Greg Newkirk, of the somewhat tongue in cheek blog Who Forted?, recently posted about the internet bullies who pass themselves off as skeptics. At the same time, I am reading Chris Carter’s Science and the Near Death Experience. Both of these pieces of media address the issue of skepticism and the fact that the so called skeptics raging (literally) through the Fortean community are, in fact, not skeptics at all. These “skeptics” are actually purveyors of the Western materialist mind set, as determined to evangelize for their belief system as fundamentalist religionists are and willing to stop at nothing to pull peoples thoughts away from the things that they think unseemly.
First of all, let’s be clear about something. I have absolutely no problems with real skeptics. The word skeptic derives from the Greek skeptikos which means simply to reflect on or consider. This is exactly the sort of attitude that we need to take into any reported episode of high strangeness – the attitude of a thinking person who considers all the possibilities in a situation. Note please: in its original sense, the word skeptic has nothing to do with doubt and debunking. It does have everything to do with keeping an open mind and looking at an incident without pre-formed opinions.
Now, realistically, it is very difficult to be a perfect skeptic. We all have our beliefs and those beliefs color our perceptions whether we want to admit it or not. I see the world through the lens of magic since that is my belief system and my experiences have borne out, time and again, the validity of those beliefs for me. If, however, a witness were to call me up and report seeing a monster on the side of the road, I would try to be a true skeptic in reviewing the case. In other words, I would work to set aside my belief system and investigate. I would want to see the exact site of the encounter, know about the lighting at the time of the incident, check on the witness’ visual acuity, make inquiries as to the witness’ reputation in the community, etc. I would be looking for sign at the site of the encounter, looking into local wildlife that might be responsible for a mis-identification and researching to see whether there had been other encounters of a similar nature in the area and what the disposition of those incidents happened to be (if any). Long story short, I would not assume that my witness had encountered a monster nor would I discount the idea completely.
I’ve criticized some in the parnormal/Fortean community for being too ready to make the jump to monsters and aliens at any scene but the same holds true of the so-called skeptics, only they jump in the opposite direction. Because their belief system says that such things can not exist, there is no amount of evidence that will make them consider the possibility that an episode of high strangeness occurred. I think one can safely say that this is quite the same as someone like myself going into an investigation with a belief that the encounter has to be true because I believe that there is magic in the world!
Chris Carter, in the aforementioned books, does a nice job of rooting out this “skeptical” viewpoint and tracing its roots to the Enlightenment, a period in history where the powerful influence of the Church was finally mitigated. Unfortunately, the pendulum then swung the other direction and a new philosophy arose to offset the centuries of religious oppression of any scientific discovery – the idea that there was nothing but the physical world that humans could discern with the senses or with their instruments. It is from this belief and the over-reliance on mechanistic Newtonian physics that the “skeptical” movement derives its near fanatical mind set. In their view, any belief in anything that is not readily provable by the senses or instruments, is a direct assault on science and is an affront to intelligent people everywhere since, in their paradigm, it could not exist.
I find it quite interesting that, while leading the charge in the name of science, these self-same skeptics ignore the fact that quantum physics has radically changed the world view of cutting edge science and that the world view they are defending belongs to the 18th and 19th centuries. In other words, these skeptics have become the champions of an antiquated that is daily being updated and overturned by the discoveries of scientists working on the frontiers of discovery today. I find this every bit as sad and deserving of pity as the complete reliance of some on an antiquated religious text for what passes for spiritual practice.
Nevertheless, I am quite willing to let people believe what they want to believe. If the “skeptics” are comfortable in their materialist world, then I have no problem with that just as I do not have a problem with the Baptists that surround me here in Georgia. There is an old saying in law, however, that I think applies here: your right to swing your arm ends at the tip of my nose. People are entitled to believe whatever they want to and to govern their lives according to those beliefs until they start trying to force those beliefs on others. This is exactly what the skeptics are trying to do with their bullying, rants against the “irrational” and what Greg Newkirk calls “sanctioned shaming”.
In my view, here is the true shame. There are a lot of really intelligent people in the “skeptical” community. I would venture to bet that a lot of them are smarter than I am. It is a shame that their beliefs have so warped their mind set that they can not see the wonders coming out of modern science, embrace those wonders and allow those wonders to turn them into true skeptics, those who consider and reflect.