Our perceptive faculties do not make mistakes - they operate fine in the way that they have evolved to operate in order to allow us (as a species) to interact with that which is not us and each other. You are presuming an ideal, perfect system that you are measuring us against and finding us lacking. We (as a species) have never been equiped with this 'perfect' perceptual system - look at what is there not what you think should be there. What is there has worked for a long time and has allowed us considerable success as a species so it must have something going for it.
I wasn't arguing that we should have "an ideal perfect system" of perception -- I was arguing that the fact that we don't have such a perfect system is no barrier to evaluating claims.
I think we're in agreement on this point, since you note that our system must have "something going for it" since it's given us such success.
I'm a prehistoric archaeologist - this is precisely the methodology that we use if doing the job properly (please ignore all the certainty that TV programmes try to imply we have, that has more to do with the frankly stupidly low expectations that programme makers have of their audience). The big difference between what we do and what you are saying is that, if smart, we do not propose only one model based on the (limited) evidence but as many 'stories' as possible including ones that involve the use of belief systems that we do not share or even find attractive. To illustrate, a quote from A. Aveni (he's talking about archaeo-astronomy but the point is good across the board) “...these cultures built elegant systems for making the things they observed comprehensible -- not to us but to themselves. Other peoples' motives for sky watching may tax our patience and require dredging up subjects that suit neither our tastes nor our prejudices. But our failure to understand these motives will always be our loss.”
Of course there's a big difference between our approaches -- you are involved in a profession that makes its best guesses about history and customs using limited evidence. And indeed, in such a circumstance, one may admit that the evidence suggests several possible "stories" that we're unable to judge between.
The case is entirely different when evaluating supernatural claims. Let's say that you acquire the "evidence" of observing yourself performing a magical working and then observing an apparent result following shortly thereafter.
There are a number of stories with which this evidence is consistent:
--Magick really does work in the way you think it does and the spirits have answered your prayers
--Magick actually works in a different way and it's really that we live in a giant Matrix and the ritual enables you to seize upon a glitch and bend the Matrix to your will.
--Magick doesn't work at all, and it was actually a passing group of aliens in a spacecraft observing you that decided to to make the result just because they like screwing with you.
--Magick doesn't work at all, and it was actually a passing leprechaun who decided to make the result happen just because he likes screwing with you.
--Magick actually works, but in a different way than you think, and it's really that an ancient tribal religion is correct, and your ritual prayer was answered by one of their dark gods.
Etc, etc., etc., etc.
We could go on and on and on and on inventing "stories" with which this evidence could conceivably be consistent.
The position of skepticism is that this evidence is insufficient to support any of these stories and -- as a result -- the "proper default position" is not to accept any of these claims as true.
There is, of course, another story we could propose: the evidence is nothing more than regular old confirmation bias, which we know happens all the time and which the observation of apparent magical results fits precisely.
I agree that we can't be "absolutely sure." We can't be absolutely sure about anything, so get rid of the idea of being absolutely sure. We're talking about likelihood here. Which of these stories is most likely, given everything that we currently know about the universe?
I'll give you a hint: it's the last one.
Speaking of prejudices - it is getting very tired to have you consistently believe that everyone that disagrees with you must therefore be thinking that supernatural or magical explanations are correct. I do not believe in either magic or the supernatural in the way you are using them, but that is not the same as ruling them out as possibilities.
Again, I do not rule out magic or supernatural claims as theoretical possibilities. The fact is that I think there is insufficient evidence for anyone to accept them.
it simply means that 'we can't be sure' and are secure enough to admit it.
Again, I agree that it is impossible to have absolute certainty about most claims. My skepticism does not revolve around being "sure" that there is no magic. I merely do not think the evidence is sufficient for anyone to accept it.
I've read all your blog posts and what I come away with is this. It is no doubt very generous of you to be so concerned that some of your fellow men may be living in a stew of delusion that you set out to show them the error of their ways but I fail to see the point. I really doubt that their holding of these erroneous beliefs is negatively impacting on you in any measurable way other than annoying you when you think about them. So, stop thinking about them. You are obviously not stupid and have an interest in thinking about things and what they mean to you. Why not carry out some original research into something (anything) and cast some light into dark corners. Who knows you might find a way of demonstrating, conclusively, some of your points, or find out that your present position is not complete. Who knows? (I certainly don't). There is a great big 'reality' out there, bigger than any one of us can know so let's explore it rather than bitch about our neighbours annoying but harmless little habits.
You misunderstand my efforts. You seem to think that I am seriously "concerned" that people believe stupid things and that I care about correcting their beliefs and that it "annoys" me that they believe such things.
The fact of the matter, however, is that I could care less what people believe, and I certainly don't think I'm about to change anyone's mind by writing a few sensible comments on a blog somewhere.
I write because I enjoy writing about the subjects under discussion, and I'm hoping that some readers find it enjoyable as well. I write because I want to show aspiring Thelemites that they don't have to turn off their critical thinking faculties to study the subject. And I write because it's fun.
That's really all there is to it. If believers want to respond to me, it gives me more fodder for future posts, but I don't expect them to respond -- mostly because they can't respond without falling back onto "Well, well, uh, we don't know everything
do we? We can't be absolutely sure
, right? I guess we just have to say we don't know
Anyway, it's been nice talking to you. If anyone else has any serious comments on the blog, I'll respond, but otherwise, happy reading.