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True Skepticism vs. Debunking

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on May 9, 2011 | Comments (18)

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 ignorance—that 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 he 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 by 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 magazine 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.

Reader Comments

Written By Diana
on May 9th, 2011 @ 4:18 pm

I’ve often had dealing with people who style themselves skeptics who are flat out, as you describe them, “denialists.” It gets tiresome, because they’re often fond of bringing up something they don’t believe in, assume I believe in it, and demand I “prove it to them” and/or concede that it doesn’t exist. Half the time it’s something I’m genuinely skeptical about, myself. Really, I find the behavior quite irritating.

Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on May 9th, 2011 @ 4:37 pm

Just as a point of accuracy, it was Mr. Shermer who used the term “denialist.” I prefer “pseudo-skeptic” or just “debunker.” When confronted with a “prove it” demand, I have two approaches. First, I ask, “Who are you?” Why are they so important that I would have to prove ANYTHING to them? This often quiets debunkers. However, if they continue, it’s important to note that they will never accept your proof and always “change the goalposts.” So it’s often useless to even attempt to prove it. Before I even start to do so I demand two things: What, specifically, will they accept as proof and, when proof is given that meets their demands, what will they do? Often, their acceptable proof is so extreme that Newton couldn’t prove gravity existed to them. However sometimes, they are reasonable but they say, “I’m not going to do anything. You’ll just have proven your point to me.” Whereupon I go back to the “Who are you?” question. If it’s not going to result in any change, I’m not going to waste my time on someone who is no more important than I.

Written By Arjun Janakiram
on May 9th, 2011 @ 9:35 pm

A few points:

First, you’re right in saying true skepticism entails a neutrality about any claim prior to the weighing of evidence. But I think a necessary corollary to that is that what I might call the grain of human experience acts as evidence in many cases. If I drop a ball, it falls to the ground. If you pick up the ball and say, “When I drop it, this ball will fall upwards,” I will hesitate to believe you not because I am prejudiced towards your claim but because there is a vast amount of information which would seem to contradict it.

As Carl Sagan put it, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” In that sense, skepticism usually does not entail actual neutrality in anything other than an academic sense. We judge claims based on prior knowledge, which is quite logical.

Second, applying this kind of judgment to Bem’s claim explains the strength of the reaction to it. I haven’t read about Shermer et. al. misrepresenting or smearing Bem, so I can’t really comment on that. But it’s important to remember that Bem’s research, if true, would probably violate the entire foundation of biology, psychology, and physics. It’s just one study, and a single study, even by a Cornell professor, does not an entire intellectual edifice undo. In addition, Bem’s research does have real methodological flaws, aside from any character attacks. In particular, his statistical methodology exaggerates the strength of the so-called “psi” factor. (see http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/100/3/426/) Bem’s research hasn’t been replicated, as well.

I have no doubt there are some who approach “debunking” with religious fury. In particular, I would point to global warming denialists.

But the scientific community as a whole rejects astrology, parapsychology (precognition), et. al. because there is simply not enough evidence to overturn centuries of science, not because of some religious bias.

Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on May 10th, 2011 @ 1:02 am

Arjun, thank you for your well thought out comment representing common justifications and rationalizations for holding a debunking viewpoint. Since I am not a part of the debunking religion, I respectfully reject your concepts.

Dropping a ball has nothing to do with other phenomena, it has to do with gravity. So you’re looking at one thing and comparing to something else. That’s a nice attempt at sleight-of-mind, but it doesn’t succeed.

Then you shift to “we judge claims based on prior knowledge, which is quite logical.” This is an attempted double whammy. First, you should be saying that YOU judge claims based on prior knowledge, but you seem unwilling to do that and have to claim that everyone does this (the inclusive “we”). You then say that this is logical implying that any other pattern of thinking is illogical.

But neither is the case. If I toss a coin 99 times and it comes up heads each time, the odds are still 50-50 that it will come up either heads or tails on the next flip. So you may falsely judge that it must come up heads based on prior experience and knowledge, but the logic based on prior knowledge is false.

Next, you ignore the entire thrust of my post by saying you haven’t read about Mr. Shermer’s writings on this, even though I gave a link to it. That implies you don’t want to know.

Next you claim that Bern’s research, if true, would “probably” violate “the entire foundation of biology…etc.” So? Then those other sciences need to be re-examined. That’s what real science does. When new information comes in theories are reworked to incorporate the new data. You seem to have something against the very nature of science in your approach.

