Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Supernatural and Skepticism

I am a skeptic. I don’t generally believe in the supernatural. I do believe in God—to me there is too much evidence of a divine creator of the universe not to. But I put no faith in ESP, telekinesis, Bigfoot, alien abductions, remote viewing, mediums and fortune telling, ghosts, astrology, or any of the other things claiming to be supernatural. Why? Evidence.

The skeptic’s creed is “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Not proof, mind you, but evidence. Don’t get me wrong, I would love for any of those things to exist or be real. Who wouldn’t want proof of an alien culture? To picnic with Bigfoot? To know tomorrow’s sports scores? I don’t think any of those things are beyond the realm of possibility. But I believe in the scientific method for testing the natural world.

The biggest problem is that there are too many natural explanations for seemingly supernatural events. The famous Loch Ness Monster photo from the ‘40s has been thoroughly debunked, as has the Patterson Bigfoot film. The Skeptical Inquirer is a monthly magazine that looks at supernatural phenomena through the lens of the scientific method and the supernatural comes up short every time.

The Amazing Randi

James Randi is an inspiration to skeptics everywhere. He not only exposes fake “psychics” and notions of all kinds, but his foundation offers a $1 million reward for any proof of psychic powers. The arguments I’ve heard against Randi are laughable. “No psychic would take that dare, money is not important to them.” Really? When is the last time Madame Zanzabob offered a palm reading free? Why not prove to the world you are a legitimate psychic, then donate the money to your favorite charity? Why? Because there are no provable psychic powers. Almost every UFO story can be explained rationally if you look at it close enough (except a recent one in Iran—more about that in the future but it really rocks the world). Back to Bigfoot—there are entire families of 8-foot hominids roaming throughout North America, but no one has taken a reasonably good photo? Or found a decomposing body? Or given them beef jerky?

Don’t get me started on the ridiculous “ghost chasing” shows. Educationally-challenged, spiky-haired troglodytes wander through deserted buildings at night and think they see stuff? Uh, yeah, it’s dark and scary in there. And I love their “EVP” recordings of ghost voices. Someone hears “Ummmmmmmmm,” and instead of realizing it’s an electric generator, shouts “OMG! It’s the preamble to the Constitution!” Not that such shows are meant to be taken seriously, but I’ve sat in rooms with people watching them that swallow the stuff hook, line and sinker. I would love to see a counterpoint show of skeptics giving alternative, rational explanations of what people are seeing and hearing. I’m not sure that would be a ratings winner, but perhaps it would be. It definitely wouldn’t be as exploitive.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Make no claims without it.


  1. I respectfully disagree on the Patterson-Gimlin film. Both sides have used it to declare victory in the debate so I think it's use as evidence for skeptics is unfair.

    Great blog!

  2. Don't worry, Mark, we can respectfully disagree about that! Have you listened to the Skeptoid podcast about the film? It was the report that definitively convinced me it was fake. Give it a listen and see if you agree.