Practical skepticism about being “closed-minded”

open mindIn my last post, on accepting strange ideas because “science doesn’t know everything”, I unpacked a comment from a person who was invested in believing psychic powers were genuine. Next in my series of responses to credulous, and rather vehement, commentators, I reply to accusations that I’m closed-minded, not thinking “out of the box”, stuck in the “establishment” of science. According to these “open-minded” thinkers, this attitude limits my ability to perceive and be sympathetic towards non-materialistic [1] conclusions about strange things in the world.

I’ve addressed this before because it’s really annoying. It’s used so frequently, and was brought up by a few people regarding my rejection of a TV ghost hunter’s claim that a house in Indiana was a source of actual demonic activity. Zak Bagans’ Ghost Adventures airs on the Travel Channel which suggests it has a goal of being entertaining, emphasizing exciting and mysterious places that lend themselves to adventurous exploring. That’s fine, that’s entertainment. But when Bagans suggests his outrageous adventures are evidence of paranormal reality and that he’s being scientific or careful in his investigations, I’m calling bullshit as warranted. He’s not a good investigator and television shows are not research. I called BS on this Indiana demon house story from the very beginning when it sounded exactly like a Hollywood horror movie even including physics-defying feats by so-called possessed people. The story had no credible support. I was criticized for saying that the eyewitness accounts from police, a priest, and some hospital personnel were of no special importance because it was their story and not independently verified. I think something odd was going on with that family but demon possession was NOT it.

In a nifty twist, Bagans swooped in and bought the house within days of the story breaking and apparently made a documentary there (yet to be released). Based on his credibility (which is nil), I’m not that interested in his POV. Does that make me closed-minded? About this particular situation, yep, but not without damn good reasons. Good reason is what this haunted house story lacks completely.

The demon house in question was torn down a few months ago sparking discussion from paranormal enthusiasts. My Doubtful News piece on it suddenly spiked in hits several weeks later probably because it was shared on a pro-paranormal Facebook page. Then, I was able to see several first-hand examples of confessions from people who believe Bagans’ premise and really believe that demons are affecting people.

Commentator “Nove Jobe” (NJ) provided me with a rather detailed explanation of his own creation for the house and its effects:

The so called “Demon house” . . . acted as a dybbuk box for the angry Potawatomi Natives who had been murdered on that very land, for the ones that survived the brutal attack were relocated, by means of the “Trail of Death”. Does Zak Bagans realize by demolishing this dwelling that had been built in 1926 opened the neighborhood up for more violence; as if there weren’t enough already. There are at least 31 registered offenders within a mile radius of that location. How life for those residences is since the home was torn down by Zak Bagans? I would love for Mr. Bagans to answer that question, being he doesn’t seem to answer any other questions. This one is for the wellbeing of those he has placed in harm’s way; he did not help the situation by any means, he only made circumstances worse.

NJ provided no references for this. Instead, he told me to look it up. If it had sounded plausible, I might. I had pursued other suggestions prior to this. But supporting your claim with verifiable facts is YOUR job, not mine. The background information I would need to see in order to substantiate this convoluted suggestion relates to the following premises he provides: 1.) a massacre of native Americans occurred at this location, 2.) evil spirits or powers now inhabit this land, 3.) this house was a container for evil spirits, 4.) these spirits are causing not only violence in the house but in the neighborhood, 5.) the evil is drawing other evil (presumably sex offenders), and 6.) Zak released the evil onto the neighborhood by destroying the house. The onus on claimant is to make these premises clear, supported, understandable, and coherent to form a reasonable conclusion. He failed. When I told NJ that this sounded like nonsense, he moved to another square to start a different line of debate:

I believe you are religious, and you believe in what is written in the bible. The Bible is full of stories. Some of them have been proven by science, as natural occurances not miracle’s. However the religious community will not accept those scientific explanations.

I am not trying to change your mind, same as you will not change mine. I have lived through my own experiences, I believe you are too closed minded to see outside the realm of that box. Which is fine.

He assumed I was religious. Wow, he is REALLY off base. From this behavior, I now suspect he’s not a careful reader and or reliable to make sound conclusions. A more reasonable conclusion would be that if I don’t buy into demons, I probably am NOT religious and will not buy into the stories of the Bible. He also could have taken one minute to find out a little about me before making these assertions which is readily available a click away. So, he seems very un-curious about finding out supporting details before guessing. Anyway, he was good enough to note that he’s not out to change my mind, which is good because he didn’t even get past level one. I have no quibble with his opinion whereby experiences have colored the way he views the world. [2] Yet, he says he believes I’m too closed-minded to comprehend his given explanation. This is false and I’m going to outline why.

You should always start by agreeing on how you are using certain words. It’s hardly ever done but it’s crucial to be precise in arguments and in legal documents so nothing can be misinterpreted. I consider open-minded to be impartial, persuadable, having or showing a mind receptive to new ideas or arguments. The opposite of this is biased or committed to a conclusion; the closed-minded person can’t be persuaded. There is some wiggle room in these definitions and their common use so that may be part of the problem.

