I’m sceptical of Sceptics

Sceptics (1 of 1)Any new theory of reality is indistinguishable from magic. paraphrased from Arthur C. Clarke

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. Max Planck.

Funeral by funeral, science makes progress. Paul Samuelson

I don’t want to say that  I believe in magic, but I do believe in a world that is much more magical and alive, much more complicated, than that which is accepted by most establishment scientists. Today’s – and, as I think about it, probably any time’s – conventional wisdom is that we live in a world in which we know the basic outline of everything and that all is left is to fill in the details. Calling it conventional wisdom is really a misnomer, in much of today’s science, conventional wisdom is a euphemism for Faith.

Four hundred years ago, in the Western world, the conventional wisdom was that God had created the world in six days and left everything, except humans, to run on automatic, now the conventional wisdom is that the Universe is a Machine, somehow self-created about 14,000 billion years ago at the moment of the Big Bang, and now controlled – unintelligently, rotely, mechanically – by Universal Fields and Constants like  Gravity and The Speed of Light. As an aside, I love Rupert Sheldrake’s quip on this: It’s almost as if science said, “Give me one free miracle, and from there the entire thing will proceed with a seamless, causal explanation.” The one free miracle was the sudden appearance of all the matter and energy in the universe, with all the laws that govern it. End aside. The 500 year old conventional wisdom and today’s conventional wisdom are closer positions than one might, at first, think.

Both are dogmas that are not based on all the available evidence. Both believe that the world is without consciousness except, in one case, for God and we humans created in his image, and, in the other case, just we humans (or advanced life on a planet similar to Earth). The second position, we are told, is based on science and logic and is absent any superstition, any magic. But what we are told is wrong, science, today, is a belief system no different than any other religion. To quote Sheldrake again, For more than 200 years, materialists have promised that science will eventually explain everything in terms of physics and chemistry. Believers are sustained by the faith that scientific discoveries will justify their beliefs.

Dark Matter is a belief. Nobody – on earth, atleast – has seen or measured dark matter any more than anybody has seen a black hole. I’m not saying that black holes don’t exist, they might and I think that they probably do, but we don’t have any direct proof, just conjecture based on observations of light bending. We think that we have come to a logical answer but, people who believe in Jesus as their Personal Savior, think that they have got there by logic also. Are Black Holes, or Dark Matter, more logical that The Resurrection? Maybe, but they are no easier to observe (and the cynic in me says that the postulation of Dark Matter is only a device to make expansion-of-the-universe rates work mathematically) .

My concern is not if Black Holes or Dark Matter are real, it is that they have become part of an established belief system and are not to be questioned. About ten years ago, maybe twenty, I was driving home, listening to an interview with a Skeptic who was pitching his book. About half way through the interview, listeners were invited to call in and ask questions. That devolved into listeners recalling different para-normal experiences and having the Skeptic prove them wrong. I only remember two callers.

The first caller, I remember, told about driving down a winding mountain road with lots of blind corners. He had the top down and the sun was warm, just the kind of day and place to be driving a little too fast and have alot of fun. Out of nowhere, he had a premonition of a skull on fire. It rattled him and he slowed way down. A moment later, he turned a blind corner and there was a wrecked car, lying on its side. The caller thought he would have run into the car if he hadn’t slowed down.

The Sceptic pointed out that the driver might have seen a whiff of smoke, or, maybe, a dust cloud, or some other trigger that didn’t conscientiously register, but triggered the subconscious to signal danger. The answer seemed dodgy but this is the problem with anecdotal evidence, it can’t be tested. It can’t be proven or, really, disproven.

Later, another guy called in to get another debunking. He told about a experiment in which he was a part. A group of people saw two movies together. One part of the group saw movie A first and the other part saw Movie B first. Then they randomly split the two groups into two new groups. One group watched one of the movies and the second group, in a different room or different building away from the movie, meditated on what movie the first group was seeing. When asked which movie, the first group saw, the second group was correct something like 58% of the time.

The caller said that the experiment had been done several different times with a total of about eleven hundred subjects, so 58% is a statistically a significant number. The debunker offered a couple of comments on how the experiment was done wrong and the caller said No, that was covered by…. Finally, exasperated, he debunker said, Well I don’t know the details but something was done wrong because the results are clearly impossible, next question.  I don’t want to argue over whether the experiment proved anything or not because I don’t remember all the detail – and the caller may not have given them – but I do want to point out that skepticism is NOT debunking anything we don’t understand.

Skepticism implies not knowing and the willingness to be open to not knowing, it is what is presumed to be at the foundation of science. However, too often, Skeptics – and I’m talking about professional arbitrators of Reality who say they are Skeptics – have bought into, completely, mainstream thinking. They are only skeptical of ideas out of that mainstream tradition. These are Skeptics are supposed to be my peeps and it bothers me when my peeps act from unsubstantiated Faith, just repeating the old dogmas.

2 thoughts on “I’m sceptical of Sceptics

  1. Hi Steve

    Most scientists I’ve read and known are very open about what is fact and what is conjecture, that is, an idea that seems to explain the facts but has yet to be proven. The great thing about science is that new information, i.e. new facts, lead to new conclusions – something a lot of other fields do not practice, needing to hold on to old ideas and seemingly threatened by new explanations. I also think most scietists are in awe of the worlds that they study and about how much they do not know or understand.

    1. Hi Arlene,

      That has not been my experience. Very few scientists I know are open to new data unless it, more or less, conforms to their world view. Back in the early pleistocene, when I was in school assisting in experiments on flatworms, I was surprised at how locked in most of the experimenters were as to the answers they were looking for (and they almost always found them). In the experiment above, it is very rare that I find a scientist who is interested. As I recall, artist scored the highest in guessing the right movie.

      As for the awe most scientists have, I completely agree. I love hiking and camping with scientists and engineers and artist because they know so much about the wild world and are so open to it.

      With love

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