Evidentiary Skeptic

Listening to skepticism related podcasts one quite frequently hears luminaries from the skeptical movement pontificate about how awful it is to express skepticism regarding claims which cannot be tested. “Them who does it,” they say, “ain’t be true skeptics”.

While they do not advocate accepting all sorts of wacky views, they do nonetheless employ some verbal fancy footwork. For instance, instead of saying ghosts don’t exist, one says “I opt to withhold judgment until such time as repeatable and testable evidence is supplied”.

Apparently this gives them claim to a stretch of ground somewhat elevated from them who flat-out state there are no ghosts. From this elevated ground proponents of this verbal elitism can then look down from their self-appointed perch at them they deem less-skeptically-enlightened.

In part I understand the reason for this. One can argue with a believer (in anything) until they are blue in the face, and still not make a dent in whatever cherished belief is being critically examined. And I get the tactfulness of the above statement over labeling believers as poor, deluded ultramaroons.  You gently put the ball back in their court . . . but, you are also signing up to listen to them when they come around again with “new” evidence.

Functionally the two skeptic camps are expressing the same view, but one is claiming skeptical purity because they  are willing to consider/examine whatever evidence might be presented in support of the existence of ghosts. Never mind in the whole of human history there has been no credible evidence produced by anyone. Never mind those currently trying to get evidence are running around pointing various implements from the food industry at dusty corners in darkened rooms.

Just to set the record straight, I flat out maintain there are no ghosts, and I do so without the slightest worry I will one day have to eat my words. That means I am not interested in watching footage of delusional people all awash with the green glow of night vision technology. By the way, what’s with the lights being off? Are ghosts afraid of the light? Anyway, to continue . . .

Evidentiary Skepticism Proponents (ESP for short)* will have you believe we should refrain from passing judgment on anything which cannot be measured, or tested. Logic Devotees Skeptics (LDS for short)** propose the very lack of evidence constitutes a usable measure of the validity of a given claim. I say lack of supporting evidence should be viewed as an uninterrupted and near infinite data stream stretching back to the dawn of recorded time. And in every instance, with regards to the supernatural, the data points to one thing, and one thing only . . . there be no “super” with “natural”.

ESP are most disappointing in dealing with religious claims. Some religious claims, such as the efficacy of prayer, can be tested, and have been subjected to a few studies. But the big one, the one at the base of it all, that claim is deemed off-limit by ESP. I refer, of course, to claims of the existence of gods. I’m probably offending some people by referencing multiple deities, but that’s just the facts of it; humanity has been very prolific in the arena of god manufacturing. We have more gods than one can shake a skeptical stick to, and every one has followers adamant they are the only ones who are witness to the One and True god. Why, they are even willing to kill for it.

Now, I will admit it’s no use arguing with many of these believers, as their minds have long been fortified against the intrusion of reason and logic. But now I’m finding myself arguing with the ESP as well. What’s up with that? Why is skepticism being constrained to the realm of nuts and bolts, and nudged away from the deep philosophical questions?

This “agnostic” approach to extraordinary claims was proposed by Marcello Truzzi, and he also popularized the term pseudoskeptic, describing someone who “makes negative claims without bearing the burden of proof of those claims”. I guess Truzzi’s viewpoint has taken hold with some of the major players in the skeptical movement. By their account, I am a pseudoskeptic.

What happened to common sense, the application of logic, and most of all, thousands of years of data? Yes, I know I won’t change anyone’s mind regarding the existence of various deities. But I also won’t shy away from challenging the validity of the notion, and I will do so using the very lack of data and testability “true” skeptics shy away from.

Especially since I firmly believe the burden of proof rests not with me denying the nonsensical, but with the believer of said nonsense.


(*),(**) – In case they take off, I hereby claim copyright on these two terms when applied to describing skeptical camps.  I lay no claim on traditional definitions of the ESP and LDS acronyms.