Category: Skepticism & Post-Faith

Idealist or realist? On religion

Religious, metaphysical, and ethical beliefs are greatly influenced by whether a person is predominantly an idealist or a realist.

This post contrasts idealists and realists and their worldviews, and aims to better understand ourselves and others, and to explore the impact that idealism and realism has on our thoughts and behaviors about religion, metaphysics, ethics and more.

It is important to clarify upfront that few people are pure idealists or realists. Most of us land somewhere between the two conceptual extremes of pure idealism or realism. We will examine this further below, but first let us define what we mean by idealist and realist.

Definitions: Idealist and Realist

First, let’s define Idealists and realists. Each have different perspectives; with idealists tending to focus on ‘what could be’, and realists focusing on ‘what actually is.’1

Idealists typically see the world, life, and people as moving towards some ideal or perfection. Realists, on the other hand, tend to see things in a more practical or actual “as is” view of the world or situation, and may be overly pessimistic.2

The Idealist-Realist / Realist-Idealist Continuum

Most people land somewhere between the two conceptual “pure” ends of idealist or realist. In other words, few people are pure idealists or pure realists but are a combination of the two to one degree or another. People tend to be either an idealist-realist or realist-idealist depending where the land on the continuum of idealism and realism: an idealist with stronger or weaker worldview of realism, or, a realist with stronger or weaker beliefs about idealism.


The Idealist-Realist Continuum graphic depicts, conceptually, that idealists and realists are actually a mix of both on a continuum. Both idealists and realists often hold religious or scientific-oriented beliefs. Some realists may adhere also to a weaker or stronger form of idealism that could include religious beliefs. While some idealists, on the other hand, may harbor beliefs that, for instance, science can help achieve world peace or human utopia. Most people are somewhere on a continuum between the two contrasts of pure idealist and pure realist.

Contrasting Idealists and Realists

Pure or strong idealists and realists are a stark contrast in terms of worldviews of religion, metaphysics, and ethics.

Idealists are often much more religion-friendly, and sympathetic to otherworldly ideas. Realists are often much more science-friendly, and tend towards a this-world emphasis.

Below is an itemized list3, gleaned from Dr. Stephen Hicks, Professor of Philosophy at Rockford University, that contrasts idealist’s and realist’s beliefs about metaphysics, knowledge, human nature, religion, ethics, and liquor.

View of Idealist Realist
Metaphysics Supernature

(higher, superior realm, or realm of the spirits, gods, or goddesses)

Knowledge (epistemology4) Mysticism, revelation (direct communion with higher realm or god), faith, (occasionally “pure” reason) Integration of senses, reason, interaction with this world


Human nature Dualist

(spiritual and physical are two distinct substances, often in conflict with each other)

Badness: original sin


(mind and body ordinarily function together, no opposition between the two)

Tabularasa (born with blank slate) or some may argue born with original goodness

Religion Human is microcosm (lower) of macrocosm (higher) realm, distaste for natural lower/physical world

Born with predestined abilities/capacities [eg. Karma, original sin]Religionist: God didn’t make world according to strict laws but according to His/Her wishes and whims, a God who intervenes through miracles, answering prayers, god may be angry, punish, or destroy (Noah’s flood)

Born with unlimited moral and mental abilities/capacities (eg. tabularasa)

Religionist: God made an orderly world, nature just like scientists find. Not a whimsical god. Often is a more hands off kind of god (eg. there had to be some sort of Divine Being or Intelligence before the Big Bang)

Some may say it’s immoral to act on “faith”. God gave us our senses and reason to act in physical world. God doesn’t want us to be antagonistic toward science but use it to come to better understanding of His universe and to appreciate Him.

Nothing wrong with our bodies, God made mind and body. God wants us to enjoy our bodies and natural world.

