It's been my observation that the hardened skeptic (in regards to paranormal topics) is so concerned with finding a 'rational' explanation for paranormal topics, they don't stop at the top of the hill of rationalism. Instead, they keep going on down the other side of the hill. Sometimes, they may try so hard to get to top of the hill, they end up tumbling down the other side of the hill!
Michael Prescott recently wrote about an example of what I would call skeptics tumbling down the hill of rationalism. It's in reference to a skeptical analysis of an episode of the psychic John Edward's show Crossing Over.
Here is the relevant piece of the program the skeptical report analyzed:
John: Why is Niagara Falls significant?
Lady 1: We was just there.
John: You were just at Niagara Falls, ok.
Lady 1: Me and my daughter.
John: Did you find a feather there?
Lady 1: Yes, and my daughter…
John: Did you tell your daughter that was from daddy?
Lady 1: Yes.
John: Ok, this is a validation that he was there for you, ok? 'Cause he's showing me the feather. Lucky for you that's my mother's symbol when she communicates with me. I find feathers. So it was a very easy symbol for me to get. But I need to validate for you that is was definitely, definitely him there for her.
Lady 1: Thank you.Here is what Prescott wrote about it:
So Edward told the woman that he was getting "Niagara Falls," and in fact the woman had just been there. He then asked if she had found a feather there, and the woman said yes. He then asked if she'd told her daughter that the feather was "from daddy" (deceased). The woman confirmed this, too.
Sounds pretty good to me.
The skeptical report says this about it:
But what of the feather? Isn't that a fantastic piece of evidence?
Not really. According to the 35th Annual Niagara Falls Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, December 29th, 2001, a total of 101 species of birds were found, and a total of 49,744 birds in Niagara Falls, NY.
There are also quite a few photos on the web from Niagara Falls with birds in them:
[Links to bird photos are given.]
Tons of birds on these ones.
I think we can safely say that it would not be uncommon to find a feather at Niagara Falls.
OK, then: What about Niagara Falls itself?
What does John Edward actually say about Niagara Falls? "Did you tell your daughter that the feather she found at Niagara Falls was from her Daddy?"
No. Previously in the reading, we have learned that Catherine has lost her husband. First, John Edward asks: "Why is Niagara Falls significant?" He doesn't say anything about the nature of the significance. He asks Catherine!
From there, she tells John Edward that she was there with her daughter. Since birds are commonplace there, it would be likely if the daughter found a feather – it is fun for kids to find feathers.
Immediately after, Catherine – tearfully – begins to tell John Edward that "her daughter" – and then John Edward breaks in and asks about the father.
It takes three steps, and after each, John Edward asks a crucial question. It doesn't take a genius to see what is happening here.Prescott has this to say about the skeptical analysis:
According to this argument, Edward's references to a) Niagara Falls, b) finding a feather there, and c) the mom telling the daughter that the feather was a gift from her departed father were all lucky guesses or obvious logical inferences. Money quote: "Since birds are commonplace there, it would be likely if the daughter found a feather – it is fun for kids to find feathers."
Now, really. I mean, come on.
I have no doubt that there are many birds at Niagara Falls, and it was hardly necessary for SkepticReport to cite bird counts and bird photos to establish this uncontroversial point. (I'd guess that these citations were added to make the article look more "scientific.")
As a matter of fact, there are lots of birds everywhere, except maybe Death Valley. I've lived in several different parts of the country, in widely differing climate zones, and have never found any shortage of birds, even in urban areas.
Even so, I have rarely noticed any feathers on the ground, and to the best of my recollection I have never seen a kid pick up a feather. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but it's not the sort of thing you see every day. ("Hey, look, there's another kid picking up a feather. Third time today.")
Moreover, I have never heard anyone tell a child that a feather was a gift from a deceased parent, or anything of the kind. Actually, I don't think I've ever heard been part of a conversation about picking up bird feathers in any context.
The whole "explanation" is an obvious example of rationalizing after the fact. If Edward had said that the woman's husband was run over by a dump truck in Newark, maybe SkepticReport would cite statistics and photos proving that there are many dump trucks in Newark. When you think of Newark, aren't dump trucks the first thing that come to mind? And since people sometimes get run over by dump trucks, it was easy for Edward to guess that the husband had died this way. Why, when you think about it, it's just common sense!
SkepticReport also points out a minor and debatable discrepancy between the show's transcript and the way it's written up in Edward's book Crossing Over.Read the rest of Michael Prescott's post here.
