by Carissa Conti
© July 30, 2010
Minor update 5/19/13. Link at the end to a just released good article called “Obsessive Debunking Disorder (ODD)?”
Revised and updated August 7, 2010. Now includes a sample skeptic article from skepdic.com that I dissect as an example.
This is a write up that I’ve had in the back of my mind for years now, but just never got around to compiling only because for the most part I don’t really care about the skeptics. :D Anybody who actually reads any of my woo-woo write ups in full can clearly see that not only do I provide evidence and/or anecdotal experiences for what I talk about, but I can actually explain why I’m coming to my conclusions or why something either fits or doesn’t fit a particular theory. For this reason there’s no real point for me to be concerned with what a skeptic has to say. It’s all there, and if they won’t/can’t see it, then it’s not my concern. But for the most part I tend not to receive skeptical/argumentative emails anyway (which I suspect is for several reasons). However, every once in a while a skeptical email does find its way into my in-box, like it did this week. And instead of just writing back to the person and addressing the issues (or rather, fallacies, as you’ll see in a minute) and have that be the end of it, I thought why not, use this as an example of the things that have been kicking around in my head for a few years now about “skepticism gone awry.”
Straight away I want to say that there’s nothing wrong with being skeptical. Skepticism, when applied intelligently, is the same thing as discernment. And everyone should navigate through this world with a hefty dose of discernment considering everything that’s coming at us every day. But there’s a difference between being intelligently discerning, and then being closed minded and biased to the point of irrationality. The latter is what the focus of this piece will be on, the Skeptics Gone Awry. So as always, balance is the key when straddling that place between open mindedness and total resistance.
Now, as mentioned, I received a skeptical email this week and as usual it was regarding ear tones. As noted in that write up, “Ear Tones” is one of several things on my website that has generated the most email over the years. Something about that subject really gets people’s attention, as so many people have experienced the things I describe…….and have an opinion on the matter. It’s definitely a very opinionated subject. Most people write me just to share their experiences and to say “me too” but there is the occasional skeptic who feels they know everything and want to correct me or “educate me” on some things. In this case, here is what this week’s skeptic had to say, who shall remain anonymous save for her first name, Christine. Email reprinted exactly as I received it, typos/spelling errors and all, with [sic] noting the errors. However bolded words my own emphasis:
Ii [sic] have only scanned your site but was interested to see what you were talking about in the “Ear Tones” section.
What you are describing is called TINNITUS. It is a medical condition and not at all uncommon. A lot of people think it only involves ringing in the ears, but believe me, it causes any number of sounds. I have had it for years. It is pervasive and drives some people, for lack of a better word, crazy.
I am 60 years old, I am a skeptic and have had NO unexplained phenomena in my life, nor has anyone I know. I have never been MK nor has anyone in my family.(not that I believe in that anyway) You claim that the “ear tones” have no biological explanation but your [sic] are wrong and you are sending out misinformation that could harm to [sic] others. Tinnitus has not [sic] clear cause and there is no cure. I have had this condition all of my adult life and have just learned to live with it.
I hear, at various times, water rushing, a toilet running, clicking and a lower toned click. I also hear what sounds like music, playing very faintly as if on a low volume radio in another room, low volume conversation, but no words, sound only. And many other sounds, I can’t list them all here.
O [sic] yourself a favor, look up this condition on a reliable medical site and see for yourself that there is nothing strange or mystical about this at all.
For starters, on a snarky note, it looks like Christine needs to “O herself a favor” and learn how to properly construct a sentence if she’s going to go out of her way to edu-macate me and wants me to take her seriously. :D On a more serious note, merely scanning material and not reading it in full before firing off a know-it-all skeptical email is always a problem. She needs to develop some reading comprehension skills, because if she had then she would have seen that I clearly addressed the subject of Tinnitus in my write up. And she would have also not misunderstood me concerning whether ear tones are ever a biological phenomenon. They definitely can be….and again I addressed that in the article. But reading comprehension is obviously not her forte, so hence, we have this email.
There’s also the more subtle, read between the lines error that she makes, the one where she goes out of her way to point out how nobody she knows has any strange phenomena happening to them…..thus insinuating that because they haven’t experienced it means it plain old doesn’t exist, for anybody. (And as far as not believing in MK…..well, whether she chooses to believe in it or not the declassified government documents exist confirming it. So, she can not believe in it all she wants. It doesn’t change anything.)
Her errors aren’t unique to only her, it actually runs rampant in the world of skeptics which ironically prides itself on its intelligence and rationality. Following is a list of some of the biggest issues and fallacies that I’ve noticed and experienced over the years with the Skeptics Gone Awry:
1. Black white/binary thinking. Many skeptics will reject an entire concept or theory when they find things wrong with it only to make the mistake of latching onto the polar opposite concept or theory, thinking that “if it’s not this, then it has to be the opposite.” It’s either/or binary thinking, as if there aren’t more than only two choices in any given situation. I wrote an entire article about this topic called Polarized Thinking and the Removal of Options from Reality, that’s how rampant it is in our society, with everybody, not just skeptics. Some classic examples include Religion vs. Atheism, Creationism vs. Evolution, man-made global warming vs. nothing funny going on with the climate at all, and in general any conspiracy where it’s a choice between the mainstream version of events, or only one limited version of the conspiracy. (such as: AIDS is either A) a virus precursored by HIV that can be viewed under a microscope and is a contagion, transmitted via blood transfusions, unsafe sex or sharing drug needles, or B) it’s all a giant conspiracy manufactured in a lab by the government in order to target undesirable groups, such as ghetto drug addicts and homosexual males. Or the moon landings, where it’s either A) we went to the moon starting for the first time in 1969 exactly as they tell us it happened, or B) we never went to the moon at all, period, and the moon landings were all filmed in a studio.) Etc.