Now, you question Bern’s statistical methodology and current lack of replication. These are good points, the first of which needs to be responded to by Bern and the second of which needs to take place in the future.

I stand by my position that debunking is based on beliefs that have a religious-like hold on believers.

Finally, you have given absolutely no evidence to support your claim in your last paragraph. You would have to give a reference showing that every person in the scientific community has been queried about “astrology, parapsychology (precognition,) et. al.” and rejected all aspects of them to support your claim. Otherwise, your statement is simply without merit and, I assume, supports your personal beliefs, not that of “the scientific community as a whole.”

Written By Arjun Janakiram
on May 10th, 2011 @ 11:43 am

I’ll address your concerns in the order they appear.

First, it is simple fact that our judgments are influenced by prior observation.

Take your example of the coin. Say you flip a coin a hundred times and it comes up heads each and every time. You’re quite right in saying that the coin still has a 50-50 chance of showing heads on the next flip.

But why do we know that? It is a generally accepted fact, which in turn is the result of millions more flips of the coin demonstrating a 50-50 probability. If you had a black box which would flash red or blue at the press of a button, and it flashed red for 10000 consecutive pushes of that button, it would be highly illogical to assume that the box had a 50-50 chance of flashing red on the next push. In fact, your example demonstrates how prior knowledge influences judgments, because it draws on the prior knowledge that a fair coin has a even chance of landing on heads.

In a sense, this addresses your concern about the ball. Certainly gravity is the force which draws the ball to the ground. But the laws of gravity are merely explanatory mechanisms to explain the fact that if you drop a ball, it dependably falls in a certain pattern. They are not a priori propositions, they are synthetic judgments based on empirical observation as well as rational mathematics.

The example of the ball is not peculiar, it can be easily generalized. If A leads to B each and every time, over millions of trials, then naturally we assume that A is correlated to B, and after further study we might conclude that A causes B. We drop a ball millions of times and it falls to the ground. Ergo, a dropped ball will fall to the ground. If a man says “I will drop this ball and it will fly up to the sky”, we should not treat his proposition as neutral, because we have a wealth of evidence suggesting the ball will fall to the ground.

I use we because this is not just my method, it is the method of science and I would argue the method of everyday experience. We don’t judge every proposition as new and neutral, otherwise we would not assume the sun would rise tomorrow. We would not assume a meteor would not come crashing down into our city or town. We would not assume a whole number of propositions which could be made. If you drop a ball, you will expect it to fall to the ground. But this expectation is not normally based on detailed knowledge of the laws of gravity, the masses of the ball and the earth, the factor of air resistance, etc. It is based on simply prior observation that a dropped ball will fall to the ground.

I’ve said I haven’t read Shermer’s writings on Bem’s study probably because it’s not really relevant to my points, which don’t address Shermer’s writing. It’s not willful ignorance, I just don’t have unlimited time. I’m not defending Shermer or making any claims that are relevant to what he’s saying, so I don’t really see why this matters.

Science doesn’t treat every piece of data as equal and every proposition as equal. I’ve previously stated that judgment based on prior knowledge is part of the scientific method. Let me defend that here, because it is relevant to Bem’s study.

I have phrased my point poorly above, so let me rephrase it. If the “psi” hypothesis is correct, it would imply that entire fields of science are incorrect.

What supports these fields of science? Centuries of observation, study, analysis, re-observation, etc. In other words, a mountain of evidence. Science is inherently empirical, and so the weight of evidence is indeed a factor. Studies are not mathematical proofs, they are pieces of evidence.

If Bem’s study was reliably repeated by many psychologists, each reaching the same or similar conclusions, then you would have a point. But a single piece of data simply is not enough to prove a hypothesis which contradict hypotheses supported by millions of pieces of data. Einstein’s theory of relativity, for example, has been rigorously tested by multiple observers, and this is why we know it is true.

Because the psi hypothesis contradicts other hypotheses which have accumulated evidence, then it should present an appropriate weight of evidence.

I’ll just end by concluding you’ve placed a rather unreasonable burden by saying that we cannot assume the general scientific community does not accept astrology, etc. By that standard, I doubt you can establish the general acceptance of gravity. It smacks almost of the unreasonable burden you’ve accused “materialists” of proffering.

Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on May 10th, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

Thanks for your long response. I’ll respond by the numbers.

1) You say “it is simple fact that our judgments are influenced by prior observation.” I say that’s opinion. Science works by going on data, not but accepting “simple facts.” Were that not the case we’d still think the world was flat. You then go into a long side-track which ignores the point of this discussion. Respectfully, dodging the issue by going into long side-tracks is a typical technique used by debunkers, so I’m just not going to be drawn into that. Truth ends up being simple.

2) You wrote, “I haven’t read Shermer’s writings on Bem’s study probably because it’s not really relevant to my points.” But that was the point of my blog post. Again, trying to change the issue is often seen in the writings of debunkers. Blogs tend to be short, so I’m going to stick to the original point.

3) You wrote, “I have phrased my point poorly above, so let me rephrase it. If the “psi” hypothesis is correct, it would imply that entire fields of science are incorrect.” Respectfully, I reject that claim completely. It would not “imply” anything. It would require scientists to reformulate their theories. This is the basis of the way science evolves. What you’re saying is that you are denying the basic tenet of science. Further, this is not meant to be a discussion of “psi,” whatever that is (you have not defined it). This blog post is about true skepticism and debunking. I hope in future comments you’ll stick to the point.

4) You wrote, “But a single piece of data simply is not enough to prove a hypothesis which contradict hypotheses supported by millions of pieces of data.” I would agree, however Bern’s work was not “a single piece of data.” It was a large collection of data. Furthermore, of course it needs further examination irrespective of whether it contradicts other data. Nobody, including Bern, has said anything contrary to that. This is a straw man argument you are trying to introduce. Again, the introduction of a straw man is a typical technique used by debunkers rather than scientists and true skeptics.

5) You wrote, “you’ve placed a rather unreasonable burden by saying that we cannot assume the general scientific community does not accept astrology, etc. By that standard, I doubt you can establish the general acceptance of gravity. It smacks almost of the unreasonable burden you’ve accused “materialists” of proffering.” Respectfully, you were the one who made the claim and as you quoted Carl Sagan, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Now, after making a grandiose claim (something debunkers tend to claim of those who hold ideas that don’t agree with their quasi-religion) you’re saying we just have to accept it because you say so and you support your refuse to back up your claim by relating it to gravity. Again, respectfully, I’m not being any more unreasonable in asking you to support your claims than are the debunkers who demand that people who don’t follow their quasi-religion must provide extensive proof to support their claims. Or put more simply: what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Arjun, normally I would have highly edited your comments because they strayed so far from the point of my original post. However, in the future I would request that if you wish to deal with the issues of the post, I will gladly post your responses here. But if you just want to support your views about anything other than what is in the original post, in the future I will edit them out and respectfully suggest that you start your own blog to promote the beliefs you wish to present.

Written By Moloch
on May 10th, 2011 @ 5:11 pm

Don, your points are valid & the biggest problem with the so-called Skeptical Community is that self-styled Debunkers will often outright refuse to believe any study, evidence or conclusions that run countermand to their own personal world view. They will throw out the baby with the bathwater & call themselves cleansed.

I recall a TV show in the late 1980’s with old Jimmy Randi & Bill Bixby which was to see if there was such things as psychic powers. The experiments were rigged for the psychics to fail!

One of the experiments was to use Divining Rods to discover which ones of the 30 sealed cardboard boxes had a gallon of water in them. The Diviner chose 11 or 12 (don’t remember the exact amount) and they opened 3 & found 2 had water in them & one did not so they called the experiment a failed exercise! The exact number was something like 7 but I and others wanted to know if the other 11 or 12 had the 7 gallons of water in them.

Things like this are rigged & psychics/magicians should NEVER partake in them because it’s only a trap. Debunkers don’t want proof because when presneted with anything, it’s rationalized according to their limited world view. Frankly if they ever experienced anything that was to the contrary, they’d be frightened out of their minds. Rationalization is a comforting thought to put one’s being into.

As a kid, I watched my own grandfather use Divining Rods to water witch several wells. The well drillers had no problem with him witching the wells because he had a reputation as being accurate.

Frankly, I’ve come to the conclusion that when I’m presented an experiment like proof from a self-styled Debunker, I challenge them to play the game MY way: I offer to put a nasty and effective curse on them IF they meet a neutral 3rd party & allow the 3rd party to clip a lock of their hair to give to me. Told them I’d put a curse on them that’d make them sick as a dog & send them to the ER.

