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Five Questions – Principia Edition – Kat’s Answers

This post is being done in collaboration with my fellow ex-Christian Scientist blogger at Emerging Gently. We have also posed these same questions to other ex-Christian Scientists. Their answers appear in a series of posts on The Ex-Christian Scientist*.

1) Why did you attend Principia?

I had to get away from the toxic culture perpetuated by my high school, there were over 4000 students, and I wanted/needed a change. I had been brutally bullied through middle, felt largely overlooked (but not in a good way) in high school, and wanted a fresh start. No one else from my high school had ever gone to Principia so it seemed unlikely there would be anyone I knew, no preconceived notions about who I was, etc.

Principia was the only college I applied to, and I was fortunate to get really good funding from a variety of sources (not just loans from the college), in exchange for maintaining a 2.5-3.0 (or higher) GPA, and a yearly thank-you note.

2) Did your experiences at Principia impact/influence your views of CS?

Yes! The spectrum of what qualifies as “practicing” “Christian Science” varies wildly. The way Christian Science is put to work at Principia makes me particularly uncomfortable (see my negative experience below).

3) If you had a do-over would you attend Principia again? Why/why not? 

This is a hard one, I met my future husband at Prin — I was not looking for one, in fact I was pretty convinced I was never going to marry a “good little CS boy.” I’m happily married, and I’m unlikely to have met him another way. Would I go advise my 18-year-old self not to apply? No. I like where my life ended up, even if the path to get here was a bit trying at times.

4) Would you recommend Principia to a young CS?

No. Why not? See “related reading” at the bottom

5) Please share one positive experience and one negative experience about your time at the school/college

Positive – I made some truly wonderful friends, I enjoyed the (false) sense of security knowing I was in (what I thought was) a like-minded community, I had travel experiences I would not have had otherwise, and I learned a lot about myself (both good and bad).

Negative – this has been shared as part of a longer post before, but I will excerpt the key portion here:
Continue reading

Did Mary Baker Eddy Anticipate the Findings of Quantum Physics?

This is the second of two guest posts by guest contributor realscience critiquing a lecture at Principia College by Laurance Doyle, Ph.D., entitled, “The Metaphysics of Quantum Physics.” Doyle’s talk makes two basic claims: (1) quantum physics validates Christian Science; and (2) Mary Baker Eddy anticipated the findings of 20th century physics. The first claim was rebutted in the earlier post; this post address the second claim.

Please be aware as of March 26, 2015 comments on this post have been TURNED OFF.

Dr. Doyle makes several astonishing assertions in his talk about science and the religion that calls itself “Christian Science.” He says that Mary Baker Eddy “understood science really well,” and that her teachings anticipated the findings of quantum physics. He even tells us that her religious opus, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, can be read “as a book of science.”

How familiar was Eddy with the science of her day? She did not have a scientific education, but was she sufficiently well-read to have acquired a layperson’s understanding of scientific developments? She referenced the biologists Charles Darwin and Louis Agassiz in Science and Health (although she misstated their theories). But as for physics, there are no references in her works that would indicate she was aware of the important contemporary developments: thermodynamics (1850s); electromagnetism (1870s); discovery of the electron (1897); radioactivity (1890s); special relativity (1905). However, she did mention atoms, molecules, and forces.

As anyone familiar with Eddy’s writings knows, she was emphatic that matter is illusion. So how did she reconcile her acknowledgment of atoms, molecules, and forces with her teaching that matter is unreal? She defined them as mental entities: “Whence, then, is the atom or molecule called matter? Have attraction and cohesion formed it? But are these forces laws of matter, or laws of Mind?”1 The answer to her rhetorical question is found in Science and Health: “Infinite Mind creates and governs all, from the mental molecule to infinity”2; and “We tread on forces. Withdraw them, and creation must collapse. Human knowledge calls them forces of matter; but divine Science declares that they belong wholly to divine Mind . . . .”3

As a devout Christian Scientist, Laurance Doyle subscribes to Eddy’s teaching that the constituents of matter are really mental entities. Moreover, he would have us accept that “Christian Science–viewed through the lens of current quantum physics–clearly pre-dated the quantum physics community in its discoveries of the nature of matter, reality, and Mind.” But the reverse is actually the case: Dr. Doyle views quantum physics through the lens of Christian Science, which leads him to misstate the actual physics.

