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« Skeptics' Circle #28, Carnival of the Godless #34 The RantsScience Fair: Now With 90% Less Science! »

On Skepticism: A Reply to Francois
2006.02.21 (Tue) 22:59

Some people don't seem to understand skeptics.

The usual complaint is that skeptics are too closed minded, and that they spend their time trying above all else to disprove the supernatural. While we're sure that there are some skeptics who fall into this category, it certainly isn't indicative of all skeptics. Yes, it's true that many skeptics will tell you that they don't believe in the supernatural (us included), but that's not because of some groundless predisposition to disbelieve which then colors all of our work. Rather, it's based on careful examination of the evidence leading to an educated conclusion. The certainty of the skeptic is simply the certainty of applied science and rigorous methodologies, along with a recognition of the history of scientific and decidely unscientific claims; it is neither the whimsical certainty of the "true believer," nor the unflinching and invulnerable certainty of those who like to argue for the sake of arguing.

However, some people (as we discovered) would argue the entirely opposite position — that skeptics are actually too accommodating of the supernatural, and that they are simply wasting their time by even allowing for the possibility that paranormal events are real. In this brand of criticism, it is asserted that nothing is to be gained by testing paranormal claims — it's the equivalent of repeatedly testing the efficacy of gravity over and over and over again, even though the outcome is assured. Why then, the argument goes, would a skeptic expend so much time and effort on useless tests of the supernatural? What's the point? What's the benefit? This is the approach that Francois Tremblay of Goosing the Antithesis has taken, and like the opposite extreme presented above, we simply do not agree.

In our linking post to the latest Carnival of the Godless, we referenced another post at Goosing the Antithesis, this week's Carnival host, that addressed a statement from James Randi. Randi says:

Yes, I'm a materialist. I'm willing to be shown wrong, but that has not happened — yet. And I admit that the reason I'm unable to accept the claims of psychic, occult, and/or supernatural wonders is because I'm Iocked into a world-view that demands evidence rather than blind faith, a view that insists upon the replication of all experiments — particularly those that appear to show violations of a rational world — and a view which requires open examination of the methods used to carry out those experiments.

While we agreed wholeheartedly with Randi on this, the author of the post, Francois, did not:

Well, a few months ago I would have agreed completely, but now Randi's skeptical views somewhat annoy me. I don't think it's possible to prove that the supernatural exists, even in principle. I have yet to see any skeptic prove that the possibility remains. And yet they keep looking...

Isn't the skeptic's quixotic quest rather like those studies that keep cropping up to try to prove or disprove that prayer has a medical effect ? What is the point to these millions of dollars wasted ? Let's devote our energy to better things, people...

We addressed Francois' statements by wondering aloud why he thought skepticism was a waste of time. To us, the entire point of skepticism is to counter the bullshit that is infecting — or, in some cases, smothering — the world at an alarming rate. From our perspective, much of the mainstream media, along with certain universities and some medical sources, seems to be portraying absolute bunk as if it was scientifically verified fact. We feel that, as skeptics, it is our job to give people the information that they need to properly assess these claims, and to us, that is the benefit that skepticism provides. We really didn't get into this in our initial response as we were basing our musings only on the brief comments provided initially by Francois. That initial reply is repeated here:

Sorry, but we really have no idea what Francois is talking about here. What quest is he referring to as silly and useless? Randi isn't on a quest to prove that the paranormal exists — truly such a quest would be an awful lot like tilting at windmills. Instead, Randi (along with many other good skeptics) stands ready and willing to have someone prove via the scientific method that their specific claim of the paranormal exists. There's a big difference. If it were the former, Randi would be acting much like Dr. Venkman's initial perception of his colleagues in Ghostbusters — he'd be meeting and greeting every freak in the world who claimed to have a paranormal experience. Truly, that would be a waste of his time. If the latter — which is the reality of the situation — Randi's door is simply open to such claims, and when he is approached, he listens with an open mind, and designs scientific tests to verify the claims.

Further, the "possibility" always remains to prove the existence of the supernatural, inasmuch as anything is theoretically conceivable. Skeptics aren't, however, "looking" for evidence to support this possibility. They're testing those who claim such phenomena to see if their claims hold up. Just one instance in which a paranormal claim was supported by methodical, verifiable testing would, in fact, prove that the claimed phenomenon exists at least in this instance; which would, in fact, prove that "supernatural" phenomena in general are possible, regardless of whether any specific cases are true or false. The fact that not a single one of these phenomena has been successfully verified simply goes a long way toward supporting the hypothesis that none of them exist. Skeptics remain open (despite what credulous detractors assert) to further testing, but — as with any scientific theory — the preponderance of evidence currently available lends credence to a solid theory: in this case, the nonexistence of paranormal phenomena.

So, unless we're missing Francois' point, we have to say that he just doesn't seem to be getting it.

At the end, we invited Francois to fill us in on the thought process behind his statements, and he took us up on that offer. Based on some of his comments regarding "prudent predation," we suspected at first that he might be talking about credulous fools getting what they deserved. That is, the assertion that someone who believes in homeopathy so much that he eschews proper medical treatment for his cancer, and then dies as a result, has made their own bed, and it's not the skeptics' problem. Instead, Francois went in a different direction — one which we actually agree with even less. In short, he seems to lean heavily on a definition of "a skeptic" that we don't believe is at all accurate. He also utilizes somewhat vacuous semantic arguments to assert the impossibility of the supernatural, and presents what, to us, is a highly contradictory statement on whether skepticism is worthwhile or not.

We'll go through some of Francois' response here. One of his first statements is as follows:

[The folks at the Two Percent Company] trip all over themselves, however, when they say:
Further, the "possibility" always remains to prove the existence of the supernatural, inasmuch as anything is theoretically conceivable.

There seems to be an obsession amongst a lot of people in confusing possibility and conceivability. I hear the same addle-brained argument used against the argument from the meaninglessness of religious language (and we all have Theodore Drange to thank for that). "I can still imagine it, so it means something !".

However, Francois has completely failed to grasp what we are actually saying. We aren't saying that because we can imagine the paranormal, it might be real. We're saying that it's possible to test paranormal claims using strict scientific controls. There's a very clear difference between these two statements — in fact, they are two completely separate thoughts — and we're not sure why Francois doesn't recognize that.

That said, if Francois feels that it isn't possible to test paranormal claims using the scientific method, then for now, suffice it to say that we do not agree. We'll examine this idea in more depth below.

Francois goes on to say:

And no skeptic is going to be able to demonstrate the possibility of something that is meaningless ! Can't be done.

