Miracle Claims Investigator Talks 44 Years of Skepticism, Passion

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Believers in Miracles & the Paranormal Are Fooled by the ‘Argument From Ignorance’


Joe Nickell, senior research fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) – an international scientific organization – and investigative columnist for Skeptical Inquirer magazine, discusses his new book, The Science of Miracles: Investigating the Incredible,published earlier this year by Prometheus. Nickell has been investigating the paranormal since 1969, and is a prominent investigator of myths, mysteries, frauds, forgeries, and hoaxes. He has been called “the modern Sherlock Holmes,” “the original ghost buster,” and “the real-life Scully” from The X-Files. He has investigated scores of haunted-house cases, including the Amityville Horror, as well as healers, statues, visions and demons. Nickell was an inspiration for Hilary Swank’s role as a miracle investigator in The Reaping (2007).

Written By: Alan Litchfield
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  1. This is a perfect example of using the argument from ignorance, himself. Bare with me.

    1. People say “we don’t know what it is, so it must be god/angels/demons”.
    2. Scientific people say “we can’t prove it scientifically, so it must be nonsense, and our theory is that you think its nonsense because you don’t understand it”?

    Anyone else see the hipocracy??

    I would have thought the scientific approach would be to say that “I don’t know, but demons and angels is a fairly poetic thing to say in this situation. Spooky, this haunted house, isn’t it? Let’s find out together, or leave it as one for the ages.”

    The fact that it’s poetic doesn’t mean that it doesn’t relate to anything else whatsoever. The fact that someone with credentials speaks doesn’t mean that you just follow what they say without using your own common sense.

    A couple of explanations for the poetry of the mysterious is that

    1. All of it is inside of our minds,
    2. Mythologocial books that have lasted this long through the ages have been written as to sound like jibberish to avoid book burning, and mean the above.
    3. They have been acted out on stage to mean that “cutting the hand that steals” is now passed on by generations to mean the literal, not the poetic. Also, behead the mind from leading the body astray, and hold up the heart to the light to lead the soul for the body in the right direction.
    4. Countless other terms exist that will never be researched widely because ridicule and ignorance of it is being encouraged.

    - Cross your heart, hope to die, (becomes) balance your heart, hope for change.
    - Sacrifice your material life on the cross/balanced view in the face of rock hard opinions being thrown at you.
    - All the norse mythology about dying violently means that you go to heaven, and all the other sacrifice mythology.

    • In reply to #1 by SGde3a:

      People say “we don’t know what it is, so it must be god/angels/demons”.
      Scientific people say “we can’t prove it scientifically, so it must be nonsense…

      In the post-Newtonian world — that is a world where we understand things operate from consistent natural laws — there is an expectation that things will continue to operate according to those same natural laws. Extraordinary claims (such as miracles) require extraordinary evidence. Sure, we may not know the full story of a given event, but that remains an unknown on account of too little data. If you want to posit an outside force to justify that unknown, you’ll need more examples of that force in action, so that you can actually get its properties, rather than pretending (say) that the earth has a hole or an edge due to a blank spot on your map.

      Now in science outside the pure disciplines such as logic and mathematics, there is no such thing as proof, and the notion that there is commonly comes up in the laity. Science isn’t a forensic contest where the fate of a suspect hangs on the thread of a threshold of evidence. Rather science is about the development of mathematical models that echo reality. When there’s a deviation, that may be a weakness in the measurements. When there’s a persistent deviation, then we need to adjust the model, potentially accounting for forces or effects we hadn’t before noticed.

      Hence (for example) why a penny dropped from the Empire State Building eventually slows (and ultimately ceases) its rate of acceleration. Another factor needs to be added (from d = 1/2gt^2) to fully explain that event.

      If miracles still occurred, we’d be able to derive from them either the natural forces that drove those miracles, whether that was elemental, or an intelligent force.

      Ergo: http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2781

    • In reply to #1 by SGde3a:

      This is a perfect example of using the argument from ignorance, himself. Bare with me.

      People say “we don’t know what it is, so it must be god/angels/demons”.

      Just that bit is self contradictory, If people say “it must be gods/angles/demons”, then they are saying they do know what it is.
      In my (extremely limited) experience,

      • People say, “You do not know what it is, so it must be gods/angles/demons.”
      • Scientific people say “you can’t prove it scientifically, so it maybe nonsense”
    • BTW,

      I would have thought the scientific approach would be to say that “I don’t know, but demons and angels is a fairly poetic thing to say in this situation. Spooky, this haunted house, isn’t it? Let’s find out together, or leave it as one for the ages.”>>

      No, No, No… the scientific approach has been to follow the scientific method and to “discover together” that this whole vein of belief is utter nonsense and then to move on to things that matter. If we were seeing this shit for the first time, we’d investigate and apply our curiosity and bring the scientific method into play.

      However, we all did this…. when we were six or seven years old. It is horseshit, NOT something to “leave for the ages” whatever kind of philosophy that is, I have no idea.

      When you say “leave it to the ages”, it sounds to me like you’d rather have others do the heavy thinking and lifting and if something is too hard, you abandon it. Not the way to be productive, at all.

      In reply to #1 by SGde3a:

      This is a perfect example of using the argument from ignorance, himself. Bare with me.

      People say “we don’t know what it is, so it must be god/angels/demons”.
      Scientific people say “we can’t prove it scientifically, so it must be nonsense, and our theory is that you think its nonsense because you…

    • Que?

      In reply to #1 by SGde3a:

      This is a perfect example of using the argument from ignorance, himself. Bare with me.

      People say “we don’t know what it is, so it must be god/angels/demons”.
      Scientific people say “we can’t prove it scientifically, so it must be nonsense, and our theory is that you think its nonsense because you…

    • I am highly unlikely to bare with you. I’d prefer we keep our clothes on.

      But I think you have misrepresented the scientific position.

      In reply to #1 by SGde3a:

      This is a perfect example of using the argument from ignorance, himself. Bare with me.

      People say “we don’t know what it is, so it must be god/angels/demons”.
      Scientific people say “we can’t prove it scientifically, so it must be nonsense, and our theory is that you think its nonsense because you…

  2. It is all bullshit and has been repeatedly shown to be bullshit. Sorry. I know that “all the best poetry” and “imagery” and “movie magic” revolves around this silliness; however, bullshit is bullshit is bullshit is bullshit……

    Now, I’ll be chastised for my use of profanity, then I’ll be told I need anger management, then my spelling and grammar will be called into question. Isn’t that the sequence that the schmucks who believe this crap always follow?

  3. I very much liked this interview, and I recommend it.

    Joe is surely correct: We have to recognize that other people may not realize the faults in their thinking – and believing in something because it’s poetic may be false, but can ‘appear’ valid. It seems to me that this is allied to our search for simplicity and beauty in our solutions – scientist, rational thinker, or not.

    Work like Joe’s continues to be important; sometimes people will only question their thinking when an alternative is presented with the evidence and often, of course, they still resist. Nevertheless, for each person we wean off woolly thinking, the pool of Woo shrinks a little more.

    They’re still neighbours.

    Peace.

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