Ethics Mind or spirit values (often disparagement or denial of physical body and sensual pleasures: food, money, sex)

Motivated primarily by duty and obligation (sacrifice of self for higher authority or duty, often for happiness in next life)

Mind and body values

Motivated primarily by pursuit of happiness in this life, living a flourishing life, liberty

Liquor Leads to weakening of body and morality (temptation to resist, exists in the world as a test of our character or from a bad force, eg. devil) Ben Franklin, religious realist: “Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

The contrast and continuum of idealists and realists may give insight into ourselves and others.

Most people are somewhere on the continuum between two extremes of pure idealist or pure realist. A person may, over time, flip from idealist to realist or vice versa. Case in point, I flipped.

I used to be a strong idealist, especially during the decades I was an ordained, meditating monk in the cloister of Self-Realization Fellowship. As a strong idealist, I devalued the natural, physical world and overemphasized the value of the higher or spiritual realms, beyond this world. True knowledge and wisdom supposedly came to me through intuition, meditation, and revelation from a guru, from Supernature or Divine Intelligence. During those days I never touched a drop of liquor and imagined pleasures of the flesh to be harmful, spiritually dangerous.

I used to be a strong idealist. Today, I am a strong realist and weak idealist. I believe that human flourishing arises from letting go of overly idealist beliefs and embracing nature, reason, and human experiences in this world. I am optimistic that we humans have the capacity to learn and develop, but am concerned that strong idealists put us at risk of danger by overemphasizing imaginary otherworlds.

Hopefully we humans can bridge the chasm between strong idealists and strong realists, rather than destroy each other and the planet. I could improve by being more patient when listening to some strong idealists, and watch that I don’t step into the dogma of a too strong realist.

Where are you on the idealist-realist continuum? Strong or weak idealist or realist? How can the contrasts be used to improve ourselves and others?

1 The DifferenceBetween website elaborates further on the “Difference Between Idealism and Realism”

2 A short video Is This Glass Half Empty?

offers insights from science about idealists, “glass as half full” types, who tend to be more optimistic. Whereas, realists who may see the “glass as half empty”, though not necessarily as a negative, may view situations as less optimistic or maybe even as pessimistic.

3 The list was gleaned from an excellent YouTube video series presented by Dr. Stephen Hicks, Professor of Philosophy at Rockford University. For Professor Hicks’ brief introduction to the Idealism and Realism watch Introduction: Contrasting Realist to Idealist Philosophy, Clip 1 To jump straight to the beginning of Professor Hicks’ white board discussion of contrasts between idealists and realists start with Clip 2.

4 epistemology, or the theory of knowledge, is the study or philosophy of how we come to know or believe that which is important, true, and real of the world or the realm beyond us. Read Wikipedia Epistemology

Skepticism & Nonbelief

Using "Science" To Market Yoga

flickr, Creative Commons
flickr, Creative Commons

A clever way to convince yourself or others your religion is true is: claim that it’s science.

Spinning sciency sounding jargon into book titles or language doesn’t necessarily make it scientific.

Calling something “science” or “scientific” when it isn’t is misleading, maybe even unethical. Why?

When the word science is used in marketing copy we associate the product with our ideas of sterile laboratories, petri dishes, test tubes, verified facts, clinical experiments, and approvals from bona fide scientific communities of spectacled, PhD geniuses wearing lab coats. When “science” is used we are led to believe the product being promoted has been verified by scientific method.

PublicDomainPictures, pixabay
PublicDomainPictures, pixabay

What genuine science is able to say about the benefits of meditation is interesting. I spend hours each week reading articles, scientific- and scholarly-texts, and examining the intersection of science and meditation.

Red flags should go up immediately when we see the word “science” used to promote products or worldviews that aren’t really scientific. This would include 98.9% of meditation, Buddhist, and spiritual products that use science.

Paramahansa Yogananda and the Self-Realization Fellowship (in whose monastic order I was formerly ordained) flaunt the word “science” in these yoga-meditation book titles:

    • The Science of Religion
    • The Holy Science
    • Scientific Healing Affirmations
    • The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita: An Introduction to India’s Universal Science of God-Realization
    • God Talks With Arjuna — The Bhagavad Gita: Royal Science of God-Realization

In The Science of Kriya Yoga, Chapter 26 in the Autobiography of a Yogi1, Yogananda makes the hard sell that his version of yoga meditation is “science”. These are only a few of the glaring examples when “science” is used to sell products and promote a religious worldview.

