Some 200 years ago, in that part of Europe where the occasional progrom relieved the boredom of life, young Moishe was apprenticed to the local patriarch, eventually to be baptised in the prevalent religion. Just to make sure. One never can tell . . .
One day Moishe stood looking out the window, his back towards the blazing fire in the open hearth. The priest joined our Moishe, and, putting his hand on Moishe's shoulder, spoke:
"Isn't it miraculous how the Lord put an ice-floor over the pond there, so that the children can skate?"
Moishe's rejoinder:"Some feat. In the winter!"
Moishe may well have been one of my ancestors. He certainly has my sympathy. Now you might be inclined to
protest: wasn't this site dedicated to skepticism instead of to the province of free-thinkers? My answer can be
short and simple. It concerns the difference between believing in and believing that. If somebody
states to believe in something, it gives no rise to controversy. But believing that is always
followed by the word because.
In other words, by arguments to shore up a belief.
That opens the door by more than a crack to counterarguments. For the priest above thought he gave proof of
God's existence, didn't he? Moishe turned out to be in touch with reality and gave an alternative explanation
worthy of Occam. And never mind whether it concerns the almighty or astrology, telepathy, UFO's, alternative
medicine or what have you. In all instances Occam could have said: 'Pluralitus non est ponenda sine necessitate'
or perhaps 'Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necesitatem'. Many skeptics utter these words with conviction,
and many of them translate it preferably with 'The simplest explanation is the correct one'.
Very erudite, but open to argument in itself! Let's pass over the fact that the quoted expressions are not quotes at all: in Occam's writings you won't find them. But worse than that: the principle as such lets itself not always apply. Think for example of operational explanations of the form of: X is what X does. To give some examples: 'suggestion' as explanation for certain psychological riddles, or 'placebo' for ill-understood medical cures. As a wit once remarked: no better explanation for clairvoyance than clearsightedness.
Let me be clear on this point: I don't regard Occam's razor as axiomatic.
I prefer to apply my own variation - with thanks to was is Julian Huxley?: If a phenomenon can be explained by accepted science - even if it may sometimes appear to be somewhat far-fetched - that explanation is to be preferred over positing yet another mechanism. In addition one should of course be on the qui vive for the prevalence of sloppy reporting - not to say fraud - in the land of reputed paranormal phenomen. All that be as it may, even the dear Lord could not have assisted our Moishe in refuting the ultimate proof of God's existence as posited around 1920 by the Dutch vicar Bakels: "If you can pour tea from a pot, that pot must contain tea". . .
A life of applying these principles to paranormal phenomena and pseudo-science resulted in my becoming joint founder of the Dutch Skeptical Foundation, comparable to CSICOP in the USA. I also was the iniator to the founding of a comparable society on Malta.
The present site contains articles and notes for lectures etc from my hand. They can be clicked in the right-hand column. Occasionally a text is not available yet: the omittance shall shortly be corrected. I don't claim originality in all instances, at most an own vision. The fact that some of the articles are in Dutch and some in English is due to the locality of origin or the intended medium .
One article however can be considered as a personal witness-account, and was therefore included in both languages: 'The clairvoyant dog'. The subject matter is - even at this moment, and internationally - still controversial. My contribution may help to lay the matter at rest at last.
The revelation - if I be permitted to call it that - took place in a time where paranormal propositions were
in my direct circle received with a smile. Consequently I initially considered criticising pseudo-science as no
more than an intellectual challenge. That changed gradually as I was confronted time and again by negative aspects.
Isn't everybody free to choose his own path to riches, health and happiness? Agreed, but would it not be preferable if somebody did so, being acquainted with all arguments pro and con? If it might protect him from those who through uninformed enthousiasm (or through wilful manipulation!) rob him of his money, his well-being or his sanity?
An article addressing this consumer-unfriendly aspect of paranormal belief is being prepared. Working title: "Alace in Wonderland".
And should my endeavour not be universally welcomed, I can only recite the skeptic's prayer:
Lord, give me the courage to discourse with those who are open to argument, and
Lord, give me the resignation to keep mute towards those who are not receptive, but above all,
Lord, give me the clairvoyance to distinguish between the two groups.
(it's always useful to have a supreme being at the ready).
For all parts of this site I insist on my copyright. Copying only permitted after obtaining my permission.
My E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also open for your comments!