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Joe Nickell - Humanistic Skepticism
Posted: 18 July 2008 10:06 PM   [ Ignore ]
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The world’s leading paranormal investigator, Joe Nickell is a regular contributor to Skeptical Inquirer science magazine. He is the author or editor of more than twenty books, including Looking for a Miracle, Inquest on the Shroud of Turin, and most recently The Relics of the Christ.
In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Joe Nickell expounds on his unique kind of paranormal investigating, which is neither “mystery mongering,” nor “debunking.” He emphasizes how his humanist values carry over into his skeptical work, and how his notion of “doing good” is applied to skepticism as a movement. He criticizes many in the skeptical movement who seem not to care to honor claimants with on-the-ground investigations, instead dismissing from the “armchair” that a supernatural claim is impossible. He also challenges those with the “ghost hunter” mentality, who lack effective training in investigation and instead just promote belief in unsupportable paranormal claims, even while engaging in important field investigations. Nickell ends discussing the future of the skeptical movement and the odds he thinks it has to adopt the kind of “humanistic skepticism” he promotes.

http://www.pointofinquiry.org

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Posted: 19 July 2008 10:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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This was an inspiring conversation, promoting integrity in both thinking and doing. Thanks, DJ, for bringing Joe back again. He’s always a worthy guest.

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People often argue over the term “god” without defining it. It is almost as if they are using the same term to refer both to a penguin and to a quiche. While both may contain eggs, that’s hardly their most salient characteristic.

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Posted: 21 July 2008 12:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I joined this forum after Nickell unfairly accused von Däniken of racism a couple of years ago — probably not the best example of “humanistic skepticism.” But hey, even Al Gore’s electric/gas bill topped $30,000 in 2006, Gandhi didn’t think too highly of the blacks, and even Jesus somehow failed to love that poor fig tree.

[ Edited: 21 July 2008 12:09 PM by George ]
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Posted: 21 July 2008 01:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I love this guy.  He loves being a skeptic, he loves to apply the tools of the skeptic and scientist to answer riddles or solve mysteries, and he’s got his priorities straight about why we should do so.  Not to mention, he understands why skeptics should not be obnoxious.  He also dresses down those skeptics who eschew the process, bypassing the solving of mysteries and riddles altogether, to offer instead pat or unsubstantiated guesses—in other words, those skeptics who adopt skepticism as an ideological faction as opposed to a method of inquiry.  Too many skeptics act like such self-righteous know-it-alls, and who’s persuaded by it?  It doesn’t go unnoticed when skeptics try to speak with authority about subjects they know little about.  It bothers me too that so many are adopting more the scorning Ted Haggard or Kent Hovind tent preacher style than the Joe Nickell forensic detective style.

What fun or value is there in being a skeptic, or being around skeptics, if all they do is snort that the “Gods/Ghosts/UFOs didn’t do it” and preach atheist gospel all the time?  Joe Nickell towers above these snark-squad pseudoskeptics.

[ Edited: 24 July 2008 08:15 AM by Aesopo ]
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Posted: 23 July 2008 09:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I listened to this podcast earlier this evening, and have found myself a new skeptic
hero.  I appreciate his advocacy of humanistic skepticism and the importance of
listening to people.

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*We are just a quarantined people under an evil sun.*
—- Richard S. Shaver

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Posted: 24 July 2008 09:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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[ Edited: 30 July 2008 06:14 PM by jholt ]
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Posted: 24 July 2008 10:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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jholt - 24 July 2008 09:25 AM

...
Here is the exchange between DJ Grothe and Joe Nickell that is being used by George (unless he can show me otherwise). I would suggest a listen to the entire interview, it is fascinating and Joe once again exudes his humanistic skepticism.

Starting at 18:00 into the podcast -

D.J. Grothe: Some people have argued, because some of these pictures can only be seen from the air, that, they’ve argued even in best selling books, that the Nasca Lines were created originally as alien aircraft landing strips.

Joe Nickell: Yes, Erich von Däniken, in his notorious book, Chariots of the Gods, followed by various sequels of, Gold of the Gods and still more, and even more chariots and still beyond. [Däniken] cranked out these books, imitated by others, and there are a few skeptical books pointing out the fallacies of these. He [Däniken] suggested that the Nasca figures, rather than being made by the ancient Nasca culture, which I can go into evidence for that they made them, but he ignores that, and suggest that these - in an almost implicitly racist way I think, he’s not overtly, but, the implication behind his pointing out these things in his tone is that these ancient non-white people weren’t sophisticated enough to do things like make Nasca drawings (giant drawings), or build pyramids, or carve the stones on Easter Island and he disparages the what he calls the “old heave hoe” method of standing one of these statues up and suggest this is ridiculous, that it can’t be done. In fact, if you go to Easter Island you can see the quarry. [Joe goes on to explain in greater detail]

In the very recent podcast, I think Nickell carefully distinguished between his humanistic attitude toward believers and his contempt for brazen woo-masters like von Däniken.
Did Nickell unfairly accuse von Däniken of racism?  I think his statement is far too nuanced, careful and accurate for it to conclude such a thing—if anything, he’s just saying that von Däniken is a crank whose reasoning is flawed in myriad ways.

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Posted: 24 July 2008 11:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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jholt - 24 July 2008 09:25 AM

Joe Nickell: ...[Däniken] ignores that, and suggest that these - in an almost implicitly racist way I think, he’s not overtly, but, the implication behind his pointing out these things in his tone is that these ancient non-white people weren’t sophisticated enough to do things like make Nasca drawings…

Either you, jholt, or Nickell, will have to show me where exactly Däniken in any of his books did that. “Non-white people weren’t sophisticated enough to do things like make Nasca (sic) drawings”? Show me where Däniken ever suggested anything like this.

