The cult of skepticism
Crop circles and the study of aliens
Another excerpt from the long conversation. I find interesting his detailed explanations
of his viewpoint, so here they are :
"To consider that a skeptic only wants proofs, would be really to restrict his point
of view and not to understand the nature of the misunderstanding. What a skeptic most
wants is the subjective reason in the method of the individual, which allows one thing
to be concluded rather than another. It is richer than a simple proof, less restrictive,
and more fundamental."
(As an illustration he explained how he had long email conversations with a creationist,
and how that interested him). So admittedly his goals can be somewhat subtle here.
- Despite his denial of this behavior (obsession for proof, permanent need to conclude
before understanding), he appeared to be strongly following it in previous discussions,
something he may have failed to take the measure of. Quote of replies (his in italic) :
There you deviate completely from the subject: you asked me what I think,
I illustrate it with an example, and you take excuse of this to judge the justification, which
was not the subject. Either you want to know the content of my point of view, or you
want to know my justifications, or you want to know how I think I can convince you, but you
have to choose. You have a way of trapping me to give yourself the illusion that I think
badly, it's ridiculous.
Also as I warned that one proof was
not an easy one but required some big work and maturation for understanding before
being grasped and he could not make that work of required understanding as he was too
obsessed and hurried about judging the validity of the proof before giving himself
any chance of understanding those required preliminaries.
But we are talking about a specific case, I accept that you base your convictions
on other things that is not the problem but then you would have to say something like
"it could happen by chance, if I only knew this, I would be agree that it is not worth
much, but knowing the other things that I know, I imagine that what he does is real
... in which case it would no longer be an objective study of an example it will be just
looking for confirmation of something that you have already concluded elsewhere.
What is the point of considering an element if your conclusion is already made?
you have to judge the element in itself, and in itself it is not worth much. And it
is still not clear if you consider that in itself this element is worth a lot, in any
case you behave as if it were the case.
Damn, it's up to you to remember the subject of the current discussion anyway!
You would like me to multiply by 100 the size of my answers with convoluted
formulations to compensate for your inability to remember the issue at hand
There are many other skeptics whose attitude is much less subtle, and I see
nothing wrong to denounce them (more explanations in section "On the diversity
of skeptics" in part 4)
- (Yet there are still lots of other flaws he could fall into, some of which
are commented in other sections here...)
For example, an individual sees a crop circle and tells you "it is a mark made by a
civilization from elsewhere". At this stage it is not really the evidence that matters
to the skeptic, it is first to understand why he does not first consider a simpler
explanation, such as manufacturing by a human. Some would in fact have no reason
(whether it is rigorously evidence or not is not the issue, some will not even have
reasons even including potential non-rigorous reasons). No sorry I did not see that and I am not after that kind of news anyway. Not that it is not
interesting in itself. Indeed, contrary to his suspicions he expressed somewhere else, I
generally find as very interesting as he does, to explore the ways of thinking of seemingly
crazy people to try to understand how they think. I only perhaps failed to seem so, just
because I have had a very big experience of diverse tough cases of such things since
a long time already (including having been Christian and then deconverted...), so this exploration
work for me is now already very much done with relatively small remaining interest to still
add any more, especially with cases like this one which looks comparatively too simple.
Others will say "because
it is too precise to be done by a human" (which IS a reason, we do not judge its
strength here). At this point they are shown what a human can do, and they find
that it is just as precise. They thus find themselves in the first case, because
they no longer have a reason to believe, otherwise they do not even identify it
themselves. It is a "problem" that is more fundamental than the question of evidence.
Speaking of crops circle for example, I think you should have seen it in passing but I
remind you a bit of the facts:
There was a youtubers
commando operation 1 year ago, who secretly made a crop circle themselves, and
came to film on the spot the reaction of visitors (and monitoring media reaction etc ...).
Very many believers of the phenomenon have come to measure energies, to
feel energies. They are all adamant, and probably all perfectly honest about how they
feel. They all have their own methods, either of energy measurement, or of observation
of the field and details, to conclude that it could not be human, that it was magnetic
living etc ... but it was not.
Checking the video, I actually see something a bit different : some people reported
coming there less for the idea it would not be made by humans, than because
anyway they like crop circles and the "energies" they find there regardless who made
these. For these ones there is strictly speaking no evidence of mistake. Moreover I fail
to figure out how anyone who wasn't there can be rationally confident that
"they were all adamant" since such a report may very well be a mere effect of
selection bias from the part of reporters.
...This does not tell us that the paranormal does not exist...
this tells us that in the real world perfectly honest and convinced people can describe
energies, agree, lead reasoning leading to this kind of conclusions.
It tells us that honest people CAN be wrong in their feelings.
By the way, for those who did not know what a crop circle is and why some people are
passionate about them, let us explain the whole fuss from the start.
And therefore, in a second time we can ask: if we have proof of being in a world where
people can be wrong about sensations, feeling, intimate convictions, in such a strong
way, what reason do we have to believe this same kind of testimony on other subjects?
A crop circle is "a pattern created
by flattening a crop, usually a cereal" (Wikipedia). This fascinates
special kinds of investigators split in 2 groups.
One group of investigators is made of Earthlings fascinated to know from astronomical
studies that their home planet with its quickly evolving civilization (with respect to
astronomical time scales) is but one of a large number of planets in the Universe,
many of which may be home to other civilizations. They go on with ideas of the style
"it would be so fascinating to know what such alter ego of our own Earthly civilization
may look like, especially those that are much more advanced than us, which should exist too.
The problem is how difficult it is to know anything about them, because of the distance.
Yet, hopefully some of them could be just as intrigued to find out about our civilization
— as we are to find out about theirs — and at the same time be so
much more scientifically advanced than us, that some of them might be going all the long distance
to get here. If they did, then traces of their visit might be found in the form of crop circles".
So, when they hear about crop circles that have appeared, some can have the motivation to
go all that distance (much shorter than astronomical ones) to the place of this crop circle,
to try to investigate there as much as they can the tiny traces which might be left behind
by those visitors from elsewhere.
The other group of investigators is made of skeptics puzzled to know from sociological
studies that their skeptical approach to life, knowledge and everything (which they developed
and confirmed so well to each other in their skeptics community — as seemingly the most
advanced thinking framework up to current times), still remains just one of many other ways
for people to approach life, which persist across the world. They are intrigued to find out why
and how, among all people who developed some conceptions of life and epistemology beyond
the primitive work-eat-sleep-leisure, many keep following other thinking frameworks which
look so alien and visibly retarded for skeptical observers. But skeptics usually face huge
difficulties to investigate such alter ego of their own ideological framework (especially
as the kind of intense totalitarian interaction, which they normally need to undertake for studying
anything, usually fails to proceed due to how strongly such interactions, usually filled by their
inquisitive and condescending attitudes, may repel their targets). Now a solution came to them
by observing how some of these strange thinking people were interpreting crop circles as
possible traces of alien civilizations. This motivated some of these skeptics, in need of some
fresh data to feed their favored research in stupidology, to assign themselves the role of these
aliens, going through all the burden of designing and making a crop circle themselves
(after getting authorization from the owner of that land for the waste of production it would
cause), so as to trap into their crop circle some of those people with alien ideologies, whose
reactions they can then trap inside the field of their cameras, regardless that these might only
be a special few of such alien thinkers whose ideas progressed to the interstellar degree of
intellectual decay needed to drive all the distance from faraway parts of the country into
that crop circle to investigate it.