This may sound a little harsh, but we have no idea what the hell Francois is talking about here. The fact that any paranormal claim is meaningless is an assertion based solely on his underlying belief that it cannot exist. However, he appears to have no basis for that underlying belief itself, other than the fact that these phenomena are labelled as "supernatural." He has simply used word games to substantiate an unsubstantiated assertion, and he has based his entire argument on this principle.

Frankly, we agree that the "paranormal" or "supernatural" doesn't exist, but we hold that belief based on the incredible lack of evidence to support such claims from innumerable tests, both formal and informal, conducted over the years. Francois seems to hold that belief due to semantic arguments: supernatural ergo not natural ergo not real ergo meaningless; or, in plain English, if it's called "supernatural" then it can't be part of the natural world and hence it can't exist, period. That argument may be nice on paper, but it fails to address reality. The reason why the supernatural has been labelled as such is only because we humans have not observed it in the natural world. It's an artificial — literally man-made — label, not an immutable classification. As soon as something is scientifically verified to exist, it ceases to be "supernatural" and becomes "natural." At various points in history, atoms, germs, DNA and a host of other things unobservable without the aid of technology were, quite frankly, classified as "supernatural" — by humans. And at later points in history, each of these was re-classified, again by humans, as "natural." Did the reality of the situation somehow change, or did our understanding of it change? We are reasonably confident that it's the latter.

As much as we might agree with Francois' assertions that supernatural phenomena do not exist (up to a point), we feel that we must acknowledge that the non-existence of any and every paranormal claim is not a conclusively established fact. As a result, we do not dismiss out of hand any claim labelled as supernatural. Put simply, we must acknowledge that there could be an underlying natural cause behind something that, at a particular moment in time, seems — to us mere humans — to be supernatural.

(Before we get a slew of ridiculous challenges, we'll qualify that last paragraph: we do, of course, quickly and confidently dismiss those claims which bear a striking resemblance to claims that have already been falsified. Rehashing the same arguments over and over again is tiresome, even though it sometimes must be done.)

Setting all that aside, what is it that makes Francois think that skeptics are trying to demonstrate the possibility of the paranormal? Frankly, he seems to be missing the point entirely, if that's what he believes. Do we assert that claims of the paranormal can be tested? Absolutely. But there our assertion ends.

As we've said more times than we can count, sure: it's "possible" that mediums are real. It's also possible that small gnomes live in our asses. However, the likelihood of either of these hypotheses is so remote as to make no odds. As a result, we treat them both, quite appropriately, as if they are factually false.

That said, if someone was making headlines by saying that they had scientific proof of the existence of ass gnomes, and if that person approached us to test their claim, you'd better believe that we would do so. However, we wouldn't be doing so in order to prove their claim (or the veracity of the existence of ass gnomes); we'd be doing so in order to counter their bullshit in the public forum. The fact remains, though, that in order to conduct the test correctly, we must acknowledge the possibility (no matter how remote or even infinitesimal) that their claim is true. If we don't acknowledge that possibility, then we cannot properly construct or conduct a test of their claims. There's a world of difference between the statement we just made, and the one that Francois made, and we hope that the difference is clear.

Francois continues:

I'm sure that skeptics have an inter-subjective idea of what it means to "test claims of the paranormal" or "test claims of the supernatural". That's all well and fine, but like all inter-subjective constructs, it is a shared belief which relates to nothing in the reality we all acknowledge. You cannot test something that has no connection to our material senses and instruments (never mind that it cannot exist in the first place).

Again, Francois' arguments seem to be based on word games. Not only do skeptics "have an idea" of what it means to test claims of the paranormal, such tests are actually constructed and carried out all the time. Really, his refusal to acknowledge this simple fact is fairly remarkable. Since these "impossible" tests have in reality been carried out, we aren't sure how he can continue to make such a claim. Someone here does seem to be ignoring reality — but it isn't us.

In addition, how can Francois backup his assertion that paranormal claims have no connection to our material senses and instruments? That is patently false. It is quite clear that any connection to our material observations would depend on the specific claim itself. For instance, take the dragon in Carl Sagan's garage:

"A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage."

Suppose...I seriously make such an assertion to you....

"Show me," you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle — but no dragon.

"Where's the dragon?" you ask.

"Oh, she's right here," I reply, waving vaguely. "I neglected to mention she's an invisible dragon."

You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon's footprints.

"Good idea," I say, "but this dragon floats in the air."

Then you'll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.

"Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless."

You'll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.

"Good idea, except she's an incorporeal dragon and the paint won't stick."

And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won't work.

Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?

If someone insistently offers qualifications that remove the possibility of materially observing or testing their claims, of course we can't test them. We're not saying that we could — or should. This is, in fact, where a lot of skeptics concede the potential existence of God (we, however, are not among them).

However, if someone offers a claim that clearly suggests a material, physical observation or experiment that could confirm or refute the claim, why should we not test it? If someone claims to be able to reliably report the color of any silk handkerchief obscured from her view by a leaden obstacle, in what way can't that be measured? We would have no problem designing and conducting a test in which this claim of the paranormal is measured, and we're sure that anyone reading this could also construct such a test. So where's the confusion?

We agree that the odds of the paranormal existing — of this person reliably identifying the color of the handkerchief via "psychic" means — are so tiny that it makes no real difference. However, it does not follow that the specific claims of paranormal bullshit artists are not testable. In fact, most such claims are clearly testable, and we don't understand how anyone can claim differently. Really, it's a testament to how little imagination the majority of these bullshit artists possess.

From here, Francois' response seems to derail further:

Even in mundane cases of fraud, the inter-subjective construct does not apply. You can even prove that someone is using cold reading, but you still haven't disproven the claim that he is getting "messages from the deceased" - since it has no meaning to begin with !

Basically, he has taken our statement that it is possible to test claims of the paranormal, and somehow morphed it into a claim that we can disprove the existence of the paranormal. However, that is quite definitively not what we said, nor what we believe. In fact, we've dedicated an entire post to that very subject. It's called "Only God Can Prove a Negative, and There Is No God." Check it out.

As demonstrated clearly in that earlier post, we agree that it is not possible to disprove the paranormal (for the reasons stated therein). However, it is absolutely possible to test and disprove (or prove) specific paranormal claims. For example, if a person claims to be able to diagnose illnesses by just looking at someone via special powers (let's say spirit communication), we can construct a test to verify that claim. Simply put, if the test is properly designed, and if the subject is able to diagnose illnesses by staring at someone across a room in a manner statistically more accurate than a control subject, then the claim of special diagnostic abilities is supported, and possibly verified, by our test. Would this mean that spirit communication is real? No, it would mean that something is going on to give this person more information than they should have via the known, natural channels. By continuing to test the subject, perhaps we would find other explanations. Some of these may be well-known natural explanations — perhaps they are trained in diagnostic medicine, and the illnesses detected had some telltale visual cues. Then again, we could find a "supernatural" explanation — perhaps it is spirit communication, or perhaps it's X-Ray Eyes. Only through repeated testing could we home in on the answer. The point is, if one of the "supernatural" explanations is indicated and shown to be true, then it would cease to be "supernatural" and henceforth be a "natural" explanation, provided it could be properly defined and understood. That's why Francois' semantic arguments hold so little water with us.

