Argument # 1: â€œIt is irrational to believe in anything that hasn't been proven.â€
This is the main philosophy behind most skeptical arguments. As Dr. Melvin Morse, Seattle pediatrician and author specializing in child Near Death Experiences ( www.melvinmorse.com ) said:
â€œThe notion that 'It is rational to only believe what's been proven' somehow got twisted into â€˜It is irrational to believe in anything that hasn't been provenâ€™.â€ (Interview from video: Conversations with God)
Is this an actual argument that skeptics have used, or is this a paranormal researcherâ€™s characterization of a skeptical argument? You point to the paranormal researcherâ€™s quote but not to an actual skeptic using this line of reasoning. I think, if you are going to say skeptics use this argument that you should at least give an example from an actual skeptic, and not a quote from a non-skeptic.
By "proven" skeptics mean proven according to the scientific method, which they consider to be the only reliable method.
While it is true that the scientific method is the most reliable method for determining the likelihood (or not) of a given proposal, no skeptic Iâ€™m aware of will claim that the method PROVES anything absolutely. In science, everything is provisional. Science is open to criticism and falsification. A good skeptic is ready to adopt new views given sufficient evidence. To claim that skeptics â€œproveâ€ things through science is false.
There are several problems with this argument:
Other than the fact that itâ€™s a false characterization for which youâ€™ve given no real evidence a skeptic uses.
First of all, just because something hasn't been proven and established in mainstream science doesn't mean it doesn't exist or isn't true.
Wait a minute. I thought the characterization here was one of not believing a claim to be true, not necessarily that something doesnâ€™t exist. Thatâ€™s a marked distinction which I see you are far too eager to blur.
If it did, then nothing would exist until proven or discovered. Bacteria and germs would never have caused illnesses until they were proven and discovered, smoking would not cause cancer until it was proven, the planet Pluto would not have existed until it was discovered, etc.
This is what happens when you attack a straw man instead of an actual argument. Itâ€™s also what happens when you make subtle changes to your own characterizations. Not believing in something has no effect on whether or not that something â€“if it turns out to existâ€”can do, or effect, something else. I donâ€™t know of any skeptic who would make such a claim. Imagine a person 600 years ago claiming that illnesses were caused by tiny bugs, too small for a human to see (first of all, why would they propose such a thing without viable evidence, but thatâ€™s beside the point). A contemporary claims, however, that illnesses were caused by invisible demons, working under orders of a supreme evil entity. At the time, both claims are (relatively) equally absurd to those first hearing the proposals. However, beyond the surface unsubstantiated claims, we can see already that one is more likely to be true than the other. How? Because one references mechanisms that are already known (albeit on a much smaller scale!) while the other actually presents more questions than it can answer.
So, what is required to evidence these claims so that a reasonable person of the 1400s could decide upon which to hang his hat? The first rests solely on naturalistic mechanisms which â€“while not directly observable at the timeâ€”could be inferred from the larger, natural world. While tiny bugs causing illness might not have been directly observable to our 15th century friend, larger parasites known to exist could serve as models for these tiny equivalents. What, however, would suffice for evidence of the latter claim? Well, first of all, â€œdemonsâ€ would need to be defined. Typically, demons are thought to be entities which exist not in the natural world but the supernatural. So, the first step would be to bring evidence that a supernatural world is likely to exist. And, this would have to be done without begging the question or resorting to circular argumentation. Not an easy task (and still not accomplished to this day). If a supernatural world could even reasonably be implied to exist, the next step would be to provide evidence that it was populated by such things as â€œdemonsâ€. If demons could be reasonably established, then one would have to explain how something from a supernatural world could interact and influence the natural. If that was accomplished, one would next need to demonstrate why such a supernatural entity would have any interest in natural bodies, such as ours. And the list goes on and on and on with, it will be noted, NO known equivalent in the natural world.
The same is true of something like Pluto. Simply positing the existence of another planet in our solar system without any evidence to support such a claim is indeed absurd and should be rejected. Zecharia Sitchen has done as much for the so-called â€œ12th Planetâ€. However, theorizing that an unseen planet exists beyond any visible planetary bodies in our solar system based upon observable evidence such as gravitational pulls on neighboring planets is a good reason to at least consider the possibility that such other planetary bodies may exist, investigate the claim cautiously and methodically, and most skeptics are at least provisionally open to such theories when so presented. Your characterization notwithstanding. Consider how Pluto was theorized to exist against Sitchenâ€™s notion of the â€œ12th Planetâ€. Observations of Neptune in the late 19th century caused astronomers to speculate that Uranus' orbit was being disturbed by another planet in addition to Neptune; and those observations and speculations led to the discovery of Pluto. Sitchin, however, bases his arguments on his personal interpretations of Pre-Nubian and Sumerian texts. Heâ€™s not basing his arguments on observable, astronomical data. Do you see the difference? Hardly the equivalents in scientific hypotheses. Does this mean a 12th planet, without a doubt, doesnâ€™t exist? No. But what it does mean is that without better evidence we have no reason to believe that it might. We have other, more scientifically valid explanations for â€œmysteriesâ€ such as those Sitchen believes are answered only by his speculations.