Physicists today know a lot about matter. They know that physical objects are composed of just two types of quarks and electrons, and that these particles possess the physical properties of mass, charge, and angular momentum. But Dr. Doyle declares, “particles don’t exist until observed,” implying that they are actually amorphously mental in nature. He believes that matter does not take physical shape until it is perceived by mind. To illustrate, he uses the metaphor of an ocean wave mysteriously solidifying into a little ball when it hits the “beach” of the mind of the observer. But this is a misrepresentation of the physics; a particle is never a wave, as experimentalist Victor Stenger explains:

No one has ever measured a wavelike property associated with a single particle. Interference and diffraction effects are only observed for beams of particles and only particles are detected, even when you are trying to measure a wavelength. The statistical behavior of these ensembles of particles is described mathematically using equations that sometimes, but not always, resemble the equations for waves.4

Matter is real, and it is insensitive to thought.

Mary Baker Eddy insisted that Christian Science is scientific. If so, then we should expect it to employ the scientific method. Doyle would agree, and he believes that Eddy essentially followed the scientific method in her “discovery” of Christian Science:

Mrs. Eddy called it, “Revelation, reason, and demonstration,” which is like hypothesis, logic, predicting what therefore must be the result (and that’s the experimental verification). And so that’s the scientific method.

As generally understood, the scientific method can be expressed as: observation, hypothesis, experiment, evaluation. Notice that Eddy omits the essential first step: observation. Instead she substitutes “revelation,” holding that observation is not only unnecessary but also misleading. This is consistent with her belief that the human senses are illusory: “Natural science, as it is commonly called, is not really natural nor scientific, because it is deduced from the evidence of the material senses.”5 Eddy’s rejection of sense evidence is a core teaching of Christian Science. However, all scientific knowledge is ultimately perceived through our senses. Today’s scientific instruments–from the powerful accelerators that physicists use to detect subatomic particles, to the large radio telescope arrays that let astronomers like Dr. Doyle see cosmic events–simply translate inaccessible phenomena into signals that can be perceived by our physiological senses.

Doyle equates Eddy’s term “demonstration” with experimental verification, but her denial of empirical evidence disqualifies it as such. When scientists conduct experiments they catalog all results, whether the data tend to validate or invalidate the hypothesis. In contrast, Eddy taught her students to reject negative evidence and acknowledge only those results that support the revealed hypothesis. Clearly, Eddy’s methodology has nothing in common with the scientific method.

Christian Scientists’ unwillingness to acknowledge negative evidence is a reflexive confirmation bias that renders Christian Science testimony scientifically meaningless. The Christian Science Church habitually cites the thousands of testimonies of healing in its periodicals as proof of the efficacy of Christian Science treatment. But as Caroline Fraser puts it, “the Church and its members have simply eliminated the negative. . . . The Church never acknowledges failures in its editorials or articles.”6 Consequently, rank-and-file Christian Scientists (including students at Principia College) do not have access to information on Christian Science failures. And the failures, tragically, are legion.

In summary, Laurance Doyle’s claim that Mary Baker Eddy anticipated the findings of quantum physics can only be entertained if one misstates the physics and overstates Eddy’s discernment. Moreover, the notion that Christian Science is in any way scientific is utterly insupportable. Ultimately, the bright students who spoke so searchingly during the Q&A of Doyle’s talk will figure that out for themselves.

End notes

  1. Miscellaneous Writings, 173:28-31
  2. Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, 507:24-25
  3. Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, 124:26-31
  4. Victor J. Stenger, God and the Multiverse: Humanity’s Expanding View of the Cosmos (Prometheus Books, 2014) Kindle ed. loc. 1801.
  5. Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, 274:7-9
  6. Caroline Fraser, God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1999), 426.

Embedded Links

UPDATE (March 26, 2015) Comments on this post have been TURNED OFF.