The skeptic's report on the subject was so ridiculous, it was funny. I actually laughed out loud at the report. This is the kind of 'rationalization' that you can frequently find in skeptical reports on paranormal topics.
It's occurred to me recently that some devout, dogmatic religious believers are more rational than some of the self-described 'rational skeptics'. The reason I say that is because oftentimes, a dogmatic religious believer will tell you that they believe what they believe because of faith. They don't deny their dogmas. However, the 'rational skeptic' seems oblivious to the fact that their skepticism is result of their own dogmatic beliefs. The problem is, they don't realize that a so called 'non-belief' is an indication of a belief in something else. Essentially, non-belief can be a type of belief in itself.
For instance, let's look at a conversation between a Christian and an Atheist, who we'll call Tom and Dick.
Tom: I believe Jesus is the Son of God because I read it in the Bible
Dick: I don't believe that, I think the Bible is just a bunch of fairy tales.
Tom believes Jesus is the Son of God because he believes the Bible is a credible source. Dick doesn't believe Jesus is the Son of God because he believes the Bible is a bunch of fairy tales. Dick's non-belief isn't just a 'non-belief', it's a belief in something else. In a way, you could say that 'non-belief' is a non-existent. There may be things that you don't believe in, but there is a reason that you don't believe the things you don't believe, and that reason is the belief in something else. Otherwise, why wouldn't you believe it? You question something because you already believe something else to be true.
This is the problem with atheism. Atheists have deluded themselves into thinking they are smarter and more rational than everyone else because they don't believe in things they can't see, hear, or measure. They are apparently oblivious to the fact that they do believe in something. Perhaps they've deluded themselves into thinking that because they don't have a system of rituals or an organized set of beliefs, they are totally open minded and not deceived by anyone. But they do believe something. Their belief is that the physical reality that you can see and hear is all that there is, and anything that doesn't fit into that paradigm must not be true. Sometimes, if you try to tell atheists that their lack of a belief in God or the supernatural is in itself a belief in a physical, materialistic paradigm, they'll typically dispute that and laugh about it and just classify such a statement as something like, 'just another big dumb [insert name of religion] believer trying to cling to their fantasies'. They've become so dogmatic into their own atheistic beliefs, they don't even realize that they are the ones clinging to fantasies of 'what you can see is all that there is'.
One reason I criticize the scientific establishment is because they have seemingly deluded much of world (at least in Western nations) into thinking that they are the highest authority of truth. They are not. They have convinced many people that you shouldn't believe in something unless it gets a thumbs up from scientists. They've convinced some people that if a scientist can't explain "how" something works, then it must not be real. This just isn't the way it should be. You have to understand that the scientific establishment has its own pre-conceived notions and dogmas too. As such, scientific scrutiny should not be considered the be-all and end-all of discussion.
The truth is, I don't think anyone can be completely open minded about everything. I think anyone who would tell you they are 100% open minded about everything is either lying to you or lying to themselves. I would say that a 100% open mind is a blank mind. You have to at least have some sort of foundation to start from. As a result, most research is based on 'proving' what someone already believes to be true, or disproving something they already believe is not true. The key point to understand here is that when attempting to disprove something, a person isn't just trying to disprove it because they are a non-believer, but because they already believe something else to be true. So again, it's based on a belief, not non-belief.
When you read the example I listed earlier from Michael Prescott's blog, I think it's quite obvious that the skeptic is attempting to explain away something he or she clearly does not believe in. Because of that, the skeptic's report has about as much value as a devout Muslim's analysis of a Christian doctrine. If the Muslim already clearly believes the Christian doctrine is wrong, then the Muslim's report is obviously going to be biased. The skeptic's report of the psychic phenomena is not much better. Getting different viewpoints on a subject is what open mindedness is, however, we must not forget that skeptical analysis and scientific scrutiny is in itself an analysis based on particular viewpoint and belief. And sometimes a skeptical analysis needs its own skeptical analysis. J
Some very dogmatic religious people are closed minded because they fear being led astray by conflicting viewpoints. Skeptics are closed minded because they don't seem to even realize that they themselves have their own system of beliefs they cling to. Essentially, they don't even realize they are closed minded!
I guess my overall point here is that people need to learn to analyze things for themselves. I know not everyone has an analytical mind, but people don't need to let someone else do all their thinking. And when you climb the hill of rationalism, you don't want to just keep walking straight. If you do, you end up walking back down the other side towards irrationalism. Instead, the goal should be to walk towards the top, then once you're near the top, begin circling around the top of the mountain. That way, you can hear all the viewpoints and analyze them yourself.