The cult of skepticism

Mental sanity explained to skeptics and vice versa
Part 1 - Part 3

Part 2

Experimentalism

Among the diversity of scientific methods, the skeptics methods have the following specificity. Letting aside all purely theoretical works (deep math beyond simple statistical analysis) which skeptics just ignore, they focus on experimental research, but of a special kind. Such research normally has the following steps : setting up an experiment ; collecting data ; analyzing and interpreting this data. There is a whole science, astronomy, where we cannot control the objects of study (the stars), but only observe them; the experimental side of the work is just all about building the very sophisticated measuring devices. The big remaining work after this is to analyze and interpret the data.
But skeptics, being executives by nature, cannot tolerate the idea to just accept reality as it is and cope with its possible mess. Being naturally bad at interpreting data, they would be too afraid of not doing it right just if it wasn't trivial. At the same time they cannot tolerate the idea that anyone else might be better than them at this task, so they believe that this work cannot be reliably done unless it is trivial. In the name of this, they put on the shoulders of the experimentalist the requirement to put reality (the studied objects) under a maximum of control, forcing it to follow the rules of their dictatorship, designed in such ways to trivialize the needed interpretation work of the data that will be observed out of it. This goes regardless of the burden of work so left on the shoulders of the experimentalist to fulfill this requirement, which may skyrocket to infinity.

Such imbalance (budgetary mismanagement) in the share of work between setting up experiments and interpreting the data, would "only" be odd if they took on themselves this extra experimental burden. Now of course that is sometimes the case, and we can respect that, but otherwise we are running into trouble: skeptics are becoming unfair when they are not undertaking to pay themselves the price of their mismanagement, that is the inflated experimental burden they believe to be needed, but put it all on the shoulders of their opponents, and satisfy themselves to sit in position of judges, checking the data and just sending it to the flames for the crime of not being as absolutely clear and trivial to interpret as they wanted. And then they blame this on the experimenter who they accuse of not having done proper science. Doing so, skeptics are not themselves behaving scientifically (that is, in a skilled and competent manner), nor expressing respect for science, as they are praising the stupid and their stupidity, that is the lazy judges who they see right to practice intellectual laziness in their interpretation of data, and mocking the actual big work done by experimentalists, who just did not design their work to fit the crazily hard standards which skeptics require.

Ordinary illusions

As I discussed with this skeptic diverse things including my experience with Boji and Tigers eyes stones, he pointed out the importance of the placebo effect as well as strange ways for people to be fooled, such as false memories, and diverse illusions (impressions of perceiving things which are not actually there, such as a claimed sensitivity to electromagnetic waves even when they are not there), which according to him were established by science: Such phenomena seemed strange to me, so I expressed my impression that these facts were relative to special conditions and details which are different enough to not be of concern for the things I was discussing. In particular, that possibilities to be fooled could be more likely to occur in the specially designed environment of scientific experiments than spontaneously in nature. In particular, I did not notice such phenomena as occurring in my life, so I guess they are uncommon, just like many skeptics did not notice supernatural phenomena in their life because of how uncommon or unnoticed these phenomena are. This is why I see no point to develop the style of paranoia towards risks of being fooled, which skeptics are calling for.
So I asked him if he (or relatives) experienced any kind of spontaneous illusions in his life, and he gave the following examples : These illusions seemed to exhaust what he could remember in the category "sensations" which I requested to select as something in common with my main reason to regard as supernatural the effect of healing stones (that I have special sensations with them), dismissing the placebo interpretation (as I guess the use of placebo effect for healing does not come with illusory sensations). Still I see enough other differences to not consider this as any serious challenge to my position. Namely, of course one specific sensation can be an illusion, so that an attitude of trusting a single sensation, considered out of context, to conclude in the reality of something, can be a mistake. But I did not commit this mistake, as of course I keep seeing the data of perceptions in its context: what I consider is the precise way in which these sensations happen to be correlated with circumstances, namely how the sensations depend on the real presence of these stones rather than on my attitude of being aware of them and expecting something from them.

When direct sensations are not correctly describing reality, the "care" to correct the understanding by putting things in context, can also be done very naturally by lots of people, with no need to be a skeptic, and quite often with no need to specifically research about it. Namely in the above list of 3 examples, the first 2 are cases where the data of the context, which refutes the validity of the direct sensation, just comes spontaneously by the force of things with no need to care for it at all, so that overall the risk of being fooled is non-existent and the skeptics methods are of no use. Only the third example requires a favorite method of skeptics to elucidate.

