We deal with a wide range of subjects on this board, and some are quite controversial. (Surprise, surprise…it is, after all, the Great Debates board.)
I was moved to start this thread by rereading something Phil said:
Okay. I can grant that. But, as I tried to debate with David in two threads that got mired in semantics, evidence that one chooses to disbelieve can be ingeniously “proved” to have been faked, by proper selection of criteria. (By which I do not mean to impugn Phil’s or David’s veracity!) But if I adduce evidence of a “miracle” in support of a religious thread, it would be very easy to show some way in which this supposed “miracle” could be faked, or misinterpreted as a “miracle” when in fact it is not.
Again, Contestant #3 seems to feel (correct me if I misinterpret, please!) that evidence of reports regarding Falun Gong and the French study seems to “prove” something regarding UFOs. And almost everyone is assuming that this interpretation is correct, and shooting down his “evidence” as not true evidence of anything except Chinese attitudes towards dissidence and French attitudes towards something or other. (Personally, I rather like the idea, which I picked up from his defense post on the “Why believe in UFOs” thread, that they are a topic of inquiry that interests him, and he refuses to be constrained by “what everybody knows” thinking.)
By proper selection of criteria, it would be quite possible to “disprove” some historically valid statement, e.g., Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape in 1745. In fact, I happen to know that the present Prince Charles was escorted to an island in Lake Ontario by Flora MacDonald (who was P.C. M.P. for the area, and a low-octane minister in the Canadian government, at the time). Certainly misinterpretations of this story, which was widely covered in the press (at least the Watertown Daily Times, the Ottawa Citizen, and the Kingston Whig-Standard), could have given rise to the 1745 legend. The fact that the 1745 event was historically true, and the late 1980s event was a conscious parallel to it, could easily be lost over the next century or two, and thus the later event used to “disprove” the former.
It’s been rehashed several times that “extraordinary claims must meet extraordinary standards.” In view of the fact that it is quite possible to interpret or explain away virtually any assertion, what criteria would satisfy a skeptic? This is necessarily asked generically, but I would suppose needs to be answered by specifics.
E.g., suppose (and I do not have any statistics or axe to grind on this one, which is one reason I’m selecting it) that “miraculous cures” of cancer by visitors to Lourdes exceed the normal rate of spontaneous remission by a significant factor. Is this “proof” of anything? If so, what? If not, what would be?