Now what would real aliens think about all that seriously ? What seems to me anyway, is that
both groups of investigators are essentially committing the same mistake of over-estimating
how alien from themselves, and how representative of the aliens they dreamed to investigate,
the objects they could catch by their investigations (namely those presented by the other
group) happen to be.
If I had to tell a difference between both groups, and decide which one looks more stupid
than the other, I must admit that is not easy, and the main criterion I can see would be
anyway controversial. I mean, I could not help being biased about this criterion because
destiny already put me on one side of this controversy long ago. In my dreaded school years.
So many times I was humiliated by school mates who told me lies and I was tempted to
believe them. What is the more stupid behavior : to go tell lies to someone, or to believe
the lie that is said ? From their viewpoint, they were clever and I was stupid, because
they managed to trick me by telling me lies, and I was the stupid one to believe them.
On my side, I just saw no sense in going to tell lies in the first
place. I was only interested in the truth and I expected the same wisdom from others.
Their completely different attitude seemed so alien to me. If only
I had the chance to live in a world full of other serious people like I was, my expectation
would have been reasonable, and my credulity would have been safe. Was it my fault
that such was not the case ?
I must admit, we cannot really blame those skeptics for having told any lie in this
story. Strictly speaking they claimed nothing, they only made a crop circle. And those
fooled by this hoax are also likely to get fooled without hoax. On the other hand, they
only fooled their targets for the period of about 10 weeks until they disclosed the facts;
but since they had also fooled themselves in the same way by the same action, there
has not been anybody in a position to easily unfool them since that time.
After I replied in other terms he continued:
"On the other hand there is something that you do not seem to really grasp,
in our viewpoint, anyway mine (I am only presenting a viewpoint). When I was chatting
with my creationist, and showing him other religions, he said "yes but it's easy if you
show me people who believe in shit, well it's shit, while my religion to me it is the truth"
(yes yes he answered that exactly). And he didn't seem able to put himself in my place
and see that for me there was NO difference.
I guess that if skeptics tried to do something
similar with magic stones, they may fail reaching the same result, to their surprise,
or if they did, I could be the surprised one... but it would all depend on so many details.
However, sorry, I am not going to care figuring out details of how such thing can be
organized in a relevant manner, which does not seem to me self-evident.
But therefore, without offense, here what you do not seem to grasp is that you
seem (I do not say that it is) to do in my eyes exactly the same thing:
You start from the principle (in advance) that the crop circle stuff is shit.
Knowing in advance this a priori you declare that therefore it only attracts idiots.
If the same thing had been done to film people reacting to a boji stone being in fact
a false stone, what would you have said?
In fact this is what is strange: that you do not seem to see that for us (again I do not
say that it is the case, I only describe our viewpoint, explain our reaction) whether it is
about crop circle, mediumship, boji stones, they are the same illuminated people. So you
see a bias because you consider that crop circle is a priori illuminated people.
That is his question. I do not see it worth giving here all precise answers, for diverse
reasons which I guess should be clear from other explanations above and below in
the present page.
Or instead of an answer, I'd just offer other questions
Hence my question: what distinguishes outside the subject on which they intervene
the people that you believe about boji stones or other
(mediumship etc ...) and the people that you consider to be basically illuminated people ?
because this distinction as you say we [skeptics] can’t make it. And for the moment it
would seem that your method to make a difference is to base yourself on what you
believe a priori or do not believe a priori (ie people who believe the same thing as
you are in good faith, people who believe something that seems absurd to you are illuminated)
whereas what we are asking for is a method for making a difference that is independent
of your a priori.
So what is this method? how do you differentiate between a guy who talks about the
energy of crop circles and a guy who talks about the energy of a boji stone? If for
example I found you a testimony of a page where I replace "crop circle" by "boji stone"
is there a difference ?
What is the basis for this selection bias that you denounce, other than a priori and an
answer that you would have in advance on the question?
- Which method can you offer to a
creationist Christian to make the difference between one kind of non-Christian viewpoint
and another, criteria which he can easily and naturally apply and see as obviously
relevant to consider the one as much wiser than the other ?
- Which method can you offer to an amateur of crop circles to distinguish between
skeptic-made and alien-made ones, which is the criterion we need so as to objectively
demonstrate that the skeptics who made this one are not proper representatives of the
true aliens he was trying to investigate ?
(it is easy to criticize the methods of others but it may be harder to propose your own — the
possible lack of genuine alien-made crop circles is not a good excuse to dismiss the question
since the symmetry is still not clearly broken here, as skeptics may similarly lack ways of
catching traces of more relevant non-skeptical reactions, than the reactions of amateurs of
crop circles, needed for the question of finding comparison methods to be applicable).
Declining an invitation
Shortly before that crop circle story, he was restarting the conversation by giving the above
reference of video on pain suggestion. I replied reporting about now having a Tigers eye stone
with me. So now, unlike the Boji stones I used before, I keep this one as mine and can do what
I like with it. Yet I have not enough motivation (and I put too low priority versus other works) to
play the guinea pig, investing myself in enough testing to design and proceed any experiment
in a scientific setting to prove the supernatural source of the sensation I have from it ; I just use
it to try to feel well. But (despite the ridiculous misinterpretation which he wrote me in reply)
that is only my personal choice, not any claim about what anyone else could or should do.
Instead I offered to just lend him this stone to let him form his own opinion about it if he likes.
Then he asked me
If I offer you an epistemic interview, promising that it is with the best intentions,
would you lend yourself to it? a few emails, a few questions here and there, with no set pace.
Or do you think you would waste your time? The epistemic interview is not intended to
convince, it is an interview that aims to see the difference in method in the other by which he
takes certain things for granted.
forcing me to re-explain one more time
I invite you to try the stone on yourself instead of wasting both of our time undertaking
great methodological debates which in my opinion are not what is most relevant as a method
of investigation precisely. You will be free to debate methodology with yourself to ask
yourself to what extent what you will have felt from the stone may be a suggestion effect
or not. It's just not my business !!!
(To this I must add a disclaimer (I thought I wrote it somewhere but now I cannot find it) : I do
not promise anything. When inviting people to try it for a few minutes, a majority reported not
feeling anything. I don't know why. But others do feel it. In particular one guy, if I remember well
he bought other stones of that kind and one stone he asked me
if I felt it, I did, then he tried again and he finally felt it too, and he also felt another magic
stone making him feel groggy in his sleep as well).
So in fact I find that this epistemological exchange is very useful because it puts the
finger on an enormous incomprehension of viewpoint. I'm not talking about agreeing, I'm just
talking about understanding what the other person is saying, how the other person is thinking.
And when you say in different ways "come and try for yourself" this incomprehension is
revealed, I explain why:
For a skeptic / scientist the contextual effects, ie the suggestion alone, can induce
REAL subjective effects. The scientific skeptic thinks so because there are very many
experiments, made under very strict protocol conditions which demonstrate it.
These experiences demonstrate 2 things:
Knowing that a skeptic thinks this (maybe he is wrong but at least he thinks it) how would it be
coherent in his mindset to be convinced by the fact of feeling himself the effects of which you
speak? since the same skeptic never criticized its objective reality? The skeptic does not
claim that he will not feel anything, he does not consider himself different from other people.
The fact that the real effect is sometimes objectively measurable by a third party (when the
response is physiological) is perfectly documented. Thus the skeptic does not deny the
reality of the effect, he criticizes the interpretation of causes.
