So where's the proof?

Perpetual motion machines, psychic power, space aliens among us, dowsing, N-rays, polywater, cold fusion, telepathy, levitation, anti-gravity, gods and goddesses, Men In Black, Satanic rituals and conspiracies, demonic possessions, haunted houses, Bigfoot, teleportation, spirit realms, crystal power, faith healing and praying at deities, mystical magical medical 'breakthroughs,' Creationism, spoon bending, global floods, repressed memories, lost continents, faster than light travel, life after death, and the Trickle Down Effect... these days it seems everyone's got a pet belief they pamper, fertilize, and water.

And yet no believer has any evidence for their pet beliefs. When asked for evidence the response is usually mystifying silence or accusations that those who are asking are "close minded" (ignoring the fact that asking for evidence in the first place negates any such accusations.)

When pressed the True Believer will usually issue reams and reams of illiterate, ranting run-on sentences which, if one bothers to expend a great deal of energy deciphering, ends up being nothing more than a public exhibition of the individual's lack of science education and dogmatic adherence to unfounded, unevidenced, and undependable religious beliefs.

Here at The Skeptic Tank we receive a great deal of crackpot mail from a broad spectrum of individuals who believe in a great many lunatic things. Each and every one of them are convinced that their pet beliefs are obvious and easily evidenced -- how dare I or anyone else question the validity of the obvious?!

Most crackpot mail is not worth the effort to pick through. The degree of illiteracy and lack of sentence breaks makes the effort too great for any decoding and interpretation. A small percentage, however, is at least readable and, let me tell you, it evidences a sad state of affairs about the quality of education around the world today.

Some people don't seem to know anything about plate tectonics -- or at least they pretend not to accept continental drift. This lack of acceptance is motivated by the religious belief that fossils on top of high mountains were deposited by a world-wide global flood, all evidence of which is being suppressed by vague, undefined, un-named "scientists."

Some people don't seem to know even the simplest of physical laws. When a believer in levitation, anti-gravity, or perpetual motion machines launches into an "explanation" of their pretend process, they ignore the existence of energy being applied to their pet devices, they forget that there is a Sun in the sky, they ignore errors in their computations, they invent unstable theories to explain phenomena which simply don't exist.

Believers in dowsing often demand that vague, undefined, unspecified "tests" have proven dowsing works -- and when pressed for specifics, the claimant always mysteriously disappears. When references for actual scientific tests are provided with the findings that dowsing simply works as well as flipping a coin, the claimant always shuts up -- a few with a parting resentment-filled threat about how "some day" us evil scientist types will get our comeuppance. Some day. Then we'll see, by the gods of Atlantis.

Many of the most ignorant people claim to have evidence for the existence of their deity constructs and yet when pressed for examples of such evidence, they always either fall mysteriously silent else offer fragments of their paper mythologies and religious beliefs all the while demanding that "science" has proven the mythologies an accurate representation of historic events. (All the while ignoring the fact that their "evidence" is equal to every other deity construct they would not care to name.)

And yet they all fail. Upon investigation we find that the claimant is unthinkingly mouthing off something they were told or something they read. If the claimant makes the mistake of offering references, they always prove to be quoting from individuals who hold no discernible credentials in the fields within which they are pontificating. They end up being mathematicians, hydraulic engineers, social workers, or postal employees speaking endlessly about biology or archaeological digs they've never really been to, quoting journals which don't exist or are nothing but religious tracts lacking in peer review. Often the references they post end up being totally non-existent, fictional people.

An example of this was a claimant who demanded that a great deal of the classical Christian mythologies had been proven as accurate history. When pressed, two names were offered -- two names taken as the authors of a religious tract or publication. Both were said to be world- renowned archaeologists with a Ph.D. and academic publications to their credit.