BTW, Nickell (and others before him) tells us how and why the people of Nazca supposedly produced the small drawings; like this one of the monkey, for example:

Nazca-monkey.jpg

The true mystery, however, lies in the kilometers-long lines. They don’t represent any animals. Sure you can call it an “abstract art,” but visible to whom? Why? Can you imagine the people of Nazca walking with a stick in their hands (perhaps for several days) in order to perform some ritual dancing? I can’t.

49231343.PhotosVacation2005PeruIMG_0843.jpg

[ Edited: 24 July 2008 12:03 PM by George ]
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Posted: 24 July 2008 12:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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laarree - 24 July 2008 10:54 AM

if anything, he’s just saying that von Däniken is a crank whose reasoning is flawed in myriad ways.

No, he is saying that Däniken “implicitly” tells us that the people of Nazca couldn’t produce the lines because they were not white. But I guess you would have to be a “humanistic skeptic” to understand…

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Posted: 24 July 2008 01:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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George - 24 July 2008 12:47 PM
laarree - 24 July 2008 10:54 AM

if anything, he’s just saying that von Däniken is a crank whose reasoning is flawed in myriad ways.

No, he is saying that Däniken “implicitly” tells us that the people of Nazca couldn’t produce the lines because they were not white. But I guess you would have to be a “humanistic skeptic” to understand…

So Nickell says that von Däniken ignores evidence that the Nazcas made the figures, wrote a “notorious” book which he “cranked out” and is full of fallacies, and also ridicules suggestions that the pyramids and statues on Easter Island were constructed by the inhabitants of their civilizations, and this does not equal Nickell saying that VD is a crank whose reasoning is flawed?  Hmmm.

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Posted: 24 July 2008 01:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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IIRC, Däniken never said that the people of Nazca didn’t produce the figures. If you want to discuss his books, read them first. I must point out again, though, that my disagreement is with Nickell accusing Däniken of racism. And more now than before, since Nickell now calls himself a “humanistic” skeptic. That’s all.

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Posted: 24 July 2008 02:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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George - 24 July 2008 01:45 PM

IIRC, Däniken never said that the people of Nazca didn’t produce the figures. If you want to discuss his books, read them first. I must point out again, though, that my disagreement is with Nickell accusing Däniken of racism. And more now than before, since Nickell now calls himself a “humanistic” skeptic. That’s all.

I’m not discussing von Daniken per se, I’m discussing what Nickell said about him. 

Like I said in a prior post, “... I think Nickell carefully distinguished between his humanistic attitude toward believers and his contempt for brazen woo-masters like von Däniken.”  Being humanistic IMHO doesn’t require holding one’s tongue and speaking nicely to or about flagrant perpetrators of horseshit like von Daniken was. 

Is it fair for Nickell to have said “...in an almost implicitly racist way I think, he’s not overtly, but, the implication behind his pointing out these things in his tone is that these ancient non-white people weren’t sophisticated enough to do things like make Nasca drawings (giant drawings), or build pyramids, or carve the stones on Easter Island…”  That’s a very, almost overly cautious statement.  Frankly, not having any of von Däniken’s books and having no interest in reading them, I can’t evaluate whether I agree with Nickell’s opinion. 

I have no more to say about this particular matter.

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*We are just a quarantined people under an evil sun.*
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Posted: 24 July 2008 03:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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[ Edited: 30 July 2008 06:13 PM by jholt ]
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Posted: 24 July 2008 05:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I read a few Daniken books decades ago.  Nickell’s claim that Daniken’s theories bespoke “implicit racism” isn’t a novel accusation.  The “implicitly racist” accusation almost always crops up against pop naysayers and historians when they try to ascribe significant technological or improbable cultural phenomena or achievements to “old world influences”, usually Europeans.  If I recall correctly, Daniken’s theories fell into two categories.  Daniken would offer theories suggesting the purposes of the artifacts were tied to the aliens, such as his idea the lines were “road maps” and beacons for space aliens.  However, Daniken would also at times credit technological style know-how to alien contact. 

Daniken was just a mystery monger.  Archeological coincidences, improbabilities, curiousities, and unanswered puzzles were mother lode for him to mine tall tales, and the Nasca lines fit the bill.  Daniken was an equal opportunity pillager.  Stonehenge in England, the Turkish Piri Reis map, the semitic peoples’ Bible stories, India’s Iron Pillar and more all had an alien hand behind them. 

Be that as it may, Nickell may or may not be wrong about Daniken, but duh…even “humanistic skeptics” can be wrong judging other people.  Safe to say, they will be just as prone to misjudging other people as non-humanistic skeptics or non-skeptics or non-humanists.

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Posted: 24 July 2008 06:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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This will be my last post in this thread. I will not discuss Däniken’s theories, as I believe he is wrong to speculate that our planet had been visited in the past by aliens. But I have read probably all of his books — interestingly enough Däniken is the most read non-fiction writer of all time — and I can say with certainty that in none of his books have I ever came across anything that might sound racist or offending. If anyone can prove me wrong (please provide proper sources, not just a couple of sentences taken out of context) I will react accordingly and apologize for my mistake.

Now, Nickell is surely free to say as he pleases, but in all honesty I am not impressed at such behaviour. I have never belonged to any organization and when I discovered CFI I felt as if this could just be my chance. Sadly though, it was people like Nickell unfairly accusing Däniken of racism, Dacey and Kurtz distorting what we know (or should know) about human nature to fit their agenda, and Flynn with his repulsive and arrogant monolog on Christmas, who discouraged me to become a member of CFI.

[ Edited: 25 July 2008 08:08 AM by George ]
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Posted: 24 July 2008 08:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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[ Edited: 30 July 2008 06:13 PM by jholt ]
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