- the presence of the subjective effect (the subjects describe feeling something),
- and the presence of objective counterparts of its effects: such as the detection of hormones in the blood or any other objectively measurable criterion (always induced in the body's response to suggestion).
Epistemological question: Knowing therefore that it is demonstrated, that suggestion alone,
can generate a physiological response of hormonal type for example, thus
similar to injecting a drug with a syringe into the blood (there is nothing more real as
possible definition), how do you think to make the difference between this reality, and your
reality? (because on hearing you it seems that you oppose your real to our imaginary theory,
but we NEVER said that it was imaginary, it is induced by consciousness but it becomes
objectively real and measurable. So you must not oppose your real to our imagination,
but your real to our real and explain to me how you think to make the difference, how
you know that between 2 possible realities your interpretation is the right one).
When I said "try it yourself", it includes very well if you prefer, try to bring a team of
experimenters to do all the double blind experiences you want. It's just not my business.
(at some point, I forgot when, he asked me which kind of evidence or experience might
change my mind. My reply was that the question is absurd, since no future experience
can invalidate the clear evidence I already got from past experience).
His reply 2 weeks later:
(For the moment I have never seen you criticize too much what science
demonstrates, in general you disagree rather on the existence of what science does
not see, but I do not see you advocating the nonexistence of this that science finds)
While there may be some interest trying to give detailed answers to the different aspects
he is asking there, I have to dismiss the whole direction of his questionings as ridiculous
because he is so ridiculously missing in his list of suggestions what I see as the main
source of the difference he is claiming to search for. And what makes this so ridiculous
is that the explanation of the source of difference is actually contained in my previous
message, so this forced me to repeat this answer as follows:
So I would say that, therefore, is a fact that you too accept: suggestion can cause in
people a reaction all the most real. So for a skeptic, I would say that "the first thing
he would try to refute" in relation to your tiger eye account, is that you are not in this
case. That is to say that a self-suggestion did not generate the same type of
consequence for you. And this is where I find it difficult to know where you place your
personal reasoning here (Without any judgment, already I try to understand the other)
So I suggest a few possibilities:
In this second case, therefore, the most convincing would not be to show you a lack of
feeling from your stone when you don't know it is there, but rather show you a feeling
from your stone when you think it is there but in fact not. (Do we agree that this would
make you relatively reconsider your conclusions?)
- you actually don't really see these subjective effects as real.
you consider that YOU can tell the difference between a concrete effect resulting from a suggestion and a concrete effect physically caused (which implies that you consider yourself to be different
(once again I don't judge, I'm trying to verify) from people who can't tell the difference)
You annoy me. I already answered you, namely that each one is solely
responsible to himself for the bases of his conclusions and it is absurd to want
to try to verify the bases of the conclusions of others, for lack of the practical
means of ... putting oneself in the skin of others.
The question of how you understand or do not understand the bases of my conclusions
which only concern me, seems to me a strange question by you, which ... only concerns you.
I already explained to you what I see as the best way to try to answer your questions:
that you try the stone yourself, you will be free to make with yourself all the investigations
you want on the sensations it does or it does not to you.
To re-state it in still other words, this whole idea of the nature of the main difference between
his examples and mine can be summed up in one word : freedom. In the experiments
he referred to, the subjects were not free. All the action followed the structure decided by
the experimenters. But the stone I have, I am free to use it just any time in any way I want,
to try anything I like with it, with nobody around to tell me anything of what I should feel
about it. And I was offering him to try the same, which obviously means not to try in my way
(which would not make sense as anyway it is not possible to well describe or copy my precise way,
so that of course I see no point to try replying to any questions about it), but to try in his way,
which he would take the full responsibility for, away from any suggestion from my part
(unless of course he would decide to come and ask me any questions).
(One might try to object that there is no such lack of freedom in the cases of claimed
hypersensitivity, which are also something this skeptic could not distinguish from
my claims of magic stones effects. Indeed these people are not under the pressure of experimenters,
however that other case has, I guess, another important aspect which ultimately explains how
my above point is not invalidated : if these people had not the chance to have detectors to
check the intensity of EM waves as often as they like for long periods of time, then they
were deprived of the means to test their hypothesis, which may explain why they could keep a
wrong interpretation of the cause of their symptoms ; but even if they had such detectors,
these may still suffer of being a less convenient way of checking their hypothesis, compared
to the easiness to check the presence of magic stones).
Apart from how it was missing the obvious answer, his attitude of refusing to try it
himself also has the following implications. It means he is expressing the following expectation.
He expects that, no matter whether the power of this stone may be real, if he was given
the same opportunity I have of having this stone with him and being free to try it
in any way he likes, he would remain unable to find any method of experimentation, and
any reason from the outcomes of any experiments he would try, that could ever be good enough
to convince him of the reality of that stuff. There would be no possible good reason for him
to convince himself about it. Even though this burden of how he might try to convince himself
about it in this case, which so looks impossible to him, would be made much lighter than the
burden he was trying to put on my shoulders of trying to explain to him my reasons for my
conclusions, by how much easier it is for someone to "explain" some big complicated experience
with its interpretation, only to oneself just inside one's own head, than it is to write it all down
and try to convince somebody else about it.
From this, 2 conclusions can be drawn.
First, his offer of "an epistemic interview, promising that it is with the best intentions"
turned out to be purely rhetorical and practically insincere, since, according to his own
viewpoint and expectations, there was no logical possibility he could conceive for whatever
answer I might give to ever look convincing in his eyes anyway. It could only have been one
more way for him to make fun of me regardless of anything of what might be going on in reality.
Second, his actual epistemology is a nihilistic one, according to which whatever supernatural
phenomenon might be real, there would be no possible valid way to prove it anyway.
And he feels so sure of this impossibility that it stops him from even trying. This way,
skepticism turns out to work as the real killer of curiosity and attempt of scientific
investigation (to be compared to the below remark on how supernaturalism is usually
blamed for "pessimistic expectations about the fruitfulness of scientific investigation").
That reminds me a small discussion I had with a young-Earth creationist Christian
(who I met, so another one): I asked him "How large do you think a galaxy is ?".
His answer was "We cannot know". What a wonderfully skeptical answer this was.
Unless, his attitude might reflect not any logically consistent view but only
the expression of some habit of automatically rejecting onto one's opponents any burden
of work (other than, of course, the work of analyzing and criticizing their work) when some
excuses for this can be found, since these excuses usually seemed defensible, forgetting
to always check again that this still logically holds in each case. A quite comfortable habit
which, understandably, has its selective advantage in the natural evolution of ideologies.
Skeptics are not alone to warn that our natural intuitions may mislead us. The Christian doctrine
contains quite similar warnings. It warns how wrong it is to try criticizing God on how He made
things, and to expect any satisfactory answer (Romans 9:20):
But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed
say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”
It even clearly portrays itself as crazy looking and indefensible in any sane manner
(1 Corinthians 1. 18-21):
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us
who are being saved it is the power of God.
For it is written:
Generally, the emphasis it puts on preaching the Gospel requires to admit that the right doctrine
cannot be spontaneously guessed but requires to be explicitly, artificially taught.
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this
age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God
the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of
what was preached to save those who believe."