Not ONE so-called Debunker (let alone skeptic) has ever taken me up on that. Gutless cowards.

Written By Derek Colanduno
on June 24th, 2011 @ 8:07 am

All that needs to be said is that stuff that is crap, and false, is crap and false.

Using simple testing almost all amazing claims fall on their face. And each time someone attempts to go all twisty and claim that scientific tests are somehow ‘rigged’ so that the paranormal doesn’t have a chance.

That, in itself, is just more proof that it is all another false claim.

Written By Neill Furr
on July 15th, 2011 @ 6:14 pm

I just want to make a couple of comments. Firstly, you seem to be using a very limited definition of debunking where the term pseudo-skeptic would be more appropriate. The act of rooting out and exposing bunk is not a bad thing but by using the term one way and discrediting it runs the risk of tarring the justified debunking with the same brush. There is no point in muddying the water.

Also, in discussing skepticism and proof, you seem to be talking only of empirical evidence without reference to philosophical objections. Logic can often expose an idea or proposed explanation of phenomena as being logically impossible – literally making no sense when examined closely. I don’t need to look for empirical evidence to know that there are no square triangles, because while the concept has a certain surface grammar (square is a property and triangles can have properties predicated to them), the predicate and the object are in contradiction. Very strong logical objections have been put forward against the concepts of such things as reincarnation and knowing the future, such that even in the face of evidence that seemed to support these things, we may still have reasonable grounds to be at the very least prejudiced against such an interpretation of that evidence, seeking out an alternative that fits the observations and that makes sense – though that alternative need not be materialistic, just logically possible.

I do not mean to suggest though, that we should never doubt our rational conclusions, we are all prone to error – but doing so must be in the light of finding flaws in our argument or being faced with evidence that can admit of no other possible explanation, thus indicating an error in either our argument or in our observations.

Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on July 15th, 2011 @ 6:32 pm

Neill, you may be somewhat correct. There are certainly fine lines and there may be some debunkers who are interested in honest debunking (which I would contend is good) as opposed to those simply interested in defending their pseudo-skepticism religion.
Concerning you idea of logic being used to expose error, while philosophically I agree with you, in practice I would have to disagree. We’re not taking about square triangles (which is actually more definition than logic), we’re talking about unusual phenomena. Further, logic is not truth. Logic is a set of rules designed to support a system. The logic of philosophical formal logic is not the logic of quantum mechanics. The “strong logical objections” to “reincarnation and knowing the future” are based on a philosophical system with an internal logic that makes them impossible. It is the logical truth of a human-designed system, not an underlying truth of the universe.

Written By Neill Furr
on July 16th, 2011 @ 8:08 am

Perhaps we are not using a common understanding of just what logic is. In philosophy it boils down to the study of what can be meaningfully said and the laws of logic, far from being arbitrary (as you put it, a human-designed system) are the underlying grammar that govern meaning in language, whatever language you are speaking. Talk of ‘a’ logic, as if there could be another system supporting other truths, is meaningless, because our concepts of such things as truth are governed by the logic and language that we have and therefore cannot express anything about any proposed alternative system.

When a logician says that a concept is not a logical possibility, they are saying that no meaningful possibility is being expressed – just as with the square triangle. Logical objections to knowing the future frequently focus on paradox and the notion of necessary facts/events. Objections to re-incarnation usually focus on the requirements for identity – such as the body (re-incarnation advocates tend to use memory as the criterion, though the statement “I remember” already presupposes identity and so is insufficient to establish it). If there are phenomena that require explanation then we must ensure that the explanations we proffer are meaningful – logically possible – or we should look for alternatives that are. Otherwise, we have failed to explain anything.

Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on July 16th, 2011 @ 11:19 am

Well, Neill, we might not be using what you consider logic to be. I majored in philosophy at UCLA and was a student of what is called “formal logic,” so I think I know a bit about it. Respectfully, if you want to say that discussing other types of logic is “meaningless,” that’s up to you. However, within the field of philosophy there are most definitely different types of logic, the two primary types being inductive and deductive.

Logic, as you seem to want to define it, is simply a map of reality. Not only do different people have different maps, but the underlying truth is that any particular map is only representative of the actual territory and is not the territory itself. Thus, the logic you follow is only a representation of ultimate truth, but not truth.