When I searched archaeological organizations, clubs, groups, and journals, I found that the two names were phonies. The claimant had been lied to and, swallowing the lies, went on to perpetuate the lies. When I presented my findings to the claimant, a sullen and resentful silence was all anybody heard. (Which is sad as I rarely intend for claimants to fall silent; I would rather they learn from their debunking just as the rest of us learn from our own mistakes.)

What I've found over the past six years is that even the minimalist amount of effort to verify a paranormalists claims has always debunked the claimant. Always! I have found that no paranormal claim has ever been scientifically verified. Proper controls always negate a believed-in phenomena or claim. Always! If there comes a time when any paranormal phenomena becomes testable and verified, it will be a first and I, like all other skeptics, will accept the validity of same. It's never happened, however, and we're not about to hold our collective breaths waiting.

So where's the proof?

Why do True Believers most often fail to provide evidence for or even specifics about their claims? Why is it we all get to hear endlessly about claims of the paranormal and yet no scientific evidence or research supporting their claims is ever offered for proof?

Why are there millions of dollars available from educational organizations to any self-professed "psychic" who can demonstrate their abilities in front of magicians, conjurers, and scientists? James Randi's foundation has well over one million dollars alone for anyone to take... and yet no one wants it for some mysterious reason.

Why do believers in deities feel the need to lie about even the most simplest of mundane things when they're so easily caught and the truth so easily exposed for all to see? They know evolution is a directly observed phenomena; they know that there are many examples of speciation having taken place within the lifetimes of humans; they know that the fossil record is further evidence -- and yet they cast-side all reason to pretend otherwise.

It's because True Believers don't care about the truth. They know that they're full of what-else so they won't take tests, won't accept challenges, won't provide testable, verifiable, falsifiable specifics; won't do anything which will nudge them from that comfortable self-imposed ignorance. And they get angry and resentful when someone forces them to try to defend their already-lost position.

Where's the proof? There is none: And True Believers know it.

Who cares what True Believers think?

The mail here at The Skeptic Tank (at least the mail that is readable) is evenly divided between educated academic types who do research on a broad variety of subjects and between True Believers. Whereas the academics usually always express support for the effort to debunk claims of the paranormal and the effort to reduce willful ignorance and superstition, the True Believer will often express mock bewilderment at why debunking paranormal claims is even important.

Academics and other educated people understand that the quality of life within a society is dictated by the beliefs, prejudices, and preconceived notions of the individuals within said society. As the year 2,000 approaches, the lunacy which affects us all gets steadily worse as the believers in wide venues of the paranormal seek to associate their pet occultism and superstitions with the coming of the new millennium (never mind the fact that the Gregorian calendar is only one of several different year-dating methods employed by humans and that the Gregorian calendar is a minority among the world's population.)

In the United States we have an untold number of "psychic hotlines" where the gullible and the ignorant may spend their money and be told comfortable lies they're willing to pay to hear. We are a society suffering greatly under the oppression of religious organizations. The students leaving our public schools are illiterate, unwilling to read, spell, or perform even the simplest of mathematical calculations. Alpha Male Primate behavior rules the streets where even false perceptions of slights can often result in the murder of innocent people, guilty only of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And belief in the paranormal is the pivotal pinion point of all of it. The inability to think critically -- or, even more accurate, the inability to discover why critical thinking is even desirable over occult thinking -- is the cause for a great percentage of the woe that a society experiences. The lack of desire to learn the truth about things keeps the populace ignorant. And when the ignorant have children and are emotionally and socially incapable of imparting a quality education upon them, the family falls apart and the perpetuation of the problem continues unabated.

Dark Ages are darkest when the populace is the most pious and religious. The height of tyranny is attained when religious beliefs are at their highest.

We get television pseudo-documentaries such as Sightings, the Discovery of Noah's Ark, the Mysterious Origins of Man, Mysteries of the Bible, and no end of bogus tripe -- all of it touted as scientific fact when in fact even the most simplest of investigative research proves it's all crap and unfounded belief.