This obviously raises the question : if not based on natural intuition, then on which basis are people
supposed to accept the truth of the Gospel ? Not on any special spiritual revelation either:
(1 John 4: 2-3) "This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit
that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that
does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you
have heard is coming and even now is already in the world."Similarly, the Christian (and especially the Orthodox) view of the
discernment of spirits
insists that nobody should dare following or assessing by themselves the spiritual perceptions
they may have, but should "humbly" delegate to other church members the care to discern
for them whether to trust or not any spiritual vision or inspiration which may be coming onto them.
So obviously, the information that we should "acknowledge Jesus" and the Bible itself must be
coming from elsewhere. Now where is it supposed to be coming from ?
(2 Corinthians 11:14) "Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light."
(Romans 10) "... Since [Israelis] did not know the righteousness of God and sought
to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. (...) how can they
believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without
someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?
(...) faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through
the word about Christ."
Usually Christian preachers
put so much emphasis on historical argumentation, that even sometimes they refuse to discuss
anything else but just repeat how much the only criterion to debate and accept the truth of the
Gospel must be a matter of historical evidence (the reported testimony of the Apostles), rejecting
from critical discussion any more philosophical criteria of plausibility, as well as any
observational checking of how it works in Christians lives (forgetting that... the statement
that [the Christians' life is effectively, observably better touched by God due to the metaphysical
fact of the Gospel being actually true, than if the metaphysical fact was different] is both
a claim of the Christian doctrine and a needed motivation to adopt a Christian life, isn't it ?).
The Bible itself presents as
one of the main arguments on the basis of which we should recognize Jesus as the Son of God,
that His coming was previously announced by prophets. That Jesus himself was not expecting to
be accepted as Son of God just based on his own deeds, any direct recognition of his teachings,
but also based on the authorities of the prophets who came before him (Luke 24 : 25-27),
of the manifestation of miracles in his life, and it also mattered that John the Baptist came
first to announce and baptize him. So in all this, there isn't anybody, not even Jesus himself,
supposed to have taken on himself the responsibility of deciding where the truth is, everybody
must have humbly delegated this responsibility to a large crowd of holy people or large
cloud of facts coming before or around him.
Similarly, from a Christian viewpoint, at least in some discussions (while possibly claiming the
opposite in different contexts, ignoring the contradiction), the truth of the Gospel is not supposed
to be in any way verifiable in the personal lives of Christians, in the sense that no matter
how much someone's search for God remains vain and the experience of being abandoned by
God in depression, misfortune and senseless waste of life can be huge, no matter how seriously
one could research the possible "reasons" for this waste and find none, some Christians
will keep dismissing such experience as no possible legitimate grounds for de-conversion, in
the sense that faith should thus remain absolutely independent of all experience... i.e. unfalsifiable. In my experience, I remember
in particular in some online forum (it seems no more online) a Christian dismissing my
testimony in roughly these terms : "What do you have to say,
other than that you think God did not give you what you think you needed ?". More in
another page. In such terms,
all conceivably accessible means of personal discernment are completely dismissed as illusions.
I once asked a Christian apologist for references on the topic, he completed and confirmed
the above points : "If one reads through the book of Acts it is quite clear that Paul is not opposed to
careful reasoning and argumentation in his putting forth the gospel message" especially
according to Acts 17, however only the precise kind of argumentation which the Jews were after,
that is focused on criteria of biblical references (where prophets are presented as receiving their
spiritual authority from the historical confirmations of their predictions) and historical arguments
(interpreting destiny as God's hand) ; Paul tried similar lines of arguments for the Greek but had
much less success there (and his message appeared to them as foolishness) because the
Greek's truth criteria are very different : "To the Greek philosophers, the meaning
of life cannot be understood by looking at historical events. They are temporary and passing.
The meaning of life and of reality itself needs to lie in what is eternal and in what can be grasped
through philosophical reflection on the nature of the world and of reality. Furthermore, in Greek
thought, if there is any life beyond the grave, it is a spiritual existence (not a physical existence)."
Also, Sophism (eloquence) was valued by the Greeks, but Paul had not that "quality".
So that all works as a huge rumor, which everybody just has to religiously propagate but
which nobody is supposed to dare initiating or correcting (by definition, any attempt to
diverge from the given dogmas by exerting one's own discernment would make one a heretic).
That rumor out of nowhere is supposed to be the one ultimate authority over any other discernment
criterion such as any kind of personal intuition or research.
Now the question is : since this invitation to follow the crowd is the largely main
argument (discernment criterion) that the Christian doctrine has to offer in guise of evidence,
on the basis of which it invites people to believe it, instead of any verifiable intrinsic value
of its content, then which psychological force could be so effectively driving people to
accept this in large enough numbers to account for the persistence of Christianity for so
many centuries ?
Answers are in fact rather easy to find, and can roughly be summed up as peer pressure, also well
illustrated by the tale of the Emperor's
New Clothes. Many details of the Christian doctrine can be analyzed as elements
which contribute to strengthen this pressure (which gives these details a selective
advantage in the competition of doctrines), for believers to both stay "strong" in
their faith, and forward that pressure (possibly though giving impressions of
being witnesses of the truth of the Gospels having received some divine grace,
regardless the lack of any real thing that happened). Examples:
See : all these people look so wise, they have so
good intentions, they are so humble, so dedicated to the search for divine wisdom
and guidance. How could one commit the offense of accusing
them of being completely wrong and of doing evil by their mere act of "witnessing"
the hand of God in their life ? And also commit the blasphemy of considering
that God could have dared to let a huge collective delusion happen across
the whole community of its devout worshipers.
- The value given to faith ("faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not seen" Hebrews 11:1),
- The idea that followers are "saved", thus the worry that non-believers would not be
- Attitudes of "I will pray for you [to believe]"
- The duty to be thankful to God for life and everything and ignore any troubles one
faces, not complaining (regarding all complaints as shameful), creates an
illusory testimony of being blessed by God
- The idea that the Son of God died on the cross to save us, while begging us to believe that
- The fact much of this pressure takes place without deliberate or conscious
intent by anyone to exert pressure, can actually reinforce this pressure by an immunity from
accusations of being there.
So for each person facing the "choice" to convert or not convert to Christianity, the
question roughly comes down to the dilemma of having to choose which of these
2 paradoxes is the most unsustainable:
Many people may feel the second paradox as much more acute than the first for the reason that
it is hard to argue either against the praise of humility as a core virtue, or against classifying
as an act of "arrogance" the choice to reject a counter-intuitive doctrine in the name
of a personal intuition or research against the "testimony" of a whole community of devout
- the paradox of accepting as true a counter-intuitive doctrine, or
- the paradox of dismissing as wrong the "testimony" of a whole community of devout,
seemingly very wise God seekers.
But the difficulty can also be translated in rational terms: into the concept of
paradoxical emergence: the paradox of how a global phenomenon of awful
collective mistakes might emerge from a community of very nice and
wise people all trying their best to search for God's wisdom and directions.
But this paradox is not as hard to solve as many people are tempted to expect :
this paradox finds its natural solution directly from the fact that...
it appeared to be a paradox. The mere fact that it could seem odd to so many
people, suffices to explain it.
Now why I developed all the above explanations, is that, in much of what I can
observe, the general motivation across the scientific and philosophical communities to
support naturalism looks similar to this driving force of religious dogmatism.
I guess possible illustrations can be countless. Here is (translated to English) an
example of a personal experience of discussion in comment to a YouTube video of science
popularization, which I see as symptomatic of the general problem (my own comments in
straight style; other peoples claims in italic):
[in the video] "(stuff about the philosophical ideas of Descartes...) if the
soul-body interactions are causal interactions...this physical
event was not initiated by a physical cause. It would be literally supernatural.
