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The unspeakable arrogance of paranormal believers

GhostsYes, I’m controversially turning a cliché on its head again. It’s the people who doubt paranormal claims who are meant to be arrogant. They think they know it all, there are things science can’t explain, you can’t prove it isn’t true, you need to open your mind, and so on. Utter nonsense, of course, but even if it were true, it would be nothing compared to the arrogance of people who push their preferred flavour of woo.

There are many, many different beliefs out there. Even in one small area, some people believe dead people can communicate with us through mediums, some believe their spirits are tied to a specific place where they exist as ghosts, some believe they get reincarnated, the precise details of which are generally dependent on how nice they were when they were alive. All good fun, but you’d struggle to believe all of them at once. Read More…

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Why wouldn’t you trust someone with an open mind?

Open MindIt’s considered very important to have an open mind. Everyone wants to be seen as open-minded, or at least not to be thought closed-minded, which is the ultimate insult to anyone’s intellectual honesty. I’m not about to argue with that – being prepared to be corrected or change your position in response to the evidence is the most basic element of the scientific method – but it’s a phrase that carries a lot of subtext.

Obviously, examining the evidence without fixed preconceptions – with an open mind – is a fundamental part of science. But when was the last time you heard a scientist pleading for someone to keep an open mind? Maybe it happens sometimes, but I can’t remember a single example. I find that very interesting. Read More…

Doubting Thomas, patron saint of the gullible

I don’t think there is such a thing as a patron saint of the gullible (as there’s one for the internet, it might be unnecessary duplication), but if there were, Thomas should be right at the head of the queue.

Strictly speaking, it would probably be more precise to call him the patron saint of easy marks, but however it’s phrased, it probably strikes you as unfair. After all, Thomas was the one disciple who’s named as being dubious of what the others told him about the resurrection. It was an outrageous claim, and he was justifiably cautious. If anything, shouldn’t he be associated with scepticism? Read More…

386 reasons not to argue online

xkcd 386, that is.

I’ve been meaning to write about this subject for a while, because I think it’s an important issue, but I’ve got round to it now because it’s all been going off online, with huge and messy arguments raging across blogs, Twitter and seemingly the whole of cyberspace between (among others) Rebecca Watson, PZ Myers, Thunderf00t and Coffee Loving Skeptic.

I’m not interested in thrashing out the arguments involved, because they’re readily available elsewhere if you’re interested. And I have absolutely no desire to get involved in the argument because it’s got far too deep into who said what when, I don’t really identify as either a sceptic or a skeptic (although I consider myself a fellow traveller) so my opinion isn’t worth squat, and I think the whole situation is unlikely to benefit from anyone else taking sides. For now, my interest is limited to the question of how and when to argue online, and some of my thoughts may or may not apply to this situation. Read More…

Healing and Homeopathy

I’m periodically involved in discussions about claims of miraculous healing in answer to prayer. My typical position, unsurprisingly, is to be extremely dubious, and with good reason. The condition being “healed” is often minor, self-limiting or liable to spontaneous remission. When more extravagant claims are made, the story tends to be hyped, at least in my experience, but little effort is made to verify details. If I was going to tell people that God made me walk again, I think I’d want some sort of medical opinion to show that even if I’m mistaken, at least I’m not crazy. Read More…

People who believed this also bought…

I got sent yet another implausible urban myth by email recently. As usual, it had been forwarded several times by different people around the world before reaching me, a brief Google of a few key words from the text was enough to find a comprehensive debunking, and the sender was a Christian. The last point is a pattern I’ve only just noticed, but from a few discussions I’ve had, it seems that it may be a general trend, and it got me wondering why that should be. A cynical voice in my head immediately suggested that if you’re prepared to unquestioningly swallow huge chunks of religious doctrine, it probably indicates that your facility for critical thinking isn’t as developed as it might be. An amusing thought, possibly with some truth in it, but my kneejerk fair-minded sense of balance leads me to wonder whether it’s really the best explanation. Read More…

I ain’t afraid of no Holy Ghost

Following up on something The Aspirational Agnostic posted recently (part two here), I’ve been mulling over an idea that I hadn’t really considered before, about whether psychics, the paranormal and other crazy stuff can provide evidence in support of God’s existence, the idea being that if there’s something that isn’t explained by rational investigation, it increases the chances that there might be other things out there, beyond the bounds of reality as it appears. I like that idea, and I can see the sense in it, but I think it’s fair to say that I have something of a different approach to the subject. Read More…

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