In this blog I have repeatedly pointed to the difference between what I call “true skepticism” and debunking. When a person is a true skeptic, he or she simply holds a neutral position and requires proof before accepting or rejecting a theory as to why something occurs. For example, is reincarnation a reality? For a true skeptic, the proof that goes “beyond a shadow of a doubt” simply doesn’t exist. That doesn’t mean reincarnation isn’t a reality, just unproven. It doesn’t mean we cannot act as if reincarnation is a reality and make use of information gained from past life experiences in our current life. Indeed, I believe we not only can do so, but as a hypnotherapist find it to be a very useful technique.
True skepticism is important in the practice of magick. If a magician is not a true skeptic, a mage might become a victim of his or her fantasies and imagination. A single successful result after performing a ritual might just be chance and not the result of magick at all. Repeated successful results after performing magick is indicative of the effectiveness of your magick.
A debunker, on the other hand, simply denies something. Debunkers will work hard and come up with all sorts of bizarre concepts and outright lies to defend their current beliefs. An example of this is the famous “sTARBABY” incident as reported originally in FATE magazine. Trying to disprove the reality of one aspect of astrology, some researchers repeatedly decreased the size of the sample until they got the results they desired. When this was revealed it changed the face of debunking, splitting CSICOP and ensuring that they would never officially fund “research” again.
Why do debunkers behave this way? I contend that it’s because they have forgotten the ideals of British philosopher Herbert Spencer who wrote:
There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignoranceâthat principle is contempt prior to investigation.
I would further say that debunkers behave like deeply religious believers such as those who have claimed that the reason dinosaurs are not alive today is because they didn’t get on Noah’s Ark! The “religion” debunkers believe in is actually a version of materialism (“If I can’t see it or sample it then it’s not real”) and their concept of science (“Science is what I believe it is”).
I’m not the only person who holds this debunking=religion idea. Michael Shermer, one of the leading (pseudo-) skeptics, compared skeptics and debunkers (whom he calls “denialists”) when heÂ said,
Scepticism is integral to the scientific process, because most claims turn out to be false. Weeding out the few kernels of wheat from the large pile of chaff requires extensive observation, careful experimentation and cautious inference. Science is scepticism and good scientists are sceptical.
Denial is different. It is the automatic gainsaying of a claim regardless of the evidence for it – sometimes even in the teeth of evidence. Denialism is typically driven by ideology or religious belief, where the commitment to the belief takes precedence over the evidence. Belief comes first, reasons for belief follow, and those reasons are winnowed to ensure that the belief survives intact.
I agree with Mr. Shermer’s concepts. But if Mr. Shermer is able to clearly differentiate between what he calls skepticism and denialism (what I call true skepticism and debunking), why do I call him a pseudo-skeptic and debunker? He calls himself a skeptic and, therefore, must define himself as he described above.
I draw your attention, therefore, to this blog post on The Daily Grail by “Greg.” In it, he briefly points out the research byÂ Daryl Bem which seems to support the idea that humans do have precognitive ability, the talent to predict the future. Bern is a respected psychologist. His research has created a furor, not so much in the metaphysical community (which has basically taken it as just another proof of something they knew existed), but rather by the debunking pseudo-skeptical community. How dare anyone actually provide evidence to support something that disagrees with our materialist pseudo-scientific religion?
So how do they disprove Bern’s research? James Alcock went through Bern’s documents and denounced Bern. According to Greg he did so by misrepresenting what Bern wrote! He quoted Bern but used ellipses (…) to delete part of Bern’s writing and actually reverses what Bern stated!
Once misrepresentation like that gets going, it’s difficult to stop. Going back and researching the original statements would do it, and I would think that such a visible spokesperson for the (pseudo-) skeptics such as Mr. Shermer would have done that. But when you are deeply devoted to a religion, you will reproduce anything, even falsehoods, to defend your religion. According to Greg, this is what Mr. Shermer did in his Scientific American magazineÂ column.
Mr. Shermer, basing his column in part on Mr. Alcock’s debunking, ends up dismissing Bern’s study. Already, other debunkers, using Mr. Shermer’s conclusion based on Mr. Alcock’s incomplete quotes, have dismissed Bern’s study. The debunking religion, calling itself “skepticism,” continues.
As a true skeptic, I can say that I don’t know if Mr. Bern’s conclusions are valid. It is interesting. It deserves more research. It certainly supports my belief that precognition is not only possible, but common. My belief, however, is subject to change with new supporting evidence.
That’s because I’m a true skeptic. That’s because I’m a magician.