Friday, February 7, 2014

Debunking Pseudoskepticism: Common fallacies on ET/UFO

Debunking Pseudoskepticism: Common fallacies on ET/UFO
Postby Indigo Child

I had composed the following article for the Above Top Secret UFO forum. I am reposting it here because it is very relevant to this forum.

I think there is a very severe problem of pseudoskepticism in the UFO community that impairs progressive research. I think the UFO community can benefit from clear thinking, and thus I am writing this brief primer on logic focussed particularly on the subject matter of Aliens and UFO’s. I will discuss the common fallacies used by pseudoskeptics and offer a rebuttal.

I first want to clarify what I am not attempting to do.

I am not attempting to prove anything. Simply because I am going to debunk common pseudoskeptical arguments, does not mean that the believers arguments have been proven. Rather, all I am going to do is use the principle of non-contradiction in logic and show that the arguments used by pseudoskeptics are logically contradictory.

I am not vilifying skepticism. It is not possible for me to vilify skepticism without contradicting my own skepticism. We are all believers and skeptics, only that what we believe and what we are sceptical about varies from person to person.

That said, there is an ideal skeptic. That is somebody who withholds judgement until they have explored all available evidence in a case. A skeptic is thus an investigator and their job is to investigate. Then, after the investigation is complete, the skeptic is able to offer a hypothesis which can account for all of the available data. Somebody who does not investigate a case is not a skeptic, they are merely doubters. Somebody who attempts to investigate, but makes suppositions and does not take into account all available evidence, but distorts evidence to fit their hypothesis is a pseudoskeptic.

From hereon we will look at the common fallacious arguments used by pseudoskeptics in the context of Aliens and UFO’s. I do not claim to be exhaustive, I can only look at a limited set of arguments. If there are arguments not covered that that you think are fallacious and want me to debunk them, just request it and I will attempt to do so in another post.

Now let us look at the common fallacies one by one.

Argument: There is no proof or evidence that ET exists. Yes, it is true that the SETI equation shows that the probability of ET is very likely, but this is not proof in and of itself, only a mathematical possibility. Therefore ETH is not a valid explanation.

Rebuttal: This is an invalid and logically contradictory argument. For the following reasons

1) There is significant evidence and proof that ET exists. It is the job of the skeptic to investigate this evidence and 'proof' and come to a judgement on it.
2) The probability of life on planets is 100%. This is not a mathematical possibility, but an empirical fact. Planet Earth is a planet and it is teeming with very diverse life, and it is commonly accepted by science that life appeared on this planet quickly after the Earth was born. It is an empirical fact that the phenomenon of life on planets is a part of our observable universe. Therefore there is no reason to speculate that life cannot be possible elsewhere.

My opponent may argue that it is possible that life only formed on planet Earth and nowhere else. They may even point out that sample size I have of life in the universe is only one instance and this is not enough to make a generalization.

Rebuttal: This is an argument from possibility fallacy. It is possible that Earth is the only planet that has life, but it is also possible that that Earth is not the only planet that has life. Mere possibility is not enough to make a case.

The opponents argument is also self-contradictory. It is possible that there are no other minds in the world, I am the only one that has mind and everybody else is either a machine or imaginary. There is only one instance of mind, my own mind, so can I generalise from such a sample? The chances are the opponent takes this generalization for granted in his everyday life. In which case I can take ET for granted as well.

In conclusion: ETH is a valid hypothesis and forms a part of our observable universe.

Argument: It impossible for ET to travel here. The distances in space are astronomical, it would take thousands, if not millions of years to reach planet Earth even at the speed of light. But it is impossible to travel at the speed of light.

