Carter's viewpoint takes off on the contradictions of a spirituality of a viewpoint grounded in behavioral determinism. Myself, having been spiritually weaned on the free will/determinism debate of the 70s and 80s, come at this from a somewhat different viewpoint, "naturally."
Let me first note that the folks over at the Center for Naturalism ("CFN"), Carter's (and my) bête noire du jour have a funny definition of naturalism. The dictionary definition of naturalism (for these purposes) should be:
"The system of thought holding that all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes and laws."
A Buddhist generally doesn't have a problem with this definition, although from our standpoint as agents who can attenuate suffering or increase it, we do have a problem with stipulating behavioral determinism.
CFN's "Spirtuality" section offers this article "Debunking Enlightenment" from the "Council for Secular Humanism," and that forms the basis of my main critique of this viewpoint/ogranization. To quote from that article, a book review by Thomas Clark on a book by John Horgan:
Part of the pull of mysticism is the noetic intuition that during such experiences we are in touch with some deep truth about the universe, but how are we to validate this intuition? Hallucinations, after all, are routinely mistaken for reality.
Horgan is well aware of the intimate connection of experience to the physical brain, and indeed a good part of his book is spent describing “mystical technologies” that seek to alter experience by modifying the neural states responsible for consciousness, either by traditional noninvasive routes such as meditation and chant, or by drugs and newfangled electronic devices. His staunch commitment to physicalism (or his bias, if you aren’t a materialist) is epitomized by the title of his chapter on Zen adept James Austin: “Zen and James Austin’s Brain.”
In researching the neural correlates of mystical experience, Horgan pays an extended visit to Canadian scientist Michael Persinger, who studies the effects of trans-cranial electromagnetic stimulation on consciousness, and Horgan interviews several proponents of “entheogenic” drugs, including Swiss psychiatrist Franz Vollenwieder, described as “arguably the world’s leader in psychedelic research involving humans.” He subjects himself to Persinger’s “God-machine,” but with such anticlimactic results that he wonders, as magnetic pulses play futilely on his cortex, “How will I turn this into a scene for my book?” In contrast, as vividly described in his penultimate chapter, he samples a South American hallucinogenic mixture known as ayahuasca and is pretty much flattened by the experience. But powerful though it is, Horgan’s interpretation is deflationary: “In retrospect, all my ayahuasca visions seemed more like products of my own brain than transpersonal revelations.” This same interpretation, of course, can be applied to any variety of mystical consciousness, however it’s produced, that purports to represent reality the way it “really” is. All such states are, materialists believe, a function of the brain, so why should we suppose that it’s just these states, as opposed to more mundane brain processes subserving ordinary cognition and perception, that get reality right? They might be earth-shattering, ego-dissolving, and imbued with deep certitude, but in retrospect, why should we suppose they are veridical?
Ah, yes, how do we know we've got it right? Especially given the life stories of certain Zen masters, mystics, and others- how can they screw up if they've got it right?
William James (you'll have to read Varieties etc. yourself) said something to the effect of the mystic's experience is valid unto himself, but we have no obligation to follow him. In Zen, we are highly dissuaded from following anyone, even if we study under a teacher or roshi (老師) for many years.
The short answer to Clark is that we know we've got "it" right because we can see how to practially "clear the area" to do good; the area being our own little minds.
Another answer to Clark is that, at least in the 老師 business, they're actually looking for something very specific. I won't tell you what it is, but it's very specific and it's apparent when the student has "it."
Clark's article deserves one other response:
Mystical experience, Horgan says, presents two existentially opposite possibilities, one in which the self is transcended in blissful unification, the other in which we are threatened with dissolution by the uncaring, impersonal abyss that surrounds our fragile human consciousness. The first possibility promises to solve the problem of life: to end (literally) self-induced suffering by losing the self and putting its problems permanently in abeyance. The second, of course, is the prospect of death as it’s often conceived: the end of the self and its world followed by the onset of nothingness. The first is what we most want, the second what we most fear – the complementary halves of the human condition.
With all due respect to Mr. Clark and Mr. Horgan, there is another possiblity: the full participation of the individual/environment. In saying the above these "naturalists" make the same mistake about Zen as mysticism that Christian apologists do. We don't escape suffering, but we do learn how to live where we are. Dogen Kigen Zenji Daiosho said, "When you find yourself where you are, there is practice that realizes the fundamental point." Another master said Zen is your ordinary mind. This ain't an escape.
Kudos to Carter for finding something I can find agreement with him; these guys at CFN and these secular humanists missed the point.
I hadn't realized Carter got his post from Dembski. Of course, I vehemently disagree (too weak a term) with Dembski's ideas on "Intelligent" "Design," and functionally tend to act as a naturalist (but pragmatic: the free will versus determinism argument has little "cash value" for me), but based on the definition from CFN, I guess I'm an "anti-naturalist," which is kind of an absurd category, since I'm not a "supernaturalist."