No doubt, there are conspiracies floating around out there have some major plot holes and problems going on with them, I’ve definitely seen my fair share of them over the years. And I’ve even warned on my site against the idea of automatically thinking any conspiracy must be closer to the truth than the mainstream version of events merely because it’s a conspiracy. But just because one particular version of a conspiracy has issues doesn’t negate the idea of any conspiracy happening at all with a particular subject and that therefore, you automatically choose the polar opposite (which is usually the mainstream version of events). For myself, I don’t agree with the standard AIDS conspiracy that it’s a virus manufactured by the government in a lab, designed to target undesirables…..but it doesn’t mean I’m going to turn my back on the idea of any conspiracy happening with the subject and just believe the mainstream cover story. As if those are my only two options in life. It just means I’m going to keep digging, find other possibilities. Always keep researching and looking closer at things. Put in some effort. Switching back and forth between only two binary choices is the lazy man’s way out, and it’s also the way a computer operates. Are we machines, or are we humans capable of more?
2. “Because I can’t explain something and don’t want to believe in it means I’ll ignore it and just dismiss the entire thing.” Self explanatory. For me, so long as I’ve seen personal proof for the existence of something woo-woo then I’m perfectly comfortable not knowing how or why it works or exists, and just accept that it does. But this is a no-no apparently for many die hard skeptics. If they can’t understand something or don’t want to deal with it (maybe because it scares them on some level), then it gets swept under the rug. And the weirder and more unnerving and unexplainable that something is, the faster it gets swept away and dismissed. The reason for this mindset is because skeptics are determined to believe that the world is a purely physical, five sense, rational place where humans know and understand everything and everything is under complete control. For many die hard skeptics, acknowledging even one small bit of woo-woo is a slippery slope towards having to acknowledge the wider prevalence of woo-woo, which they don’t want to do. It’s all or nothing, black and white for them. So they don’t acknowledge anything out of the ordinary, period. Solves that slippery slope problem right there. I used to date a die hard skeptic, who was also an atheist, so I know how it can be. This “logic” is a bit laughable when you think about it because by that rationale it means you should go around negating and disbelieving in any and all phenomenon in this world – both non-physical AND physical – so long as you haven’t yet learned what it is and how it works and if it could somehow become a slippery slope on the way to anywhere.
3. When is an ongoing pattern/recurrence no longer “just a coincidence”? Skeptics love to dismiss woo-woo subjects such as synchronicity, number sightings and the like as being “just a coincidence.” Many things probably are just a coincidence, but when something happens enough times in enough unusual ways, then at what point is it no longer just a coincidence? For a Skeptic Gone Awry the answer is…..never! It will always be just a coincidence, no matter how frequent or how “out there” and unbelievable/unexplainable the occurrences are! Because once again to even acknowledge one occurrence of woo-woo is opening a door to a slippery slope of having to acknowledge others….and we know where that can lead. ;)
With number sightings in particular I can understand why skeptics might dismiss the majority of people’s occurrences, especially when they’re pretty mundane. If you’d told me about number sightings back before they were happening to me, I would have shrugged off the idea too. But when the occurrences are complicated in their set up, becoming downright far fetched, while increasing in frequency (to where it’s almost becoming a distraction….) then it’s time to stop and take a closer look. Ultimately the only way to know for sure whether something is just coincidental, or a legitimately weird happening is to start a log and begin keeping track, while gathering photographic and physical proof wherever possible. And that’s exactly what I did. Everybody’s free to come to their own conclusion about what I’ve noted in my number sightings log, but my conclusion is that something very unusual was/is going on there, and in my opinion I was able to prove that. What exactly it is, or how it all works remains to be seen, but once again, just because you can’t definitively explain how something works…..doesn’t mean something isn’t happening.
There has to be a reasonableness when it comes to trying to determine whether something is just coincidence. When something is happening frequently, and defying statistical probability/odds, and is extremely unusual in its nature to the point of becoming downright far fetched, then the idea of coincidence ceases to apply. And if, despite the facts and statistical probability/odds and frequency of occurrence, etc. a skeptic still steadfastly clings to the idea of coincidence then they’ve become unreasonable/irrational, plain and simple. In those cases, any number of things could be going on to explain their skepticism gone awry, and I get into that at the end of this piece.
4. Selective evidence, or, ”cherry picking” evidence. Selecting only evidence that seems to prove a skeptical argument while ignoring evidence that disproves it. Three examples from my website where I’ve described this exact behavior with debunkers and skeptics:
“Biorhythms is a topic that the skeptics have a ball with, due to the supposed lack of scientific proof or any concrete studies which validate it. Namely, they love to cite examples where people were tricked, and given false biorhythm cycles that they were supposed to go back and correlate to their diary entries, to see if things lined up. Most of the time people “retrofitted” the incidents and basically tried to force a square peg into a round hole, thus giving the debunkers triumphant material to rub in people’s faces and gloat over. No mention is made, of course, of the instances where genuine biorhythm cycles actually did fit and line up with real events, because that would debunk the debunkers. ;) And that’s where my own little experiment comes into play. Being Little Miss “Keep a Log Book and Log Your Stuff!” means I was able to use my log book to cross check against my biorhythm charts, and lo and behold, some very interesting results came to light. It pays to obsessively document the weird stuff….you never know what you might end up needing the documentation for down the line.” Biorhythms in Relation to Hyperdimensional Activity
“What you typically hear with colloidal silver debunking is the couple of sensationalistic times when somebody turned blue from using the silver. But what they fail to tell people is that there’s a right way and a wrong way to make colloidal silver. Colloidal silver, made the correct way, does not turn you blue. The mainstream media of course only shows you the couple of people who did it wrong. But where are the thousands who use correctly made colloidal silver, get healed, and don’t turn blue? [I’ve used colloidal silver myself and never turned blue.] They don’t exist as far as the mainstream media is concerned. They don’t want you to know.” Headline Dissection
“ […] She was living proof that you don’t need chemo to recover from cancer, even if it’s progressed so far that the docs refuse to even “waste” chemo on you. So, “go home and die”? I don’t think so. Where is her story in these mainstream debunking agendas? She, and the many more like her, are conveniently overlooked and stepped over. That AP article from what I do remember went as far as to claim that nobody has ever been cured by any of these natural healing remedies. That is a lie. I know more than one who has, the most extraordinary one being the woman just mentioned. But they don’t want you to know about them. They want you to be convinced that there is only one route to go with your body, and that’s to “entrust” it to the mainstream medical establishment. And most importantly, to always be giving your money to Big Pharma, and not these other natural healing companies.” Headline Dissection
Bottom line is you can’t selectively ignore evidence that would prove your beliefs or ideals wrong, and this goes for anybody, for any circumstance. Ignoring evidence that runs contrary to something you want to believe in doesn’t suddenly make it right. Problem is, too many people are invested in certain ideas or beliefs or outcomes, we see it every day, all around us, and it includes those with a personal need for a purely physical, rational and scientific-based world where everything is under control and humans know everything. Their ego needs things to be a certain way, and so evidence is selectively chosen or discarded on that basis. The only thing to really say to this mindset, no matter who’s committing the offense, is “Get over yourself.” :D Seriously. Or put in nicer terms – Get out of the way of yourself. When you get over yourself you no longer have investment in ideas or beliefs or outcomes. You don’t care. Life is a lot easier that way, trust me. Suddenly everything is what it is, whether you like it or not, whether you believe in it or not, and whether you understand it or not.