Managing to move one's arm by thought would be a kind of miracle. Therefore now most
philosophers of mind reject dualism...
Anyway nobody cares that some crucial statements from that video were plain wrong and
that I refuted them : anyway this video had about 700,000 views and remains online,
thus proudly propagating these traditional falsities endlessly, while my comments were lost in
the middle of almost 2,000 others there, and there is no way to see anything wrong with all
this. Because anyway it does not matter for skeptics to give invalid arguments as long as
it is to support the right naturalistic conclusion, or does it ? Self-complacent behaviors
of skeptics giving themselves the right to propagate bullshit arguments for naturalism
was already noticed with Bayesian inference, and more will be described later.
[my comment quoting from the video :] "[the dualistic explanation] is not very popular among
people who have thought about it a little" : since when has popularity with people
who have thought a little, been an argument in science ?? However, it is not
enough to think a little to be truly aware of the lessons to be drawn from quantum
mechanics. Especially in the absence of good references on the subject... there is
someone who seems
to have thought a little lot and drew the opposite conclusion.
"On the other hand [dualists] struggle to account for the
interactions between mental and physical"
One can have a lot of trouble drawing and justifying the exact
real lessons of quantum mechanics when one has not studied it at a sufficient level,
as in particular most of the philosophers officially specialists in metaphysics did not...
"As Chalmers cannot decently resuscitate Cartesian dualism" FALSE he indeed
made the mistake of believing thus at a certain time but has since corrected himself.
- "is not very popular with people who have thought about it a little." I think
it is an understatement to say that it is a hypothesis mainly rejected by people who
have studied the subject well.
Here is another youtube
comment discussion with someone who claims to speak for science and mistakes me as the
dumbest man on Earth just because I disagree with his metaphysical and "sociology of physics"
beliefs (all what is in Italic is from "AnticitizenX", all the rest is from me):
What a fallacy is this:
So I see the comparison of a priori plausibilities of naturalism and supernaturalism
(before undertaking more detailed studies and experiments) as roughly coming
down to the dilemma of deciding which the following 2 paradoxical emergence
concepts is the most unsustainable :
"It’s weird, too, because the Copenhagen interpretation isn’t exactly well-liked among modern
physicists. While it may be common practice to teach this interpretation in most schools, there is
also an open admission among everyone involved that it's both a logical and philosophical mess.
There are plenty of alternative interpretations that arguably do better"
Like so many people you missed the fact that the only (but widespread) way for the Copenhagen
interpretation to look messy rests on the materialistic presuppositions of the people who discuss it.
All troubles are completely and "miraculously" resolved as soon as the right idealistic metaphysical
framework is considered (giving the Von Neumann Wigner interpretation). Therefore this
widespread dismissal of the fundamental role of consciousness in quantum physics is purely
Naturalists can be all the more confident that a satisfactory interpretation fitting their expectations
should exist that they did not start studying what such a thing could precisely look like.
I recently wrote a new text on this topic:
Previously I wrote on free will
and the fallacies of naturalistic arguments of academic philosophers
Copenhagen doesn’t just “look messy”. It is logically incoherent and empirically falsified.
Uh, I don't know what you mean by empirically falsified. I did not get that news. As for the logical
incoherence, I told you and it is clear (I mean I have good skills in math and physics in case you
didn't know): it is only logically incoherent with materialism. Once materialistic expectations are
removed we get the Von Neumann Wigner interpretation (so, well indeed not the Copenhagen
one which is admittedly not really an interpretation) which has ZERO PROBLEM unlike all naturalistic
interpretations (spontaneous collapse, many-worlds, non-local hidden variables, superdeterminism)
which are all so plagued with unsolvable problems that none can be satisfactory. If you can't see
how the Von Neumann Wigner interpretation is free from all problems (if you know quantum physics
well) that probably mainly reflects your inability to get rid of materialistic preconceptions (I know that
is not only yours, many people suffer the same inability, hence the foolish rumor of impossibility to
make sense of this), or other possible mistakes I explained in my texts...
Uh, I don't know what you mean by empirically falsified. I did not get that news
Practically every professor and science educator who has ever spoken on the subject
will admit this. Electrons and photons do not magically squish down into tiny, infinitesimal
points upon observation. The very idea of a "measurement" is an open problem in modern
physics. So if this is "news" to you, then I don't know what to tell you other than "stop pretending
you understand quantum mechanics," because you obviously do not.
Once materialistic expectations are removed we get the Von Neumann Wigner interpretation (so,
well indeed not the Copenhagen one which is admittedly not really an interpretation)
Great. You accuse me a being a dummy head for rejecting Copenhagen, only to suddenly show
up and admit that you also reject Copenhagen. Please kindly teach yourself how to use words
properly before railing against my dummy head philosophies, m'kay?
You just ridiculously play with words by saying "You accuse me a being a dummy head for
rejecting Copenhagen, only to suddenly show up and admit that you also reject Copenhagen."
The Von Neumann Wigner interpretation is just Cohpenhagen clarified about what a measurement
means, instead of remaining ambiguous. Just trying to replace "Copenhagen interpretation" by
"Von Neumann Wigner interpretation" in your article, all your argument falls down.
"Practically every professor and science educator who has ever spoken on the subject will
admit this." will admit what ? You claim that Copenhagen is empirically falsified. Do you claim
that every science professor agrees that it is empirically falsified ???
"Electrons and photons do not magically squish down into tiny, infinitesimal points upon observation."
Nobody and nothing ever claimed they did. What is your point then ? Well of course we have the X
and P operators called "position operator" and "momentum operator" that may be called "observables"
but, since their "eigenvectors" are not genuine vectors of the Hilbert space, these are mere mathematical
tools which nobody and nothing ever mistook as actually "observables". It would be a ridiculous play with
words to find here any matter of argument against imaginary opponents.
"The very idea of a "measurement" is an open problem in modern physics" Indeed it is an
open problem how it can be interpreted materialistically, all the materialists who try to interpret
quantum physics materialistically report that it is an open problem, because it has no satisfactory
solution, of course this is not news to me. There is no consensus that the Von Neumann Wigner
interpretation has any problem, because the "specialists" of comparing the interpretations simply
forget to include this one in their study list. Or they criticize the ideas of Penrose and Stapp who didn't get it right.
Here is at least a physics professor who disagrees with you http://henry.pha.jhu.edu/eddington.2008.essay.pdf
The Von Neumann Wigner interpretation is just Copenhagen clarified about what a measurement means
You're the one who specifically described this as "indeed not the Copenhagen one" (your own
verbatim words). It cannot both be Copenhagen and NOT Copenhagen at the same time. For the
second time, please learn how to use words properly before engaging in discussions.
Furthermore, the Von Neumann Wigner interpretation is almost universally rejected among modern
physicists. It doesn't even warrant a mention in most textbooks. So please don't insult me with this
naive pretense that you have any expertise in the subject. Unless you have personally solved the
Schrodinger equation for a periodic potential well (or some equally complex configuration), then you're
not in a position to dictate what is or is not relevant in quantum mechanics.
will admit what ? You claim that Copenhagen is empirically falsified. Do you claim that every science
professor agrees that it is empirically falsified
I do not claim that literally "every" science professor agrees with this. I only ever said that "Practically
every professor and science educator who has ever spoken on the subject will admit this." For the
third time, please learn to use words correctly. It is not controversial among modern physicists to
claim that Copenhagen is almost certainly wrong. I should know. I work with them personally and
have published research in the field. Please stop pretending to be an expert in things you quite
obviously do not understand.