We have tax money being spent to investigate flying saucers, psychic powers, deity sightings, huge conspiracies... We have thousands of families torn apart by unscientific claims of repressed memories and of "Satanic" rituals... we have junk science in the public justice system where even irrefutable DNA evidence is denied as mere opinion...

All of it craps on society. All of it harms and degrades the quality of life for untold millions of us. And all of it is avoidable.

The "New" Thing

Lately I've begun to notice that claimants have started to demand that they don't need to provide evidence for their claims. Routinely they demand that their beliefs are "self evident" and that anyone who can't see the "truth" of the matter is "close minded." If something doesn't work for a skeptic it's because they don't believe it'll work and thus it's the fault of the skeptic, not the claimant. Either they're not praying at the right deities or not praying hard enough or they're not relaxed enough or "open" to the paranormal belief. If the crystal doesn't cure one of a bad back, it's because they just don't believe.

Neither cop-outs are effective. When a claimant makes a demand which includes the unaffected, they must provide evidence else offer a disclaimer which excludes the unaffected. If the claimant demands that everyone is a "sinner," they must provide evidence for that claim otherwise either retract the claim or modify it to exclude those who don't believe in the occult superstition. And paper mythologies won't do; that's evidence that the claimant believes, not that what the claimant believes is true.

When a claimant demands that the paranormal trick fails because the skeptic is "close minded" or must first believe, the claimant must provide an explanation on the mechanics behind the requirement for prior belief. If the claimant demands that all people born on August 17'th are Leos and that Leos are generally aggressive and dominate a group, the claimant must provide a scientifically testable mechanism which would explain how the position of planets upon someone's birth reflect upon that someone. The claimant must also explain why most Leos don't fit the behavioral attributes astrologers associate to Leos.

Ignorant cop-outs must not be permitted. All must be questioned.

Don't you have anything constructive to say?

Another thing we see from time to time here at The Skeptic Tank is the complaint that debunking deeply-held, highly-cherished beliefs detracts from people's quality of life, removing from them the comfort of their rose-colored beliefs, providing nothing in return.

I doubt it. The real world is far more mysterious and exciting a place to have to invent nonsense to put into it. We have the supreme beauty of biological conglomerates, ranging from the fascinating phenomena of self-replicating molecular arrangements to the evolutional complexity and specialization of living organs.

We have super nova which explode in titanic violence casting shells of dense materials into the void at amazing speeds.

We have sent several spacecraft to Mars and even set a 22-pound solar- powered vehicle to drive around!

There is beauty in both observing and understanding the fluid dynamics which shape cloud formations.

There is beauty in understanding the physics behind particle annihilation and creation/transmutation.

There is magic and wonder in contemplating hypergravitational black holes, quasars, pulsars, nebula, binary star systems, red giants and white dwarfs.

There is so much beauty and wonder in the real world that it is stupid to manufacture insane nonsense simply because one wants to and for greed and because it makes one feel good.

It would be nice to be able to pretend that the stars and planets control our destiny; that there are forces beyond our control upon which we may divest ourselves of responsibility for our own failures and our own actions. There is comfort in pretending to know the future or to pretend that one won't really have to die like everyone else just because one believes in deity constructs. But there is far more comfort in science and technology, without which our populations would not be supportable, our water undrinkable, our jobs unreachable, our diseases crippling and incurable. Superstitious beliefs don't feed people, science does.

Yes, science and technology have their evil sides just as any tool has yet no other methodology has the history or even the ability to come close to the successes and benefits of science and technology. Things believed in have no power to enrich humanity's lot -- science does and has; and scientific method will continue to enrich us all even though at times it seems we're destined to destroy ourselves.

If one suggests that the wonder of the real world isn't enough, the one simply hasn't looked or understood the spectacular wonders that reason, truth, and reality has to offer.

If one suggests that belief in the occult, gods, and the plethora of other superstitions is anything but unhealthy and historically evil, then the one has no knowledge of the history of humanity's ignorance.