At some point, however, when considering a question or making a decision, we obtain enough information in order to conclude it’s likely *this* or *not this* or *that* or maybe remain undecided. Then we move on to the next thing to think about. I considered the possibility of demons or other supernatural entities long long ago. It makes zero sense, being implausible considering what we know with great certainty about the world. In addition, there are a slew of non-supernatural explanations that are very plausible. Also, people have been claiming demons for centuries and we still can’t nab one to point to it and be clear what the hell it is. So, I’ve really thought about this particular incident and the larger assumptions made by the demon explanation. I’ve rejected that explanation.

It’s not closed-minded to reject ridiculous assertions and claims. It’s called critical thinking and it spares you a lot of trouble. Why waste effort believing total garbage. Here’s another example. Another DN story, about Lloyd Pye’s “Starchild” claim, elicited the same response. I was too closed-minded to consider the idea that his curiously-shaped skull was from an alien-human hybrid when there were other more down to earth explanations for it.

I’m very justified in disagreeing with the alien-hybrid claim since the plausibility of it is practically nil and there is no decent evidence in support of it except a nifty sci-fi story. To accept it, we’d have to throw out all of what we know about human history, evolution, and a good bit of well-established physics. I’m not going to do that. Just playing the odds…

If new reliable evidence did appear in support of such an outlandish idea, I would certainly be interested! If accumulated evidence pointed to a new explanation, I would consider it and perhaps eventually accept it. I’ve done so in the past. How is that closed-minded?

“Lori” accused me of being closed to experiences so I will fail to have them:

Some people are more open than others. You are not one of those people. So, your experiences are not going to be the same as a person, such as myself, that is open and more sensitive to energies. […] I don’t care what the parapsychology people are investigating because I don’t need studies or confirmation from scientists, when I am walking proof. I hope someday you experience something paranormal so you can see that just having an opinion doesn’t make you right. … I believe people with open minds have a richer life experience than those who are closed off to anything unknown.

I’m going to concede some of Lori’s points here. She may be correct in that some people are more perceptive to certain experiences for some reason or another. I have pretty sensitive hearing but my husband has acute smell and taste senses – we experience things differently. If there is such a thing as those who can sense fields in the environment that others can’t, then she’s right. However, that’s not been shown to be plausible or demonstrable for any “energies”, not EMFs, not psychic energy, not life forces, etc. So, even though she believes she is special in this, her premise falls flat.

Lori puts great credence in her experience, whereas I say experiences can deceive us so I don’t trust them very much. She also rejects science (as did AnnMarie in the last post) as the best way of knowing. She can live that way if she wants to but if you swallow everything you are being fed without any critical thinking, you are bound to get fooled. Often. Science has several safeguards in the process that cut back on human errors of this kind. She thinks my opinion is no better than others, but I contend it’s better than hers. It’s based on knowledge acquired from more than just my personal experience, it considers knowledge from various other fields. So, Lori, I find my opinion stronger than yours. Sorry, that makes you upset but all opinions are not equal.

i-want-to-know

I hope I experience something paranormal someday. I’ve tried. But I doubt that can happen. I will always keep searching for an explanation instead of settling for an inferior answer. (Oh, I know, that is SO closed-minded to not conclude “It’s paranormal” and to remain open to other possibilities.)

Finally, I agree that people with open minds DO have a richer life experience. I take great joy in researching and finding out; I’m always learning new things and trying different perspectives. There is so much that is unknown and I can’t wait to find out if anyone can propose a good answer. I’m ready to be persuaded by evidence of fantastic new things. Bring it. My mind is wide open to consider what you have. I’ll use critical thinking to decide what to do with that.

So, Nove Jobe and Lori see my application of critical thinking in judging these claims as closed-minded; I get the feeling they feel sorry for me in my wretched oh-so-limited life. I contend that my consideration is deeper and more thorough. I’ve looked at all sides best I can and previously believed in a lot of ideas that I now reject and took a while before I accepted certain ideas I now consider facts. I will also tell you exactly why I do not think these ideas are any good and what it would take for me to change my mind: show me evidence for your alternative that is better than the current best explanation(s). Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. (Gee, I’m heavy on the Saganisms in this piece.)

The commenters who say open your mind really want me to shut off my thinking and agree with them without question. No, thanks. You can see that those who reject other evidence, reasoning, and plausible alternatives in order to hold on to a cherished belief fit the definition for closed-minded far better than I do.

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1. Materialism is the concept that everything in the universe is made of matter and all explanations rely on interactions of matter as opposed to, say, spirit or a supernatural reason. Non-materialists don’t like scientific explanations so much.

2.  I’ll get to this in a future post since it’s a whole other dig believers take at skeptics.

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Fluent in science, animals, paranormal culture. Expert in weird news. Doubtfulnews.com SpookyGeology.com