Francois' restatement of his initial assertion, then, truly confuses us, as he hasn't at all made his case:

I reiterate what I said - skepticism is a waste of time and judgment.
[Our emphasis]

Not only don't we agree with this statement, we don't even think that Francois himself agrees with it. Why? Because he stated at the top of his own post:

One problem was that they thought I was saying James Randi is wasting his time. I don't think Randi is wasting his time with the Million Dollar Challenge, since it is meant as an education and PR move, not as testing of paranormal claims per se. I can imagine a cynic like me setting up such a Challenge, for the same reasons. It is a brillant idea.
[Our emphasis]

So, how could something be a brilliant and educational move, and yet still be a quixotic waste of time? To us, the educational value is the benefit. Yes, we keep an open mind to paranormal claims (to the extent necessary to properly test and research such claims), but we certainly aren't skeptics for the purpose of proving such claims to be real. We are skeptics because we feel that educating people about the absurdity of these claims is well worth the effort. What we don't understand is how someone can recognize that benefit, and still think that the effort is a waste of time.

Francois continues:

Of course we should all maintain a healthy doubt towards possibilities. I'm always discovering new possibilities and acknowledging I was wrong (most recently on the whole government issue, a couple months ago), so I do have such healthy doubt. The only difference is that I do not waste time on things that have no possibility.

Don't get us wrong — we certainly understand what Francois is saying here. As we said, we treat silly claims the same as we treat claims that are patently false. We don't go around believing in "the possibility" of mediums any more than we believe in our dearly beloved ass gnomes. They are both silly ideas. However, that doesn't mean that educating people about how silly they are is a waste of time, and it doesn't mean that countering phony science is not worthwhile.

Since Francois seems to clearly understand the educational value of skepticism, we won't go into that here. It is enough to say that we've personally come across more than a few people who have benefitted from seeing our arguments countering bullshit from people like Gary Schwartz and Allison DuBois. There is such a prevalence of unsubstantiated crap out there, masquerading as science and being thrown at the general population (via the mainstream media), that we feel compelled to try to counter it.

In short, Francois' arguments seem to be based largely on a flawed view of skepticism. Many, if not most, skeptics do what they do in order to educate people, not in order to try to "prove the possibility of the paranormal." We don't understand how he can acknowledge the educational value of skepticism, but still call it a waste of time. Education is the value, and countering bullshit always counts.

Like most things in life, skepticism isn't about one of the two extremes that we presented at the beginning of this post. Rather, it falls somewhere in the middle. While it's important to keep an open-enough mind to the possibility that something could happen that isn't immediately explainable, it is also important to acknowledge that the evidence gathered over hundreds of years clearly shows that the existence of the supernatural ranges from dubious at best, to downright bullshit. While performing this balancing act — what Carl Sagan calls the "Marriage of Skepticism and Wonder" — it's important to remember that the true benefit doesn't lie in disproving the claim, but rather in educating others in the proper application of the scientific method, and showing them why the flawed claims of scientific validation that are so carelessly thrown about by the media (as well as certain academics and medical professionals) are simply incorrect. We're not in the game in order to prove that Allison DuBois is full of shit, we're in it to help the world understand why she's full of shit. To us, that's remarkably worthy of our time.

— • —
[  Filed under: % Bullshit  ]

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Comments (21)

Francois Tremblay, 2006.02.22 (Wed) 00:22 [Link] »

I have written a reply to this entry, which will appear tomorrow (on the 23rd). Thanks !

Fan-man, 2006.02.22 (Wed) 09:04 [Link] »

The 23rd? Oh, for fuck sakes.

Derek Scruggs, 2006.02.22 (Wed) 12:35 [Link] »

Here's a conundrum. How do you deal with Holocaust deniers who claim to be open-minded skeptics but are in fact racist crackpots? I was contacted by one last week and she still emails me every now and then. At first she tried to present herself as some kind of rationalist who only wants to know the truth. But her last email admitted that she "doesn't believe in interracial marriage."

Here's where it all started:


Francois Tremblay, 2006.02.22 (Wed) 17:02 [Link] »

"The 23rd? Oh, for fuck sakes."

Yes, the 23rd. That is tomorrow's date. Is there a problem ?

Tom from the Two Percent Company, 2006.02.22 (Wed) 17:07 [Link] »

Relax, tiger. My read of Fan-man's comment was as an understandable "oh, just fucking reply already" eye roll, so call off the dogs.

Francois Tremblay, 2006.02.22 (Wed) 17:11 [Link] »

All right, I understand. I'm sorry for the misunderstanding. As I mention in my reply, I already have a lot of stuff lined up for my blog a long time in advance, so I can't just drop everything to post replies to a discussion which, in all honesty, is probably not that interesting to many of my readers (because, for one thing, Goosing the Antithesis has very little to do with skeptical issues).

I promise you to keep replying as long as you want to sustain the discussion, but I can't promise I'll reply on the same day.

Francois Tremblay, 2006.02.23 (Thu) 00:36 [Link] »

Well, it's now up :

Looks like it's "put up or shut up" time, Two Percent Company. I'm not holding my breath...

Tom from the Two Percent Company, 2006.02.23 (Thu) 10:42 [Link] »

Just as a quick note, Francois' new post is really pathetic. As we suspected, it's just more strawmen and word games, along with some self-contradictions and unacknowledged backpeddling. In addition, he has issued two "impossible challenges" to us which, if he had read and actually comprehended what we wrote thus far, he would know are exceedingly easy to meet. Of course, he won't agree that we met them since we will use terms that he doesn't believe in which, acordingly to Francois, renders those terms meaningless. Good to know that he controls reality by his mere thoughts.

To say that we think he is a complete and utter moron is about the nicest thing that we can say about him. Slightly less nice would be that he is no better than the raging, frothing, bible-thumping zealots that come around to tell us how we're going to burn in hell, and how god must exist since it says so in the bible, and that the bible must be right because god wrote it.

And the really sad part is that one of his readers thinks that this is his most "airtight" argument to date. Now that's saying something, folks.

We'll get to this asinine diatribe a little later — we're kind of busy today, so feel free to go read it and laugh on your own for now. JY hit this right on the head when he referred to Francois as a net-kook. Amen, brother.