Does Quantum Physics Validate Christian Science? 

The following post is by guest contributor realscience

This is the first of two posts critiquing a lecture at Principia College by Laurance Doyle, Ph.D., entitled, “The Metaphysics of Quantum Physics.” Doyle’s talk makes two basic claims: (1) quantum physics validates Christian Science; and (2) Mary Baker Eddy anticipated the findings of 20th century physics. This post tackles the first claim; I will address the second in a later post.

Fifteen years ago physicist and former Christian Scientist, Robert L. Miller, published an article in the journal Skeptic entitled, “Christian Science and the Perversion of Quantum Physics.” Laurance Doyle, an astrophysicist and Christian Scientist, had been proclaiming a metaphysical interpretation of quantum physics that was at odds with generally accepted interpretations and wrong on the physics to boot. Well, Doyle is still at it, perverting theory and experiment to evangelize lay Christian Scientists with the notion that quantum physics validates their religion and that Mary Baker Eddy had a prescient understanding of scientific reality.

Doyle gave a lecture last April at Principia College where he is director of the oxymoronic “Institute for the Metaphysics of Physics”) on “The Metaphysics of Quantum Physics.” I suppose a talk of that flavor to a community of believers is to be expected, but it is clear from the expressionless faces in the audience that the physics he presented was far over-the-heads of most. I don’t believe anyone in Cox Auditorium that day had sufficient knowledge to question anything Doyle said. Indeed, I suspect the Christian Science community as a whole reveres Dr. Doyle as an unassailable authority on quantum physics.

In fact, however, Doyle is far out of the mainstream of physics consensus. Anyone who has attended a scientific conference knows how participants will challenge others’ hypotheses and interpretations of experimental results, all for the advancement of understanding–but this won’t happen at Principia College. If Doyle were to give this same presentation to a group of his peers at a physics symposium (even stripped of its references to Mary Baker Eddy and Christian Science) he would be interrupted and challenged on nearly every slide.

1. The experimenter is not separable from his experiment.

Doyle repeatedly misstates the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics promulgated by Niels Bohr by declaring that “the experimenter is not separable from the experiment” (referring to the famous double-slit experiment). Doyle believes that the experimenter’s mind affects quantum behavior: “What you can know about the experiment turns out to be what’s important.” But Bohr was explicit that it is the measuring apparatus (rather than the mind of the experimenter) that is inseparable from the behavior of the particles: The experiment “implies the impossibility of any sharp separation between the behaviour of atomic objects and the interaction with the measuring instruments which serve to define the conditions under which the phenomena appear.”1

Doyle is incorrect when he declares, “Particles do not exist until they are observed” (i.e., by a human experimenter). Science writer Eliot Hawkins explains his error:

This is where people sometimes get confused and misinterpretations occur. . . . To us regular folks, “observation” means looking at something, seeing something happen. That’s not even close to what it means to quantum physicists. To them, it means measuring. . . . These vastly different definitions left us regular joe’s thinking that reality is unresolved until we look at it and that quantum states didn’t resolve until the information had managed to filter through our human minds.2

2. An underlying immediate connectedness exists between all elementary particles that make up all things.

Doyle bases this assertion on the phenomenon of quantum entanglement, in which particles of common origin and shared properties appear to be “aware” of each other’s states when separated (and theoretically the separation distance is unlimited). Although it defies our common sense, the phenomenon is reliably observable in experiments. Doyle believes that experiments to test Bell’s Theorem prove that entangled particles “communicate” their status via a mechanism that operates faster than the speed of light. But he faces a formidable hurdle with that inference because it conflicts with Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which has been exhaustively validated experimentally. Most physicists reject the notion that superluminal communication is what’s happening in the Bell’s Inequality experiments, and recent experiments continue to demonstrate that faster-than-light transmission is impossible.

Entanglement can be produced in the laboratory, but it is a fragile condition that is instantly destroyed when particles are disturbed by interactions from outside their closed system. Consequently, the random and chaotic nature of the universe ensures that any sort of underlying entanglement or awareness among all particles in the cosmos is impossible.

