I was recently forwarded two unintentionally humorous email messages by a friend of mine who shares my skepticism of what believers call the paranormal. The word paranormal, as defined by the Merriam Webster Dictionary, refers to something that cannot be scientifically explained.
Now, the question about paranormal phenomena is why they aren't able to be scientifically explained. I would contend that the paranormal can't be explained through science because it consists of a curious combination of delusion, good story telling, and hoax. Those who want to believe, on the other hand, have another idea. They believe that the paranormal can't be explained by science because scientists are too skeptical to believe in anything.
The email messages that I was sent illustrate this attitude beautifully. The subject of these messages is the chupacabras, a mysterious beast that is purported to live in Central America, suck the blood from goats, and run around scaring people in its spare time. Some people claim that the chupacabras comes from UFOs, perhaps as a pet of the aliens who are really in charge.
Read the complete text of these messages
|The messages that I was forwarded dealt with the inconvenient fact that there is no material evidence whatsoever for the existence of the chupacabras. All we have are a few people running around saying that they know someone who knows someone who says that they saw the creature.|
It is after this point that Mr. Martin begins to reveal the logic behind belief in the paranormal. Instead of concluding that the hoax of a chupacabras crisis in Puerto Rico reveals that the entire chupacabras story is hoax, he decides that the hoax is evidence of a massive governmental cover up of the real chupacabras story, a cover up that is orchestrated in cooperation with aliens who have secretly been in contact with our world for decades. Mr. Martin claims that the government creates hoaxes in order to discredit genuine paranormal information. He explains that, "Obviously, those behind the allegations of the so called 'crisis' in Puerto Rico are trying to keep the public away from the actual real facts pertaining to the Chupacabras situation, as well as trying to create a panic situation on the matter."
The other email message was from a Mr. Fransisco Lopez. Mr. Lopez writes about the lack of physical evidence for the chupacabras, explaining his idea that the lack of physical evidence actually supports belief in the creature. He is suspicious of physical evidence, saying, "I shy away from anyone representing evidence of something that is clearly non-physical yet capable of behaving like a physical creatures (sic)." Clearly, if something is non-physical, then it shouldn't leave any physical evidence behind.
The matter gets more confusing, however, when we consider Mr. Lopez's contention that the chupacabras is able to behave as if it were physical. What is the difference between something that is physical and something that behaves as if it were physical? Some theoretical physicists contend that matter is actually at heart only a particular form of energy. If this is true, would there be that much of a difference between a physical chupacabras and a non-physical chupacabras? In any case, we know of plenty of instances of non-physical things leaving behind physical evidence of their passing. Loud noises can break eardrums, light alters photographic film, and electricity reheats our coffee.
Mr. Lopez tips his hand when he expresses his frustration with the insistence on physical evidence to support belief. He writes, "This physical evidence is either unconvincing at best or downright spurious, but it is to be expected in a paranormal case. We accept the reality of the West Virginia Mothman and of similar creatures which have appeared elsewhere without making any demand for spoor, blood, etc. Why has this "courtesy" not been extended to the Chupacabras? We unhesitatingly accept the paranormal aspects of the religions we worship every Saturday or Sunday, but when the paranormal makes itself manifest, we suddenly become ultrarrationalists. It is a double standard that I find unacceptable."
I agree with Mr. Lopez. I find this double standard to be unacceptable. Where I disagree with him is in his choice of resolution to the double standard. When evidence is lacking, Mr. Lopez chooses to see this lack as a test of faith. He thinks that people who actually need reasons to believe in something are picky.
Skeptics like myself choose the other path. We would rather believe in nothing than believe in something without good reason. We reject all baseless beliefs including not only the legends of the chupacabras but also those of the mothman, Bigfoot, and aliens in Roswell, New Mexico. Where evidence is lacking, we make the safe assumption that there is probably nothing to be found. Instead of chasing ghosts that always disappear in front of cameras, we investigate more earthly problems.
Are we, as Mr. Lopez accuses, "ultrarationalists"? Well, if the prefix "ultra" refers to something extreme and rational things are those things that make logical sense, then an ultrarationalist is someone who makes extremely good sense. That's an insult that I'll take any day.
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