Comments on a Response by Michael Sudduth

Geplaatst door

Titus Rivas   (publicatiedatum: 12 January, 2016)


Comments on a response by Michael Sudduth to a review by Titus Rivas of Sudduth's book "A Philosophical Critique of Empirical Arguments for Postmortem Survival"


Comments on a Response by Michael Sudduth

In January 2016, I discovered Sudduth's response to my review. I was struck by his disproportionately hostile tone, and wonder whether he feels threatened by my criticisms. See: Response to Titus Rivas.

I do wish to admit that he is right about my misinterpretation of the topic of his former book about natural religion. I had not read that book (I did not claim that I had, by the way) but based my impression of its contents on ambiguous online information (including its title The Reformed Objection to Natural Theology). While doing so, I was prejudiced by my general view of Sudduth's interests as being largely destructive in nature - prejudiced because of my strongly discouraging direct experience with his correspondence, articles, and present book - and expected him to have undertaken something similar in the area of natural theology to what he had done in the field of survival research. (Also, I may have been influenced by the fact that he is a "vedic scholar" - understood in the non-neutral, traditional sense of someone who in principle accepts the authority of the Vedas - nowadays, and therefore supposedly not very fond of a strictly rationalistic natural theology. If I was, I should have realized that he was not a vedic scholar back then.)
I was wrong about this and really should have checked whether my impression was correct or not. I don't mind admitting this, because I fully recognize - and certainly not for the first time - that I'm human and therefore fallible.
I wouldn't call my mistake a “major” error though, because it plays just a relatively marginal role in my review as a whole. Also, rather than calling me names in this context, Sudduth could simply have tried to reconstruct just why I had such a negative view of his intellectual endeavors. (He could even have told me I was wrong about this point [he knew my e-mail address or could have easily found it on the Internet] and I would have gladly removed my error from my review, which was only published online and therefore did not depend on any inalterable printed text.) He must have had his reasons to “punish” me for my mistake to such an outrageous extent. In this respect, his response may be even more telling to others than it is to me.

However, his other comments, on the real core of my review, are less relevant and ultimately amount to empty sophistry. [Addition February 2016: By this I mean: clever and seemingly right, but wrong or irrelevant all the same, so much so that I don't feel any urge to respond.] I cannot say I'm disappointed by them, because that would mean I had expected more of him.
My main criticisms of A Philosophical Critique (as such) clearly have not been refuted by Sudduth. If he had been a gentleman, he would have accepted my short discussion of important defects of his work in good spirit. If he were a conscientious scholar, he would even learn from it. But I realize that if is for children, to quote Roger Whittaker.
Rather than admitting that his supposedly unique, sophisticated and enlightening approach inevitably leads to serious theoretical problems, he simply tries to demonstrate that his opponents have misunderstood and misread him on all counts. It seems very difficult for Sudduth to grasp the difference between rejecting his analysis and misunderstanding it, as if anyone who does not agree with him must be dumb, denying death, or indolent, or a combination of these. Only people with such personal imperfections can fail to see the utter genius of his analysis of the state of affairs within survival research. Only such handicapped individuals can fail to realize that the field is ill and needs a doctor of the stature of Sudduth, even if he offers no cure or medicine.
Could it be that a misunderstanding on his part explains his failure to appreciate the importance of my critical remarks? Due to my correspondence with him, I hardly find this plausible. I can hardly imagine that while I have fully understood his analysis in A Philosophical Critique, he would be unable to understand mine. I'm not inclined to downgrade the intelligence of my opponents.