As far as cancer and smoking, indeed one neednâ€™t believe such a thing if there is no evidence. Without support, such a claim isnâ€™t any different than claiming that smoking causes cleaner teeth, more intense color vision or the spontaneous growth of new limbs. Unsubstantiated claims should always be held suspect pending further information. However, if it was observed â€“even without knowing whyâ€”that people who smoked died at a higher rate than those who didnâ€™t smoke, that would be sufficient reason to at least suspect that smoking might be dangerous to oneâ€™s health (all other things considered).
Itâ€™s not that skeptics like myself decide not to believe in things without proof, but, instead, we choose not believe something to exist without sufficient evidence or good reason. Sometimes weâ€™re wrong. But weâ€™re wrong for very good reasons and then we are humble enough to change our position. And, weâ€™re only wrong when sufficient evidence or reason tips the scales.
Anyone knows that this simply is not so. For instance, when Acupuncture was first introduced in the West, skeptics and certain scientists claimed that it had no basis and only worked due to the placebo effect because they couldnâ€™t understand how it worked.
Are you sure it was because they didnâ€™t understand how it worked, or because they didnâ€™t see sufficient evidence to support the claim of how it worked? Iâ€™m beginning not to trust your characterizations and straw men.
This reflected the typical false thinking of skeptics that anything they donâ€™t understand must be due to superstition or chance.
I donâ€™t understand quantum physics but I donâ€™t believe it is superstition. You really enjoy beating the stuffing out of your straw men, donâ€™t you?
However, practitioners and believers knew otherwise
I beg to differ. They didnâ€™t â€œknowâ€ otherwise. They believed otherwise. Thereâ€™s a difference.
and were later validated by extensive studies have been done to show that it indeed does work for treating various ailments and getting results which placebos canâ€™t account for.
As a skeptic, Iâ€™m not persuaded by unsupported assertions. Exactly what â€œextensive studiesâ€ show that acupuncture (define it, please) works for which specific ailments? Iâ€™d like to see the names of the studies and where they were published. Also, do these studies not only support the claim that acupuncture appears to benefit the treatment of certain aliments but do they also go on to describe HOW it works and WHY?
An extensive listing of these research studies can be found on the Med lab website.
Iâ€™m not familiar with â€œMed labâ€. Could you mean PubMed? Regardless, can you please provide URLs for the relevant studies?
In fact, the AMA (American Medical Association) has already declared that Acupuncture works and is an effective treatment, proving the skeptics wrong.
I did a quick search in Google for the terms â€œAmerican Medical Associationâ€ and â€œacupunctureâ€ and I cannot find any such statement. Not saying it doesnâ€™t exist (!); Iâ€™m saying I canâ€™t find it. Can you please provide that statement and the location of where I might be able to find it myself?
The point is that Acupuncture worked before it was proven to work, not after.
I find this â€œpointâ€ rather silly. If something works â€“observable evidenceâ€”then it works regardless of our knowing why. So, for instance, acupuncture may work for some ailments; however, it may not work for the reasons its adherents suggest. Or, as another example, apples fell from trees long before a rather bright young man figured out there was something called gravity. Knowing about gravity didnâ€™t make apples that sometimes fell up into the sky suddenly start all falling to the ground. Just because we donâ€™t understand how magnetism works, that doesnâ€™t mean that a magnet cannot hold a childâ€™s drawing to a refrigerator until we do understand it!
Skeptics assume that everything that exists must be able to be analyzed in a lab. Thatâ€™s just not how reality works.
Again with the straw men! Skeptics do NOT assume that everything which exists must be able to be analyzed in a lab. Pluto, for instance, cannot be analyzed in a lab but that doesnâ€™t mean skeptics donâ€™t think itâ€™s there on the outskirts of our solar system! There are many diverse ways of gaining scientific knowledge without dissecting something in a lab. One of those ways, however, does not include unsupported assertions or wishful thinking.
I look forward to your comments.