Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Skeptic, Cynic Or Debunker?

This is a response to a comment left on my last post regarding the evidence presented in the Dear David saga by a Google Plus user going under the name "Eric Doe". I love getting comments and feedback on the blog, even critical feedback like Eric's. I don't even mind if commenters want to hang on to their anonymity. What I dislike is when commenters prevent me from replying to their comment as Eric has done, but I am going to reply to Eric's comment in a full post as it raises a few interesting questions about the role of skeptics in addressing paranormal topics and the question of whether I am a skeptic or indeed a "debunker" as he accuses me of.

*Unfortunately immediately after this response was posted "Eric" deleted his comment. As I only shared the post on my personal wall and my page, I suspect it is someone who I could interact with quite freely on Facebook. Why they chose to comment anonymously escapes me, as does their reason for removing the post.

Here's the comment in its entirety and I'll address it one part at a time. Eric's original comment in bold.
I have certainly not been convinced by his claims, but there is a question that I need to ask you relating to the topic in general. You have 'debunked' every case and instance of supernatural events that you've addressed with a long line of reasoning, some of which contains lines of reasoning that are considered debatable.
Firstly, I've never set out to "debunk" anything. I've set to seek a rational explanation for the "evidence" I'm offered, I attempt to use critical thinking, scientific principles and the preexisting framework of scientific understanding to explain a claim more parsimoniously and often this process results in finding explanations that aren't supernatural in nature. I've never debunked anything that wasn't bunk-filled, to begin with.

If any of my reasoning seems "debatable" to anyone I'd suggest they debate it. If they want to do so with me, even better. Often what I offer in the blog is an alternative hypothesis. Am I always right? Nope. And I correct myself in those instances when I discover I'm wrong. We have, with the stories and data I address, the supernatural hypothesis already. It would be superfluous for me to offer a supernatural hypothesis myself as presumably we're already given at least the beginnings of this.What I seek to offer is a stripped down, naturalistic hypothesis. Of course, I try to use well-reasoned arguments to back up my hypothesis. Is this balanced? Only if I allow the reasoning of the person or group making the supernatural claim to be heard as well, which I believe I do. I make sure there are competing hypothesis on the table, my readers can then decide which seems more credible. Often there are other competing rational explanations out there, that's great and often I address and assess these too.
But that criticism isn't really what I'm concerned with. What I am concerned with is that debunkers tend to not be very objective.
It often takes a great deal of effort to "debunk" a claim. I'd hazard a guess that in "debunking" the various stories, articles, beliefs photos and videos I've addressed on this blog, I've scrutinised them a heck of a lot more thoroughly than the people who've just outright accepted them as supernatural in nature. I often spend hours with a piece of footage, assessing it. If this doesn't imply the fact that I treat the "evidence" fairly and even-handedly I don't know what does. Being objective doesn't mean turning a blind eye to something, accepting it immediately or viewing it through slightly splayed fingers. You think many believers are being objective when they assess things like the "Dear David" evidence before they assume it's supernatural?

Also, this gives me my first indication that when Eric says "debunker" he actually means "cynic" which I'll address when it comes up again shortly.
My question is this: What would it require for you to believe that a claimed supernatural event or occurrence is legitimate?
Something testable, repeatable and independently verifiable. A hypothesis that is falsifiable, an element that I believe current supernatural hypothesis sorely lack, and this represents a major stumbling block between the supernatural and the scientific. I'll tell you what I don't accept: anecdote. Personal experience.

To accept ghosts exist it requires almost all of physics to go back to the drawing board. If there is some energy of spirit, let's call it vitality, then there must also be some vital force. In turn, a new force requires new fields and new force carrying particles. This means that the standard model of physics is wrong. In order to accept this, physicists are going to require evidence that is at least as voluminous and well supported as the evidence for the current paradigm. They're going to require data that cannot be explained in any other way under our current understanding. If you think that orb photos, or EVPs or moving chairs captured on grainy video are going to suffice, you are deluding yourself.

Sorry if that makes you angry or upset. It's the truth.
It's been my experience that there is a vast difference between a skeptic and a debunker.
There really isn't. If you're a skeptic who is actively using critical thinking and the scientific method to assess claims, there will be occasions when you inadvertently "debunk" these claims.  What Eric is doing here is conflating a process and the end result of that process. A skeptic unavoidably becomes a "debunker" if he/she applies their method well to a claim that is demonstrably false.

 A true skeptic has a completely open mind, is humble, willing to admit that we have not reached the pinnacle of all knowledge, and is willing to fairly and objectively consider evidence with that openness of mind, being willing to accept that not everything has a physical explanation. 

Eric here handily provides us with his own definition of what a skeptic should be, some of it's right. Some wrong. Who says a skeptic has to be humble? And who says we have to accept not everything has a physical explanation. I'm not going to accept something lacks a physical explanation until I encounter something that can't be explained physically. I'm willing to accept the possibility. But again, I'm going to need a high standard of evidence.

As an interesting side note here: what exactly does Eric define as "non-physical"? By constantly describing spirits and ghosts as "energy" believers are specifically acknowledging that they are physical in nature. Energy is a physical property of matter. If ghosts exist, and they are definable as energy, then they are physical. This is also true if they can have a measurable effect on the natural world, there must be some method of interaction.

Guess what? That means they should also be measurable. Wonder why we haven't yet?

A debunker is one that has already made up their mind even before considering the evidence (i.e. dismisses the topic out of hand and approaches all new instances of said event to be false and delves into the instance seeking to find how to tear it apart.) It seems to me that you are not a trueskeptic but a debunker.
Eric also provides his own definition of what a debunker is. Now let me ask you: if I've dismissed paranormal instances and data I write about "out of hand" why the fuck do I often spend hours examining it? Surely if I fit Eric's definition of a "debunker" then I'd consider this a wasted effort? Eric instantly contradicts himself, one can't "dismiss the topic out of hand" whilst simultaneously "delving into instances" even if the aim is to "tear it apart".

This is what makes me think Eric conflates the concepts of a debunker and of a cynic.

 As for me not being a "true skeptic" (Eric's definition) and being a "debunker".

I'm both.

I hope that my comment and query is not taken as rudeness or unfair criticism as that is not my intention. I truly want to understand your perspective and to learn what you require in order to believe that there is something more than merely the physical? Thanks for your time.
As always I appreciate the feed back and I hope my position is clear. The ultimate answer to your question is "empirical evidence" even though I think the more interesting question raised here is what does it mean for something to be non-physical? If something can be described as energy, can interact with the physical world and apply force to physical objects then it is by necessity: physical.

Before I end the post:

I recently appeared on the Paranormal Concept show with hosts Kerry and Paul and fellow guest Kev Kerr of Pararationalise. The show was great fun and Kev is really informative. You can listen to the show here:

Whilst you're at it, check out Kev's site Pararationalise, which is a great resource:

Please show them your support.

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