Joe Nickell – Humanistic Skepticism

July 18, 2008

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.

This is point of inquiry for Friday, July 18th, 2008. 

Welcome to Point of Inquiry, I’m D.J. Growthy Point of Inquiries, the radio show and the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values and public affairs. Before we get to this week’s guest, Joe Niccol. Here’s a word from Skeptical Inquirer magazine. 

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I’m happy to have back on point of inquiry. The world’s leading paranormal investigator, Joe Nickell, using his varied background, he’s become widely known as an investigator of myths and mysteries, frauds, forgeries and hoaxes. But he does it really from an ethical imperative. And that’s what we’ll be talking about today. He’s been called the modern Sherlock Holmes, the original Ghostbuster and the Real-Life Scully after that character in the X Files. He’s investigated scores of paranormal occurrences and haunted house cases, including Amityville Horror and also dozens of other paranormal sites. A veteran of hundreds of TV and radio appearances. He’s the author of over 20 books, including Real-Life X Files and the UFO Invasion. Welcome back to a point of inquiry, Joe. 

Nicole, always good to be here. And you’re here a lot. That’s because we value your contribution to the skeptical movement. In fact, that’s what I want to talk about today. Joe, you’re considered really the leading paranormal investigator in the world, but your approach is different from many of the others who are out there talking about the paranormal. Not only are you a skeptical paranormal investigator or a scientifically minded one. 

So you’re not a mystery monger like the ghost hunters, those folks. But you’re also not, on the other hand, a debunker. Your position comes instead. It’s like flowing out of a really solid ethical stance. That’s where your skepticism is coming from. 

You’ve said it exactly. I have nothing else to say. 

Well, sure you do. Joe, the things that we’ve talked about in this regard. Well, there why I invited you on the show. I wanted the skeptical community to hear about this kind of ethical imperative in your skepticism. 

Well, I. I certainly have been around a long time, and I’ve done this for many, many years. I’ve probably my first work was in 1969 when I conducted a science to contact The Spirit of Whodini by 1972. I was seriously investigating McKinsey House Ghost and have have scarcely looked back. I’ve just done more and more of that for now. What, nearly 40 years then when I state opinions that I have, when I suggest to people how to do things, it’s because I’ve had all that time to make all those mistakes. You see, I’ve done everything I tell people don’t do. I probably did that. I probably have have done exactly that. I know that I have been sort of, you know, a rude skeptic to some well-meaning person trying to simply find out something. And I’ve not had as much patience as I should or I’ve I’ve been dismissive because it’s hard not to be when you’re told you’re 4000 that need hundreds flying saucer over Peoria tea or something. So I’ve made those mistakes since and no whereof I speak, I think. 

So this ethical stance comes from that experience, the ethical stance which says give a claim. It’s do pay attention to these claimants. Don’t dismiss them out of hand. Don’t be a debunker. Don’t be a grouchy no at all skeptic. That’s the ethical stance that you’re promoting. 

Absolutely. And it doesn’t maybe all come out of just making mistakes, but a lot of it does. Some of it just comes out of my own sense of values. I mean, I as a person, I have I have values that carry over into my you know, my own personal endeavors. The things that I. That I do in my spare time. That my political leanings, which we need not go into. But. But but I have a sense of what Robert Creeley called a a small boy’s notion of doing good. So I apply that to skepticism. 

Right. In your application of this ethical stance to skepticism your. These are my words. You’re what I consider to be a humanistic skeptic, not just doing skepticism to stick it to the gullible and the credulous, but it’s all with an eye to genuinely help people. Your skepticism is an act of doing good in the world. 

It is. That’s what I’m trying to do. Not as people see me. Oh, you’re just out to burst balloons or you’re some kind of malicious party pooper or something. No, no. Those people have not listened to me or read my books. If they if they suggest that, you know, my definition of humanist and that’s an atheist with a heart. And I actually believe that that humanism is a very positive thing. It’s not negative. So I use that term rather than just saying I’m an atheist. I’m I’m an atheist. Plus, I am a humanist and with a heart. I as you know, I write poems, do watercolors. I. I’m right now working at a carousel factory museum and working with the. So everything I do has. I am interested in in human kind because I’m part of it. I believe we should be immersed in it in our endeavors. 

