More sound and fury after my last post titled Passion for Fairness - ironic, as it turns out, as it reignited a previous tetchy exchange between regular visitors and skeptic Keith Augustine on the topic of near-death experiences, which he critiqued a few years back (NDEs in the Press, December 15, 2008). Keith complained about bad behaviour, while his critics said he wasn't answering their points and that his arguments were generally preposterous.
I noted Michael Prescott saying on a previous thread here that he had given up arguing with skeptics, because it was pointless, and didn't change anything, or words to that effect. As someone whose been at this game quite a bit longer than me, I respect his viewpoint. I may feel the same way in time. But right now I have a different idea. I don't expect to change skeptics' minds any more than a Labour politician mouthing off in parliament seriously expects to change the minds of opposition MPs - it's voters he wants to influence. Likewise, I think that listening to an informed debate by people at polar opposites helps other people make up their own minds.
For that reason, I'm really comfortable with skeptics showing up and exchanging views. I mention that, because Keith said at one point he had
To clarify - that statement I made in the previous post about forums existing for likeminded individuals is factually accurate - that is what associations, societies and blogs mostly are for - but isn't meant to imply that Paranormalia is hostile to other points of view or to people who make those statements. The fact that we can have these discussions at all - and at considerable length - is surely testament to that. My point was that these forums aren't obliged to go to the other extreme and give equal time and status to their critics in the interest of balance.
Keith also complained about flaming, and wondered why I didn't moderate the comments. I'd only do that if the blog got a lot of junk messages, which mercifully hasn't been the case so far. I've only had to stop one comment - the guy has since moved on - which is pretty good. I'm not keen on the idea of chairing discussions, even if I had the time for it (other regulars have stepped in with calming comments from time to time - for which, many thanks).
It's in the nature of things that these arguments get seriously heated. I take the view that if you have the guts to take the argument to the opposition, then you deserve credit for that, but by the same token, you shouldn't be surprised or upset if your opponents get frustrated, or the comments you get are hard to take.
Michael Prescott gave an admirably succinct appraisal of Keith's views on NDEs some years ago, and it pretty much expresses what I'd say, so I won't go into that here. I don't agree with most of what Keith thinks, and I'd suggest he greatly exaggerates the reliability of sources like Susan Blackmore on the topic of paranormal perception during NDEs, for instance. But the point is, there are many, many people who are disposed to believe his arguments and will take them seriously, if they think they're the ones that are most convincing. It's up to us, if we can, to change that perception. If we can't do this to the satisfaction of an uncommitted bystander, so much the worse for us.
The fact that Keith Augustine shows up to debate at least gives us an opportunity (and the serious stretches involved in his arguments - such as NDErs getting their OBE perceptions by normal means, inadequate anaesthetics, etc - should make it all the easier). We complain about the angry snarky types who think people like us don't deserve to live, so it's good to find a skeptic who is prepared to discuss his ideas with us. We're not going to agree with him, but does it really matter if we can't get him to agree with us? What matters is that we have clarified the points of disagreement, and in such a way that it's us, not him, that other readers agree with.