What Does It Take to Get Through to a Sceptical Scientist?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I recently published an article as part of an ongoing conversation between myself and Isak Dinesen on the themes of Atheism and Spirituality. (Please understand that my title is in no way intended to refer to her, rather to those discussed below.) She calls herself a spiritual atheist, and does not believe in the existence of deities, angels, or any other type of supernatural being, since science finds no evidence for them. She therefore has said: “My universe is safe from the whims of unseen non-material influences”. My response to this was: “I would prefer to say that the universe , and the one she personally experiences, fortunately for her, may appear to be safe in this way”. Here I was referring to the phenomenon of demonic possession (for which I believe there is compelling evidence, as described in this article). That explains this response from Jack Preston King: such people “build around themselves a mental structure that makes sense and is reliable and comforting, but it’s a house of glass. All it takes is for their whole world to be shattered. They build their identity around protecting themselves from the mystery of the world”.

So, what we are talking about here is the contrast between the that one can build up in one’s mind about the nature of reality, which is what scientists do, and actual which contradict these theories. There is an obvious problem when the persons involved have persuaded themselves that the theories they have constructed represent ultimate truth. They therefore tend to deny the reality of the contradictory experiences, especially when they happen to other people.

I’ll begin with an example which gives a general outline of the problem, a belief-system impervious to evidence. The late Colin Wilson was a writer sympathetic to the paranormal. In chapter 1 of his book ¹ he tells this interesting anecdote. He had been researching some cases of poltergeists, with a view to writing a book. He then had a conversation with his ex-publisher, who had rung him to see what he was doing. Wilson told him and he was highly sceptical: “He began to raise all the usual objections: inaccurate reporting, mischievous children, seismic disturbances, lying witnesses… I countered each objection by describing , and he immediately . After half an hour or so, I saw that nothing I could say would change his mind. As far as he was concerned, ghosts and poltergeists were a regrettable remnant of mediaeval superstition, and that was that… … And unless my friend could be persuaded to spend a few weeks studying the same cases, he would continue to believe that each one could be explained away as fraud or deception” (p42).

Here, in trying to convince a sceptic of the reality of the paranormal with arguments, Wilson was banging his head against a brick wall. A personal experience, however, can sometimes do the trick. Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer opens her book ²with a personal anecdote. She had bought an extremely valuable harp for her daughter, which was stolen. She pursued unsuccessfully all normal channels to try to locate and retrieve it. Eventually, in desperation, she consulted a dowser. With the aid of a street map, and entering an altered state of consciousness, he managed to tell her the address where the harp was located. Within three days, after offering a reward on some posters, she had the harp back.

Before this incident she described herself as a “sceptical, highly trained scientific professional”. Her reaction was to say, . This incident completely transformed her worldview, replacing her ‘scientific’ preconceptions. She then turned her life over to researching the paranormal, including writing the great book mentioned above.

Sometimes, however, it seems that such a powerful experience makes absolutely no difference at all. I’m currently reading, by Dean Radin³, who is one of the great scientists of our age, daring to investigate fields where others fear to tread, risking hostility and ridicule from the ‘scientific’ community for his efforts. The following account is taken from his first chapter.

Michael Shermer is a longstanding, vociferous sceptic about the paranormal. However, in his October 2014 column in , he said: “Often I am asked if I have ever encountered something that I could not explain. What my interlocutors have in mind are… anomalous and mystifying events that suggest the existence of the paranormal or supernatural. My answer is: , ”.

He was planning to marry his fiancée, who had been close to her grandfather, who had died when she was 16. One thing of his she had kept was a 1978 transistor radio. “Shermer tried to get it to work. He put in new batteries, looked for loose connections, and tried smacking it on a hard surface. It still wouldn’t work. So he gave up and placed it in the back of a desk drawer in their bedroom”. At the wedding, his wife “was feeling sad that her grandfather wasn’t there to give her away. After the wedding ceremony, something strange happened. They heard music. They traced it to the desk drawer in the bedroom. It was the grandfather’s radio, playing a love song.

“They were stunned into silence. Finally (his wife) whispered, ‘My grandfather is here with us, I’m not alone’. The radio continued to play that evening, fell silent the next day, and . Shermer’s reaction: ‘I have to admit, it rocked me back on my heels and ’. As a result, he wrote… : ‘(If) we are to take seriously the scientific credo and remain agnostic when the evidence is indecisive or the riddle unsolved, we should when they may be ’ ”.

Two years later, however, he had returned to his previous dogmatic scepticism. In the same journal he wrote: “Where the known meets the unknown we are tempted to inject paranormal and supernatural forces to explain unsolved mysteries. We because such efforts , not even in principle”. Radin continues: “Shermer justified his confidence by citing Caltech physicist Sean Carroll, because Carroll concluded that the laws of physics ‘rule out the possibility of true psychic powers’. Why? Because, Shermer continued, ‘the particles and forces of nature don’t allow us to bend spoons, levitate or read minds’. Shermer “concluded with certainty that searching for paranormal or supernatural forces ‘can never succeed’ ”.

As an aside, my conclusion from the above is that the laws of physics must be inadequate, it is claimed that they give a complete picture of the true nature of the universe. They do not take into account the nature of the psyche. The that the laws of physics rule out parapsychology obviously derives from the philosophy of materialism. The reality of ESP, as Radin has persuasively argued over many years, offers evidence that this philosophy is false.

He comments about Shermer that “when one encounters a belief-shattering event, it’s not uncommon to promptly forget about it, or even to deny that it ever happened. Psychologists use the term to describe such cases”. Another similar psychoanalytic term is . The psychological syndrome that modern sceptical scientists suffer from could be called the . They feel comfortable only in the ordered, logical world of the rational mind they choose to inhabit. They insulate themselves by denying that paranormal forces exist. Or, to repeat Jack Preston King’s words: such people “build around themselves a mental structure that and is … They build their identity around protecting themselves from the mystery of the world”.

On this theme Elizabeth Mayer says: “The human psyche is organized . We use a vast array of defenses to channel, transform, suppress, and regulate fear. When those defenses work best, they . People cannot explain why they carry out behaviour which stems from workings of the unconscious mind. When they try, they often make up ” (p102). One good example of which would be many of the ‘laws’ of science, especially Sean Carroll’s understanding of the laws of physics.

Those of a scientific mindset often accuse believers in the paranormal and supernatural of being deluded, i.e. having psychological problems. Perhaps the opposite is the case, and that it’s actually the scientists who need therapy.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

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I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, Christianity, psychology, science, politics, and astrology. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).

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Footnotes:

1. Grafton Books, 1987

2. Bantam, 2008

3. Harmony, 2018

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Graham Pemberton

Graham Pemberton

I am a singer/songwriter interested in spirituality, politics, psychology, science, and their interrelationships. grahampemberton.com spiritualityinpolitics.com