5. No evidence is not evidence to the contrary (and the issue of indirect evidence) Because some situations are impossible to generate direct proof/evidence for – and which would actually be accepted by skeptics – they’ll turn around and say that well, no proof is obviously evidence that something doesn’t exist.
X! This is not the case. It just means no proof has been gathered….yet. Or proof that they would find acceptable hasn’t been found….yet. But it hasn’t definitively ruled anything out. At best, the only thing a wise person can do is put the issue on the back burner. But we’ll get back to the subject of back burners later. What’s funny is that science believes in all sorts of things without concrete proof, relying on theories and indirect evidence to prop themselves up until things can be definitively proved at a later date – if ever – once better technology has been invented or progress has been made. Many of the standard beliefs that scientifically-minded skeptics take for granted are actually still just theories lacking definitive evidence, though they’re repeated with enough frequency that they’re mistakenly assumed to be fact. Not having concrete evidence never stops them from saying they’ve got proof that a certain theory is fact. :D There’s a hypocritical bias going on here, obviously.
Aliens is one woo-woo subject where you’ll often times see this one used. No concrete proof of these non-human intelligences (at least, that the general public is aware of or has seen….) obviously means……they don’t exist. But does it? There’s certainly enough indirect evidence out there showing something going on under the radar of “normal” every day reality, for thousands of people, worldwide. (and I happen to have a coworker whose career Air Force father saw a dead “alien”(non-human) body sometime back in the 60’s-70s, as I recently learned. It’s indirect, but for me it’s still something.) So at what point does a skeptic acknowledge that? At the bare minimum it means some phenomenon is happening to all these people for them to be making these claims, which are in many instances, identical. But a Skeptic Gone Awry never acknowledges even that much. Again….slippery slope…..
Another closely tied in example is abductions. People who go around claiming they have been abducted, whether it’s by “aliens” or a case of MILABS often times are doing so for good reason – something is happening to them, and many times they have compelling, though indirect, evidence and proof for it. That’s part of the problem though – unless somebody out there can produce hidden camera footage of themselves actually being taken, in whatever way, then no skeptic or Skeptic Gone Awry is going to believe them. And no amount of indirect evidence on the matter will suffice…………so therefore it must mean the idea of abductions has been proven wrong. On the one hand I can understand the mindset behind this. “You’re getting taken? Alright, then set up a video camera or something. How hard can it be to get it on video?” But what the skeptics are unwilling to consider is that maybe the mere fact that we’re talking about “abductions” means the nature of the phenomenon doesn’t operate in the way normal physicality operates, so therefore straight forward normal proof isn’t going to be possible. The comeback to this of course is to say that abductees are just making up any old reason to explain why they can’t generate some definitive proof. (I know that when my boyfriend went out and bought a web cam to set up at night while we slept, that first night he installed it the power kept repeatedly going out, over and over and over and over, foiling our attempts to keep the camera on and running. What are the odds. So once again, the consideration of “statistical probability and odds” has to be taken into affect, as mentioned in point #3.) But see, to understand that we’re dealing with forces that can operate outside of normal constraints would require a Skeptic Gone Awry to believe in the nature of non-physical realms in the first place….and we know they refuse to hear or believe in that either, so……you know. And that’s where we get back to the indirect proof, which is often times quite compelling, and for anybody with their brain working it should be enough to show that something strange is going on here. So if we can admit that something strange is amiss, then why is it so hard to be willing to extrapolate from there? Especially if that’s what this indirect evidence is pointing to?
The answer ties back into the dangerous territory of “slippery slope.” To admit to any aspect of strangeness is to start sliding and slipping down a slope where eventually you may have to admit to the existence of things you don’t understand…..and don’t want to believe in, making one feel powerless and out of control. At this point I tend to suspect that even if an abductee could somehow generate direct video proof of being taken it wouldn’t be good enough. It would just be dismissed as a hoax, such is the need to maintain the status quo. So really, I think in many cases no amount of proof is good enough, and even the best proof is just dismissed as being a lie.
6. Refusal to consider any evidence. Then we have the worst offenders of all when it comes to evidence. The Skeptics Gone Awry who, no matter how much evidence somebody produces to show exactly why they believe something, won’t look, read or hear it. 9/11 is a biggie for this. There are researchers who have meticulously studied the events of 9/11 and compiled damning evidence that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the official version that we’ve been told is a lie. The conspiracy goes even deeper with 9/11, but at the bare minimum these researchers have proven that the official version is not what actually happened. That is….if a Skeptic Gone Awry would be willing to look. However, it’s obviously easier to just laugh it off and dismiss them as a “conspiracy wacko” then to actually expend any sort of effort researching the matter. The irony is that the “conspiracy wackos” who are labeled idiots, terrorist sympathizers, anti-American, the tinfoil hat brigade, etc. actually do their homework most times and can produce evidence, whereas the Skeptics Gone Awry who pride themselves on being so smart and sane, don’t even bother. Mmmm. Interesting how that one works.