JY, 2006.02.23 (Thu) 14:03 [Link] »

I wonder if he is intentionally equivocating on the term 'supernatural'. Does he fail to understand the word is used to mean both 'above nature' (and thus, indeed, any truly supernatural claim would be impossible to test) but also as a categorization of phenomena that are deemed to be non-existant (ghosts, remote viewing, yada yada yada). Because he seemed baffled by the statement that something which was 'supernatural' could become 'natural'. Is he being intentionally obtuse, or simply didn't realize that what's being implied was that a phenomenon that was misclassified as supernatural has now been correctly reclassified as natural.

And he's really confused about the concept of 'inter-subjective'. He keeps banging on about this 'reality we all acknowledge', as if that acknowledgment isn't arrived at inter-subjectively. The concept of inter-subjectivity is at the core of a rational understanding of the universe. A scientist forms a hypothesis and conducts a test, which confirms that hypothesis; yet that rational scientist understands that his analysis of the hypothesis and the test are subjective, and seeks another inherently subjective analysis of the same phenomena (from another subject). With enough inter-subjective confirmation of the evidence, the scientist can confidently but provisionally conclude that his subjective interpretation accurately reflects objective reality. Hence repeatable tests, peer review, and all that. This is basic stuff that he seems confused about.

Tom from the Two Percent Company, 2006.02.23 (Thu) 14:17 [Link] »

"Confused" is a good word for Francois. I actually don't think that he's being intentionally obtuse. Rather, I'd say that he's almost entirely ignorant of science (as you note, JY), and that he hangs his hat almost solely on semantic arguments which, even if they were valid in reality (which they aren't), are often quite flawed.

In addition, we are as perplexed as you are at his inability to grasp how something that was once thought of as "supernatural" can be tested, documented, and explained naturally, hence becoming "natural." He seems intent upon the delusion that, if something is called "supernatural," then it is forever beyond the scope of reality, and hence is meaningless. He fails to see that this is nothing but a man-made label to refer to something that is beyond the scope of current understanding. Based on this flawed reasoning, his reference to this process as "magical" is understandable, but still oddly disturbing to us.

Anyway, we'll have what will hopefully be our final response to him posted later today, and with any luck, we can get back to some intelligent discussions.

Tanooki Joe, 2006.02.23 (Thu) 15:42 [Link] »

Francois has quite the reputation in the atheist online community. His unpleasant personality and tendency to insult pointlessly has caused most to avoid or ignore him; however, he can't stand being criticized (especially on an intellectual level), so if you want him to go away, you should probably ignore him too. He reminds me of Captain Queeg more than anyone.

Francois Tremblay, 2006.02.23 (Thu) 16:18 [Link] »

I have to say that the most impolite people I have ever come in contact with were skeptics. You immoral freaks are no exception.

As far as I'm concerned, you have zero answers to my questions, you have zero idea what yuo mean by "testing the paranormal", and this discussion is over.

IAMB, 2006.02.23 (Thu) 18:03 [Link] »

Unpleasant? Nah...

This is the same guy who took me off of his blogroll for being nominated for a Koufax award, since the awards are for left-leaners and insinuated that leaning left meant I didn't think for myself.

Never could find the heart to respond...

The Two Percent Company, 2006.02.23 (Thu) 22:59 [Link] »

Yow! Cut to the quick! Whatever shall we say? Wait...wait...it's coming to us...yes! "Nuh-uh! You're a doody head!" Hey, that's how you play the baseless juvenile insult game, right, Francois?

Let's look at Tanooki Joe's comment above:

Francois has quite the reputation in the atheist online community. His unpleasant personality and tendency to insult pointlessly has caused most to avoid or ignore him...

And now Francois' latest comment:

I have to say that the most impolite people I have ever come in contact with were skeptics. You immoral freaks are no exception.

Yeah, that pretty much sums this asshat up, Tanooki Joe. If only we'd known in advance, we could have avoided this pointless exercise.

And as we said, we will be posting our longer reply to Francois' "challenges" shortly (or sometime on the 23rd, right?). Fuck, he reminds us of Miraclist the Whiny Psychic when he bitches about our lack of answers before we've even had a chance to post our reply!

We can only hope that this discussion is finally, truly nearing its end. Only time will tell.

The Two Percent Company, 2006.02.23 (Thu) 23:24 [Link] »

What Francois never seems to be able to grasp is the simple difference between testing the supernatural and testing specific claims of the supernatural. He demonstrates his complete inability to understand this throughout his latest reply, and he continues in his ignorance despite our repeated explanations of the difference. We'll lay this out in simple terms for him one last time.

One example of trying to test — and thereby confirm or refute — the supernatural itself (or some general aspect thereof) would be trying to test whether fairies exist; at all, anywhere. We covered this specific example in the post that we referenced and linked to in our Rant above. We can only assume that Francois either didn't bother to read it, or he failed to understand it. So, here is the relevant bit:

No one can "prove" a negative assertion such as one stating that "mediums" do not have spirit powers. The same is true of most examples of paranormal and supernatural "phenomena" that you can think of. Take, for example, an attempt to prove that fairies don't exist. A fairy believer says that fairies live in the hollow tree down by the river. So, we go down to the tree to look, and there are no fairies. When we report back, the fairy supporters say "they were out to lunch," or "they were invisible," or "well, they still exist, just not in that tree." See the problem?

Similarly, if we were to take an example in which we showed definitively that Allison's powers failed, what would that buy us? Nothing. Allison could just claim that the "message was fuzzy" or that we'd "understand later" that it was really right. Even if we could somehow prove that her powers didn't work in this one instance, how do we prove that they simply don't exist in any instance? We can't. No one can.

To "prove" that Allison has no powers, we would have to prove that in every possible instance — which would be as many as Allison cares to make up, and she can always make up new ones on the fly — Allison exhibited no powers.

In short, trying to test a general supernatural assertion like those above is a waste of time. However, the reason that it is a waste of time isn't the asinine semantic argument that Francois offers, but rather because the goalposts are always in motion, as described above.

On the other hand, an example of trying to test and prove or disprove a specific supernatural claim would be trying to test whether someone can move objects at a distance with their mind. It might go something like this:

Skeptic: What kinds of objects can you move?

Subject: All kinds of objects.

Skeptic: Does size matter?

Subject: I've never moved anything bigger than a breadbox.

Skeptic: And you don't touch the objects in any way?

Subject: Nope. I sit at a table, place the object on the table, and concentrate.

Skeptic: Can this happen at any table in any place?

Subject: Yes, I've done it many times in many places.

Skeptic: ...