I do agree, by the way, that it is not a good idea to 'psychologize' an opponent's position in order to reject it. However, I have done no such thing in this case. I first rejected Sudduth's approach (i.e. after exploring it extensively) and only afterwards tried to explain why such an intelligent philosopher wanted to defend such poorly supported and clearly fallacious standpoints as the ones chosen in his book. By now, I prefer reducing his underlying motivation to his being a closed-minded (rather than “stupid”) sophist, very much comparable to the archetypal closed-minded “skeptical” materialist, albeit on a different ontological basis and acting on a primarily theoretical level. Please note that I'm not saying that Sudduth is a materialist or even that he rejects the possibility or existence of survival, but what I do mean to say is that his attitude is just as unreasonable, closed-minded, and indeed unpleasant as that of the average skeptic. Relevant similarities are his personal hostility, the way he makes “good use” of minor mistakes of opponents, his shameless ad hominem attacks and contempt, and, most importantly, the lack of any substantial response to serious counter-arguments, both in private correspondence and publicly. It is almost as if he had been trained in all this by a materialist (pseudo)skeptic and even surpassed him or her in his skills. I'm afraid it could take a professional deprogrammer to liberate Sudduth from these unbecoming habits and teach him basic principles of civilized, egalitarian debating and correspondence.

My former motivational analysis was more favorable, but it clearly is being rejected by Sudduth himself. I believed that Sudduth had realized that his dogmatic, rather thoughtless position would lead to rational agnosticism about survival and wondered why on earth he would want to put any energy into promoting such a fruitless, barren view. Based on our correspondence, his blog, and his general interests, I - rather plausibly, I might add - concluded that he was 'into' mysticism and especially Vedic religion (roughly equivalent to 'Hinduism'). I concluded that he based his own rejection of absolute (empirical and non-empirical) agnosticism concerning personal survival after death, as well as his belief in this type of survival (as strongly suggested by our correspondence) on something else than empirical and rational argumentation, namely on sacred revelations supposedly manifested through (or materialized in) Vedic or other religious scriptures.
I even wonder whether he's being totally sincere about this in his response, but I have no intention to explore it any further.
Anyway, if my reasoning was “stupid”, I guess the author must use this noble term as Sudduthian newspeak for “intelligent” or “brilliant”. I'm pretty sure he really had those unusual connotations in mind, because a long time ago I sent him several (working) links to my theoretical work and he ought to know that the standard meaning of “stupid” seems hardly compatible with it. He may sometimes be a bit hard to comprehend - he is very aware of this, because as we have seen he often complains about the way he is almost generally misunderstood - but shouldn't we suppose that he means well?

Perhaps Michael Sudduth will one day have the courtesy and courage to publicly reveal his personal stance on survival (agnosticism, personal survival, personal extinction, or whatever), even if it is still only tentative. So far, I have seen very little to expect anything of the kind and I must confess I have lost most of my interest in his scholarly activities. Maybe I will some day skim through his book on natural theology and discover that he is really up to more than his recent exercises in advanced sophistry. After all, his embarrassing errors shown in the context of the philosophy and empirical theorizing of survival research are not the result of a very limited intellect. (I hope I hereby have restored Sudduth's trust in my psychological assessment skills.)

As I said before, I view Sudduth's program as destructive. This is because he has given his disturbing diagnosis of survival research such an irrefutable formulation that there seems to be no hope the field will ever progress beyond its supposed impasse. Like myself, many readers will want to know how Sudduth could conceptualize his program as anything else than highly negative. What solution does Sudduth plan to offer that would go beyond a draw between (just) LAP and survival (besides LAP)? Without a clear and unambiguous answer to this crucial question he should forgive us for regarding his program as leading to a situation that is a lot worse and more hopeless than how most of us view the status quo ourselves. The present state of affairs may be dissatisfying to his majesty in all his overwhelming superiority, but the route he envisages would rob most others of any rational hope they believed to have. It does not take a lot of empathy to understand why we demand very good reasons for such an unfortunate change and Sudduth has not even remotely delivered anything like that. Perhaps we'd better ignore him until he outlines his path of redemption in such a clear, unequivocal manner that there will be no room for misunderstandings. Until then, his message is too vague and confusing to deserve a lot of attention.

For a more fruitful approach to the issue of LAP/Super-psi, see my contributions and those of a few others to this online debate on Michael Prescott's blog, dating from 2011.

