Extraordinary Ignorance

The woo people don’t like it when they make a paranormal claim, only to be met with disbelief by rational thinkers. Are some people being abducted by aliens from another galaxy – or even another “dimension,” for example? Can some people really contact the dead? Is it really possible that others can bend metal using only the power of their mind? Is remote viewing for real?

For a sceptic like me, those claims – and many others like them – come under the heading of “extraordinary.” And what makes them extraordinary is the fact that no one who makes such claims can prove, in an objective way, that what they say is true. More importantly, however, they are all claims that do not align in any way with what we know about how the laws of nature work.

A claim that goes beyond what science knows about the universe and everything in it is definitely extraordinary. The woomeisters don’t help their case either when they try to hijack areas of science, making claims that science itself doesn’t. Sticking the word “quantum” into a pseudo-explanation of telepathy, for instance, is not an explanation at all – particularly since no one has even proven that telepathy is real.

Nevertheless, extraordinary claims about the paranormal continue, and because no one can actually prove them, there are several standard responses to sceptics about them that the believers and promoters have to rely on. One of the standby tropes they come out with to the sceptical notion that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence is one that I come across more and more often, which is:

What is extraordinary to you is ordinary to others, who experience it all the time.

The argument seems to go something like this: If you met someone who has never heard of TV, say, then the idea of seeing moving pictures together with sound, coming from a box sitting in the corner, would be an extraordinary claim to that person. But to you, it is within your ordinary, everyday experience, so it isn’t really an extraordinary claim, is it? So stop asking for extraordinary evidence for what some people regard as perfectly ordinary.

Anyone who thinks that is a good argument is guilty of bad thinking. Perhaps it could be called desperate thinking, because it is nothing more than an attempt to bypass the need for evidence. Some people might think they are experiencing paranormal phenomena, even on a regular basis, but that is the very thing that needs to be proven. If anyone doubts my claim that TVs exist, I can take them into any TV shop and they can see plenty of them.

Someone who has never heard of TV would be justified in doubting my claim if the best I could say to them was something like, “But it’s an everyday experience for other people.” They would be perfectly rational if they asked for evidence. They would be, well, sceptical. Should they be called pseudo-sceptics because they want evidence? And yet people like me are called pseudo-sceptics by the woo promoters and accused of being unfair or closed-minded for wanting confirmation that an unscientific – even antiscientific – claim is actually true.

Nearly a week ago, there was a huge earthquake in Nepal. Thousands of people have been killed, many more injured, and the full extent of the tragedy cannot be fully known yet because there are many areas cut off and unreachable. There have, however, been a few heartening stories coming out of the region, such as the fact that a young boy has been rescued alive this morning after being buried under rubble for five days. There will probably be others still buried but alive and hoping to be found.

This is a situation where those people who claim to have paranormal abilities could prove their claims beyond any doubt whatsoever. But I have to ask: where are all the remote viewers while all this is going on? They’re certainly not in Nepal pointing out to rescue workers where any survivors are buried. If they were, it would certainly make me sit up and take notice.

No, while paranormal promoters are busy right now telling us that all of the alleged powers they say are real and possessed by certain gifted individuals are not extraordinary at all, people are suffering and dying. For some reason, none of them seem to want to do their bit in a humanitarian effort to save lives. Why not – if these alleged abilities aren’t so extraordinary after all?

As I watch and read reports of this disaster, I start to feel rather annoyed. People who supposedly have miraculous abilities that could be saving lives right now in Nepal are rather silent at the moment. If some paranormal promoter says to me in the near future that extraordinary claims don’t need extraordinary evidence, I don’t think I’ll bother to engage them in a logical argument. The best answer I can think of at the moment is simple: “You’re full of shit.”

And I don’t think I’m making an extraordinary claim when I say that.

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2 responses to “Extraordinary Ignorance

  1. Geoff Benson

    Yet again I agree entirely with your arguments. The whole of the paranormal, alien visitation, telepathy brigade fall back on the same, tired claims and they need to be called out on it.

    One of the constant refrains you’ll hear regards evidence. Sometimes they’ll argue that the sheer volume of such and such reported experience means that it must be true. Take alien abductions. So many, one of them must be true? Well, no actually. There is no single credible jot of evidence to in any way support any individual claim, and it is clear, given the similarities of the cases that every one is delusional or simply fraudulent. Even alien sightings are little better evidenced, though the woomeisters (I like that term by the way, hadn’t heard it before) use apparently credible authority figures, such as airline pilots, to attest to incredible sightings ‘which have no other credible explanation’. Or they say that the evidence is there but that governments are covering it up. Well if governments are covering up then how do they know it’s there? However they manipulate the arguments, usually turning themselves into the aggrieved party, the reality is that there is no evidence whatsoever.

    Paranormal claims suffer from the same lack of evidence. There are all sorts of events that people claim can have only a supernatural explanation yet, when investigated, every one turns out to be perfectly explicable. Many, of course, are not explained, but that is usually because they aren’t important enough to warrant full investigation.

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  2. Geoff, the woo fraternity are stuck with the fact that they cannot prove any of their claims. Hence their need to deflect rational criticism – not with evidence, but with spurious arguments and excuses that don’t stand up to scrutiny. I don’t expect to change their beliefs with this blog, but if I can get a few “fence-sitters” to think twice before they fall for it, that will be OK with me.

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