Rebuttal: This is an argument from incredulity. The opponent does not believe a ET would make a trip from their home planet to Earth because the time it would take to get here is perceived to be too long and so it is unbelievable that ET would try. Just because something seems unbelievable it does not mean it cannot happen. It is unbelievable that somebody would survive a fall from a very high building, but it does happen. It is assumed that that the ET would be using FTL. Not necessarily. There are space craft planned on Earth that can reach a high percentage of the speed of light and they use as propulsion sources of energy available in the universe(hydrogen, sunlight) Thus an ET craft could do the same. Finally, the limitation of the speed of light does not apply to ET. This is because the speed limit of the speed light is one based on the predicates of General Relativity theory which states that if a mass is accelerated towards the speed of light its mass would become infinite and thus it would need an infinite amount of energy. Therefore FTL is impossible This is only a theory, there is no scientific theory which is conclusive or proven. A theory is only based on observations made in an observable universe and when new observations are made theories have to be adjusted, sometimes even rejected. As ET’s are a part of an unobservable universe, we cannot generalise any of our scientific theories to them. So none of the predicates of GR actually apply to them.

All observations made in science are effects only, not causes. Mass itself is an effect, not a cause. Therefore finding a way to manipulate causes will manipulate effects. Take for example electricity, an electric current produced by a generator is an effect. When one learns the antecedent causes for the generation of electricity, one can manipulate the electric current generated with a transformer. There is no reason to believe that an ET race cannot learn to manipulate the mass-effects caused by the speed of light travel or overcome the speed of light barrier.

In conclusion: The argument that ET cannot get to Earth is invalid.

Argument: It is completely absurd that that an advanced ET race would come here and fly around in our skies like drunk pilots, abduct humans, make crop circles and mutilate cows.

Rebuttal: This is again the fallacy of incredulity. If something seems unbelievable to us, it does not mean it does not happen. The behaviour of an alien race may seem strange to us, but then again behaviours of other cultures on our planet seem strange. Some cultures have rituals where the offspring kills their parents when they reach old age. That’s even stranger to me than some alien race doing any of the aforementioned.

Abduction for the purposes of scientific investigation is not really strange at all. We humans are constantly abducting animals for the purpose of scientific investigation. So we have no valid objection to the abduction phenomena, other than perhaps an ethical objection.

Argument: If ET exists and are visiting us, why don’t they just reveal themselves? Why would they hide? Its illogical.

Rebuttal: But who says they are hiding? They maybe hiding from some, but it does not mean they are hiding from everyone. There are many people who claim they have encountered ET directly and many high-level witnesses in the government that have claimed contact has taken place. If their claims are true, ET is only hiding from some and not everyone.

Why would ET not reveal themselves? I am tempted to give the usual speculative explanation of an intergalactic prime directive, but I will desist. Instead the objection of the opponent can be dismissed like the previous argument. It is another argument from incredulity fallacy.

Argument: There is no scientific physical evidence of UFO‘s. No UFO samples. No ET DNA samples etc

Rebuttal: This is an impossible demand. If any of this evidence even existed, what are the chances that this evidence would be mailed to the opponents home address for their personal inspection? Highly unlikely. Most people will have to rely on the authority of scientific experts who have handled the evidence. As they cannot handle the evidence themselves, they will have to simply trust the scientists.

There is a big problem with evidence from testimony. It is subject to whether you believe the authority or disbelieve them. There are many authority figures who have actually claimed to have handled UFO’s, ET’s and ET metal samples. Marcel Vogel, the award winning scientist from IBM, publicly stated that the metal sample Billy Meier(the ET contactee) gave him could not have been manufactured on this Earth. The officials in the Roswell case who claim to have handled the UFO metal debris claim the metal has alien properties(it sounds very similar to modern shape memory alloys) Some scientists have testified that transistors are actually reverse engineered ET technology.

So it is not the case that there are not authorities figures who have not handled ET physical evidence. If the opponent is genuinely sincere about their argument, now that it has been demonstrated such evidence allegedly exists and some scientists have handled it, they should accept it as proof. If not, the opponent must withdraw their argument as invalid because of their duplicity.

I anticipate an objection. The objection is that there are no peer reviewed scientific physical evidence of UFO’s, therefore any scientific evidence that is not peer reviewed must be dismissed. This argument is invalid, because it commit’s the fallacy of appealing to an authority of some entity(a peer group) If some authority dismisses a scientists evidence, it does not mean that the scientists evidence is false, it simply means the authority doesn't like it.

Argument: If we accept ET UFO’s exist and is visiting us, then we may also have to accept goblins, big foot, loch ness monster and whatever to exists.