So and that informs your skepticism. Give me an example of how this humanistic skepticism, not just knee-Jerk debunking, but this humanistic skepticism has helped a family or has made a difference in someone’s life? 

Well, first of all, it’s it’s. It starts by just steering between these two extremes, which you’ve suggested. And that is the mystery mongering. On the one hand, those people are promoting the paranormal and trying to sell a mystery. And on the other hand, the dismissals and debunkers. And it’s true that my work, of course, ends up I’ve debunked maybe more than anyone. It’s been suggested that I’ve solved more paranormal claims than Whodini and several others put together. And that may be true. But that’s the end result. Is debunking not not starting out, intending to debunk. And so I’m often in the course of investigating something, working with, let’s say, a real family in a real situation and troubled family. That’s not you know, this is not some hustler or fraud artist out to hustle the public, in which case, of course, I would be pretty nasty to those people. Don’t be pretty strident. I’m not not very nice to the gurus and the the the hoaxers and so forth. But where we have let’s say if a family is simply troubled by something I remember one haunted house and the local skeptics group want to know if we could bring in a reporter. And I said no, I forbid it. And they said, but we were thinking. Yes, I know what you were thinking. You’re thinking this would be good publicity for your local skeptics group. And if you want to do that, that’s fine. We can find ways to bring you publicity. 

But but not at the expense of a believing family. 

Right. You don’t necessarily need bad publicity. And and what will happen as soon as you have a reporter there? Now the family is playing the reporter. You’re playing the reporter. Now, we’ve created an adversarial situation. And so it’s important whenever they promote some happening at the haunted house of light streaking across the wall or something mysteriously moving. Now you have to very quickly you feel debunk that. Wouldn’t it be better if we just go and find out what’s happening because this particular skeptics group was wanting to learn to do this. And I said so. So let’s just let’s just content ourselves this time with doing the best we can with that. So let’s go. 

Doing the best you can as paranormal investigator Zach outplaying to the media. 

Exactly. Which is which is not necessarily the same thing and sometimes could be in conflict. So we go to the haunted house and we sit down and we listen to the people and we go around the house and they show us where things happened and explain them. And we we all look for plausible explanations where they’re saying paranormal events have occurred. 

Right. Or certainly something they didn’t understand. Something moved and they couldn’t understand. We were showing how maybe air currents from their heating system or or what have you. A light passing by as a truck went around the bend flashing across the wall. Something like that. But we patiently listened to them. Something that, you know, the ghost hunter types generally don’t do a lot of listening. You get the impression I’ve been with some such groups who sort of say, just stand aside, ma’am, as we bring in our special equipment, the gizmos that light and beep. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And what I do is start by by listening to people. What, what why do they think the place is haunted? As we left that evening, the skeptics said, you know, we were really impressed with how well you listen to them and how friendly you were to them and so forth. And I said, well, good, because that’s what I wanted you to feel. And they got a letter shortly after that from the lady of the house saying that they had figured out what had caused one of the phenomena wasn’t what I had suggested. They found the actual cause because I’d started them thinking along those lines. And they said Mr. Niccolò helped our families. And although that was that was really, really rewarding to feel that as opposed to, you know, Mr. Nichols and S.O.P. And he wasn’t very nice to us. And and he was lording it over us and showing us how smart he was as opposed to, you know, us pathetic creatures and so forth. I mean, it’s really a very different approach, a different approach from both of those other extremes. 

Exactly. Mystery mongers and that kind of know it all. Skeptics who call any believer in idiot. 

Right. I mean, some of the ghost hunters do listen somewhat. They just had to know what they should be doing. That is. 