These first 2 cases happen to be so simple that the directly stumbling data of the context of a single occurrence of a perception, suffices to show that it is illusory. Now of course we can expect things to not be always so simple. Namely, the immediate context that stumbles with a single occurrence of a perception may not suffice, we may need to include the broader context of its multiple occurrences across long periods of time.
Indeed when an illusory perception occurs multiple times then even if its illusory character does not spontaneously show itself in many of these occurrences, it can still have good chances to show itself in some of these perceptions, therefore still naturally (spontaneously) forcing the person to notice this unreliability of perceptions and to take account of this to question the rest of the cases which are not obvious.

There is still another way in which any possible phenomenon of illusory perception is likely to spontaneously debunk itself by the multiplicity of its occurrences : by the pattern of its occurrences. Indeed an illusory source of perceptions is likely to produce a quite different pattern of occurrences of these perceptions, than a reliable source. Some kind of conspiracy would be needed for an illusory source of perceptions to produce the same pattern of occurrences as the pattern which a reliable perception would produce (according to some hypothesis of real cause which would be so reliably perceived).
Leaving aside the hypothesis of such a conspiracy (with the so tiny possibility for it to take place just by chance), remains the question of the people's skills to manage deciphering the given patterns of their perceptions, to correctly figure out which kind of hypothesis (reality or illusion) best accounts for these patterns. Now this is precisely where the explanations from previous sections apply : skeptics decide that they cannot figure this out from the raw data of the perceptions which occur in natural conditions, so they need to set up experimental frameworks to make it obvious. They need to use their fingers for counting. Among the rest of people, not using their fingers, some can happen to have the skills to correctly do the math anyway, others not. And skeptics give themselves the right to complain loud about how they cannot make the difference between both, as if it was the others fault, not ready to recognize this as their mere personal failure which there is no reason for anybody else to care about.

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 : (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. Nevertheless He continued: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. 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. 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.

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:

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. 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

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 forcing me to re-explain one more time (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).

His reply:

My reply: (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: 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: 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 electromagnetic 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.

Paradoxical emergence

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): 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.
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: 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 ?

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.
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 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):

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 in Part 3.

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):

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 : 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 As for the argument by the number, namely this poll on "Mind: physicalism or non-physicalism?" 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): 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.
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.

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 non-standardizable".

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.
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.

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 !).
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
  1. Reaching the true conclusions by following "wrong methods", or
  2. Following "the right method" no matter that it can lead to false conclusions
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.

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 :
  1. Supernaturalism implies the presence of many supernatural phenomena
  2. From these, a good number should turn into available evidence
  3. There is no such evidence available
  4. Thus supernaturalism is false.
So to reject the conclusion I must say which premise(s) I reject.
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:

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.
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 ahead.

Some strange skeptical arguments

In an interview about his book on naturalism, Sean Carroll explains Problems: Indeed, here is the last point to be added to the above list of ways for skepticism to escape falsifiability. One French skeptic science youtuber once made a video on parapsychology where he blames the available evidences obtained by this field of research for the supernatural, for being "too scientific". His line of reasoning can be summed up as the following syllogism
  1. The supernatural cannot exist
  2. But the scientific method proves that it exists (there is strong scientific evidence for it)
  3. Therefore the scientific method is invalid.
He refers to Ben's work indicating that the chances for someone to guess right the side of a computer screen (determined at random) which would reveal an image, raises from 50% to 53% when the hoped for image is porn. Along these lines he quotes some other skeptics views about this. Two of them are from the podcast "RationallySpeaking" (7:50): Then he quotes a book of prominent French skeptics Jean-Michel Abrassard (founder of the French podcast website Scepticisme scientifique and Michel Leurquin in their book Pour en finir avec le paranormal (to end with the paranormal) The speaker then gives his view: Then the last part of his video aimed to fill the need of "defending a bit the scientific consensus in psychology" Now if what matters to skeptics, really is the correct meaure of the strength of arguments rather than the truth of the conclusion, then... I can respect his attempt to refer to theoretical physics as an important criterion of plausibility, even while disagreeing about which lessons are actually to be drawn from there (details in Part 3); however I can only see as laughable his reliance on the economic argument as the most reliable one in his eyes, as I do not see it any more reliable than Lewis's trilemma, or the argument of qualifying a crop circle as "too precise to be done by a human". Indeed the reliability of an argument can only be asserted on the basis of a good understanding of its content matter, namely here both fields of economics and parapsychology, while, I would say only a ridiculously naive approach to both fields might let this argument seem to have any possible weight. Indeed, this appeal to some superficial appearance of the outcome of free market, is just another word for the invitation to follow the crowd in guise of much more reliable criterion for truth than the scientific method...