Other traditional cop-outs

A couple of other traditional cop-outs that we get here at The Skeptic Tank are the claims that nothing is known for certain with scientific method and that "some day" technology will prove the impossibility of things today to be possible in the future.

Both claims are wrong.

A great many natural phenomena are known certainties. It is a myth that scientific method can only derive the closest approximation of truth possible but that Truth can't be attained. Truth is obtained when there is so much evidence to back a theory that it becomes an absurdity to not accept the evidence or the phenomena explained by the evidence. The term "absurdity" is an important one to understand and looking up the contemporary usage of the term in the dictionary should go some distance toward understanding why uncertainty in science is a myth. Many things are scientific certainties backed by unavoidable truths which have been tested to exhaustion.

We're not talking Quantum uncertainties, by the way... The Heisenburg Uncertainty Principle and the Copenhagen Interpretation of 1927 have nothing to do with the macro world. Schrodinger's Cat can't translate into the realm of the macro world no matter what Quantum device you can imagine to contrive. We live in a Newtonian world, not a relativistic, Einsteinian world or a Quantum one. Your triangle has three sides with 120 degree angles no matter how much you accept Quantum Weirdness.

This complaint about how science doesn't deal in absolute truths is often used as an excuse to believe in claims which purport to offer the True Believer certainty in an uncertain world. According to those who find complaint with a perceived uncertainty, even though science tells us that a body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force, there remains the possibility -- however slight -- that the law is wrong.

Nonsense! It is an absurdity to suggest that for no reason at all a planet will wobble -- if only for an instant -- due to the temporary suspension of one of the most tested natural laws known to science.

And as for the other cop out? This one often comes up when claimants demand that faster than light travel or anti-gravity will "some day" be possible. "After all," they claim, "people said heavier than air aircraft would never fly." Many will also say, "They also believed that no one could fly faster than sound, too!"

This fallacy is the typical confusion of technological difficulties with physical impossibilities. Damn few people claimed that heavier-than-air flight wasn't possible simply because most people were capable of observing winged flight in animals and projecting the possibility to mankind. Where there were technological difficulties, there was skepticism in ever resolving them, not problems in overcoming physical laws. Kites (of the traditional rhombus shape) fly due to a differential in air pressure between the top half and the bottom half, the bottom half being given greater surface area and thus greater lift than the top half. The principles of heavier-than-air flight have been known for centuries and kites reflect that knowledge.

The difficulty of heavier-than-air flight started with a materials problem and the lack of a gasoline engine light enough and powerful enough to provide any kind of sustainable thrust.

The difficulty in surpassing the speed of sound was likewise a difficulty having to do with materials, not laws of physics. No one in aerospace ever believed that there were physical laws preventing speeds greater than sound; it was buffeting, vibration, and uneven heating of flight surfaces and aerodynamic surfaces which was the problem. Even with our contemporary materials if a missile's shape is altered slightly in high- speed flight it is easily destroyed.

The ability to exceed the speed of light, however, is a difficulty having to do with the laws of physics, not with a failing of today's technology. There are a few things which appear to exceed the speed of light: There is a phenomena known as "tunneling" and then there is synchronotron radiation emitted by rotating hypergravitational black holes. These exceptions, however, are not true exceptions to the law; nothing can travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum. Tunneling requires a boundary layer to overcome and synchronotron radiation doesn't appear to exist in vacuum.

This physical law difficulty deals with the inertia of a massful particle reaching infinity as it approaches the speed of light. With infinite resistance to acceleration, it would take an infinite amount of push to acquire more speed. Obtainable speeds, however, are 99.999999 etc. percent of the speed of light yet nothing is capable of going faster. (Even at that speed the energy required to reach and sustain it is truly huge. Erosion would be a problem as would usually innocent particles being boosted into the deadly gammas.)

Another piece of this myth is anti-gravity. The first highly-published anti-gravity yarn was H. G. Well's A Trip to the Moon. In this story the spaceship contains a material which shields it from the gravity wavicles of the Earth and, later, the Moon when it comes time to take off again.