Nobody and nothing ever claimed they did
The Copenhagen interpretation requires particles to squish down into tiny, infinitesimal points. It's right there on page 5 of Griffiths' classic text. You are absolutely and demonstrably ignorant of the literature to try and make this claim.
I'm sorry, but I'm not going to bother reading the rest of your comment. It is blatantly dishonest of you to engage in this debate when you very obviously have zero understanding of the subject. Either you know that you have no training, in which case it is a lie to invent such assertions about the field, or you do have formal training, in which case you are lying by pretending that the stuff I'm claiming is remotely controversial. Please kindly go away and stop replying until you learn how to use words correctly and honestly.
"Unless you have personally solved the Schrodinger equation for a periodic potential well" I rediscovered the Einstein field equation of General Relativity at age 16, and later I studied Quantum Field Theory and understood its main ideas (Dirac equation, Dirac sea, how the development in Feynman diagrams is mathematically derived from the field functional integral ; also the main ideas of renormalization, though I don't know how to calculate this ; of course the math of quantum decoherence is clear for me), is that not enough for you ? Could you do better ? I care very much to use words properly in my work to clarify the foundations of math. But words are there to serve a meaning for people able to actually understand them, which is visibly not your case, as you just react by your "syntax error" like the machine you mistake yourself with... I did care to develop the explanation of how I use words but you visibly refuse to understand so I cannot help you any further, sorry.
I know very well that "Furthermore, the Von Neumann Wigner interpretation is almost universally rejected among modern physicists. It doesn't even warrant a mention in most textbooks." The problem is that there is no reason at the basis of this mass behavior. Just the crowd following itself just like following the crowd is the only "reason" you could put forward here. Instead of a justification, there is one explanation pointed out by David Chalmers, I already quoted in my texts which you so ridiculously did not care looking at, as it refuted you already :
"There is some irony in the fact that philosophers reject interactionism on largely physical grounds (it is incompatible with physical theory), while physicists reject an interactionist interpretation of quantum mechanics on largely philosophical grounds (it is dualistic). Taken conjointly, these reasons carry little force".
In clear physicists are well known to have no logical or physical reason to reject the Von Neumann Wigner interpretation. Their materialistic prejudices are by far their main "reason". I know there are still a few more "reasons" which I also listed and debunked in my site...
"It is not controversial among modern physicists to claim that Copenhagen is almost certainly wrong." You
are the one confusing words to tell ridiculous lies : I asked is Copenhagen known to be empirically falsified
and you replied yes it is known to be nonsense, which is totally switching the subject. As far as I know, Copenhagen
is known by all professors as the perfect empirical match despite its lack of logical clarity, not at all empirically falsified.
And I'm not responsible if you decide to love Griffiths and his dark humor far from any decent
physics, of insisting on a ridiculously inappropriate and nonsensical metaphysical reading for some
too literally read piece of
the math traditionally used to introduce quantum mechanics, when there is no sane reason to see it so.
Now I see no surprise that the latter paradox can widely pass as harder than it really is,
for several reasons here listed by increasing strength
- that from a network of a huge number of unconscious
neurons, a phenomenon of consciousness could emerge;
- that from a network of a huge number of seemingly very serious and intelligent
scientists and philosophers, a phenomenon of collective stupidity (dominance of
wrong convictions) on this precise metaphysical question could emerge.
As for the argument by the number, namely this poll on "Mind: physicalism or non-physicalism?"
- The above observation of the same process happening in religion.
- Apart from the few ridiculous statements from medical authorities quoted in Part 2,
other observations of paradoxical emergence of collective dumbness can be observed
across academic philosophers,
and even scientists in another matter, a bit outside their areas of
specializations but still close enough they should be concerned with : how to teach math and physics.
- As for the precise belief in naturalism (and the belief that it would be
rationality justified) across scientific and philosophical communities, the fact it
happens to be a mere rumor from nowhere without an effective reason, is perfectly clear and openly admitted by serious people
who checked, such as D.Chalmers "...philosophers
reject interactionism on largely physical grounds (it is incompatible with physical theory),
while physicists reject an interactionist interpretation of quantum mechanics on largely
Philosophy faculty or PhD
I see no surprise there at all : people with a priori physicalist beliefs, which means
that the working of the mind is decipherable by science, are much more likely
to go to cognitive science, a field of study whose curriculum is so heavy with the same
beliefs, than non-physicalists whose position implies pessimism in the relevance of
that field of investigation, and also who would be too uncomfortable with following
a curriculum that is heavy with physicalist prejudices. The latter may try to go to
parapsychology if such jobs can be found (which is hard), to the practice
of meditation or related stuff, or to entirely different fields of study. Now I wrote
this paragraph of explanation before considering to check
its validity, which is straightforward as it appears among options in the same poll
(but very imprecise by the too small number of participating undergraduates):
Accept or lean toward: physicalism 54% (target group : 56%)
Accept or lean toward: non-physicalism 29% (target group : 27%)
Philosophy of cognitive science:
Accept or lean toward: physicalism 75% (target group : 77%)
Accept or lean toward: non-physicalism 7% (target group : 5%)
Philosophy undergraduate : philosophy of cognitive science
I have to dismiss any claim that cognitive science as it now goes would bring
relevant clues to the issue, and thus any claim that my position suffers incompetence
just because I did not study cognitive science or related fields. If that science, in its
current state, was carrying any evidence for naturalism, then it would change the mind
of many students against their prior convictions, and bring the proportion of naturalists
among its experts to 99% or higher. It doesn't.
physicalism 13 / 15
Philosophy graduate student : Philosophy of cognitive science:
physicalism 58 / 72 (81%)
non-physicalism 10 / 72 (14%)
We still have to assess the former paradox (emergence of consciousness from matter).
I see 2 main troubles in presenting it as acceptable : one strong and one weak.
- The strong one I see is that I consider the idea of possible emergence of
consciousness from material processes as a category mistake, since however surprising
behaviors (properties) might be expected to emerge from extremely complex systems, this
can bring nothing to the explanation of consciousness insofar as consciousness is not a
behavior (even if it can have behavioral consequences) but belongs to a different category,
precisely a different ontological type radically outside the category of behaviors or
"properties" to which any possible fruits of emergence belong (precisely, complexity properties
as opposed to elementary qualia). Now a little web search indicates that the very concept
of "category mistake" was initially introduced as an argument against
dualism (essentially pushing eliminative materialism by dismissing as a "category mistake" the
claim that consciousness exists and needs to be accounted for). Now I am not claiming to end
the debate on this question here, but I just aim to point out that
this question of which ideas are category mistakes and which aren't, is a crucial question on
which different people can keep fundamental disagreements, and much of the divergence
of views on the ratio of a priori plausibilities of naturalism and supernaturalism can be traced
from here. More precisely, this reason of category mistake (to dismiss as a logical
impossibility the idea of emergence of consciousness from material processes), is
what I obviously meant to be what the mentioned dualistic intuition was saying
in the first place. Namely it was the intuition that the concept of emergence of
consciousness from material processes is a category mistake and therefore logically
impossible. So when skeptics point out that the dualistic intuition might be fooled
by emergence, are they clear which intuition we are talking about ? This question of category
mistake is a philosophical question which can
be investigated, but unfortunately academic
philosophers usually cannot do it because of how dumb they are in their own field,
and such a question does not fit very well under the most usual investigation skills of
scientists in general, and especially not under the famous method of double-blind
randomized testing in particular.
