Compiled by William Grey
In 1991 I devised a course 'Science and the Paranormal', which was an introductory epistemology component for first-year philosophy at the University of New England. The 1991 end-of-year examination revealed that the students' grasp of the subject matter was not as secure as I would have liked -- as extracts from that examination recorded in The Sceptical Student 1991 disclosed. The 1992 and 1994 examinations also uncovered troubling misconceptions from the conceptually challenged – the more spectacular of which are detailed below. As one student opined: "Paranormal phenomena, or 'psi', is a topic which will almost generate discusssion".
'Scepticism' is derived from the Latin word 'sceptikos' which means to doubt. Scepticism is calling into doubt what it is reasonable to believe. The sceptics thought the world couldn't possibly be round and that UFOs were figments of peoples imagination.
Sceptics deny the existence of extrasensory senses. They don't believe that anything remotely "paranormal" is paranormal. The understanding of these events is outside the realm of human understanding. It is easier to not believe the unbelievable. One example is that an unidentified flying object (UFO) landed in my back yard. (I have a lucky charm in my bag for this exam.)
The paranormal community uses vast and varied methods for predicting the future. This is an indication of the difficulty of the job. William Grey demonstrated that his predictions were more accurate than those of professional philosophers.
A critical sceptic should keep an open mind before dismissing paranormal phenomena a priori.
One needs to be sceptical about supposed paranormal beliefs, but one also needs to be receptive to external forces that defy logic and science.
Critical scepticism is where one keeps an open mind and tries to match the evidence to the belief. Selective sceptics are selective about what they are sceptical about. No amount of evidence can change their mind. Dogmatic scepticism is for more stubborn people. The Right to Life movement holds a dogmatically sceptical attitude to the abortion issue.
One day paranormalists might be understood and not be thought of as deviants. I believe it all comes down to personal beliefs and experiences. It is amazing what I will believe if it makes me feel better.
As the name suggests, 'global scepticism' derives from 'globe'. Global scepticism is world-wide scepticism where a theory is rejected all over the world, or globally. Global scepticism is doubting everything. It is scepticism which encompasses a whole community and could even encompass an entire nation. Global scepticism is rare. It is an overriding attitude and possibly habit-forming.
A global sceptic is sceptical about all religions but a selective sceptic is only sceptical about Buddhism. Some global sceptics still believe that the Earth is still square and flat and not oval shaped.
One of Pluto's students was a global sceptic. He would never say anything when there was a question about global scepticism. He would only raise a finger, and that, according to him, was the eternal truth.
Most miracles are similar to normal things. One of the difficulties for someone who thinks he or she has witnessed a miracle is to accept that the event is a contradiction in terms. Unfortunately it is the sceptic's morbid job to question the miraculous.
Hume believed that a miracle is a miracle only if it never happens. Hume does not state that miracles don't occur, just that it isn't reasonable for them to occur. In the past it was considered miraculous when the dead were brought back to life; now it is an everyday occurrence.
Hume believed that even if a miracle occurred it would be more rational to believe that it didn't. It is never rational to believe in miracles because evidence generally comes from unreliable sources, such as the testimony of people or a blind belief from eye witnesses. Maybe there was no evidence but only the word of historians. Hume thinks that it is not impossible, but irrational for a miracle to occur. Hume proposed several important standards for belief, such as evidence. All in all there is a lot going against their occurrence.
Hume said man has a propensity to believe in the marevellous. I agree: it is one of the things that makes life enjoyable. To live totally by Humean theory would become very dull and droll.
Given the outrageous nature of some miracles they are not very likely to happen. For example the probability of a statue of the Virgin Mary weeping real tears would have to be greater than it occurring for other reasons. As Ockham said, entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity unless there is good reason for doing so.
One defect of science is that it does not take into account objects which do not exist. There is a possibility of proving the existence of psi phenomena, but it will always be critically scepticised.
Phrenology says a person's behaviour is determined by the size of their brain. We can't change our brain's way of thinking except with physical force.
Anything that cannot be scientifically proven cannot be believed. Science is advancing every day, so one day a gypsy could look into a crystal ball and see your future. We have to ask: is this possible, and if not, how is it happening?
Given that the event has been neither proven nor disproven it is difficult to let the matter drop.
The main danger of scepticism is eternal damnation.
[Don't say you weren't warned.]