Let’s get into that a bit. These two approaches, and I also want to hear more of these examples of how you’re helping people in this humanistic skepticism, but your approach is in stark contrast to those who don’t actually investigate paranormal claims. You’re not just debunking. You’re not being the know it all skeptic. And you say there’s actually a peril in being that kind of debunker, that eventually they kind of fizzle out. They just give up. 

They do. What happens when when you’re simply interested in dismissing or debunking something? And I’ve been there and I know where that comes from. I know it very well that you’re plagued by you spend all this time investigating a case and you try to explain it. And. And meanwhile, there are a hundred other cases coming over the transom and you’re trying eventually you realize, well, I just need to just stop all this madness. And and you find yourself becoming frustrated and strident and not a not a very nice person. You’re not being rewarded. You’re not feeling like you’re. Your work is having an effect. And as a consequence, we have a name for it is called Skeptical Burnell. Skeptics simply get overloaded and just give up. And we see them leave the movement because they are not feeling rewarded. They are not having any fun. They’re not having a success. 

They feel overburdened by that Sisyphean task. Yes. Rolling that boulder of skepticism up the hill. And it just rolls back down again. 

And I see this all the time. I could, you know, could even name names of people that just you see them just feeling overloaded and thinking that this is not working. We’re not stopping the madness. To think that you’re going to stop all the madness in your lifetime is is ridiculous to start with. So you have to sort of get a grip. This has been going on since the most ancient time and will be going on long after we’re gone. And we need to have a perspective about it. We need to realize that what we’re able to do is to inspire a few people. And those people, those really activist skeptics that I’m talking to are going to be successful out of all proportion to their number. They will be the best and brightest and they will be on TV shows and and podcasts and writing letters. And so where they will have an influence, they won’t stop all the madness, but they will affect another generation and a group of people. And those avant garde people are the ones who are going to be the spokespersons for sanity at a given time. And they must not burn out. They must continue. They must be able to continue to look at issues, to speak when they can. To those venues and even have a little fun occasionally. So they’re they’re not burning out. They’re in a good humor. And they have to be a little philosophical about the fact that their success is going to be limited. They have to look at it almost like firemen. You can’t. You can’t you know, a fireman doesn’t say, well, we put out all those those forest fires last year. I’m not going to bother this year. No, no. It’s it’s you will always be doing it. And it’s important to do it. 

And the other way that you’re saying skeptics can avoid this burnout is by thinking of their skepticism in terms of helping people as opposed to just putting out more believing fires. Or say it another way. You know, just keeping more people from believing the unbelievable. Well, that’s an impossible task because people will always believe the unbelievable. But your act of skepticism is helping people. That’s an end unto itself. 

It is. And so so I’m I’m happy when I can find the answer to something. And then I put it in the magazine or in a book. And I’m of course, I’m discouraged when I don’t have everybody buying my books or everybody knowing about a case. And in fact, it’s very discouraging when you’ve solved a case and you find that to, you know, several years later, the same old canards that have been totally refuted are still around. But it it remains for this next generation. And this is part of the secret to the whole paranormal thing, is that we have new generations. And so the debunker type skeptic is is astonished. That stuff that’s been debunked keeps keeps around. Randy calls it, of course, the the unsinkable rubber duck, you know, bounces up again. He’s exactly right. But why is that? And one reason is that we keep having new generations. And for each new generation, they have to re learn that there’s. This controversy over flying saucers, there are haunted houses being reported and so forth, each new generation hears these for the first time. And we have to say not that well, we debunked all that in the previous generation. Listen up and go read the the old books. 

You can never really say it. Case closed. 

You can’t because the next the next batch of people is reading it. So it’s an endless it’s an endless process in which you have to be willing to speak to the next crop of people. I love speaking when I can to young people because I know that I’m able to have some effect on their their formative beings. And so I’m in it for for the long, long, long haul. As long as I’m alive and I’ve got books that I hope will sow some seeds. And I hope that there’ll be a generation after me who will go back and discover, discover one of my books sort of in the way that I discovered. Christopher Hilberg, Christopher or someone and in their books meant so much to me at a particular time. And I value those. And so we’re we’re doing nothing new. It’s all been done before. Well, there’s there are new new things. Occasionally crop circles or something comes up. That’s not particularly a mystery that’s been done before. But but we use the same principles and the same investigative methods. And now crop circles have been thoroughly debunked. And yet, you know, they’re there ever so often they get a new burst of life because a new bunch of people have just discovered them. And we have to be there and ready. 