Rebuttal: This is a slippery slope fallacy. There is absolutely no premise that entails that if you accept ET’s existence you have to accept other paranormal claims. All different paranormal claims, just like any claim, is to be treated individually.

The opponent may counter by saying that it is difficult to distinguish a UFO from other claimed paranormal phenomena(spirits, plasma balls, orbs). This maybe true in some cases, but not all. In cases which describe actual physical crafts, sometimes in rather vivid details, except these physical craft are displaying alien behaviour and look alien, one can eliminate all of the other paranormal possibilities

Argument: The UFO and ET reports by individuals are not necessarily true. They may claim a physical aircraft, but their data could be wrong. They could be lying, they could have misidentified something else for the UFO such as planet Venus, car headlights, swamp gas.

Rebuttal: Merely argument from possibility is not enough. Yes, all the above counter-hypothesis may be true, but they may be false as well. It is the job of the skeptic to investigate all the available data, eliminate all hypothesis that do not fit the data, and then come up with a hypothesis that explains the available data.

If the skeptic does not do that and instead makes suppositions, distorts the data, dismisses available data ,then it is invalid. Here is a simple hypothetical example of a distortion of data:
UFO witness: I saw it as clear as I can see you right now. It was metallic, it was emitting a bright orange glow and it hovered right above me on the road. You know like that film Independence day, the mother ship just hovers above. It was just like that. It wasn't only me who saw it, but my girlfriend as well. I am not lying I swear. I never believed in this stuff before, but I guess seeing is believing.

Skeptic: You said it was on the road, how do you know that it was not just the headlight of a car or truck?

UFO witness: Dude, I know what the headlight of a car or truck looks like. I've been driving on the road for 20 years. This was not a headlight.

Skeptic: How can you be sure? If you were the on road and a very bright headline shines in your face, it is hard to see anything clearly and then its easy to imagine that there is something large in front of you. Are you telling me it is impossible that you are not mistaken?

UFO witness: No, I am not saying that. Its always possible that one can be mistaken, but is it possible that both me and my girlfriend are mistaken.?

Skeptic: Yes, loads of people may all agree they see a ghost, only to later find out it was a lighthouse. Shared delusions are possible.

UFO witness: Look, I see what you are saying, but I believe 100% that I saw a UFO. I have never had an experience like this ever in my entire life.

Skeptic: Then you agree it is just a belief you saw the UFO. Then my job is done. Case dismissed.
The dialogue above is inspired slightly by the movie contact, when Jodie Foster in the end has to admit to the skeptics that as a scientist it is possible that she did not experience her journey. The tactics employed by the skeptic above are similar to tactics lawyers use in court rooms. It is not scientific at all and nor is it ethical. It is a bastardization of scientific research.

Let us look at the problems in the skeptics dialogue with the UFO witness:

1. The skeptic is overtly influencing the UFO witness and asking him leading questions
2. The skeptic is using arguments from possibility to negate the UFO witness experience - "It is possible you saw a car headlight" it is also possible that he did not see a headlight, but a UFO. Therefore it is an invalid argument.
3. The skeptic is not listening to the UFO witness, everything the witness says is explained away using the argument from possibility fallacy - "My girlfriend also saw it" - "But it is possible it was a shared delusion"

The skeptic fails to account for the available evidence in this witness testimony. He claims that it was a headlight of some car, but the witness tells him he knows what a headlight looks like. The skeptic should be rejecting his hypothesis now, but instead he ends up debating it with the UFO witness. Then the UFO witness reveals that more than one witness say it, making it unlikely that two people would be seeing a hovering metallic, orange light emitting mothership in a headlight. Nor does the skeptic explain how a car headlight could look like the described UFO.

These tactics are all fallacies and rhetoric, but regularly used by pseudoskeptics to dismiss everything they don't like. Pilot testimonies - "It is possible that the pilot was dreaming" Radar reports - "It is possible the radar equipment malfunctioned" In all these cases the skeptic is debating a counter-claim and thus has a burden of proof themselves, but they behave as if they are immune from it.