And so on, until the specific testable claim is properly identified. Then, protocols are setup around a test, the criteria for success are determined and agreed, and the test is conducted. If the test is passed by the subject, does this immediately validate, in this case, telekinesis? Fuck, no, as we already said. More tests would be needed. And if it were determined through repeated testing that the subject's abilities were only present in areas in which an abnormally strong electromagnetic fields were present, and that he was able, somehow, to use the electrical activity of his brain to interfere with the existing electromagnetic fields in the environment to move objects (quite a stretch, to be sure), then the ability to do just that would move into the realm of the natural. "Natural" and "supernatural" are mere human labels that we attach to concepts, depending on how well we understand them. They don't really describe the concept's or phenomenon's inherent attributes. This isn't about semantics, either; it's about divorcing practical scientific methodology from distracting and often confusing artifacts of human thought and language. We've stated all of this to Francois already, and he just doesn't seem to grasp it. However, we are reasonably sure that this isn't our fault, as Francois' fellow Goosing the Antithesis blogger, Zachary Moore, seems to have no problem at all understanding what we said. He commented:

2% said, just prior to your reply: "The moment that someone's claim to be able to read minds through telepathy is proven to be true, their telepathy ceases to be supernatural; if we can detect it by natural means — which are the only means we have — then it falls under the umbrella of 'natural.'"

which contradicts this: "Further, the "possibility" always remains to prove the existence of the supernatural, inasmuch as anything is theoretically conceivable."

So I think we're all back on the same page.

While we don't agree that our two statements contradicted one another, it is clear that Zachary understands the concept we are talking about, whereas Francois clearly does not. We're done explaining it to Francois. If he still doesn't get it, perhaps he should ask Zachary to explain it to him. Frankly, it's fairly simple as far as we're concerned.

Francois then shows once again that his reading comprehension skills need a lot of work:

...I understand that Two Percent Company is saying specifically that it is their ability to conceive of the paranormal that makes it possible, not their ability to imagine of it. Since both claims are equally absurd, I don't see the point of dwelling on it anyway.

No, we have not made either of those assertions. Whether or not we can imagine or conceive (or both, though we're hard pressed to figure out how Francois is differentiating between the two) of the paranormal has no bearing on reality. Some people can't conceive of the fact that the earth is round, but that doesn't change that simple fact. We won't bother to quote Francois back at himself again since it had no measurable effect the last time we did it using this same quote.

What we actually said is that in order to design and conduct proper tests of specific paranormal claims, it is necessary to acknowledge the possibility of occurrences which, prior to examination and testing, are considered supernatural. That's it. Our imagination has nothing to do with it. We can only assume that Francois' error stems from his mistaken belief that if he believes a term to be meaningless, it somehow changes reality and makes his version come true. We know that he'll deny holding that belief, but his past words speak volumes, here.

Remember when we compared Francois to bible-thumpers who claim that god must exist because it says so in the bible, and that the bible must be right because god wrote it? His response to our quote below is why:

The fact that any paranormal claim is meaningless is an assertion based solely on his underlying belief that it cannot exist.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. They are taking this ass-backwards. I know it cannot exist because it is meaningless, not the reverse.

Riiiight. And he know's that it's meaningless because...? Oh, because things that are "supernatural" are outside of the natural world, and hence don't exist. Or are we going back to his word games again? This is probably the most moronic argument he's made to date. (And here we were so sure it was his most "airtight," as advertised.)

How about when we said that the term "supernatural" was a man-made classification and not an immutable law? Francois didn't understand that either based on his response to our quote below:

Francois seems to hold that belief due to semantic arguments: supernatural ergo not natural ergo not real ergo meaningless; or, in plain English, if it's called "supernatural" then it can't be part of the natural world and hence it can't exist, period.


As soon as something is scientifically verified to exist, it ceases to be "supernatural" and becomes "natural."

This is an insulting straw man, but never mind that. It's more interesting to note that their position seems to be based on the idea that "supernatural" actually means something (instead of being the empty negative term that it really is), that something "supernatural" can magically turn into something "natural". I would very much like an explanation from Two Percent Company on how something supernatural can magically become natural - especially since, by definition, it cannot be changed through natural laws ! The closest I can think of is the belief in a divine incarnation like "Jesus" - but given their stance against religion, that doesn't seem like a way out for them.

Ultimately, it seems that the people playing word games here is Two Percent Company - if they expect us to believe that words don't mean what they mean !

Wow. In trying to argue against our point, Francois seems to have instead proven it. He accuses us of constructing a strawman when we say that he holds his belief "due to semantic arguments: supernatural ergo not natural ergo not real ergo meaningless; or, in plain English, if it's called 'supernatural' then it can't be part of the natural world and hence it can't exist, period." Then, he explains why he really holds his belief by attacking our acknowledgement of the term supernatural, as such: "It's more interesting to note that their position seems to be based on the idea that 'supernatural' actually means something (instead of being the empty negative term that it really is)..." Um, yeah — that's exactly the kind of word game we've been talking about. Check and mate on that point, it seems. Thanks.

Let's expand on this, though, to illustrate our point. How can someone deny that a word means something, if, for example, it's in the dictionary? To be clear, it's not a question of what someone thinks the word means (and neither does the fact that it's in the dictionary clinch it); but the fact that a series of phonemes or visual symbols put together refers to a concept that humans sharing a common language have agreed upon is pretty damn irrefutable, at least if that someone cares to engage in any discussions with other humans. Whether Francois cares to acknowledge it or not, "supernatural" has a meaning. Period. It's that simple. We could throw a dictionary definition on the table, but that's not the point. An intelligent reader knows perfectly well what the word "supernatural" means, in various contexts, and with various nuances. Francois has just decided that, since it refers conceptually to phenomena that he believes (and we agree) don't exist in the natural world, the term itself is meaningless, which is an exceedingly silly position to take. Dragons don't exist, but everyone here knows perfectly well what we're referring to when we say "dragons," and therefore we can conduct tests to actually check if dragons exist.

"Supernatural" is a word, and refusing to recognize its meaning, or the concept or concepts to which it refers, simply doesn't in any way render it meaningless.

Francois also completely fails to understand how scientific inquiry works when he says that something supernatural "magically" turns into something natural. Fuck, this is like trying to pound an egg noodle (a simple idea) into a concrete block (Francois' impenetrable skull). Okay, one last time, for the cheap seats.

Supernatural is a man-made term to refer to things which we cannot currently explain by referencing observable natural processes. Once we can explain a given phenomenon, we no longer refer to it as "supernatural," because we have a natural explanation for it — it effectively ceases to live in the realm of the supernatural, and instead becomes a natural phenomenon. There isn't anything magical about it. However, if Francois is determined to make "supernatural" an immutable law from which no phenomena can ever escape, thereby rendering it a meaningless term, then all we can say is that he's seriously fucking mistaken.

