with Bob Carrol, Founder of Skepdic.com - 21st April
are you so sceptical?
skeptical (I'll use the American English spelling
throughout) of paranormal claims because of my experiences
studying them. Forty years ago, I took it for granted
that ESP is real, just as I took it for granted that
bread and wine can become the body, blood, soul, and
divinity of Jesus Christ.
Why? I grew up being introduced to such ideas gradually
by people I loved and who cared for me, people I could
trust. As I grew up and began my own investigations
and started thinking for myself I gradually became
skeptical of all paranormal and supernatural claims.
The evidence is overwhelmingly against paranormal
phenomena. In investigating psychics and paranormal
claims I kept discovering fraud, incompetence in researchers
and faulty experiments and methodologies. What I didn't
discover was anything convincing. When I found studies
that seemed to convince others, such as the Ganzfeld
experiments and the random anomalies research at Princeton,
I would investigate them and come away unconvinced.
I've detailed my reasons on my web site.
the other hand, I realized very early that my supernatural
beliefs were not based on evidence but on faith. As
I grew older I found many people who claimed that
there is good historical and scientific evidence for
belief in God, spirits, and miracles. Again, my studies
came up empty with regard to supernatural beings or
activities. I also studied science and concluded that
the evidence for naturalistic explanations for the
origin of the universe and of the various species
of life on earth are best explained by theories that
do not rely on spirits. For example, I don't know
how any scientifically literate person could read
chapter four ("Making tracks through animal space")
of Richard Dawkins's The Blind
Watchmaker and not come
away convinced that the intelligent design argument
is codswallop compared to the theory of natural selection.
I've detailed the results of my studies in such dictionary
entries as creationism, faith, gods, intelligent design,
miracles, Satan, and soul.
there a particular life experience that made you sceptical?
As I said above, I've had no conversion experience.
My attitudes, beliefs, and investigative methodologies
have come about gradually.
does the word, sceptic, originate from?
the Greek word for inquirer. A skeptic is one who
inquires. We don't accept things on faith. We investigate.
We study. We follow the evidence and if the probability
for a position is strong, we commit ourselves tentatively
to that position. But, no matter how strong the evidence,
we must always be willing to change our position if
new evidence warrants it.
you sceptical of the media? Why or why not?
I have a web site (www.Mass
Media Bunk) devoted to the media's lack of skepticism
regarding paranormal and supernatural claims. In my
critical thinking book (Becoming a Critical Thinker)
I argue that the media is often not very skeptical
of their sources and are easily manipulated by interested
parties (in government or business). The U.S. media
during the recent war on Iraq made little effort to
provide unbiased reporting. They're very patriotic
but not very professional. Dictators should learn
a lesson from us: you don't have to work very hard
to control the media in a democracy.
is the most high profile media coverage you have attained
to date, and have you received enquires from Australia
did an extensive profile of me last year. Earlier
this year, I appeared in the Penn
and Teller program on creationism that was
shown on the Showtime cable network. In 1996, I was
interviewed by John Casimer of the
Sydney Herald and I was also interviewed by
the Australian Skeptic
magazine a few years
ago. I've also been interviewed several times on BBC
you sceptical at first that I wanted to interview
has the internet helped and hindered you?
Internet is where I got started with my skeptical
writings. It has helped me tremendously. Not only
has it made it possible for me to communicate with
millions of people, it has made it possible for people
from all over the world to communicate with me. It
is most gratifying to know that I am touching people's
minds and hearts in countries and states where freedom
of thought and freethinking are not appreciated. The
Internet has also brought me in contact with a community
of scholars and thinkers that I otherwise would know
only secondhand. Thanks to the Internet I have an
agent and a publisher. The Skeptic's
Dictionary will be published by John Wiley
& Sons next July. Thanks to the Internet I was
invited to speak at James Randi's Amazing Meeting
two months ago and am invited to speak at a conference
on hoaxes in Albuquerque, New Mexico, next October.
So, I'd say the Internet has helped me quite a bit.
you sceptical that the internet may be a good tool
to increase awareness of sceptics?