3. “History” can be changed.

As strange as it seems, experiments with individual particles have shown that at the quantum level time can run backwards. Doyle suggests that this phenomenon raises the interesting possibility of reversing time at macroscopic levels (“changing history”).

Time, like position and momentum, is a probabilistic phenomenon. At the level of individual particles the probability of time going either direction can be high. But at scales greater than small numbers of particles the probability of time reversal increasingly approaches zero. Consequently, at the macroscopic scale in which we live time is an irreversible forward arrow hurtling in the direction of greater entropy, as the second law of thermodynamics requires. Zoran Pazameta explains:

In Einstein’s physics causality holds in all domains of the natural world, but quantum theory allows for violation of microcausality at the (microscopic) quantum level. In our macroscopic world, however, causality holds absolutely. This is one important reason why time travel is impossible; to go backwards in time means reversing every cause-and-effect event in the entire universe between then and now.3

Dr. Doyle’s central argument that modern physics validates Christian Science is a willful misinterpretation of the science. If physics actually validated his three assertions then we could plausibly believe that human thought determines what is real; that every particle of the universe is united under one mind; and that mental force can change the history of human experience (including, I suppose, raising the dead). But Doyle’s assertions are not validated by physics: they are all incorrect. No, Dr. Doyle, quantum physics does not validate Christian Science.

It should be a matter of concern that Dr. Doyle misrepresents physical science to an audience of students in order to promote a metaphysical system. It is unfortunate that students at Principia College will not be exposed to other perspectives on the implications of modern physics, which are indeed fascinating. Principia College remains an intellectually closed community on matters that may challenge Christian Science theology. These students deserve better. Continue reading

measles at Prin 1989 (follow-up)

From my e-mail, a follow-up corroboration of measles at Prin 1989:

That is about how I remember it, though I don’t remember a whole lot. This a really good account.
When I was first transferred to the middle school wing, I remember they tricked me and said I’d only be there for a night. Then they didn’t let me leave and shortly afterward they decided that no one was allowed to leave their rooms there – maybe because they were mixing people with colds with people with measles and were hoping to avoid cross-contamination? It didn’t last.
I also remember that damn clapper on the TV and how every time someone coughed it would turn off.
Also the milkshakes. They went through the trash to see who wasn’t drinking theirs. If you didn’t have the appetite for a milkshake you were getting sicker and went to campus house.
I remember very little about campus house. Except I can corroborate the no baths thing. I must have worn the same underwear for days. Gross.
Oh, and remember how kids could get vaccinated so they could leave campus? Except I swear they vaccinated kids who had been in the quarantine wing and had clearly been exposed. I want to say [students name redacted] got double measles from it.

And an additional note from the original guest poster:
I suspect I only had a cold and they put me in the the measles area. Because I was fine for a long time before I got really sick… Though I could also have been in denial.

Additional information about measles and the dangers of not vaccinating

Additional information about the Principia Measles outbreaks (both 1985 and 1989)

Additional information about Christian Science and measles

Equality at Prin, Vague Repression for All!

This is a follow up on https://kindism.org/2014/11/18/new-policies-on-homosexuality-at-principia-college/  If anyone would like to share an extended piece about their thoughts about, or experiences with Principia’s policies (beyond a brief comment), please be in touch! I welcome guest posts!

The TL;DR version Gays can now openly attend Principia, and the Administration has shifted their focus to combat the very vague threat of sensuality. What does that mean? Equal opportunity oppression for all!

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 6.07.52 PMGood news for the dozens (maybe hundreds) of Christian Scientists and Principia alumni, the Principia Board of Trustees has FINALLY decided that

All students, faculty, and staff shall be perceived, welcomed, loved, and supported as spiritual ideas. They are expected to honor the community standards of moral and spiritual purity in relationships.

In terms of practices at Principia regarding admissions, community standards for living in the Principia community, and employment at Principia, we are directing the administration to establish consistent rules and regulations for students, faculty, and staff, regardless of sexual orientation. (emphasis mine)

So people who are gay can attend Principia. Alumni donors who were holding out because of draconian, repressive policies about homosexuality can now freely give with a somewhat clear conscious (the policies are still repressive and draconian, but now they theoretically apply to everyone more equally). Some people feel this is too little, too late, and that the Trustees should apologize for their past discriminatory actions, but as that seems unlikely to happen.

