Friday, February 22, 2008

An Essay on Skepticism

This is an essay I wrote for English class, which I thought I'd share with my readers:

The Late Astronomer Carl Sagan once said, “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence.” Yet millions believe in UFO’s, Monsters, Magic, Creationism, etc., with little or no positive evidence for these things. As far as I am aware, every time tangible evidence has been presented for any of these things, they have proven false. There must be an objective standard of proof that all of us keep in order to avoid being fooled by claims of pseudo-scientists and charlatans. The objective standard is skepticism. Skepticism is the position of suspending your belief in any claim which is made until evidence is presented for it. It also recognizes that science is tentative and subject to change. Therefore a skeptic should always know just what evidence would change his/her mind about something. This brings us to the question: What kind of evidence is good enough? If something tangible is presented to document the claim, and examined by experts of a relevant scientific field, then it is safe to say that it may be believed. For instance, if a live specimen of the Loch Ness monster were captured and confirmed by Zoologists*, we could be fairly certain that it was real. If an alien spacecraft were recovered and confirmed by Aeronauts, we could be fairly certain that it was real. In order to go about proving the paranormal, one has to rule out all natural explanations, and try very hard to prevent the subject from having any ability to pull any tricks. Skeptic James Randi offers to test those who claim supernatural abilities, and has even caught many alleged psychics like Uri Geller cheating while performing their “magic” (See his column in Skeptic, “’Twas Brillig…”). To date no one has passed Randi’s tests.

But alas, much of the public does not hold such skeptical standards. For example, many people believe in Lake Monsters such as the Loch Ness. But what evidence is there for these monsters? All they have to show is a few blurry photographs and grainy video recordings. In a review of the book “Lake Monster Mysteries” by Benjamin Radford and Joe Nickell, Daniel Loxton recounts how one video of ‘monster’ turned out to be an otter! Of course, many of the monster videos and photographs have been discovered to be hoaxes. There are still a few videos and photos which remain mysterious, keeping monster enthusiasts believing. What they fail to realize is that lack of a normal explanation does not constitute evidence that a paranormal one is correct.
Yet another example of this logic (or lack thereof) is found amongst those who believe extra-terrestrials have visited earth. In a special section of Skeptic Magazine called “Junior Skeptic” (Number 29) Daniel Loxton describes how an author named Erich Von Daniken claimed the pyramids to be such a technological leap for the Egyptians that it pointed to alien architecture. Von Daniken claimed that the Pyramids were too complex for even modern architects to construct, and that there were no primitive predecessors to the pyramids. Both of these claims are false. Recently scientists have figured out how the Egyptians built the pyramids, and it was by casting the blocks in place (they were made out of a kind of limestone cement). To answer their second argument: it has long been known that there were prototype pyramids; the ziggaruts for example.

It is going to take much more and much better evidence than has been presented so far to prove the existence of anything paranormal. Until then, we should disbelieve or reserve judgment concerning these things.

*How is it we can trust the scientists? As long as they had nothing to gain (like fame or money) from reporting a paranormal event, and assuming they were well respected (not fringe crackpots) in their field, we could be reasonably certain that their report was accurate.

1 comment:

GumbyTheCat said...

Nicely done. Thanks for sharing it.