As far as our comment being a strawman, all we can say is that we based it on Francois' own direct statements. That is not a strawman, it's simply summarizing his own beliefs. As far as that summary being insulting, well, calling someone with an IQ of 7 an idiot is also insulting, but that doesn't make it any less true.

We were also treated to some more of Francois' belief that whatever his little mind believes somehow impacts subjective reality:

Not only do skeptics "have an idea" of what it means to test claims of the paranormal, such tests are actually constructed and carried out all the time.

I deny that such "tests" are more than inter-subjective games. They have no relation to reality. Once again, you cannot test something that has no meaning ! What is so hard to understand about this ? Can you test the existence of "zorglubs" ? Gods ? Ghosts ? Impossible.

There it is, in Francois' own words, folks. He denies such tests are connected to reality, so therefore they really aren't taking place. We wonder: if we deny that Francois exists, will he just go away...? Hey, we can dream (and no, we aren't saying that dreaming something makes it possible — sheesh). We already talked about examples of tests that can be used to verify specific paranormal claims above — we'll let our readers determine whether tests such as the ones we described are possible and if they are in fact taking place all the time. The answer is pretty obvious...if your name isn't Francois Tremblay.

Then Francois shows us that he doesn't at all understand how a supernatural claim (like telekinesis) can have a very natural and measurable effect (like, oh, we don't know, maybe a block of wood moving across a table):

However, if someone offers a claim that clearly suggests a material, physical observation or experiment that could confirm or refute the claim, why should we not test it?

I am aghast to have to point out something so painfully obvious, but if it was measurable, then such a claim would be NATURAL ! You could not have a causal connection from those claimed existents or processes to your sensory organs if the former were not natural to begin with. I hope I don't have to explain to them how the eyes or the ears work ?

We're aghast to have to point this out, but it's entirely possible for someone to offer a supernatural cause to explain a natural, observable effect. If Francois can't wrap his head around this simple concept, then we can only recommend getting his lobotomy reversed. Wow.

Francois' next comment really fits under the same umbrella with the one above. He talks about how we can't dissociate "the paranormal" from "paranormal claims." He is, of course, incorrect, and we've covered that in sufficient detail already.

Before going into his home stretch of stupidity, Francois pauses to backpedal, though he certainly won't admit to doing so:

So, how could something be a brilliant and educational move, and yet still be a quixotic waste of time?

I never claimed that the Million Dollar Prize was inherently skeptical (in fact I claimed the opposite !), so I fail to see the logical connection here. It seems to me like they are looking for nits that simply aren't there.

Let's take a look at what Francois did say, and we'll let our readers determine whether this is a full-fledged backpedal, or just a few stumbles backward. Here's the statement from Francois that started this whole shebang:

Well, a few months ago I would have agreed completely, but now Randi's skeptical views somewhat annoy me. I don't think it's possible to prove that the supernatural exists, even in principle. I have yet to see any skeptic prove that the possibility remains. And yet they keep looking...

Isn't the skeptic's quixotic quest rather like those studies that keep cropping up to try to prove or disprove that prayer has a medical effect ? What is the point to these millions of dollars wasted ? Let's devote our energy to better things, people...

So, although his initial statement said that Randi's skeptical view annoyed him (his words), and that skeptics were wasting their time (we think it's safe to read that into the words "quixotic," "wasted," and "better things"), and that the "millions of dollars" are likewise "wasted," he wasn't saying that Randi was wasting his time, and he wasn't saying that Randi's challenge was a skeptical exercise and an example of what many skeptics do. Well. We call bullshit — complete and utter bullshit. To us, this is clearly a major backpedal.

Oddly, although Francois acknowledges the educational value of Randi's challenge, he can't make the short mental leap to acknowledging the educational value of skepticism in general. In fact, he outright denies it:

Then they go on and on to discuss the so-called educational value of skepticism, which I simply don't agree with at all.

As with most of his arguments, he offers no rationale behind this denial, but then again, for Francois, denial is apparently all it takes for him to render something meaningless. He's that talented.

Like Francois, though, we'll also agree to eschew the morality discussion here because, as we learned already, Francois has a fucked up sense of morality that we certainly don't subscribe to. In his view, the fact that we disagree with him (never mind why, or to what extent, because Francois certainly hasn't) renders us immoral. Rather like those bible-thumpers again, eh?

Francois also states:

Let me make my position clear. I am obviously not saying that you cannot test such a claim as "being able to diagnose an illness at a distance". While the claim in itself may be rather wonky (although in some cases rather trivial), there is no paranormal or supernatural term in such a claim. In that case, yes, the skeptic is doing something meaningful when he is testing it, although it seems to me to be more of a medical claim than anything else. If the skeptic, however, thinks that he is testing something paranormal by doing so, or even "spirit communication", then he is out of his mind.

Again, we have to thank Francois for acknowledging our point. He still doesn't seem to grasp what we're saying, but we'll consider this unacknowledged backpedal on his part as some small modicum of progress. We have no fucking clue how he acknowledges the ability of a skeptic to test claims like the one we mentioned, and to agree that there is a benefit to such testing, but then continues to stick to his assertion that there is no value in skepticism and that such tests are impossible. We'd ask him to explain this apparent chasm of self-contradiction, but we honestly don't give enough of a fuck to hear it.

Which brings us to Francois' two "impossible challenges." By this point in our reply, any rational person can see why these challenges are relatively easy to meet — we've outlined our position above, as well as in our past responses, and that position leads very directly to specific answers to these challenges.

Let's look at the first Herculean task, more of a Nemean housecat than a lion:

Let me put it this way : if Two Percent Company can explain to me the meaning of any paranormal of supernatural claim, and show how it is compatible with the facts of reality, then I will concede its possibility. Let's start with... say, ghosts. Can you do it ?

This is really a relatively simple task. All they would need to do is give us the meaning of "ghost", and show that it is compatible with, say, the idea of a "ghost" floating in mid-air at night scaring people off. This is a pretty trivial task to complete for any material concept.

As we said, if you have been reading our statements all along, including what we've laid out above, the answer here is pretty obvious. It's rather simple to define what a ghost is and to show how that definition is compatible with the reported observations of ghosts.