Joe, as I mentioned at the beginning of the show, your approach is also in stark contrast to folks like the so-called ghost hunters who like you. So they’re similar to you because they actually go out there and investigate. But unlike you, they aren’t very scientific in their approach. They aren’t trained in investigative methods, how to approach a crime scene or a paranormal site or a paranormal claims site. Instead, they use gizmos and a lot of flashing lights and night photography and a lot of kind of spooky, dramatic kind of language, but not much real science looking into these claims. 

I do give credit to those ghost hunters who at least go out to try to find answers. 

And I give some credit to those who occasionally use some common sense and do occasionally find a plausible solution something and say that we found out what that was and it wasn’t supernatural. Right. And it’s been many of these people are quite honest and they’re sincere. And if they find a plausible explanation, if it comes up and whacks them in the side of the head, they will they will get the point and say so. 

And when they do that, I’m with them and I commend them for being out there and doing that. The problem is that so often they just don’t know what they’re doing. And we have them going into the haunted places, caring, you know, huge amounts of equipment. I remember going to one such place, the Myrtle’s Plantation for Discovery Channel, where I after the Ghost Hunters left, I and I’m using ghost hunters now with a small, small letter is not not the guts to host of the show. 

Right hunters, but a ghost town, a mystery. Mongar taco’s tenters in general. And we showed up there together. I was to spend the night and fortunately they were not rambling around haplessly well while I was was there. But I helped them care in their equipment. I’m telling you, is impressive. Tons of stuff with, you know, mega gigahertz of whatevers. And they were very impressed with with their equipment. 

And they would say, oh, we were you know very well how to use the equipment. Well, they do and they don’t. They know from from one standpoint sort of what the equipment is and does. 

But from another standpoint, they don’t seem aware of the fact that this equipment was not made to detect ghosts and they didn’t in fact, does not detect ghosts. That, in fact, science is very clear about this, that there is no known energy that is given off by the human being that can be detected by this equipment, and that if there were real scientists who have looked for it or by the dead human being, that can be detected. 

Right. The equipment no scientists believes that that equipment can actually pick up a ghost. 

Exactly. Exactly. And the the idea that somehow when you’re even though your brain is dead, that brain function continues and that therefore you can walk and talk and say, bu this is this is scientific nonsense. Of course, any good neurologist will tell you if this is unlikely in the extreme. But that and a person should be able to simply stand back and look at this issue and see. How likely is it that real scientists who really study energy as opposed to plumbers, like on the ghost hunt? 

Well, that real scientists can’t find this. This ghost energy. But that. But the mere amateurs with no scientific background, whatever, using RadioShack equipment, they can do it. People ought to just stop and think for a minute how likely that is and realize the absurdity of the absurdity of that on the face of it. And in fact, they aren’t discovering ghostly energy there. They’re they’re using their electromagnetic field detectors and they’re. Yes. The meter’s going off. Sometimes they’re simply using these hand-held devices, moving them around. No wonder the needle’s going off or they’re actually measuring electromagnetism from some source, such as faulty wiring or microwave towers or something. 

But they don’t know what they’re getting. So they think it’s it’s sort of a ghost meter. And this is a fool’s errand. And I don’t say this in a mean spirited way. I, I know that some of these people are nice folks and MEANWELL, they’re just woefully, woefully out of their element and are and are misinformed. What angers me is the arrogance of them that they’re not willing to to be shown that that they don’t know what they’re doing. That this sort of arrogance will my opinion is just as good as that of any scientist or. It’s ridiculous. And then, of course, some of the some of the ghost hunter types go go with psychics in tow. 