The objections to knowledge of the future and reincarnation are based not on ultimate truth, but upon a particular map of reality that makes sense to you. That’s fine. Enjoy it. But understand, please, that the map is not the territory. You have numerous presuppositions about the nature of reality that place limitations on your map and prevent you from even considering alternatives because they conflict with your presuppositions. Be wary! As Herbert Spencer said, “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” Interestingly, your map will probably agree with Spencer and you will say you are not doing that while my map is describing your position as falling into the trap described by Spencer. So which of us has the position of ultimate truth? Neither, because our maps are only representations of the truth and not the truth itself.

Written By Neill Furr
on July 16th, 2011 @ 12:35 pm

I also have a degree in philosophy and know my way around formal and informal logic. I also understand the distinction between inductive and deductive reasoning and how they are both still subject to the same logical laws.

I am certainly not defining logic as a particular map or model of reality but as the rules that govern meaning. If the laws were fluid and variable between people, there could be no communication. You say that you’re familiar with formal logic. OK, try substituting some logical laws with some new ones you can invent for yourself and then see if what you’ve written can still mean what you intended it to within those new rules. So, yes, lets imagine another system of what we will call, for the sake of argument, ‘logic’. This new framework of meaning will be different from our own, with different rules. Whatever we mean by truth is subject to the laws of logic within which we speak it and cannot meaningfully be applied to another system because under that system, the meaning will not be the same.I So I will stand by my position that talk of other systems of logic is meaningless.

By talking about other types of logic and viewing them as different maps of the same territory – or, as you say, ultimate truth – you seem to be getting into a muddle. This is because whatever you mean by ‘ultimate truth’ is determined by the logical system within which you say it and cannot apply beyond that. In other words, stating that there are different ways of mapping an ultimate truth requires a position of objectivity that you cannot have under your notion of maps and territory. If you want different types of logic and different truths, then you would be better to abandon your ‘territory’ altogether and embrace relativism.

Finally, I would remind that I did point out that we should be aware of the possibility of human error with regards to our logical arguments. I only argued that a prejudice could be justified – not dogmatism, which is not quite the same. Your talk of my presuppositions about the nature of reality also seems a little presumptuous, given how little I have said of it beyond the tools of expression.

Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on July 16th, 2011 @ 1:22 pm

Respectfully, the very structure of inductive and deductive logic are different. Also, you keep coming back to the same presuppositions that shade your position. You claim that logic is the (set of ) rules that govern meaning. Again, respectfully, what you consider logic is not necessarily the same as what others think. Your presupposition locks you into a limited mind set of what can and what cannot be.
The only reason you think I’m in a “muddle” is because you’ve locked yourself into a set of beliefs that you consider to be ultimate truth and are unable to get outside of that map. I would also note that the concepts of communication you are presenting are quite dated compared to postmodern theories that include understandings of everything from computers to superstrings, concepts that transcend the limitations of accepting one system of formal logic as truth.
I realize you’re arguing that prejudice could be justified. What I’m saying is that is a limiting factor within your concept of logic. As such, you’ve fallen into the trap described by Spencer that I quoted in my previous response and which you’ve ignored.
Further, my statement concerning your obvious presuppositions about reality come exclusively from what you’ve written. I’ve made no further statements nor guessed about any other beliefs you may or may not have.
Finally, while a philosophical argument (which to the readers we haven’t lost is not about angrily yelling, but rather, about presenting a series of premises leading to a conclusion) is obviously of interest to students of philosophy such as you and me, it has, unfortunately, drifted so far away from the topic of the original post that our conversation has become inappropriate here. If you wish to comment concerning the original post, fine. However our exploration into the nature of philosophy and logic is not the focus of this blog and needs to end here.

Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on July 18th, 2011 @ 10:46 pm

Respectfully, you have created in your mind a set of presuppositions as to how psychic powers should work. If they don’t work according to your presuppositions, you’re saying they can’t exist. That would be like me saying if someone can’t hop on a skateboard and do an ollie then ollies don’t exist.

I would also point out that there are numerous sciences, ranging from geology and sociology to psychology with aspects that cannot be demonstrated in controlled conditions. You can’t show continental drift in a laboratory, but it is a basic tenet of modern geological thought.