Let's start with the meaning of the word "ghost." Most people would agree that when someone refers to a ghost, they are talking about the disembodied "spirit" (the source of animation) of, for the sake of argument here, a deceased person. A ghost is a supernatural phenomenon in that no ghost has ever been observed or shown to exist. Some of the naturally observable phenomona often ascribed to ghosts include seeing apparitions, hearing noises that sound like human voices, sudden drops in room or body temperature, and seeing objects moving "on their own" (to be certain, there are many other examples). In all investigations that we are aware of, there has never been a concrete observation of a ghost, nor has there been any definitive proof linking any of the supposedly ghost-caused natural effects to the actions of supernatural ghosts. In many cases, the natural effects have been observed, but other causes have been identified — for example, perhaps someone did suddenly feel cold in a room that was previously warmer, but it turned out to be due to the AC kicking in.

Now, based on all of the tests over the years in which no evidence at all supporting the existence of ghosts has surfaced, we submit that there are no such things as ghosts. However, we certainly admit the possibility, infinitesimal though it may be, that ghosts do exist. If we were to close our minds to that remote possibility, as Francois has done, then we would not be able to conduct tests that touched on claims revolving around ghosts. If we could not conduct tests of such claims, then we would be unable to move science forward as it relates to any such claims. Let's be clear — we're not just talking about moving the science of investigating ghosts forward, we're talking about moving forward anything that might have to do with the claims being made. So, if the cold chill example we gave — which the hypothetical subject attributed to ghosts — was really caused by the heightening of heat sensitivity based on dietary considerations (to use a random example), and if we decided up front that all claims involving ghosts were meaningless and hence not worthy of testing, then we would never discover the sensory changes that are actually causing the observed natural phenomenon. Hence, there is scientific value to be found in investigations of odd occurrences. In addition, even if the underlying cause is mundane as initially suggested, the application of scientific testing to the claim can show a rational person why the claim of ghostly intervention is nonsensical. Hence, the educational value we have been referring to over and over and over again.

All of this is precisely what we have been saying all along — anyone who can read and understand our posts will acknowledge this (which is why we believe that Francois will make no such acknowledgement). This is the answer to the first challenge, whether Francois agrees or not. We're not — how did he put it? — "holding our breath."

Let's take a look at the second task, an Augean fishbowl:

[The Two Percent Company's] position is that, while paranormal claims are not possible in theory, they can still test them. Fine, guys. Tell us what it means to test "spirit communication". And to do such a thing you necessarily first need to explain what "spirit" means. Let's see you once and for all support their position. Can you do that ?

Quite frankly, the details we discussed in relation to the first challenge also apply to this one. We've already defined a ghost, which is close enough to the definition of a spirit, so we'll consider that asked and answered. The outlines we've provided numerous times (as well as immediately above) for testing supernatural claims also apply here, so again: asked and answered. Finally, even though Francois continues to ignore the distinction between testing the paranormal and testing a specific paranormal claim, we feel that we've devoted more than enough time to detailing that distinction than any person should have to devote. Long story short: testing a "paranormal" claim is essentially an exercise to determine if an observable, natural effect has a "paranormal" origin, or if it has an observable, measurable, natural cause. We're talking here about testing a very specific claim, not testing the "paranormal" itself. If anyone other than Francois still isn't clear on this distinction, we ask that you re-read this very response. If anyone still isn't clear at that point, then perhaps you should be reading Francois' asinine entries as opposed to ours. In short, if Francois feels that we haven't supported our arguments from the get go, then that seems an awful lot like his problem, and not ours. Once again, we're happy to let our readers decide for themselves.

So, two miracles completed. How many more do we need until we can be canonized? Must we fight a Hydra next? As we said earlier, we have no doubt that Francois will call "foul" when we he sees that we have met his challenges, but we've decided that "foul" is a meaningless word, and as such, his argument is rendered moot. We only wonder how they'll manage without this meaningless word come the next baseball season....

Francois closes:

I'm looking forward to seeing you accomplish the impossible. In short, "put up or shut up".

The only putting up that Francois' silly shit has caused us to engage in is putting up with Francois' rockheaded stupidity. It became clear to us quite some time ago that he is nothing more than a credulous moron, engaging in his own furious session of mental masturbation. It is equally clear to us that, no matter what we say, and no matter how many times we say it, Francois will never even remotely get it. And no matter how many times we refute his same tired arguments — be they strawmen definitions of skeptics, silly fucking word games, denials of reality, or delusional assertions — he'll never give an inch. Frankly, we're used to dealing with people like this from our experience with religious nuts and other true believers the world over, and we waste quite enough time on them already. For all of his pseudo-intellectual nonsense and his delusions of grandeur, Francois is nothing but a tiresome hack, convinced of his own superiority, while actually saying nothing.

Finally, we offer the following to Francois:

We know that you don't agree with anything that we've said, and that you never will. That's something we can live with. In fact, we take comfort in the fact that someone like you disagrees with us — it's a rather successful sanity check when our views are not in line with yours. Understand that you will not get the last word on our site — we don't let morons do that, and we'd rather waste our time than to let a misleading and patently false assertion sit unanswered (hey, there's that education stuff we've been talking about). So, you would seem to have two options.

First, you may continue to reply on our site. If you do so, be aware that we will take one of two actions. We will either reply to your comments ad infinitum no matter how much you say that you don't want to talk about them; or, if your comments descend any further into the realm of abysmal stupidity, we will simply move them to our Urinal post where moronic comments go to die. It's up to you if you want to pursue this approach.

Second, you may opt to cease commenting on our site, and instead say whatever you want about us on your own site. You may notice that we have never commented there (at first because we had no blogger account, but later because we didn't feel like it). We have no problem continuing to not comment on your site, especially if you will refrain from commenting on ours. In this way, we can all choose how or even if to respond to comments from each other. For our part, we'll be happy to ignore you from this point onward if you'll just go away. In fact, you can even go back to your blog and make as many false assertions as you like: claim victory, say that we knelt before you and swore allegiance to the Anarchic Empire of Not-King Francois, tell people that you vanquished us and we have obediently converted to anti-skeptic market anarchists, all at your urging; all of this is A-OK with us. We may decide to refute your claims, depending on what they are, but we'll do so on our own site, in our own time, if we choose to. In this way, we can put an end to what is an incredibly useless exchange that is destined to never move forward. Now that sounds fair.

We sincerely hope that this reply is the last hunk of time that we will ever waste with you, and we tend to believe (or at least hope) that you feel the same way, but the choice is yours. Be clear about your options, and make your decision.

The Two Percent Company, 2006.02.23 (Thu) 23:26 [Link] »

And now for something completely different (from the past few days, anyway): intelligent conversation!

Derek said:

Here's a conundrum. How do you deal with Holocaust deniers who claim to be open-minded skeptics but are in fact racist crackpots? I was contacted by one last week and she still emails me every now and then. At first she tried to present herself as some kind of rationalist who only wants to know the truth. But her last email admitted that she "doesn't believe in interracial marriage."

