believe that it is necessary to pray for departed souls, but I had come to wonder whether I needed to. By the way, I do still pray for Vickie, even though I do not believe she needs my prayer. I could never come up with a satisfactory answer as to why one would not pray for the people they love, regardless of where those people are.)
While the occult is only a part of NAP, once one starts reading books in this genre it is an easy next-step to start picking up some other beliefs and adopting them for one's own. This is particularly easy for someone like me, who places a high value on having an open mind and not wanting to overlook anything that might be important. So, even after I decided to set aside using a psychic, there were still some aspects of NAP that were of interest to me.
For example, I wondered whether reincarnation is a real possibility. Many people find reincarnation more appealing than the Heaven they believe would be boring. Also, a lot of people think of karma as "cause and effect," making it sound almost scientific, which gives it credibility in a lot of minds. There are different concepts of reincarnation. The Hindus believed you could become an animal or even insect if you did not live your life right, whereas NAP says that we choose our reincarnations so that we can "learn." Many people think that God does want us to learn, because we ourselves consider education to be valuable. So this lends credence in their minds to the concept that we choose our lessons for each incarnation. These are the same people who consider God to be non-judgmental, without stopping to think that a god who makes no judgments probably is one that does not care about outcomes, and therefore would not care whether we learned or not. It seems to me that the God who created absolute physical laws would also create absolute moral laws.
But, I began to wonder why all these reincarnations have produced a world that is essentially no better off than it was thousands of years ago, where people still kill each other, where greed is rampant, where millions starve to death because of a lack of attention from those who could help them. And what about the first children born to Adam and Eve? (Or, if you don't like the concept of Adam and Eve, call them Chuck and Susie.) Did Adam and Eve (Chuck and Susie) have to die for their souls to reincarnate into their children? And, how did six billion souls reincarnate out of two souls? I couldn't get reincarnation to make any sense.
Then I read books that talked about how we can develop a Christ Consciousness, and become "a spiritual master like he was". In addition, I could not put out of my head what I had heard about the Jesus Seminar, which had basically concluded that Jesus said very little of what was attributed to him. Plus, many of those in the seminar did not believe that Jesus was resurrected. I read the conclusions of the Jesus Seminar, and I decided that nobody would have crucified someone who only said what those in the seminar attributed to him. Additionally, I could see from their assumptions that they had their minds made up on the answers they wanted before they did their "research." For example, they decided to exclude anything that Jesus did that would be considered a miracle, because they held an a priori naturalistic worldview. And, they rejected anything that referred to the divinity of Jesus because they had made up their minds ahead of time that the disciples had made such sayings up. Ultimately, it didn't take a lot of additional research for me to find out that the Jesus Seminar consists of a small number of scholars who do not represent the majority view of Biblical scholars and historians. A good book to read in this regard is Jesus Under Fire, edited by Wilkins and Moreland. But, I still wondered about the resurrection of Jesus, because some doubt had been placed in my mind. I researched some atheistic sites and got their views and I researched some Christian apologetics sites and got their views. It was pretty clear to me that the atheists were on shaky grounds, but I had not eliminated the doubt form my mind. Then I came across Gary Habermas' The Historical Jesus and I was amazed at how compelling the evidence is for the resurrection of Jesus. I do not think it appropriate to take the space here to go into all the detail, because it is a very substantial amount indeed. But I do want to emphasize that it eliminated all doubt for me.
The use of science by the NAP was one of the last parts of NAP that I let go of, because I have always been interested in science. So, I'll address here a few aspects of NAP where an appeal is made to science for support. We'll look at astrology, crystals, and the view that we create our own reality.
Many in the NAP would have us think that astrology makes sense scientifically because we all know about gravitational influence and it is "reasonable to suppose" that this influence affects what happens to us. The doctor who delivers a baby has almost 200,000 times more gravitational pull on the baby than the moon does, and a paperback book held at arm's length has about a billion times the tidal influence of Mars. In addition, the Zodiac signs that were drawn up long ago have not changed even though our solar system has changed relative to the constellations as it has moved through the universe, with the consequence that all Zodiac signs in this century are off by at least a month from when the Zodiac signs were mapped out (relative to the constellations and planets). Of course there is nothing wrong with using common sense as an argument, too: how many people do we all know who have the same signs but are as different as night and day?
Another fad of NAP that supposedly has a "scientific basis" is the use of crystals, "because crystals have constant vibration and help us tune to be in harmony with the essence of the universe." Some claim that dolphins bring crystals up from Atlantis to help us transform to the New Age. Note that crystals vibrate at millions of cycles per second whereas brain waves vibrate at about 200 cycles per second. So much for harmony through crystals.
I couldn't see a lot of scientific support for NAP, but I did wonder whether there might be anything to this view that we create our own reality, as I had studied quantum mechanics (QM) in detail years ago, while receiving a minor in physics, and it can be interpreted to suggest that we have a role in creating our reality. In essence, QM is a mathematical model of how things act at the submicroscopic (quantum) level. At this level, at the level of electrons and protons and photons and "other-ons," things do not act at all in accordance with what our intuition would suggest. For example, an electron can behave as a particle or as a wave. The electron does not have the predictability of a billiard ball. The best we can do in terms of predicting events and interactions at the quantum level is to assign a probability distribution to what will happen at that level.