- The weak one is a kind of mirror image or bounce-back from some kinds of objections
I sometimes see against supernaturalistic concepts, that consist in not really
giving some evidence against them, but in blaming them for undermining some principles
of rational investigation. So I need to include this part but call it weak to point out that it is
no weaker than that strange kind of naturalistic argument I could see held as if it were an
argument, or even a vital necessity in the name of which science supposedly had a vital
need to remain naturalistic. Actually, I understand what makes it look so important
in the eyes of naturalists: once again it is the confusion between supernaturalism
in general, and its specifically Christian version.
Indeed, the concrete observable effects
of creationist doctrines on the behavior of some Christians (who are no more trying to
understand the world because "God did it" is effectively ending their curiosity in the sense
of quest for coherent, unified understanding of the data, especially the data of fossils,
astronomy etc), strongly illustrates that trap, which then naturalists blame as a fatal effect
of supernaturalism. But I think it would not be so anymore (or at least to a much lesser extent)
outside this specifically Christian way. So just once this specific concrete case of some
Christian behaviors would be left aside (if only that separation could be figured out) I
don't see anymore what strength of the argument would still remain. Indeed even a
hypothesis which might lead to pessimistic expectations about the fruitfulness of
scientific investigation should neither be ruled out in the name of such unfortunate
consequences it would have, nor should any pessimistic expectation about the
fruitfulness of investigation, ever deter any investigation from being undertaken anyway
"just in case" it still turns out to be fruitful. Now here is the point:
the hypothesis of emergence of consciousness from brain function, is not properly
speaking an explanation, but a mere hypothesis, or belief, I'd even call it a prophecy
in the abstract existence
of an explanation which we do not actually have. Not only is such an explanation not currently
available, but it is not expected to be available for a long time (perhaps an eternity),
because its very point is that such an emergence can only start happening at such a level
of complexity that it is likely to be undecipherable even in principle. All that AI researchers
can do is make computing experiments and observe results, yet not actually understand
them enough to draw any reliable or meaningful conclusion about whether their experimented
systems can be considered conscious or not. In particular, such experiments cannot answer
the above question of whether the hypothesis of emergence of consciousness from
complex systems is a category mistake or not.
Standards of evidence
Let us expand on the ideas of section "The Scientific Method" from Part 1. A big trend
among skeptics is to reduce the issue of evidence to a matter of fitting some predefined
standards of evidence, in other words they have a standardization
approach to the issue. I cannot help but compare this with a similar trend found among
religious fundamentalists, who are also obsessed about standardizing life. This latter issue
was once raised in a discussion in the Facebook "The Atheist Experience Official Discussion
Group": someone there opened a thread titled "What do you guys normally answer when
confronted by the religious argument of “whats your moral standard”?". Many answers
were proposed ; here was mine : "Being not reductionist I consider morality as
Both attitudes of trying to standardize the criteria of judgements
(true/false or evidence/non-evidence for the ones, moral right/wrong for the others) are
actually very similar, and similarly absurd. Both are kinds of extremism, which is ill-thought
perfectionism, by people who can only make sense of questions in terms of "which extremism
is the right one", and accept solutions defined by fixed rules that always need
to be applied identically without further question. They cannot tolerate any exception
to the rule.
Christians define the choice as being between "divine thought", which is perfect,
and "human thought", which is fallible (including of course the particular case of skeptics'
thought, and with very good reasons as were here developed !! in such conditions, to still figure
out that there also exists a more reliable kind of human thought called scientific
thought, would beg the question of explaining the difference !).
To explain the trouble with this : by the same logic one could say "optical illusions exist,
therefore we need to cut off our eyes to protect ourselves
from the risk of these illusions". One of the problems with this policy of rejecting any source of
evidence which has some risk of being imperfect, is how it is continued regardless of the
availability of any more reliable alternative solutions.
In the name of this, they call to
reject human thought and undertake a long search or wait for biblical or divine guidance...
regardless of the fact that such a guidance may never come. Life is so full of questions for
which the Bible contains no answer ; and even when it does, such answers may well turn
out to be inappropriate or even ridiculous in the current context. But they don't care. For
them, what matters about something is not how effectively good it is, but only the completely
unrelated question of "how this thing should be judged", with always the same
answer independent of its effective qualities or any other effective measure whatsoever :
everything and everybody should always be judged imperfect, therefore sinful and therefore
deserving eternal hell in God's eyes until it is redeemed by the blood of Christ.
Similarly, many times during the online conversation with that skeptic I mentioned earlier,
he insisted to dismiss as unworthy of discussion the question whether my conclusions may be
correct or not, as the only worthy object of discussion in his eyes is by which method
did I reach the conclusions I reached, which needs to be clearly understandable and
applicable for him, and how reliable is this method in terms of standards of evidence as he
understands them. As long as I did not follow his standards of evidence, he dismisses
whatever I might think as invalid or unworthy of attention. This applies regardless of the possible
fact that hardly anything in life may ever successfully fit his standards of evidence.
A skeptics' attachment with supposed rules extends to the fact that they cannot tolerate any
exception to the supposed "laws of nature" either. A dogma of reference to supposedly absolute
laws of nature which works as a self-sufficient dogma they are satisfied to put forward, working
as a substitute for any effort to actually understand and analyze what these laws of
nature may actually be, namely the laws of quantum physics which are a big challenge to
naturalism, just like the Christians reference to divine truth works regardless
their inability to effectively get from God any answer to any worthy question.
Right methods vs right conclusions
A big object of disagreement which came up with my skeptic debater
can be phrased as the question of what is the right choice between
to which I answer 1. while his position amounts to answering 2. Except of
course that skeptics will proclaim the impossibility for the "right methods" to lead to
wrong conclusions, since by nature, correct evidence (= which fits the skeptics
accepted standards of evidence), cannot lead to wrong conclusions.
Or can it ? They think it cannot, because they precisely care to take
the strictest standards of evidence, which ensure to dismiss as invalid any candidate evidence
which may be unreliable. Yet even this requirement leaves them in
the risk of reaching false conclusions, for the following reasons.
- Reaching the true conclusions by following "wrong methods", or
- Following "the right method" no matter that it can lead to false conclusions
- (Describing things in extreme terms to make them clear :) Picking such strict "standards
of evidence" that no evidence can fit into them, results in making one's views unfalsifiable (cut
off from real facts) as no evidence can be accepted as good enough to challenge them.
Even this would not be so bad if another condition of rationality was met, namely to recognize
that who has no evidence has nothing worth saying and therefore should shut up.
However Skeptics being Executives by nature, cannot shut up. They still need to decide
and force their opinions on others. Their opinions can comfortably stick to their accepted
defaults, not affected by the real state of affairs, and still loudly propagated in the names of
Science and Reason. In lack of any other accepted reference of truth and evidence, the only
remaining reference of truth for them to align their default position, is then defined by the
majority opinion of those other people who are assumed to have the most reliable opinions
because they are the most "rational", i.e. those who stick to these "most reliable standards of
evidence", and at the same time appear to have strong convictions to proclaim, namely
the community of the rest of skeptics. Just like with religion : the crowd follows itself.