We checked out Derek's link and, well, yeah, this woman is a bigoted kook. In our experience, quite a few kooks claim to be skeptics or critical thinkers. However, merely claiming to be something doesn't make it so.

One of the hallmarks of an actual critical thinker is a steadfast willingness to examine information from sources on all sides of a given debate. So, when we research the paranormal, we don't just visit the Skeptics' Dictionary and JREF — we also spend time reading the positions and claims of the true believers and the supposed paranormal experts. If we didn't do so, we would be no better than the creationists who furiously memorize Answers in Genesis and think that they therefore have a good grasp of evolutionary science.

We've looked into the holocaust, from all sides of the issue, and we can honestly say that anyone who comes to the conclusion that Derek's visitor came to is either not bothering to examine data counter to her position, or is simply refusing to acknowledge said data. Put simply, there is no way to conduct unbiased research on this topic and actually come to the conclusion that "it didn't happen."

So, in a nutshell, she can claim to be a skeptic — hell, she can claim to be Abraham Lincoln — but that doesn't make it so.

How do we deal with crackpots like this? Mostly, we just expose their bullshit for others to see, so that refutations of their lies and delusions are made available to those who wish to know the facts. Education trumps ignorance every time.

The Two Percent Company, 2006.02.24 (Fri) 11:49 [Link] »

Hey, Francois finally seems to understand something we've said. Just one thing, of course; not the whole shebang. In his latest post, he has declared that "the conversation is over," and we're awfully glad to hear it. As predicted, he has also claimed victory (the hardcore loons always do this without bothering to address any of the points made by the other side). For our part, we're happy to let our readers decide for themselves how the "conversation" ended. Francois' latest reply:

Look at the stream of ad homs and boasting they're posting on their own thread now. As far as I'm concerned, they have been exposed for the mystic frauds they are, and this conversation is over.

If a more reasonable skeptic (I know some of you read this blog !) wants to give it a try and explain what he means by "testing the paranormal", he is free to do so in the comments. I'll be waiting...

Based on this brief reply, we tend to doubt that he even read our response, which could explain why he incorrectly states that we've engaged in ad hominem attacks (he's wrong, since our insults are entirely peripheral to the actually-quite-solid logic refuting his "arguments") and boasting (huh? Well, we put him down, so maybe to him that makes it seem like we're boasting). But "mystic frauds"? What the fuck does that even mean?

You know what? Never mind; we don't really care.

Since we figure it's possible that some reasonable skeptics do read that blog — though we doubt that they bother to read Francois' posts — we wanted to offer our advice to any such people based on first-hand knowledge: just keep Francois waiting. There's nothing to be gained by talking to him about this or, apparently, any other subject. Instead, just go slam your head into the wall for a few hours while having someone insist that words have no meaning, that the wall doesn't exist because he denies its existence, and that you are an "immoral mystic freak" (for no readily apparent reason)...that'll achieve precisely the same effect.

Net-kook, indeed.

Rockstar Ryan, 2007.02.01 (Thu) 13:43 [Link] »

***Since my triumphant return to teh intarnets occurred only recently, I've been trying to catch up (slowly) on all I missed.***

I remember this guy from GiFS. He is a shining example of why all atheists are certainly not adept at critical thinking. Comments like:

You cannot test something that has no connection to our material senses and instruments (never mind that it cannot exist in the first place).

This is an argument one would expect from a theist, not an atheist!

This nonsense is easily proven false. Does the tested phenomena (sp?) produce observable effects? Then we can test it!

The Two Percent Company, 2007.02.01 (Thu) 14:13 [Link] »

See, what you're missing, Ryan, is that in Francois' world, if something doesn't exist, that renders even the concept of that thing nonexistent. Ghosts don't exist? Then he doesn't even recognize the word ghost — it doesn't even have any meaning, apparently, despite its definitive presence and frequent usage by speakers of English worldwide. Fuck dictionaries, Francois has style. By "style," we mean "willful, deluded ignorance." It's a truly remarkable person who thinks the way Francois does. And by "truly remarkable person," we mean "utter fuckhole."

And it isn't coincidence that one of his arguments sounds more like it comes from a theist than an atheist — we found that to be true of many of the nuggets of steaming crap that dropped limply from his slack jaw. For example, when we informed him that state-sponsored military action is, in our opinion, sometimes warranted and/or necessary (though never optimal), he informed us that we were "immoral freaks." No discussion, no need to engage his brain — we went against the Bible of Francois, and we were condemned to Francois Hell.

The good news is that Francois Hell seems to entail Francois not talking to you anymore. We have an open seat next to us if anyone would like to join us (but they're filling up fast!). Come on down. The lack of sheer idiocy in Francois Hell is quite refreshing.

Tom Foss, 2007.02.01 (Thu) 15:45 [Link] »

This sounds a lot like an argument I heard in a philosophy class a few years ago. We were running through Descartes's scrambling attempts to prove the existence of God, given the fact that he has reduced the provably extant universe down to the level of the individual.

The 'best,' and I seem to recall, last of these went something like 'we can only conceive of things that exist, or things that are made up of things that exist. So, since we can conceive of perfection, perfection must exist. Since we can conceive of God, God must exist."

Or something along those lines. I had a few immediate rebuttals to it. The first is that I can conceive of a unicorn, but unicorns do not exist. A unicorn is made of things which do exist, primarily horses and horns. Similarly, just because I can conceive of God does not mean God exists. The Christian conception of God is a combination of things which do exist: namely, power, knowledge, benevolence, and a body of some sort.

Or, I can conceive of nothing. Does that mean that "nothing" exists? There is not a spot in the universe that contains "nothing," even though the vacuum is mostly empty, there is debris, dust, and hydrogen floating around out there, not to mention light, background radiation, and the fabric of spacetime. Not to mention the fact that I've never seen the vacuum firsthand, and unless you're in the vacuum, you're nowhere near "nothing." But I can conceive of "something," and I can conceive of the absence of that something, which would be "nothing." Similarly, I can conceive of imperfection, and I can conceive of the absence of that imperfection, which would be perfection.

So, back to concepts, just because we can think of it doesn't mean that it exists. But you already knew that.

Jeff from the Two Percent Company, 2007.02.01 (Thu) 15:53 [Link] »

Exactly, Tom Foss — Francois just takes that absurd notion and reverses it, asserting that if it doesn't exist, we can't conceive of it. In either direction, that equation makes absolutely zero sense. I can't even conceive of it making sense. Which means, of course, it doesn't exist. Or something like that.

Your use of the second leg of that bullshit hypothesis to debunk the first leg is especially poetic, and quite excellent.

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