Buddhist authors are no less guilty of spinning science into their marketing copy and product titles:

    • The Quantum and the Lotus: A Journey to the Frontiers Where Science and Buddhism Meet
    • Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed (Buddhism and Modernity)
    • Contemplative Science: Where Buddhism and Neuroscience Converge
    • Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom
    • The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality

There’re 2000+ books under Buddhism Science/Religion & Spirituality books on Amazon.

Type these search terms into Amazon’s Religion & Spirituality catalog: science, quantum, scientific, and physics. You will find tens of thousands of sciency-sounding religious products.

I don’t blame sincere Yogis, Buddhists, and Spiritual-seekers for believing their religion or practice is true. Sincerity doesn’t make claims true, ethical, nor scientific fact. It’d serve Seekers to do objective, independent research before they buy these “scientific” products. Would you buy a car just on the car salesman’s word? Kovacs_special_1968_scientificYou verify before you buy that what is being sold is a reliable vehicle. You research Consumer Reports, Kelly Blue Book, and ask your mechanic to check under the hood. I now do my homework and plenty of skeptical inquiry before buying anything important.

Weaving sciency-sounding jargon into marketing copy no longer tricks me. I wish earlier in life I’d known the difference between genuine science, pseudoscience, and marketing using “science”. I probably would not have bought, consumed, and committed so many hours and years to highly questionable products. Granted there can be some helpful advice and inspiring ideas in them. Wishful thinking makes me want to believe and hope for miraculous enlightenment. But, I now realize wishing or calling things “science” doesn’t make them true or real.

Question for readers: When would use of “science” NOT be misleading in spiritual-product marketing?

You may also be interested in reading:

How to Quack-Proof Yourself Against Pseudoscience

Is Meditation Overrated? Scientific Evidence Is Scant, says Scientific American

Meditation: A stress reliever, but not a panacea

Fake Science and New Age

1 The Science of Kriya Yoga, Chapter 26 in the Autobiography of a Yogi 

Are You Unafraid Of The Dark?

Scared, flickr by Capture Queen
Scared, flickr by Capture Queen

We have inhabited a kind of prison on earth. How do we escape from this prison? from our darkness?

Here’s five tips shared from the Cosmos TV series, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, in the ‘Unafraid of the Dark’ episode.

So, how do we escape from this earth prison? from our ignorance?

Through these 5 simple rules that generations of searchers have taken to heart:

1. Question Authority

No idea is true just because someone says so. Think for yourself.

2 . Question Yourself.

Don’t believe anything just because you want to. Believing something doesn’t make it so.

3. Test ideas by the evidence gained from observation and experiment.

If a favorite idea fails a well-designed test, it was wrong. Get over it.

4. Follow the evidence wherever it leads.

If you have no evidence, reserve judgment.

5. Remember, you could be wrong.

Even the best of scientists have been wrong about somethings. Newton, Einstein, and every other great scientist in history — they all made mistakes. Of course they did. They’re human.

Science is a way to keep from fooling ourselves and each other.

Castle Bravo - Wikipedia
Castle Bravo – Wikipedia

Have scientists known sin. Of course, we’ve misused science just as we have every other tool at our disposal. And that’s why we can’t afford to leave it in the hands of a powerful few. The more science belongs to all of us the more likely it is to not be misused.

Our Imagination Is Nothing Compared To The Awesomeness Of Reality

These values undermine the appeals of fanaticism and ignorance. I want to know what is real. That it’s not just something happening inside my own head. Because it matters what is true. Our imagination is nothing compared to nature’s awesome reality.

 It seems that seeking reality, as it is, is our best chance for enlightenment, for a flourishing planet. I’m not convinced that any one person, theory, religion, or method can show us what is real. Perhaps, it will always be beyond reach of our understanding. But we must try, using our best and most reliable methods– or we will stay cramped in our tiny earth prison and forever hunkering, afraid to venture out of our dark.