The late Nobel Laureate, Dr. Richard Feynman, summed it up well when he said "No one really understands quantum mechanics." To show what he meant, I'll mention a couple of the interpretations of QM that scientists have made over the years.
There are various ways that the non-intuitive behavior of quantum systems can be interpreted, but the one that has been the most popular for the longest is the that says that quantum events are not actualized until we "observe" them (typically with scientific instruments), and that our observation actually influences the result. The part about observation influence comes from the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which says that the more we try to accurately measure some aspects of a quantum system, the less we CAN know about other aspects of the system. Weird but true.
Some notable scientists have carried this interpretation to the extreme by suggesting that we indeed create our own reality, and we do so at the quantum level. This is the interpretation that NAP has picked up on, using this not-widely-accepted interpretation of QM to support their view that we are divine creators (and that we just don't remember that we are divine). But, as to each of us being divine and just not remembering, let me share a secret with you: if I am divine, this world is a lot worse off than any of us had realized. I can assure you that if I thought I could create my own world, I would spend my time trying to recreate much of the past, instead of writing this.
Another interpretation of QM, one that is somewhat popular among scientists who specialize in QM but not broadly popular in the scientific community, is the theory of parallel universes. This theory basically says that every event that can happen does happen, and that there are universes in which you are alive and ones in which you are dead, and so on. Why such a far-fetched interpretation? It explains the "interference effects" we sometimes see at the quantum level, where it sometimes looks as if an electron, behaving as a wave, is interfered with by something, but there is nothing that can be found for it to interfere with. The parallel-universes theory says that it is being interfered with by its counterparts in a parallel universe.
It amazes me that a scientist would readily accept the possibility that trillions of parallel universes interact at the quantum level, while ruling out even the possibility that God acts at the quantum level.
I haven't addressed evolution, yet, so I'll say a bit about it before offering my concluding remarks.
I know a lot of people believe that evolution is a proven fact. I thought so, too, until I read Phillip Johnson's Darwin on Trial. I learned from that well-researched book that there is not a lot of scientific data that supports evolution. But, one thing that made me really question evolution is its huge improbability. It has been estimated that the probability of life forming within our universe during its 13 or so billion years of existence is about the same as the probability of a tornado sweeping through a junkyard and assembling a fully functional 757 aircraft in the process. Our universe is fine tuned to one part in 10 to the power of 120 to support life on this planet. That is one part in 1, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000. Many people have a hard time balancing their checkbooks to two decimal places. Imagine designing a universe to 120 places!
Not to be swayed, many evolutionists "seek consolation" in the possibility that there are an infinite number of universes, making it "reasonable to assume" that there would a likelihood that life would form in one of these infinite universes, and ours just happens to be the one. The theory that there are an infinite number of universes is one of many theories that attempt to explain the Big Bang. With a suitable set of assumptions and a lot of mathematical masturbation, a theory obtains regarding an infinite number of universes gushing forth from a "quantum foam." By the way, this is an entirely different thing form the theory of parallel universes, which attempts to explain quantum behavior in this universe through interaction with an infinite number of parallel universes. Supposedly, each of these infinite number of universes that gush forth from the "quantum foam" would have its own infinite number of parallel universes that it interacts with.
Naturalists say that people who believe in God for the creation of the universe and life are invoking a "God of the gaps" explanation. They say this because they say those who believe in God fill in the "gaps" in our knowledge with "God did it." To me, people who prefer to believe in an infinite number of universes as the explanation for why ours support life, those who believe that the only satisfactory explanation for the way this universe works is that it is entangled with parallel universes, and people who insist that evolution is fact despite its lack of detailed evidence - those people are invoking a "nonsense of the gaps" explanation. And it is not really gaps we're talking about folks, it is canyons, wide canyons. We do not have gaps in our knowledge - there is A LOT we do not understand.
Many atheists genuinely believe that there is nothing more than what we can interact with through our five senses. But, is there a deeper "motive" to their rationale? I have come to suspect that there is, at least for the atheists who are also scientists. I suspect that many scientists do not want to believe in God because believing in God would make the world more difficult to understand and predict. Folks who want to understand everything at a deep and fundamental level generally do not want to believe in God, because, by definition, nobody can understand God at a deep and fundamental level. I know I personally would like to understand everything at a deep and fundamental level. But, I also know that we might not even have a "right" to do so. What makes us think we CAN understand everything at a deep and fundamental level? Atheists should especially expect that we have no right to know everything, because there is no basis for an "accident" (a product of random evolution) to have any rights.
I reviewed what I had learned and concluded (1) that the New Age Paradigm didn't make any sense to me and (2) that Jesus was resurrected, and I believe that had to mean something. I gained a new appreciation for the view that God gave mankind free will so that some would willingly choose to love God, while some would not. I believe God could have created beings who had no choice but to "love" Him, but real love can exist only when there is a choice. And, choices always have consequences. To paraphrase what some poet said long ago: after a long journey, I arrived back where I started and understood and appreciated it for the first time.
February 14, 2003
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Last Modified March 9, 2005