Chemtrails is another biggie. Many skeptics are out in full force debunking the idea that the trails littering the skies are anything other than naturally occurring jet contrail emissions. And no amount of photographic evidence will convince them otherwise. There are endless pics showing these trails forming grid patterns and wheel spoke designs, among other formations, as well as evidence that shows the clear distinction between rapidly evaporating contrails and then lingering, polluting chemtrails, but it doesn’t matter….all of it is natural jet emissions across the board, with no distinctions whatsoever. “Nothing to see here folks, move it along!” As I noted in my weather anomalies write up, “We all know that jet liners just trying to get from Point A to Point B don’t sidetrack around forming wheel spoke designs and checkerboards/grids in the sky, which means who knows what’s really going on with somebody who would argue otherwise.” And as noted, “If chemtrails were somehow just the natural by-product of jet emissions, totally random and not purposeful in their application, then they should be there all the time, considering the frequency of passenger and military jet activity in the skies. Yet, they clearly only appear during select times. It is not a 24/7 occurrence.” For chemtrail debunkers however, no amount of photographic evidence or common sense facts gets through to them.
7. “Because something isn’t happening to me or my friends means it’s not happening to anybody else.” This one was on display earlier in Christine’s email and it’s one of the most laughable logical fallacies that a supposedly intelligent and rational person could commit. For someone to automatically dismiss something that happens to others merely because they themselves haven’t experienced it only shows the nature of one’s own narrow mind and limited life experiences. If we were to continue with this rationale it means we need to dismiss anything that anybody ever tells us providing we haven’t personally seen/experienced it for ourselves. It’s pretty extreme, but that’s what the rationale is behind this mindset.
One example of this from my own experiences concerns auras. Many people out there in the world claim that they can see the energies that surround living things, most notably known as “auras.” But even more people cannot see energies and auras (myself included) so, they reject the idea. I may not be able to see auras but just because I don’t have this particular skill doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. There is a simple test that would put this to rest once and for all and that is to get more than one person who can claim to see auras, and have them independently write down what they see in terms of aura/energies around a test subject, and see if their descriptions even remotely match up. Very simple. And I myself have actually experienced this test inadvertently, when over the years at least four different independent people who had nothing to personally gain from it confirmed the exact same things concerning my own energy, with matching descriptions. (It involved energy pouring off the top of my head, as well as being told that they’ve never seen anybody who gave off as much energy as I do.) At what point will a skeptic be willing to sit up and listen when multiple people can report the same matching descriptions of something independently? At what point can pride and ego be put aside to admit, Okay, I don’t have this talent, but it doesn’t mean others don’t or that it doesn’t exist, just because I can’t do it. For a die hard skeptic gone awry the answer is never, unfortunately, same as with all other cases.
And another great example of this in my own experiences concerns those infamous “reptilians.” I myself have never encountered a reptilian in my waking life that I’m consciously aware of. However…..enough other people out in the world apparently have, and have told their tales in detail, including people I’ve personally known or met. (And actually I do have some random indirect evidence of it in my own reality.) So it’s enough for me to be open to the possibility. There’s nothing wrong with being open to a possibility. That’s a shade of gray, a third choice option that goes beyond computer-like binary machine thinking. If you don’t know whether something is true or not simply because it’s not overtly reflected in your own experiences the wise thing to do is to just put it on the back burner. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. And if it is true then maybe more evidence will emerge over time to verify it. In fact, maybe more evidence already exists if one were to just poke around and put some effort into researching. But in the meantime knee jerk rejecting something due to sheer laziness or narrow mindedness only reflects poorly on the person doing the rejecting, not the person being rejected.
8. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater. This involves rejecting something completely because there is some sort of issue with the material, instead of taking the time to pick and sift. In a worse case situation it also involves the wholesale rejection of anything even remotely affiliated with material that has an issue. The end result of throwing the baby out with the bathwater is that a Skeptic Gone Awry usually then makes the mistake of latching onto the diametrically opposite (read: mainstream) theory.
One of the most common ways I’ve seen this used with Skeptics Gone Awry is when it comes to conspiracy, metaphysics or “truther” material that is not 100% accurate. For starters, no material out there is going to be 100% accurate, nobody has the full picture or understanding about what’s going on here in this reality and how everything works (not least of all the mainstreamer skeptics who’ve never researched anything and believe everything we’ve been told). Everybody’s coming from their own perspective, with their own set of personal experiences, and everybody’s going to have a bias or two, that’s only natural. And this can, and often does, result in errors. But does that mean you throw the entire shebang out? Ideally, no. It means you take the time to put in the effort to pick and sift. However there are cases where something is truly 100% wrong, and one knows it definitively because of personal experience and can prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt, or some particular material just doesn’t work for somebody (for me I’ve experienced this with really hokey channeling material, where there was just no way I was going to listen to it because it was clearly fake and off and not what I was looking for….) and in those cases then sure, toss it out if you so desire.
A related way we see this within skepticism is when things are lumped together, instead of treating things on their own individual merit. You see this with hoaxes. Because hoaxes have occurred (for instance with UFOs, images of ghosts, or crop circles, or anything) therefore it means all claims of UFOs, ghosts, crop circles, etc. are hoaxes and then instantly dismissed as such. To this day, any time crop circles are mentioned in a mainstream news article there is, without fail, the “conclusion” that “Doug and Dave” came forward in the 90s and claimed to be behind the crop circle phenomenon using boards and string. So therefore, any and all crop circles, no matter how many years later or how varied the locations or how complex in design, and no matter how much strange energy (detectable by instruments) is emitted by them, must all be hoaxes created with boards and string merely because “Doug and Dave” (whoever the hell that’s supposed to be) once made an unsubstantiated, unproven claim……………almost 20 years ago. The end. Lumped into the same category, then tossed out in one swoop.
Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But it apparently works on those who don’t want to exert the effort to pay close attention and apply brainpower.
9. Appeal to authority. A common manipulative tactic that’s used to steer people away from certain lines of thought. One popular way that’s employed when it comes to debunking conspiracies and woo-woo in particular is to cite so-called authority, academia, science and such as “the voice of reason” who obviously “know best.” Because we all know that authority, academia, science and the like are never wrong and know everything. ;) They’re infallible after all, and everything that could ever be learned or known is already known, right now as I type this.