- Logically, once a word (here "evidence") is given an incorrect definition, any
proposition expressed using this word or any other word whose meaning is implicitly defined
from it, will be incorrectly interpreted too. The chain of errors originating from there can go very
far. The previous point already contains an example. More examples will be developed later.
- More concrete explanations of how the "right" skeptics methods can lead to the
wrong conclusions are given in Part 5
The non-existence of evidence
One of the main usual arguments for naturalism says in short "There is no evidence for the
supernatural". It can be made more explicit in this syllogistic form :
So to reject the conclusion I must say which premise(s) I reject.
- Supernaturalism implies the presence of many supernatural phenomena
- From these, a good number should turn into available evidence
- There is no such evidence available
- Thus supernaturalism is false.
I accept 1. not as a necessity but from vague experience, as it seems to me that
the proportion of people whose personal life carries some supernatural phenomenon is
more than 10%. I stumbled on the note that "Over half of the U.S. adult population has
had paranormal experiences".
And some people's lives can carry many such events each.
The views on 2. and 3. are relative to an interpretation of what "evidence" means.
Reading it by their own definitions, skeptics claim 3. but reject 2. as explained above,
thus making the argument invalid (which they strangely fail to notice).
Relative to some intermediate standard level of "evidence" I regard 2. as rather weak :
many supernatural phenomena are quite elusive, hard to record or check, both by their
nature and the lack of organized research about them.
But my biggest disagreement is with 3.
I know my rejection of 3. can look crazy in skeptics eyes, first because they
feel so sure about 3., second because they will react as "That's simple,
if there is available evidence then just give it and that's all".
However I see things as far from being so simple, as I will further explain below ;
so given the difficulty I would try to comply to that request only if I had a good reason.
However while I could put as a goal of other expositions to provide evidence for
supernaturalism, it is a different game with different goals I undertook to play in the
present exposition of what is wrong with skepticism. So inside the bounds of the present
exposition, let us say I just report that I reject 3. yet I am not trying nor expecting to
convince any unconvinced person to follow me in this option, and for this reason I have no duty
to provide evidence for this rejection either. Instead, I want to point out how among (non-religious)
supernaturalists, this attitude of not trying to push forward nor prove the invalidity
of 3. is both widespread and legitimate.
One reason for this, is that any attempt to
point out specific examples of evidence for the supernatural, would be an insult to the
thousands (millions?) of other worthy evidence out there which such an attempt
would omit. Other reasons are based on things explained in previous sections. First,
naturalism is the extraordinary claim in need of evidence; supernaturalism isn't.
This is part of the reasons for the lack of motivation for supernaturalists to provide
evidence; this itself contributes to reducing the frequency of conversion of occurring
miracles into available strong evidence for them. Of course it remains interesting for
supernaturalists to distinguish true miracles from fake stories. But unlike the first
Christians for whom this mattered as a mark to support the holy doctrine (and yet they
could not check anything since all was pure rumor anyway),
for most supernaturalists the stakes of this question are usually low, so that weak evidence
for specific cases is usually regarded as sufficient. More reasons will be explained later.
Comparatively, skeptics usually appear much more pushy about the truth of 3. expecting
people to believe it (I understand they just happened to take it as their personal mission, usually
without raising that pushiness itself to any universal value, and that is okay).
In such circumstances they are the ones making a claim, and therefore
they also should carry the burden of proving it. Now, where is their proof for the absence of
available evidence for miracles ? Many skeptics would point to the Randi prize
and similar ones in guise of such evidence, but this is rejected by the other side as invalid for
diverse reasons (see links).
Now instead of a direct evidence for 3., skeptics can provide an excuse, namely that the structure of
3. is not suitable to provide any direct, concrete evidence for it. Yet supernaturalists
can give a similar reply, namely that most miracles usually don't have a suitable structure
to easily form any evidence for them either.
Now to approach the issue more seriously, let us try to analyze it at a higher level in the following terms:
In a world with enough miracles that some of them happen to turn into available evidence,
how likely is it to lead to the current state of affairs, that is the persistence of a loud and
powerful minority of skeptics believing in the non-existence of these available evidences ?
This is actually a quite difficult and interesting question, which requires a complex,
multidimensional analysis to approach an answer. And while this current state of affairs
may not be the most likely one under this hypothesis, it remains far from as unlikely as
it may naively be thought to be.
In other words (negated), how falsifiable is the skeptics movement taken with its collective belief
in the non-existence of evidence for miracles, as a whole sociological phenomenon
(instead of focusing on the behavior of an individual skeptic) ?
The different dimensions needed for the analysis, in other words the many possible obstacles on
the way to collective (emergent) falsifiability, are the following :
In a world like this, what could be the sense of accepting the burden of trying to comply to a skeptics
request for specific evidence which might convince him ? I hardly see any. A big waste of work
- A communication problem: between 2 people debating together, how likely is it for a given
evidence known by one to be successfully shared to the other ? There are difficulties of communicating
and understanding the details; difficulties of trust whether a whole report was genuine or
made up, and the level of work needed to grasp an evidence and verify its validity may not match
the patience and discernment of the person to whom it is addressed. For example as this
skeptic was having long conversations with a creationist Christian, he could not convince him
about the evidence from fossils for the old age of the Earth, because... it is of course much
too complicated to explain.
- A percolation problem: once an evidence can be communicated between 2 people,
how likely is it (both how easy and how interesting it can be for people) to keep
communicating and spreading this information up to fame
- A competition problem : in a world full of stupid people, how likely is it for the best cases
of available evidence to make it to the top known cases by percolation in competition with a
multitude of other stories and evidences, across a population of supernaturalists usually
both unaware of skeptics standards, and usually having completely different criteria of interest
(for reasons which may also be very legitimate).
- A skeptics-matching problem : to have any impact on an individual skeptic, an available
evidence needs not only to be solid, but also to be specifically adapted to the mindset of this
skeptic to whom it is addressed. But skeptics have special requirements on the evidence
they can be sensitive to, that is specific combinations of amateurism and professionalism.
It needs sufficient professionalism to resist all possible attempts of criticism,
and yet sufficient amateurism and simplicity to be readable and understandable by them in
the first place, given their usual lack of patience and relative superficiality of approach
(because they spend so much time reviewing and debunking 1000 stupidities, they have no
time left checking in too much depth anything that might really be much more serious but
which they nevertheless expect to be approachable in the same way)
- An excommunication problem (in the same way Christians usually despise deconverts in order
to not understand the true reasons for deconversion) : even succeeding to find and provide to an
individual skeptic the right kind of evidence which convinces him, will not result in changing the
convictions of the skeptics community as a whole, but only in making this individual skeptic a
dropout from the skeptics community, which the rest of skeptics will start mocking as a "believer"
instead of taking him seriously to question their own positions. Actually the result matches very well
this other aspect of the current state of affairs : the presence of a community of professional
parapsychologists (as well as many other people not taking this as a profession) who endorse
scientific methods and other critical thinking but recognize the presence of valid evidence
for the supernatural ; the official skeptics keep dismissing them anyway, not paying them serious
attention. Skeptics can still "win the war despite losing all battles", copying a phrase
I read somewhere else.
- For those skeptics happening to recognize the presence of scientific evidence for
the supernatural, there is still a skeptically correct way to do so, to avoid both excommunication
and revision of the skeptical ideology. It will be described in the next section.
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