This story is unworkable for the same reasons that traveling faster than the speed of light is: physical laws simply prevent it; technology doesn't factor into the equation.

In order for anti-gravity to work there would need to be a particle which negates or transmutates the graviton gluon. One can envision such a particle... gravity works (just as all forces work) through the exchange of gluons. The electromagnetic gluon is the photon -- a bundle of light. Gravitation is also caused by the exchange of a gluon -- the graviton and the gravitrino.

For anti-gravity to work there would need to be another particle which carries the force capable of negating or transmuting the particles which carry the gravitational force. If, for example, an anti-gravity particle could cause a gravity particle to split into a hadron and a Pi-Meson, an anti-gravity drive would expel neutrons and protons and Pi-Mesons and gobble-up gravitons and gravitrinos.

But the fact is that there are no particles capable of negating the gravitational gluon. Gravity, in fact, works accumulatively with no mechanism at all provided for negating it. You can build spaces which have equal gravitational pull from any number of directions yet one can't negate gravity.

And technology has nothing to do with it. It's not a conspiracy.

Have you no soul?!

Skeptics have often been accused of having no "soul." And by this the claimant is talking about the ability to enjoy a good yarn; to suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy science fiction and play pretend for just a while.

Every single skeptic I know is a rabid Star Trek fan, reads Heinlein as much as Stephen Hawking, watches James Bond wipe SMERSH, and enjoy a good yarn. Even the FOX Television Network show The X-Files is enjoyed by most of the skeptics I know.

There's no reason for us to believe something to get carried away with the story. Though many people don't believe in ghosts Poltergeist still has the ability to scare us, Star Trek still has the ability to make us dream and hope for a bright future. Many of my atheist friends like to pretend that when someone adopts a theism they give up a bit of their humanity -- and that may be true if they elect not to think -- yet it's no more true than the suggestion that die-hard skeptics give up anything when they demand evidence for outrageous claims.

So what do you believe?

I don't believe in anything. Many of the messages that come into The Skeptic Tank allude that I must believe in something even if it's not the paranormal or gods. But that's not true, I don't believe in anything. I do accept the evidence of things observed and the reasonable theories which explain them.

Outrageous claims require outrageous evidence. Mundane claims require only mundane evidence. If someone tells me that the Sun will appear to rise from the East in the morning, I am inclined to accept that possibility as all of recorded history provides evidence that it does in fact appear to rise from the East.

If someone tells me that a dead person ever got up and walked away, however, I would expect a great deal of evidence to support that position since all of recorded history shows that dead people are incapable of getting up and walking away. History does provide many examples of people thought to be dead becoming well enough to get up or fully recover. There was, in fact, a society some two hundred years ago which was specifically created to perpetuate information on how to bring people apparently dead "back to life." It's done on a daily basis in ambulances around the world today, in fact.

The differences between outrageous claims and mundane claims is clear: if a claim goes against the laws of nature, observed history, or is simply contradictory and unevidenced, outrageous evidence is required before I'll accept it. If someone tells me they ran over my cat with their minivan, I'll accept that mundane claim, probably with no evidence since if the cat fails to come home for dinner, I'll know that something happened to the damned thing.

So no, I don't believe in anything. I know of several people who have no problem stating outright that they don't believe in anything, too. Dr. Marty Leipzig, a petroleum paleontologist who frequents the FidoNet HolySmoke forum has no problem making the statement and, what's more, he (as does myself) exhibits no beliefs anyone can point toward and claim otherwise.

When accused of believing in something, I usually ask why I need to believe in anything. I can't think of a good reason. It's not as if belief is an evolutional requirement of the human species, after all. Anyone who's comfortable with "stark reality" will probably not find it stark at all but wildly exciting and filled with adventure. I see no need to believe in anything.

"Wherever we have scientists we have hope" - Luis Gutman


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