Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Bit Disappointed in CSICOP - The Difference Between God and UFOs

I know I am going to catch some grief from rationalists and skeptics, but I am disappointed with CSICOP. Normally, I find their articles quite interesting and informative. I admit, a few of their writers have adopted the questionable "the matter is settled" position on AGW, which seems, if anything, contrary to a truly skeptical position (is didactic belief that a matter can never be questioned a "skeptical" position?), but today they truly turned me off by adopting an openly atheistic position in their essay "Why do people believe in gods? And ghosts, angels, demons ,faeries, goblins and other conspiracies?"

I know many skeptics adopt a similar position, that skepticism/rationalism demands atheism, but I would argue there is a great difference between belief in God and belief in ghosts, and, while one is properly the subject of skeptical inquiry, the other is a matter beyond purely rational inquiry and thus a skeptic is free to hold any position, as it is not a falsifiable position. (See "Atheism's Circular Reasoning")

Allow me to start by pointing out the obvious, that a belief in ghosts, for example, is different from a belief in the survival of the soul after death. And, more important, that this difference helps to point out the argument I am making. Ghosts, you see, are objects within this reality, and something that can be proved to exist. If I see a transparent, insubstantial form, and can show there is no rational material cause, and farther can associate it with some deceased individual, I have made a strong case for ghosts. On the other hand, if I can take allegations of such entities and show there are other explanations, or they are not associated with individuals no deceased, I have done a good job of disproving specific claims. Though, as with all things material, proving absolutely something does not exist is logically impossible -- unless they are definitionally impossible, such as "liquid ice" -- but I can show that every supposed proof is false, making a strong case they most likely do not exist.

On the other hand, survival after death is not directly provable. Individuals can offer some testimony that they had certain experiences when clinically dead, and perhaps some will take similarities between those experiences as proof they are accurate, but,  such evidence can be explained as delusions shaped by cultural assumptions, as the result of physiological changes during the process of death and so on. However, neither argument means much. Even if "near death experiences" are explained away, it says nothing about the survival of a soul. The existence of the soul, the existence of an afterlife, all are not subject to proof, and thus are not subject to disproof, as they exist beyond the physical realm, and thus are not the proper subject of rational inquiry, and also, as a result, are not the proper subject of skeptical inquiry, since they can never be shown to be true or false.

Well, they will be proven true or false for all of us, exactly once, but sadly we will each be unable to convey that information back to those we leave behind, regardless of which way it goes.

Similarly, the existence of God is beyond rational inquiry. The only evidence one can experience of God is direct first hand experience, which is routinely dismissed as delusion, or lies. Even when such experience is attested by multiple witnesses it is dismissed as mass hypnosis or mass delusion, and thus, there is no way one can successfully prove or disprove God. Similarly, since God is, by definition, a volitional being, the fact that he does or does not respond to prayers, or that ostensibly good people do not prosper relative to evil shows nothing, since God is not an impersonal process bound to mechanistic responses. In short, there is no way to prove or disprove God (other than the aforementioned first hand experience, though, again, it is possible to explain away, making it unsatisfactory as proof for any but the one undergoing the experience), and thus, it is not the proper field for scientific or rational inquiry.

Which is why I argue it is also not the proper subject of inquiry for supposed skeptics. Conspiracy theories, ghosts, goblins and so on, all exist within material reality and are subject to proof, all can be falsified, and thus they are the proper subject matter for skeptics. On the other hand, God, whatever one's belief, is not subject to proof, and thus is not the proper subject matter for skeptical inquiry. And thus, for supposed skeptics to push an atheist position is to show bias, rather than being truly sketpical. (Not that this has not happened before. Cf "Skeptics? Really? I Beg to Differ", "Debunking 'Debunking Global Cooling'", "Certainty and Pop Science".)

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