Let me finish by remarking that we really could use a 'conversation' within survival research. But it would have to be about how to arm sincere and transparent researchers and theorists against the kind of lecturing that our wise “redeemer” Michael Sudduth seems to be so fond of. Intellectual pluralism is an important ideal, which I fully endorse (meaning I'm not in favor of denying the right of freedom of expression to anyone who disagrees with me), but it must not be interpreted to mean that sophists should be allowed to silence everybody else.

Titus Rivas, January 8th 2016

I will not respond to any new reply from Michael Sudduth and I won't participate in public debates with him either. I might comment on possible new arguments about theorizing in survival research, but only if they have not been published before. Apart from that possibility, the reader should consider these online pieces, as well as a few papers in Dutch (notably: Is Super-Psi een aannemelijk alternatief voor voortbestaan? of 2009), and various passages in books (such as The Self Does Not Die), and implicitly in this Letter to the Editor of the JNDS to be my contribution in this context. I have been defending the relevance of the philosophy of mind as a general ontological framework for survival research ever since 1993. Here is an example in Dutch of 2012, Het lichaam-geest dualisme is niet achterhaald: de relevantie van de ziel voor filosofie en wetenschap.
Also, I sent Michael Sudduth links to several of my relevant online philosophical and theoretical papers years ago, to which I did not receive any serious response whatsoever, but only empty promises. The same goes for – in my view – sound, important arguments I sent him in private correspondence, which were simply ignored as well. Instead, I recently (January 12th) found out that Michael Sudduth writes on the Facebook page to his book: “He's [meaning me, T.R.] been pestering and harassing me for over three years to give him the attention he feels I owe him.” Apparently, this is how Sudduth approaches the 'problem' of having serious opponents. Promise them to send them a serious response, of course never do so – not even after a very long time, and use any complaints about this behavior as evidence that your opponent is 'stalking' you. Problem solved. (This is one of those instances where he surpasses his skeptical guru[s].)
In sum, I truly believe to have done a whole lot more than nothing and hold that it should be enough. It takes two – and a basic mutual respect – to tango.

Last Addition (February 2016)
Sudduth wrote a second response, to these comments (Rivas Redux). He seems to think I'm inclined to take him a bit more seriously now that his tone is somewhat less derogatory. I'm not, because my main problem with Sudduth still concerns his analyses and argumentation, rather than his - according to some commentators 'quite normal, Anglo-Saxon academic' - tone. (I honestly doubt that even for his specific intellectual circles his manners are what one should expect from him, but this is a lot less relevant than the level and content of his argumentation.) He purports to "challenge" me now, after having ignored my argumentation for years. Is this supposed to be "funny" or something?

Let others spend more energy on this author, as I really have done enough. I simply have better things to do, which certainly does not mean I agree with him. Writing a complex text does not equal writing a good text, even if a bright fellow like Sudduth prefers to disagree.
Sophists, rude or civilized, are not welcome in 'my world', so they should search for sparring partners that are more diligent and patient. I'll really ignore them from now on, just as I do with materialist debunkers. Sophists deserve to have their own platforms on which they may cleverly interact with each other (I'm not in favour of any thought police) but they simply don't qualify as worthy opponents in any debate of substance.

Finally, let me stress that my (provisional) disqualification of Michael Sudduth (as a serious scholar in this field) for me does not automatically imply disqualifying others with similar ideas, but without his sophistic attitude.

(Things could become different if Sudduth changes his attitude and outgrows his meaningless sophism, and perhaps even learns to respect other people who do not agree with him and accept them as his intellectual equals. I would be highly surprised if he starts reading my papers and taking them really seriously. This time I will only believe in his promises after they have been kept. I'm only human and some standards of conduct actually matter to me, even if they mean nothing to Michael Sudduth. By the way, Sudduth managed to convince some of his fans that not his but my own responses were disproportionately negative and overly personal!)

Serious reactions may be sent to: titusrivas@hotmail.com

Also consider these other errors in Sudduth's book