It seems unlikely Principia cares what I think — I’m no longer a Christian Scientist and I was never a major financial donor (I paid off my loans and was done contributing), but here are my thoughts on this mess.

Principia, you’re not serving the cause of anything but yourself. You are using Christian Science to oppress, repress, manipulate and thoroughly wreck hundreds of students lives. Christian Science does not need your help with this, it does a perfectly good job of that on it’s own, if anything you take the warped aspects of the religion to new and terrifying levels. I provide now a few excerpts from the Trustee-provided Question and Answer page:

  • Principia continually encourages the members of the community to turn to our Pastor, the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, for a deeper and more spiritual understanding of all aspects of life, including love, identity, and relationships.

Those are the last books you should be turning to for relationship advice. The teachings of Science and Health are detrimental to healthy relationships, both with one’s self, and others. The idea that that turning to the material body for pleasure only results in pain, and that sex should be reserved for procreation only (and only when you’re married, if you really must), really fucks up people’s ideas about what should and shouldn’t be happening in a relationship. Instead of offering positive messages about sex and teaching about consent, anything remotely sexual (or “sensual” as Principia prefers to call it) is shamed, shunned, vilified, and Must Be Avoided.

  • What is Principia doing to address sensuality?
    Principia remains dedicated to removing the intrusion and distraction of sensuality within our community.

So we’ve moved from discriminating against homosexuality to “addressing” sensuality. Apparently it is a distracting intrusion. Just so we’re all clear on what the problem is, I’ve included a screen shot of what Google has defined sensuality as, it is worth noting sensuality was most popularly used in the early 1800s, my how far Prin has come.

Webster’s lists Sensuality’s antonyms as “abstinence, asceticism, sobriety, temperance.” I’d say this is a bit heavy and open vague interpretation by the Thought Police.

What is wrong with sensuality? It distracts from one’s relationship with God, reminding them that they’re mortal, and that opens them to the Christian Science Trinity of Doom: Sin, Disease and Death.

  • We will continue to focus on spirituality and true self-worth while maintaining our commitment to engage the community on issues such as pornography and sexual relations outside of marriage. We invite your support to lift thought to a higher view of God’s man.

True self-worth” oh please. I knew many women (myself included) longing to feel “content” because we were lacking a boyfriend. We would read, and re-read the Chapter on Marriage, which has “wonderful thoughts” on how you must be “whole” before you enter into a relationship. How do you become whole? By aligning your thoughts more closely with God and immersing yourself in the Books. This becomes a self-perpetuating cycle, because you’re clearly never going to be whole enough, and you feel ashamed that you’re failing at it. You’re never going to ascend, you’re never going to align your thought closely enough with God, you will eventually fall prey to malicious animal magnetism, and the unholy trinity of doom. Christian Science is lousy at true self-worth.

If you choose to watch porn, please make sure it is ethically sourced (and if you’re in a relationship, don’t lie to your partner about it. If you don’t like porn, don’t watch it). Sexual relations out side of marriage? What does that matter to Principia? As an adult of legal consenting age, who I choose to have sex with, and when I chose to have sex with them is NONE OF THEIR BUSINESS.

Many of the problems with sex and relationships comes from a lack of open communication between partners, and to some extent, community support. Creating a culture where sex is shamed, feared, to even be discussed is unhealthy and damaging. The Defeating Dragons blog has many, many excellent posts about this, the Prin Trustees could learn a lot from it.

  • How does this directive affect public displays of affection?
    Every Principian is subject to Principia Policy 22’s requirement for good social conduct. Specific standards will be developed by the administration in order to provide consistent rules and regulations.

I looked up Policy 22 on page 236 of Education at Principia, on p. 236 it states

All activities taking place on the campus or within the school or college community, whether they occur as part of the organized work or as extracurricular phases of the school or college life, shall be permitted to exist only to the extent they are consistent with the purpose and policies of The Principia.

