Meet Clare at Rantspace

25 06 2008

Clare linked to me from a post in which she had some interesting things to say about skepticism, and about which I’ll say a bit more shortly. But she has a far more pressing and harrowing tale to tell about her experiences as a victim of clergy sexual abuse, experiences which have not caused her to reject theism, but which have heightened her awareness of the dark places that religion mixed with authoritarianism can lead. I encourage you to read it.

Towards the end of her narrative, Clare mentioned coming “from a long line of family with psychic ability,” and that might explain her position on skepticism. She divides skeptics into two camps: “There are those who debunk claims of the “miraculous” by finding and offering a rational scientific explanation, and there are those who debunk any claim they don’t understand and/or that hasn’t been proven.” A truly enquiring mind, she argues, “will go looking for evidence both ways rather than either a) debunking or b) sitting back waiting for the proof to be handed to them.” Well, strictly-speaking the word debunking, a transitive verb meaning “to expose the sham or falseness of,” would only apply to the first kind of skepticism. I’m not sure that many the majority of skeptics would fall into the second camp (just as I doubt that the majority of atheists would be strong atheists), but I gather Clare either has had, or believes she has had experience of such individuals.

I don’t think that there is much Clare says in this post or in the comment thread that I would disagree with. I agreed with her that if we are presented with a phenomena and a claim of supernatural causation for said phenomena, we ought not to dismiss the phenomena out of hand. (I think I’ve heard Joe Nickell, a skeptical investigator of the paranormal, express a similar view on the Point of Inquiry podcast.) But we are under no obligation to accept the claim of supernatural causation if the claimant has not provided sufficient supporting evidence.

Anyway, have a look at what Clare has to say about skepticism yourself. As for you, Clare, welcome to my blogroll.

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10 responses

26 06 2008
Sean the Blogonaut

That is a sad tale, yet one that seems to be repeated regardless of the denomination.

26 06 2008
Jack Carlson

I consider psychic claims (which generally do not touch on atheism) among those not-quite-scientific-yet-within-the-realm-of-possibility type of topics. I don’t see why eventually discovering that the brain is potentially capable of far more than we currently appreciate is unthinkable.

Having said that, I find it disgusting how the average psychic exploits the gullibility of their victims. If we ever do discover that humans are capable of what appears to be psychic ability, it won’t excuse those who trade on the poor schmucks whose only crime was to put faith in the psychic. People have paid fortunes, a few with their lives, for the sin of trusting another.

29 06 2008
jaqi

Surely ‘caveat emptor’ (buyer beware) applies double when putting your trust in the purveyors of such a nebulous product as ‘psychic’ communication, Jack Carlson: trust in this context isn’t a sin (whatever that is), it’s just foolishness, and for that we all pay, or are lucky not to. Victims of avaricious pseudo-psychics would do well to employ a little of that valuable scepticism that Clare was contrasting with the close-minded kind: find a legitimate standard of proof.

But even once you’ve got that, you still won’t know what to make of instances such as this recent one, when a four-year-old girl kept telling her mum – before mum knew – that mum was carrying triplets. Close-minded sceptics would, as you say, AV, simply dismiss the phenomenon – or twist it to fit their own cosmological parameters (God must’ve told her). But a spirit of honest inquiry demands we accept that somehow the child knew (once we have ruled out all other plausible reasons for her saying so, or – last refuge of the hardline – for her mother claiming she said so), and therefore that we seek to form tentative theories about how she might know – if only to stretch our imaginations far enough to begin to encompass reality.

As a card-carrying ‘strong atheist’*, postmodern ethicist and mystic (and incidentally Clare’s sister), these ideas and their relatives get regular wrangling on my blog, ArtOfBeing. But for light relief, here’s me and Clare arguing over which of us actually sees the future.

*I think Dawkins would put me somewhere around 6.75… I’d claim epistemology is irrelevant here: you can’t ‘know’ either way on the existence of god/s, that’s kind of the point – but _I am certain_ there aren’t any (except in the conveniently expressive mythological sense as a means of figuration for forces we don’t understand and which lack the internal cohesion we want to give them), certain that there is no plausible reason to believe in a sentient Creator/Organiser – and particularly certain that the Christian God is a demonstrable logical impossibility.

29 06 2008
Clare

I totally agree with that comment about psychics, Jack. Playing on someone else’s vulnerability and/or gullibility for your own financial or emotional benefit is inexcusable no matter what the setting. Perhaps I should make clear that those within my family acknowledged to have such ability a) have never used it for financial benefit, and b) don’t use it to their own advantage in any way. But it’s an evident enough ability which shows itself frequently enough for even the sceptics who marry into the family to have ended up conceding its existence.

Two examples of the sort of thing I mean:
a) One family member, when we played cards at home – not for money – got to telling all the players where the joker was immediately after each deal rather than being the only one with the information. That was before anyone picked up their cards, and made it possible for those bidding (playing 500) to all have the same information when the joker was in kitty. That, of course, was verifiable each time and so consistently right as to be convincing.
b) Another family member would always ring up and ask a specific question just when some event related to what she was asking about was happening. Times I can think of offhand included: when my sister got suspended from school (for smoking), when I and my husband bought a new car (the previous one was only 2 years old, so there was no reason to think we would), when my dad went into hospital with peritonitis (said family member was crossing the Nullarbor by car at the time, and antsy to get to Perth so she could find out what was happening back home; the other person in the car told us later how antsy she was on the trip).

I could keep going, but this isn’t meant to be a convincing list; only an illustration that when such ability is demonstrated time after time, over a period of years if not decades, you can’t help believing there’s something not yet accounted for by scientists. which, of course, is what Jack suggested in his first par.

4 07 2008
jaqi

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