Now my skeptic debater, who clearly judged me as an idiot for what seemed to him fuzziness in my thinking, also put forward himself something of the economic argument. First by complaining that, in some discussion, I did not seem as interested as he thought I should be about potential industrial or military applications (the use of remote viewing to uncover military secrets) or for winning the lottery. He asked whether all remote viewers (such as out-of-body experiencers) refuse such uses of their abilities. Like, 2 ants debate on the existence of humans, that the one believes in, and the other challenges her to respond about why humans could not be used as a tool to get food or compete against the next ant colony.

Somehow, these are still good questions. I will not try to develop detailed answers, but ony mention a few things.

Something I happened to stumble on in some facebook groups (long ago, I did not keep references). One story I read is (unless I am mistaken in some detail) an OBEr guy who had undertaken a sort of game with a female friend of his (also OBEr ?) consisting in, from time to time as they are far away from each other, doing an OBE visit to check what the other is doing. One day he did an OBE and wanted to check about her but he couldn't, as he faced a kind of dark veil while trying. Later he called her to talk about this, and she explained that at that time she was having sex with another guy.
Another time I read that a similar phenomenon occurred when trying to unveil military secrets.

Moreover, how can anyone tell that the use of paranormal abilities is not actually widespread ? Somehow it is, somewhere in alternative medicine, just under cover because the world may not be well organized to properly identify and officially recognize what works. On this subject I saw in particular the documentary film in French by Stephane Allix "Guérisseurs, magnétiseurs et barreurs de feu" showing that many well-established hospitals are actually using some alternative medicine in complement to their main standard medical practices, and it appears efficient. I also saw somewhere the info that in the US there are some mediums working with the police to investigate murder cases, and happen to be useful there.
Now as macro-economical issues cannot be well understood without a look on some micro-economical cases, I can comment about economic sides of my experience with magic stones. I suffered many years the trouble which turned out to be cured in this way. If only during all those years I stumbled on someone who saved me in that way I could have thanked such a person with much money ; but there wasn't. Why ? I don't know. First, of course, I was not telling loud around about my trouble, as it was not something so good to claim around. Second, very few are the people aware of the power of stones. Some people may have sensations with these, and yet not know how much it would have helped me. Actually the Tiger eye stone I have is a gift from a friend I knew from some time before, was aware that this stone gave special energy sensations, but had not the idea how useful to me it would be before I discovered the power of Boji stones with the man I met later.
Since then, I only personally know a couple of people who I "converted" to the interest for these stones by direct meeting (= independently of my online activities). I informed them for free, not for any profit. And none of these had any big need of these comparable to the need I had.
All that said, I fail to see what skeptics mean by their economic argument : what more consequences of the supernatural would they see as altogether strongly expected and missing ?

To finish this overview of few oddities of skepticism, here is my transcript of the main content of a video in French of a skeptic (author of a youtube channel on dinosaurs and other evolutionary topics), reacting to previous videos (the skeptical ideology is also called "zététique" in French), namely

That is one of their rare expressions of awareness that they are not only preaching to their own choir but their viewpoint may not be the only one out there... as it may even be rejected by people who know about it. So he reviews diverse advantages and disadvantages of being a skeptic, in his experience. In short: we should all be motivated to become skeptics by the fear of fear.
That reminds me of so many testimonies I heard among Evangelical Christians, along the lines of how much their lives changed because they were previously into alcohol, drug addictions and other kinds of vices, and Jesus saved them from that... forgetting that not all non-Christians are into such unhealthy things. And then they don't understand how it is possible for non-Christians to have a healthy life and moral values without God... as if it was the problem of those others to provide explanations for this, which the Christians could understand.
Similarly my skeptic debater, unable to distinguish my non-skeptical way of thinking from the most ridiculous kind of gullibility, proclaimed that "in the same way" that he imagined to be mine, I should also believe just any foolish claim, so he challenged me to explain how I can sort things out. As if his inability to either figure it out, or to at least take seriously the hypothesis that such a discernment ability may exist even if he cannot decipher it, was my problem... (hint: being introvert, intuitive and math genius may help to filter out some BS, already in mere terms of categories of interest).