Maybe I got the wrong policy, or maybe the Trustees just pulled something out of Ed at Prin. It is worth noting Policy 22 is also cited on an old admissions check-list stating

A student may be considered for suspension for any behavior deemed “loose social conduct”(Policy 22 of Purpose and Policies of The Principia, pp. 227–236, in Education at The Principia). A pattern of disregard for lesser school rules could also result in disciplinary suspension.

Policy 22 is nice and vague. It can be read just about any way the Office of Student Life, or the Board of Trustees wants. It can apply to just about every situation, and I’m fairly sure I wasn’t even aware of what the policy was until I looked it up, which leaves me wondering if the average Principia student has any idea of what they’ve really signed up for — my guess is probably not.

  • We expect all public actions to be considerate of others. The expectation of pure, genuine, and respectful displays of affection will apply equally to all community members. (emphasis mine)

What exactly qualifies as “pure, genuine, and respectful displays of affection”? Who decides? At the college, they are adults of legal consenting age, who cares if they choose to hold hands or kiss in the Concourse? What business is it of anyone’s other than their own? Really, at the end of the day, WHO CARES!?

Clearly someone at Principia cares, someone narrow minded and puritanical, someone who wants to police thoughts to make sure they’re pure and their motives are right. After all, it only takes a little bit of malicious animal magnetism (as unreal as it may be) to ruin everything. All it takes is a single thought out of line with God and everything is ruined. Error will simply overwhelm and they’ll fall victim to the Christian Science Trinity of Doom: Sin, Disease and Death.

And now I have a few questions for the Trustees, and I’m sure I’ll have more when they release more Q&A sheets:

  • Why does Principia feel the need to concern itself with the personal lives of students? — I understand there are legal issues with underage boarders at the Upper School, so some involvement is necessary (I have other problems with this), but at the College?
  • Why does Principia feel the need to know a student’s sexual orientation?
  • How is someone’s sexual orientation determined?
  • Why does any of this matter to the Principia? Why are they so hung up on sex?
  • What is Principia afraid of?

Principia has decided to stop discriminating against homosexuals, and while they should be applauded for that, I strongly suspect they will arbitrarily enforce these policies, causing heartache and misery for dozens of students.

I have heard the argument that people choose to attend Principia. They choose to pay upwards of  $37k a year for their educations. No one has to remain at Principia, there are many, many other colleges out there, most of which have more progressive policies. On one hand, Principia’s policies are draconian and oppressive, on the other, you can choose not to attend.

  • This argument is lovely, but it ignores naive high school students who really do think they can abide by the Principia Code of Conduct (or think it won’t actually be as restrictive as it is). People also attend Principia because their parents/grandparents/relatives went, because it is the only Christian Science college in the world, and to some people (see naive high schooler comment) that makes a difference.
  • No one has to remain at Principia, is a similarly lovely argument, during my time there we were on a quarter system (that was later changed over to semesters after I left), most schools are on the semester system, so transferring credits was a nightmare. I know several people who spent far longer than 4-6 years in college because they needed to make up extra credits that never transferred properly from Prin. I also know people who never got their transcripts properly forwarded to their new colleges/universities which made transferring credits rather difficult. Prin also refused to release the transcripts of at least one person because they were “behind” on their student debt — being enrolled as a student elsewhere would’ve enabled them to put off payment of loans.

It may be too late for those of us who did attend and were hurt by those policies, and I hope that Principia continues to strive to do better, because let’s face it, they have a long way to go.

At the college they may “all be adults” but they’re also “adults” who have chosen to live by a highly regulated set of “moral” guidelines — and they can be “requested” to leave if they fail to abide by them. The vague, open-ended nature of the Questions and Answers leaves me wondering if instead of granting homosexual students rights, instead they are going to simply oppress all students further.

Congratulations Prin, you’ve joined the 21st century and are allowing homosexuals the right to be just as oppressed as everyone else at Prin. Now can you alter your fundamentally flawed stance on medicine? Or would that not serve the Cause?