Question for readers: Do you think objective reality can be known? Or, are we doomed to live in subjective reality, that lives only inside our own heads, our own imaginations? What are the most reliable methods to search for and discover what is real?

works cited

Unafraid of the Dark, COSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY, Season 1, ep 13

How to Quack-Proof Yourself Against Pseudoscience

We think of ourselves as savvy, informed individuals who approach the world with discerning eyes. But the truth is that we’re often remarkably gullible when it comes to pseudoscience and quackery. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it is surprisingly easy to tell quackery apart from real science.

This post was adapted from an article originally appearing on lifehacker.

Pseudoscience and quack claims are typically decorated with red flags, if you know what to look for. What follows is a list of six red flags—watch out for these types of claims, and you’ll be better suited to spot pseudoscience quackery from a mile away. In this post, we’re going to illustrate six red flags using some pseudoscience claims of yoga meditation, religion, and New Age movements.

Six Red Flags Of Pseudoscience Claims

1. Claims of Secret Knowledge – The so-called esoteric “sciences” like yoga, pranayama, or energy healing are almost always claims of secret knowledge available to the specially initiated. Typically, this secret knowledge is given to you through spiritual rites, mystical experience, or religious indoctrination. Real science is not secret.

2. “It’s All A Big Conspiracy” – The claim is that the scientific community, Big Pharma, Big Government, Big Corporations, and Big Religions are hiding the real truth from us. Vast conspiracies, encompassing doctors, scientists, and public health officials exist only in the minds of quacks. The people who make these conspiracy claims apparently have access to some “secret knowledge” kept from the rest of us.

3. False Flattery – Being “special”, chosen, or initiated into secret knowledge makes us feel, well…special, chosen, and “above” anyone else who is not. The exclusivity of many religious beliefs, gurus, and spiritual teachings apparently give us access to esoteric knowledge. To the initiated, to the graduates of esoterica, it’s flattering to think you may know more than others or are specially chosen.

 4. Toxins Are The New Evil – Juice cleanses, detox diets, and colonics are purges. The pseudoscientific belief is we are surrounded by poisons that get into our systems. Trouble is toxins are invisible and all around us, like demons. Nevertheless, pseudoscience claims that toxins are released into our environment and our body by “evil” corporations, drug companies, or inorganic foods. But the real science says the chemicals responsible for most diseases are nicotine, alcohol, and opiates.

5. “Brilliant Heretic” as the Source of Information – Believers argue that science is transformed by brilliant heretics whose fabulous theories are initially rejected, but ultimately accepted as the new orthodoxy. Mystical revelations or pseudoscientific ideas dreamt up by mavericks are not “science” nor are they reliable sources of information. Revolutionary scientific ideas are not dreamed up; they are the inevitable result of massive, collaborative data collection, that gets tested over and over in labs to be either proven false and then discarded, or to be replicated and found true as a practical theory.

6. Using Esoteric Scientific Theories – Quacks love to dazzle followers with sciency language. They invoke esoteric scientific theories, like Quantum mechanics or atomic particles, for example. But these are incredibly difficult scientific disciplines, heavy on advanced math. If you don’t have a degree in either one, you aren’t qualified to pontificate on them.

When we don’t know to look for these six flags we easily fall prey to pseudoscience and sciency-sounding esoteric products or claims. Quack claims come at us daily, from many people and from many sources. For example, there’s 8,000+ Religion & Spirituality books on Amazon using “science” in the title.

There is a saying in science that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Quack claims are typically extraordinary, but quacks don’t offer evidence; they raise some or all of the six red flags, often in an attempt to trick you into buying what they are selling. When you see one of these red flags, you can be virtually certain that you are in the presence of bad science. – Amy Tuteur, MD

For the original article Six red flags you need to recognize to quack-proof yourself

Also, see my posts on 21 Great Reasons To Think and Be A Skeptic and  A Recovering Yogaholic