In the rest of the video he presents 3 criteria to identify "bullshit":

  1. Emotions : appeal to emotions is a trap, so for example when something is in the news he focuses on reading the scientific paper at the origin of it, to assess the content without emotions ;
  2. Conspiration : conspiracy theories are usually wrong;
  3. Authority : any claim is based on some authority but the one of a single or very few scientists should be dismissed when the overwhelming majority of other scientists are against them.
The last point may be good in many cases (not all), however, even when it would be good, like any good principle, it may remain unobvious to properly apply it in particular cases ; examples of skeptics' failures to apply it when it should, will be explained in Part 3.

Taking the tree to hide the forest

When Mormons go on mission, they normally go in pairs. The reason for this is clear : being more makes you stronger. So, when they meet a new person to undertake a discussion, the balance of forces in the debate is about 5 against 1 : on one side are 2 Mormons, one God the Father, one Jesus, and one Holy Ghost. How could a single person be correct against all of these ?

Similarly, when skeptics undertake to discuss with someone on either philosophical issues or paranormal phenomena, they usually come along with their big brothers named "Reason" and "Science". They do not hesitate to put these on their side in their picture of the balance of forces against their opponent seen as an isolated individual having to stand against all of these. Indeed, presuming that no evidence for the supernatural could be found until now, anyone's claim of having any good reason to believe in such a thing, would mean being the first such person in the world, against all the best experts of the world who regularly proved all such claims wrong. In such a picture, obviously, the chances for supernaturalists to look serious are very poor.

This is why Near Death Experiences did not seem to exist until 1975 when it was suddenly discovered that there are millions of these. Indeed : when one patient in critical condition comes to be placed under the authority of a doctor who did long studies to get high professional recognition for knowing everything about what goes on in the human body much better than the rest of people... how can this doctor listen to such a story and still not send the patient who told it to a psychiatric hospital ? Such horrors were actually committed. To avoid these, patients needed to shut up. And leave the doctors in ignorance, sincerely believing that no such thing ever happened in their hospitals. Still more recently, such research-blocking denialism persists about other end-of-life phenomena. So there are such times when those who are supposed to best know about something in their field of professionalism with its materialistic dogmas, namely medicine, turn out to be those who know the least about it and block the actual research.

They picture themselves on the side of science, as if they knew what science really says... but what is science ? Science means to know, and to understand what we know. But what is there to know ? There are megatons of scientific articles out there, plus even much more data available beyond these. No matter the effort, nobody has had any chance to study and understand more than a ridiculous fraction of all of that in one's lifetime. Therefore, claiming to speak in Science's name is about as nonsensical as claiming to speak in God's name.

Given this, all that anyone can do in trying to have a scientific viewpoint, is to try to explore things that are there... make one's own selection of what to study, trying not to miss what would be relevant for the topics one is trying to have a scientific view about. How to make the best selection to minimize the worst omissions of crucially relevant information for what one needs ? Only God really knows... but is not on the phone to answer this.

In a sense, there is no possible way to be objective. Anyone can search for the kind of information one believes to be relevant, and blame others for following wrong choices and biases, missing the relevant information.

From that ocean of possible knowledge, skeptics made their selection as follows. Metaphorically speaking, they have specialized themselves in the science of mud, and of all the possible reasons to doubt the possibilities in building any stable construction on top of the most slippery possible mud. From that viewpoint, of course, mud seems to be everywhere and everything looks like mud, so whenever someone is coming to mention any new finding or new kind of evidence, skeptics will dismiss it as mud since that is all that they know about and they analyze everything in such terms. But without reliable ways to prove anything, no way remains to refute wrong views either.

About the experiment of putting envelopes in ceilings in operation rooms

Some experiments started to put targets out of reach of ordinary sight in hospitals for out of body perceptions, so as to give chances for these perceptions to be proven. A reply in French by a near death experiencer here at 27:30-28:30 : We may develop other scenarios that have more chances to succeed, such as (these are only my suggestions, which may need review by near death experiencers): Nevertheless there are many cases of "subjective proofs" in the sense that experiencers remembered things not physically perceivable, yet followed a skeptical attitude of investigating whether their perceptions were correct, and then found these were correct ; without being proofs for others in the sense that they did not write down and certified their memories to prove to others that they indeed remembered this before doing the check. Now it is very natural and expectable for experiencers to focus efforts on checking things for themselves in priority, especially in the given troubled circumstances, than on caring to plan everything to ensure things to be undeniable for everybody else, isn't it ?
Previous : Part 1
Next : Part 3
List of links on skepticism by the New Dualism website
Back to site : Antispirituality main page