This is obviously ludicrous. If science and academia knew everything already and were never wrong then there would never be scientific progress or scientific revolutions for that matter, which there obviously have been. But unfortunately this simpleton thinking actually does work on a lot of people, such is their ingrained lifetime of programming to trust in authority and the supposed wise leaders of academia. And “stuff” knows this, which is why it resorts to this tactic. Now, it doesn’t mean I’m saying that nobody in science and academia knows anything about anything. It just means be alert to this as a manipulative tactic that is used, and which attempts to steer people in certain directions within certain situations. It happens. A lot. So be mindful of it.
10. Straw Man and Red Herrings. In logic and debate, “straw man” involves building up and putting focus on a side argument and tearing that down…then proclaiming oneself a victor in the main debate. In reality all they’ve done is sidetrack the debate onto something that may only be marginally related to the topic at hand. They haven’t “won” anything. You only win when you can stay on topic and prove your points, while disproving your opponent’s. It’s a major fallacy, and when you actually see it spelled out in writing it can be hard to believe that people actually commit this error of logic, but unfortunately it runs rampant. Closely related to Straw Man is the Red Herring, which is when somebody diverts attention onto something else, instead of staying on point. My dissection of one of the skeptical articles to be found at Skepdic.com at the end of this piece includes examples of Straw Man and Red Herring in action. In fact that whole piece on debunking reincarnation is littered from top to bottom with all forms of straw man and red herrings, as the author side tracks around onto things that have nothing to do with reincarnation, as well as linking things together that have nothing to do with each other, then trying to use one to bring down the other.
So the next time you come across a skeptical tackling of an alternative or woo-woo subject, scrutinize it closely to see whether any of these fallacies of logic and thinking are being committed. They usually always are, to some extent, from what I’ve seen.
I also want to throw in a word about Skepticism Gone Awry vs. Religious Zealots, which are actually two sides of the same coin. The mindset of a skeptical zealot is no different from the mindset of a religious zealot. At first glance they seem diametrically opposed – one doesn’t believe in anything that the other does – but they’re actually “opposames,” as David Icke terms it. The former’s mind is already made up, closed off to the idea of hearing or reading any evidence that would contradict their programming towards the idea of a strictly physical, five sense reality where everything is exactly as academia tells us it is. The latter’s mind is also already made up, closed off to the idea of hearing or reading any evidence that would contradict their programming towards the idea of whatever particular religious beliefs they hold. Both sides have an obvious “NEED!” for their beliefs, which explains their refusal to consider any information that might contradict those beliefs. And neither one can be reasoned with or responds in a rational way. Hence, opposames.
Skeptics often times act in a very ironic way. Many of them try so hard to be rational and logical and yet manage to be completely irrational and illogical in the process (usually while committing multiple fallacies as they go along). One particular offense that’s quite popular is when the so-called “rational” explanations become increasingly more ludicrous than the woo-woo explanation. “Pounding a square peg into a round hole,” as it’s called. They’ll make it fit, dammit. :D
All of this doesn’t mean that I swallow whole any and all conspiracy, truth seeking, metaphysical and woo-woo material. I opened this piece discussing the need for discernment and balance as one navigates through life, and it can’t be reiterated enough. There’s nothing wrong with questioning something, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling doubtful when first hearing about something that’s far out of one’s personal everyday norms. That’s only natural. I still do this myself to this day, and approach all new things with a bit of a frowny, analytical questioning mindset, and sometimes straight up doubt. :D The only difference is, I’m at least willing to hear people out. I may be doubtful, but I’ll hear you out. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been initially doubtful about something I was hearing or reading for the first time, but so long as a person could plead their case well, then I was listening, and I totally changed my mind. I don’t understand the people who put up walls and blocks and go on lock down mode and freeze everything out.
So, what is going on with those Skeptics Gone Awry then who refuse to consider evidence, resort to laughing people off with ad hominem attacks, where no proof is good enough and where every logical fallacy in the book may be committed to avoid that slippery slope of having to admit to anything? There are multiple possibilities, which I covered in another write up entitled When Everybody’s on a Different Page. But in summary it’s everything from being flat out unintelligent, to ignorance, intense societal programming, and on to more nefarious possibilities including “empty pawns on call” ready to bark when needed, or paid servants of an agenda. With the last item you’ll probably find this most often on the ‘net, where people who are either paid or volunteering go around on message boards and news sites and blog commentary sections posting “Nothing to see here” dismissive skeptical debunking commentary and giving everybody a hard time. You’ll also see this in supposed “journalism” where a biased agenda is clearly being inserted into a story to steer readers away from believing in a certain line of conspiracy/woo-woo thought. Any real journalist writes from a neutral point of view, giving equal time to both sides of a story and without inserting in any type of bias. That’s rare to find nowadays in corporate owned media, who tend to side with the powers that be, desperately trying to maintain the status quo.
Just keep in mind that when running up against a Skeptic Gone Awry who can’t be reasoned with….then don’t. Don’t waste your time or bother, because chances are you’re dealing with something beyond the norm, and in my opinion, it’s not worth the energy. May as well go talk to a wall. Or spend your time on more productive pursuits. And I say this because over the years I’ve read enough commentary from newbie truthseekers and conspiracy types complaining about going rounds with these types (either in person, or on the ‘net) and expressing their frustration with it all. Newbies tend to indiscriminately waste their energy trying to convince everybody around them, including the die hard debunkers, of the truth of their beliefs. But keep in mind that if you’re truly comfortable and secure in your beliefs then ultimately you won’t feel a need to try to convince anybody of anything. So pick your battles wisely. If somebody seems receptive to “seed planting” then go for it, if you feel you must. If somebody is proving themselves to be a diehard skeptic, then why bother. Maybe someday they’ll change their mind, but in the meantime just drop a seed and move on. That’s all you can really do.
Good article that recently came out that I came across via Red Ice Creations, called Obsessive Debunking Disorder (ODD)? The author notes many of the same things I do in this article, but takes things a step further, attempting to explain what exactly is going wrong cognitively in the brains of these obsessive, hostile, arrogant debunkers gone awry.