I’m glad you’ve read some of my past blog posts. Unfortunately, you have conflated two different things. Keeping a record of one’s experiments (rituals) helps a practitioner eliminate variables that can affect such an experiment. When the variables have been eliminated and then you find you repeatedly get the desired results, you are proving to yourself that magick works. You don’t have to prove it to me or anyone else. You’re assuming that you, or some other individual or organization is so important that someone has to prove what they’re doing to you. They don’t.

I agree with you that to prove that a ritual causes something else to occur you need to establish controls. However, curiously, you immediately claim that “these experiments fail or become mysteriously ‘untestable’ all of a sudden.” Really? Would you please give me an example of, say, just five magicians who have gone through these tests for you? Please include links to the full set of rituals performed, controls applied, times, places, locations, weather conditions, phase of the moon, etc. at the time of the ritual.

No, I’m not assuming that any particular ritual performed by any particular person is already true. That’s an absolutely false accusation and, regrettably, typical of debunkers trying to denounce anything that doesn’t fit into their mindset—something which is certainly above you. Similarly, your attacks on people with different experiences than you, claiming they have “pseudo-philosophical platitudes that are nothing more than tools to assist in the process of self-deulusion” might be seen by some as rather self-serving as you’re saying that only you have the keys to not being delusional and that you have real philosophical ideas, not the pseudo platitudes of everyone else. I’m sure that’s not your intention, so I would respectfully suggest you consider stating your beliefs in a way that appears to cast aside your own self-delusive materialist determinism that venerates more the Lords of Debunking than the HGA.

Written By Zack Dergen
on July 22nd, 2011 @ 11:54 pm

1. The “true skepticism vs. debunking” issue seems to rest on the No True Scotsman fallacy. There are simply different forms of skepticism, and you are trying to make out that one of them is more “real” than the others. Pyrrhonian skeptics try to take neutral positions on everything. Other skeptics need not. The Academic skeptics, for instance, were probabilists. They refrained from calling anything true, but they were not entirely neutral: they were okay with calling some things more likely than others and operating on them. This prevents them from staring at an oncoming object hurtling at them and staying still because they were trying to stay neutral about whether or not anything was really about to hit them (something Pyrrho supposedly did before he was saved by a couple of his students).

The sort of skeptic that is interested in debunking is yet another kind of skeptic. Scientific skepticism is part of the overall methodology. It is a sort of devils’ advocacy: whenever someone makes a claim, try to prove it wrong; if it can survive all of these attempts, it is more likely to be true. Science, after all, never ends. It does not prove anything. It falsifies some theses and supports others. But support is not proof, though falsification is disproof. This is a perfectly valid methodology, and it is simply fatuous to call it a religion even if some individuals might pretend to be scientific skeptics when they are not.

2. When someone says “prove it,” they are not merely saying it for no reason. They are saying it in response to a claim that has been made. Otherwise, there is nothing for the “it” in “prove it” to refer to. So who are they to demand proof of you? They are the the person you are trying to convince or to whom you are trying to assert something. By making a claim, you take on a burden of proof. The request to “prove it” is a reminder of that burden. If you’d like to stop writing this blog or making any sort of public claims, then you can be free of this burden. Until then, you are subject to requests for proof.

Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on July 23rd, 2011 @ 3:20 am

Respectfully, Zack, you are redefining skepticism. If that’s what you want to do, fine. But the truth is that real skeptics are skeptics and real debunkers are debunkers, even if the latter call themselves skeptics. If a person’s goal is debunking, even if they call themselves a skeptic who “is interested in debunking, they lose the status of skeptic by having their mind made up before investigation.

Please be assured that I, and other real skeptics, are fully aware of the methodology of trying to disprove something as one possible method of proof (i.e., if you cannot disprove it then it is true). I have no problem with that. The problem comes when debunkers invent possible solutions to deny something or simply falsify data or purposefully misinterpret data to support their religion-like belief system. That’s not skepticism. It’s not science, either.

If I am trying to prove something to someone, you’re right. They have the option of saying “prove it.” I have no problem with that. But in most cases I have no desire or reason to prove anything to you or anyone else. The demand to “prove it” from someone who is a third party is often a combination of egocentricity and self-righteous superiority (“I know better than you fools”) combined with a religious fervor from a person who has a belief system that cannot tolerate the existence of anything that might contradict the system, nor allow anyone else to believe anything something that refutes the system. I see no difference between that attitude and the attitude of the religious fundamentalist who insists theirs is the only truth that shall be allowed.


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