To tell people that their non-religious beliefs are just a religion is an insult. Why is it an insult? There isn't any nice way to answer, so I'll be blunt. It is an insult because the way that people form religious beliefs is so intellectually irresponsible that their conclusions are almost guaranteed to be false. People:
· accept their religious beliefs with little or no evidence
· accept religious beliefs that are contrary to the evidence
· accept religious beliefs without studying competing views
· are certain about religious beliefs that are dubious at best, and
· accept their religious beliefs not because they are intellectually compelling, but because they are emotionally comforting.
Forming non-religious beliefs in a religious way is irrational because forming any beliefs in a religious way is irrational.
Now let's examine these criticisms in detail and see if they apply to reductionistic materialism and the denial of psi phenomena:
1) Do most reductionistic materialists "accept their . . . beliefs with little or no evidence" or "accept . . . beliefs that are contrary to the evidence"? I think that is the case. Reductionist materialists who deny psi phenomena are real discard a large body of research pointing towards a non-material aspect of mind and consciousness. They also ignore a vast body of anecdotal evidence to this effect, often extremely well corroborated.
2) Do most reductionistic materialists "accept . . . beliefs without studying competing views"? I think the answer to that could easily be "yes". There are certainly exceptions, like Andrew Endersby, but even the designated skeptics in debates about psi are often poorly read on the research they are attacking. I see no evidence that the run-of-the-mill reductionistic materialist has read books like Entangled Minds, Best Evidence or Irreducible Mind, nor that they have read the studies from researchers like Dean Radin, Rupert Sheldrake, Ian Stevenson and the like.
3) Are reductionistic materialists "certain about . . .beliefs that are dubious at best"? I think so. I've discussed many topics with reductionistic materialists on a number of blogs and fora. These kinds of statements are typical: "ghosts are nonsense", "of course mind is reducible to brain states", "death is the end, extinction, annihilation". Very well documented psi phenomena suggests that at least some doubt is warranted about these positions, but instead many materialists express absolute certitude in their uninformed position.
4) Do reductionistic materialists "accept their . . . beliefs not because they are intellectually compelling, but because they are emotionally comforting"? For this question we have to look beyond the surface of the question. Certainly there are discomforting aspects to materialism, such as the nihilism that many of its adherents seem to feel is the ultimate truth of reality. However, looking through a sociological lens, a straightforward answer appears. Materialism provides the opportunity to distance oneself from the beliefs of the masses of "deluded" people and join the club of the wise, intelligent, culturally powerful and unquestioned leaders of academia. So from that perspective it is clear that materialism is quite a comfortable position indeed. I think B. Alan Wallace stated it quite nicely in his Skeptiko interview:
So this is what bothers me about many of the so-called skeptics. What they're doing is defending the status quo, which doesn't take a whole lot of guts, frankly. The status quo, where so much money, power and status is, of materialism. And so no skepticism is required there at all, and so standing up in front with a whole team of scientists behind one all agreeing on the same metaphysical worldview, and then saying "we're skeptics", they're about as skeptical as Pat Robertson or Billy Graham. . .
In short, I think I have demonstrated that the criticisms that Caplan made against religious beliefs apply quite nicely to the unquestioned metaphysical materialism which holds sway in academia. However denunciations of religion are very popular within that circle, while questioning materialism is practically never done. And that's really too bad. . .