Appendix – Skepdic.com sample article
The following is an article from the infamous skeptical website called Skepdic.com I first came across Skepdic back in late 2004, when writing my Biorhythms piece. (In fact it was Skepdic that I was referring to in that one biorhythms excerpt that appears earlier in this piece.) But I hadn’t been back there since. However after writing this article I googled it to see if it was still out there, found that it was, clicked over, then selected “supernatural” from the category list on the left, then scanned down the list of subjects and chose reincarnation. I selected that one since it’s a large topic, and I was curious how he would dissect something as big as that. I was soon struck by how awful the write up was. Very badly argued and put together. If you’re going to be the representative of skeptics you have to do better than whatever he’s done, that’s all I can say. ;D
Now, I don’t normally name/quote and target sources out there in Internet Land when they haven’t targeted me first, so I hesitated about whether or not to do this. It’s not my idea of a good time to start a “flame war” with another website. I’ve managed to exist on the internet since 2006 hanging out in my corner going relatively unnoticed, which is good. So I realize I’m opening myself up to who knows what in doing this. (oooooh! Controversy!!! weeeeeee!) However Skepdic has put his stuff out there challenging all sorts of woo-woo subjects, so in a way you could say it’s asking for a rebuttal of some sort. The whole goal of his website is to be one big challenge, after all. He takes personal feedback and commentary, of which he says he may post on the site, but he also mentions being very back logged on emails, so it’s no guarantee that one’s comments will be posted and heard. For that reason I figured, well, why not, I could post my rebuttal on my site. Then it’s guaranteed to be out there, even if only ten people read it. :D
And contrary to how my rebuttal may sound, I’m actually not invested in the idea of reincarnation, so it’s not coming from a place of being defensive. Again, I just picked that subject rather willy nilly. I could just as easily have selected a different category and sub topic. My research and life experience over the past decade has caused me to not fully believe in anything going on in this reality anymore. I just don’t fully trust any of it, for good reason, as people who’ve read my material will understand and be familiar with. And that would include reincarnation. I just love a good argument and picking things apart if they’re blatantly fallacious, but even more so if the author thinks they’re being so clever and intelligent. So in a way you could call it playing the Devil’s Advocate, for kicks. :D So, look at this rebuttal in that light. It’s not meant as some all out flame war, just a devil’s advocate rebuttal, using that write up as a good example of fallacious thinking and bad logic that one often – and ironically – finds with the supposed rational and intelligent skeptical community.
With that in mind, here is the article, with my commentary interspersed in brackets…..
“Reincarnation is the belief that when one dies, one’s body decomposes but something of oneself is reborn in another body. It is the belief that one has lived before and will live again in another body after death.”
[So far so good. These two opening sentences merely explain what reincarnation is typically understood to mean.]
“The bodies one passes in and out of need not be human. One may have been a Doberman in a past life, and one may be a mite or a carrot in a future life.”
[Now we encounter the first problems. ;) First off, not every believer of reincarnation believes this is the way things work. However the author is presenting things as if this is an across-the-board belief shared by every proponent of reincarnation, not bothering to differentiate or clarify. This lack of differentiation/clarification seems to be done very intentionally in order to bias the reader, as the snarky choices of “Doberman,” “mite” and “carrot” reveal. Using biased word choices means a skeptic’s argument is weak, and they’re having to resort to whatever manipulations they can grab onto to steer the reader. When your argument is solid and you actually have proof for your claims, and/or can definitively disprove your opponent, then you don’t need to resort to that.]
“Some tribes avoid eating certain animals because they believe that the souls of their ancestors dwell in those animals. A man could even become his own daughter by dying before she is born and then entering her body at birth.
[No real complaints here, as it’s more explaining what reincarnation is typically understood to be. However I do detect more snarky manipulation with the mention of how a man can become his own daughter. ;) ]
“The belief in past lives used to be mainly a belief found in Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, but now is a central tenet of much woo-woo like dianetics and channeling.”
[Yes, because reincarnation is a central tenet of the umbrella of New Age in general (which borrows heavily from all religions) of which dianetics, ie, Scientology, and channeling fall under.]
“In those ancient Eastern religions, reincarnation was not considered a good thing, but a bad thing. To achieve the state of ultimate bliss (nirvana) is to escape from the wheel of rebirth. In most, if not all, ancient religions with a belief in reincarnation, the soul entering a body is seen as a metaphysical demotion, a sullying and impure rite of passage.”
[Nothing really to critique here as the author is back to merely explaining things. There is the insertion of “woo-woo” to describe Dianetics and channeling, but even I use that term humorously, and even I think the alternative history beliefs of Scientology are woo-woo, and I also shake my head at so much of what passes for channeling out there. So, I can’t complain. ;D]
“In New Age religions, however, being born again seems to be a kind of perverse goal. Prepare yourself in this life for who or what you want to come back as in the next life.”
[Any sources that could be cited or quoted here to back up what the author is saying? I haven’t studied up in-depth on every aspect of New Age myself, but in the material I have come across so far I can’t say that I’ve ever seen what the author is claiming here, about reincarnation being some perverse goal of the New Age. Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if some group(s) somewhere think this, but does it mean it’s a goal for all New Age practioners? No. That’s a generalization. If anything it tends to be the exact opposite from what I’ve seen. Reincarnation usually is viewed as “doing time” because on some level you screwed up and now you’re forced to come back. Many New Agers I’ve encountered have this penchant towards pining away for a reality/world other than this one, some even going as far as to claim that they’re alien souls in human bodies who feel out of place here, and who would love nothing more than to get off the reincarnation round and round and get out of Dodge, ASAP. Therefore cited sources – and more importantly, differentiation/clarification – would be helpful for an eyebrow raising claim such as this.]
“Belief in past lives also opens the door for New Age therapies such as past life regression therapy, which seeks the causes of today’s psychological problems in the experiences of previous lives.
“L. Ron Hubbard, author of Dianetics and the founder of Scientology, introduced his own version of reincarnation into his new religion. According to Hubbard, past lives need auditing to get at the root of one’s “troubles.” He also claims that “Dianetics gave impetus to Bridey Murphy” and that some scientologists have been dogs and other animals in previous lives (“A Note on Past Lives” in The Rediscovery of the Human Soul). According to Hubbard, “It has only been in Scientology that the mechanics of death have been thoroughly understood.” What happens in death is this: the Thetan (spirit) finds itself without a body (which has died) and then it goes looking for a new body. Thetans “will hang around people. They will see a woman who is pregnant and follow her down the street.” Then, the Thetan will slip into the newborn “usually…two or three minutes after the delivery of a child from the mother. A Thetan usually picks it up about the time the baby takes its first gasp.” How Hubbard knows this is never revealed.”