I began publishing on the Internet in 1994 I didn't
know what to expect. I'm sure I had no idea that I
would be getting over 500,000 hits a month just on
The Skeptic's Dictionary
pages and another 30,000 a month on the The Skeptic's
Refuge pages. It was gradually that I came to see
how powerful the Internet is for increasing awareness
and encouraging critical thinking about paranormal
and supernatural things. I was just hoping my site
wouldn't get lost among the thousands of credulous
and paranormal sites. Sites run by true believers
outnumber the skeptical sites by a thousand to one.
you believe in God? Why or why not?
The concept of God that I was raised on is that of
an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, good, eternal,
providential creator of the universe. I was also taught
that this being commands us to worship him and that
we are sinners in need of his forgiveness and that
Jesus Christ died for our sins so we could be worthy
of being with this being in eternity after death.
I know these words that I have just written resonate
greatly with some people. They have no effect on me
anymore. They belong to a realm of narratives to which
I can no longer relate. I, therefore, do not have
faith that such a being exists. The arguments for
the existence of such a being are not compelling.
you believe there will be an Armageddon?
by Armageddon you mean a battle between the forces
of good and the forces of evil as prophesied in the
Bible, then the answer is "no." I don't
believe in prophecy of any kind. (I understand that
some people claim the Bible itself forbids soothsaying,
but it doesn't matter to me what the Bible says or
does not say. I consider it to be a collection of
books, stories, and poems that have no relevance to
me. There are much better guides to life than books
written for small religious communities several thousand
years ago.) I don't believe in "forces of good"
and "forces of evil", either. All of us
are mixtures of good and evil. Anyone who claims they
represent good and their enemy represents evil is
either deluded or a liar.
is your theory on how the world was created?
don't believe the world was created, so I don't have
a theory of creation. I don't know why there is something
rather than nothing. Nobody does. Positing a creator
above and beyond the universe does not answer this
question nor is it necessary to posit such a being
to explain how the universe has become what it is.
Science has a much better chance of discovering how
the universe has evolved than either philosophy or
religion. The latter can only speculate with no check
in reality. Science can speculate, check its claims
against reality, and modify them when required. True
understanding will not come from insisting on dogma
thousands of years old, but from fresh investigations
using the knowledge of the ages and the technological
tools humans have created to assist in these investigations.
do you think JFK was assassinated, and by whom, and
Was he shot by Lee Harvey Oswald? Probably. Is that
the whole story? Probably not. But I don't have a
theory about the matter.
there an antichrist? Who?
but if there were one he would probably be like televangelist
many known sceptics are there in the US and globally?
have no idea. Atheists are said to make up about 4%
or 5% of the world's population. According to www.adherents.com,
there are about 850 million non-believers in the world.
That would be about 15% of the world's population
who are agnostic, atheist, or just plain non-religious.
However, many religious people are very skeptical
of paranormal claims, as well as of other people's
the most interesting or popular book or story you
hope it will be The Skeptic's
Dictionary (Wiley & Sons, 2003).
the U.S use chemical weapons against their own people
in the 1950s? Why or why not?
don't know. I haven't investigated this claim.
- nutter or genius or neither?
but his 21st century disciples are more nutter than
is the world's most famous sceptic?
to say. Among the living, I'd say Martin Gardner,
James Randi, and Michael Shermer are the three best
known internationally. Among the dead, Carl Sagan
and David Hume.
else would you like to make public knowledge about
are not an organized group with a shared set of beliefs.
What beliefs we do have are not held as dogmas. Skepticism
does not involve practicing any rituals, advocating
any particular way of life, or worshipping anyone
or anything. We do believe one thing in common: Beliefs
should be based on evidence, not on faith or wishful
thinking. We share some attitudes in common; for example,
we would like to avoid error. Many of us want to expose
fraud and incompetence in the presentation of evidence.
are you future plans?
I think I'll mow the lawn. But first, I'll have some
mentioned at www.skepdic.com/faq.html
For more information visit:
Skeptics official website
Man Australia, Greg Tingle, interviews Barry Williams,
Executive Officer, Australian Skeptics
Adams, Broadcaster, is Australia's most famous
to the interview