[On the one hand I can understand what the author is doing here – He’s continuing in his quest to explain not only what reincarnation is, but what some of the proponents of reincarnation believe about the subject. However……This excerpt is strongly related to a “straw man.” It’s side tracking too much onto what Dianetics/Scientology believes about the subject, and for a specific, manipulative reason…..because the historical beliefs of Scientology are REALLY out there, even for people who are into the weird and the woo-woo. L. Ron’s material is therefore an easy target to go after. Or rather, side track onto, in order to make the subject of reincarnation as a whole look ludicrous. Put the focus on L. Ron’s beliefs………..but meanwhile, don’t focus too much on your every day Buddhist, middle ground “New Ager,” etc. who may have more sensible ideas about the subject.]
“Channeling, like past life regression, is distinct from reincarnation, even though it is based on the same essential concept: death does not put an end to the entirety of one’s being.”
[The author even admits that channeling is “distinct from reincarnation”…..so if it’s “distinct” from reincarnation, which is supposed to be the article’s focus, then why side track onto it? Again, we’re looking at something related to a straw man. More off topic diversion.]
“In classical reincarnation, something of the consciousness of the deceased somehow enters a new body but as that body grows only one unified consciousness persists through time.”
[I had a hard time understanding what the author was saying here and had to re-read this particular sentence multiple times. And I still don’t quite get what he’s saying to be honest. It’s the second half of the sentence and how that relates to the first half, that I’m not getting.]
“Channeling might be called temporary intermittent past life invasion because there is a coming and going of the past life entity, which always remains distinct from the present self-conscious being. For example, JZ Knight claims that in 1977 the spirit of a Cro-Magnon warrior who once lived in Atlantis took over her body in order to pass on bits of wisdom he’d picked up over the centuries.”
[JZ Knight may have channeled some past life entity over 30 years ago, but is this the normal mode of operations in channeling? You know, since we’re going to be side tracking onto the subject of channeling and all? ;) No. I don’t doubt there must be some channeling out there besides JZ’s that also involves a “past life entity” however, it’s in my own personal research experience that most channeled entities are claiming to be alien intelligences, or higher evolved entities of some sort, or just general human souls and spirits. But not entities specifically from the past, per se.]
“Knight seems to be carrying on the work of Jane Roberts and Robert Butts, who in 1972 hit the market with Seth Speaks. Knight, Roberts, and Butts are indebted to Edgar Cayce, who claimed to be in touch with many of his past lives.”
[What does the channeler JZ Knight carrying on the work of Jane Roberts and Robert Butts have anything to do with disproving whether reincarnation is a valid belief system? How has that sentence advanced the skeptical argument against reincarnation? Ah but see, the author goes on to explain that all three people are indebted to Edgar Cayce….who discussed past lives. Suddenly it’s all clear now……right?? o_O This is more illogical, off topic diversion.]
“One would think that channeling might muck things up a bit.”
[Channeling could indeed muck things up a bit……if channeling was exclusively linked to reincarnation in the first place, which it isn’t. Two separate subjects being linked together, and using one to bring down the other.]
“After all, if various spirits from the past can enter any body at any time without destroying the present person, it is possible that when one remembers a past life it is actually someone else’s life one is remembering.”
[If that was how channeling actually worked to begin with. Which it doesn’t. Channeling isn’t about entities (be it from the past, future, or any period or location) entering into “any” body at “any time.” Trance channeling – which is what JZ Knight and Jane Roberts were doing, since he wants to use them as examples – involves the designated host going into a trance state, and then willingly allowing the entity(ies) to take over their body. Not just some entity jumping into “ANY” body at “ANY” time. With that in mind it negates whatever point the author thought they were making here. And I don’t say this to defend the material of JZ Knight (or Jane Roberts). I myself am not a fan of JZ Knight’s material and don’t partake in her stuff. I’m merely correcting the misinformation and fallacies on display here, not defending the channelers themselves.]
“From a philosophical point of view, reincarnation poses some interesting problems. What is it that is reincarnated? Presumably, it is the soul that is reincarnated, but what is the soul? A disembodied consciousness?”
[Those are indeed interesting philosophical questions….but they are born out of previous incorrect information and fallacies, hence the reference to “disembodied consciousness.” Reincarnation doesn’t actually pose any problems…..if one were to stick to the subject at hand, instead of sidetracking onto channeling. It’s a very straightforward concept. It’s the idea that there is a soul, and that soul lives on after death, coming back into another body. The end. Nothing complicated or problematic about it.]
“Reincarnation does seem to offer an explanation for some strange phenomena such as the ability of some people to regress to a past life under hypnosis. Also, we might explain child prodigies by claiming that unlike most cases of reincarnation where the soul has to more or less start from scratch, the child prodigy somehow gets a soul with great carryover from a previous life, giving it a decided advantage over the rest of us.”
[That’s good that the author is willing to get into that. :D So, no complaints here.]
“Reincarnation could explain why bad things happen to good people and why good things happen to bad people: they are being rewarded or punished for actions in past lives (karma).”
[Slight issue with this – I myself don’t believe that bad things happening to good people and vice versa always has to do with the idea of “karma” (in fact, I’ve challenged some common beliefs concerning karma in past write ups on my site, but won’t side track onto it here) and I don’t feel that “karma” as it’s typically understood is a “reward and punishment system.” Many, if not most, believers of karma do believe this though, which is where the author got that from, so I can’t blame him for saying that.]
“One could explain déjà vu experiences by claiming that they are memories of past lives.”
[One could, and I recognize what the author is talking about with this, however that’s not necessarily what déjà vu is. Most déjà vus that I’ve heard about in my research (or experienced for myself) seem to involve a person just going about their day-to-day life, then suddenly being hit with the feeling that they’ve done this before, and are repeating themselves in some way. The feeling that “This has already happened.” What the author is describing is a person visiting a place they’ve never been and feeling like they’ve been there before, maybe even recognizing landmarks, and knowing their way around even though it’s supposed to be the first time the person has ever been there. That’s not déjà vu in the traditional sense. That could be described as a soul memory of some sort. Two different concepts, being mixed up together.]
“Dreams could be interpreted as a kind of soul travel and soul memory.”
[They could….but that’s certainly not the only aspect of dreams. Not sure why this was thrown in there. This is the point in the article where things start getting really sloppy and rushed, in my opinion, jumping all over the place.]
“However, past life regression and déjà vu experiences are best explained as the recalling of events from this life, not some past life.”
[How would a “past life” regression be best explained as the recalling of events from this life? The very nature of it being “past life” means it’s from…….the past. Read or listen to any past life regression session and you’ll find people vividly describing a life….from the past, with everything that goes with it from historical happenings, clothes styles and general culture, daily lifestyle happenings, slang/vernacular, and so on. And as already noted, the correct interpretation of déjà vus – not soul memories, which the author was mistakenly describing – does involve events in the present life. So, there’s actually no argument there.]
“Dreams and child prodigies are best explained in terms of brain structures and genetically inheritable traits and processes.”
[Again, who said that all dreams have to do with soul travel and past lives? The author did. Nobody else did. Most dreams are the brain’s way of processing all those events and issues that make up our everyday lives. All sorts of various things can happen to a person while they’re sleeping, maybe even including past life connections, but that’s not the only purpose of dreams. So this is a fallacious point.]
“And since bad things also happen to bad people and good things also happen to good people, the most reasonable belief is that there is no design to the distribution of good and bad happening to people.”
[Arguing against the idea of karma does not disprove the idea of reincarnation. They are intertwined, yet separate, subjects. Karma, according to those who believe in the traditional definition of it, manifests not just from things we may have done in past lives, but also from things we’re doing in our current life. And reincarnation is the recycling of a soul back into a body, which may or may not have to do with karma. A person could have squeaky clean karma but feel like they’re not done experiencing physicality, or that there’s still a job they have to do. And then supposedly there are those souls who are reincarnating because they have karma to clear up. Different possibilities for two intertwined, yet separate, subjects. Notice how quickly the author is trying “wrap things up” here, but at the expense of intelligent reasoning. Very rushed and sloppy.]
“Stories, especially stories from children, that claim knowledge of a past life, abound. One collector of such stories was the psychiatrist Ian Stevenson, who made a weak case that the stories offered scientific evidence for reincarnation.”
[Ian Stevenson made a weak case? Okay, then what was it? I’ve never heard of Ian Stevenson, but I’m not just going to take the author’s word for it that he made a weak case and then move on, like, “Oh, okay, I believe you, I don’t need to do my own research and think for myself.” And neither will any halfway intelligent reader. The subject of children’s past life recall is one of the most compelling cases for reincarnation out there, because very young children haven’t yet been subjected to the programming or media influences that adults have. I’m not saying it definitively proves anything, but it certainly shows that something anomalous is amiss when children start telling people about a life in another body, in another place, and maybe even speaking in another language, or in an accent not of their region, having knowledge that they shouldn’t yet have, with no explainable source for it. And especially when the information they’re providing can be verified. (it could also be a case of entity attachments, but wait, that’s woo-woo too, right? ;D ) It’s probably because the argument is so compelling that the author skips right over this, in my opinion. He makes mention of it to say that he at least addressed it…..but he doesn’t take any serious consideration of it, and in fact goes out of his way to marginalize it. “Nothing to see here folks, move it along!” ]
“Finally, since there is no way to tell the difference between a baby with a soul that will go to heaven or hell, a baby with a soul that has been around before in other bodies, and a baby with no soul at all, it follows that the idea of a soul adds nothing to our concept of a human being.”
[This sentence is yet another that I found myself having to re-read multiple times to figure out what his point was and where he was trying to go, since he’s jumping around and his ideas are not segueing up. Is he arguing against the idea of a soul, or against the idea of reincarnation? It’s a little confusing. If he wanted to argue against the idea of a soul then the article should have been set up differently, and been more organized and focused, first outlining why he can prove there’s no soul and then therefore, why he can prove there’s no such thing as reincarnation. And actually I would argue that the idea of a soul does add something to our concept of a human being. Many people when trying to describe the attributes of somebody who is behaving in sociopathic/psychopathic ways for instance will use such phrases as “The lights are on but nobody’s home…” “deadened eyes” or “They’re not all there…” or the blatant “They’re soulless” or “they’re not human.” They’re empty…missing something…something that would make them more “human”….and that something is understood to connect to what? A soul. Some sort of spark that others have, but which they’re lacking.]
“Applying Occam’s razor, both the idea of reincarnation and the idea of an immortal soul that will go to heaven or hell are equally unnecessary.”
[And….that’s the author’s grand conclusion? That’s the best they could do? It was as if by the end of the piece the author wasn’t even trying anymore, just rushing to get to the end like he was writing this at 4 in the morning or something. As mentioned earlier, this debunking piece just goes around and around in circles, but ultimately concludes and proves nothing at all. Reincarnation may be false, but this write up is not able to prove that in any intelligent way. One would have to do quite a bit better than this article if they were going to tackle the subject. And just as important, skeptics need to make sure that they’ve done the research and know what they’re talking about before they set out to write an article that debunks a subject. They should do their homework first. The author of this article did not seem to fully understand what deja vu is, how channeling works, or even what the nature of dreams are.]
In summary, this article displayed all of these fallacies of logic and faulty “thinking” and debating tactics:
- Overall lack of focus/direction of the piece; author spins wildly around instead of just outlining what reincarnation is, and then providing clear and definitive proof for why it’s not valid;
- Relying on biased word choices to manipulate the reader due to weak argument that can’t stand on its own two feet;
- Lack of sources cited for claims being made;
- Lumping everybody together in the same group with no differentiations or clarifications made; making generalizations;
- Cherry picking evidence – focusing on material that serves to make the subject of reincarnation look silly while skipping over and/or marginalizing) sensible or compelling material and sources;
- Linking unrelated subjects together and using one to bring down the other;
- Misunderstanding concepts and then basing arguments on that misunderstood/incorrect information;
- Use of straw man, and the tendency towards diversion/side tracking onto red herring material that the author knows will make the subject look bad.