And so that’s another level of just absurdity that just, you know, cause they want a psychic medium in to, you know, tell them the ghost presences that psychic mediums feel, you know, and then because the psychic medium feels a chill at some spot, they come in with their meter and jerk it around or something and get get some response and convince themselves that that they’ve corroborated something is just it. 

It would be laughable if if it weren’t so, so, so utterly misguided. 

Joe, let’s get back to your humanistic skepticism. It’s not that you want to pussyfoot around the truth for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. There’s more to it than that because you are speaking the truth, but you’re not doing it in the way that sticks it to the gullible. 

Yes. And I’m wanting to stay on target with topics. I know that some of my militant atheist friends, for example, as if they got into a discussion on ghosts and somebody said as soon as you mentioned ghosts, a caller from on a radio program, let’s say I said, well, don’t you believe that you have a soul? And of course, I know debunking types who would just take that bait and go for that, because that’s all they ever want to talk about. 

Another reason why God doesn’t write a single issue and just just hears it. Here’s my chance now to debunk this nonsense. I don’t want to do that because I want to. If the program is on goes and we’re having callers interest in time and I want to stay and talk about ghosts. So I will quickly deflect that issue and say something like, well, the idea of an immortal soul, which is totally non physical and is totally a matter of faith, is quite a different issue from this sort of quasi physical ghost that somehow can walk through walls, leave heavy thudding footsteps and is Earth bound, for heaven’s sake. So I try to sort of deflect the idea of talking about about God, get it back to talking about ghosts and so so that I can stay on topic. And of course, if I’m talking about the Shroud of Turin, I learned the hard way very, very early and very young. That is, as soon as people hear you talking atheist talk, they assume that, of course, you don’t believe in the Shroud of Turin because you’re a disbeliever and it gets away from the evidence. No. The fact is and I put together a team that had Catholics, Protestants, Jews and agnostics. And the fact was, people would have imagined that we we bickered over religion all the time. We never we never did any such thing. Why? Because for us, it was not a religious issue. It was only a matter of evidence. Matter of evidence. 

Here is here is a purported historical relic of a certain age and bearing certain marks and so forth. What is it? And how do we find that out? We certainly don’t find it out by saying, oh, my faith just tells me one look at it. I can see that no human being could have made this. 

This is, you know, and they just go on and on or on the other hand, where I’m an atheist, God doesn’t exist. Therefore, the Shroud of Turin can’t be real. 

Right. How silly do we need to be this obviously another other medieval relic and so forth? Because as soon as you take those positions, somebody like me is apt to ask you. Oh, really? Then you know whether these stay. What what the chemistry of them is, you know, whether they’re blood or not blood. And and that’s when you start finding out that a lot of the debunkers don’t really care. 

They don’t really care about the details of things. They just any old excuse to debunk it. Well, if it’s not to if it’s not tempera paint, it’s maybe real blood, but it’s. And I’ve watched this kind of of debate in which people just don’t know on either side. A lot of times what they’re talking about and it is skeptic included, this skeptic included. And I’ve I’ve seen skeptics say the Shroud of Turin and simply be dismissing it and laughing at people and so forth. Not good in my opinion, because if we care to to really convince somebody the way that science really works and this is to put some ethics to it, we need not only to be right. We need to be seen to be right. And we must use the right methods. We can’t just say, well, as long as I tell them the truth that the Shroud of Turin is a fake, then I can lie to them or I can fudge evidence or do sloppy work because I’m actually getting to the right point of view. No, no, no, no. Only only if you do work as carefully as you would want a forensic analyst to do in a court in which you’re up for capital murder. You want people to be precisely correct about evidence and the details matter. 

So you’re in the field investigating for those two reasons. One, the details matter. You want the real evidence and not just your posture as a skeptic. You want the real evidence to persuade people, but also you you seem to have this moral imperative to be in the field doing these investigations because the claims matter, the people making the claims matter to human beings, making the claims deserve your time, your attention, your honest kind of being there with them, figuring this stuff out. 

Absolutely. People often come to my office and and, you know, sort of say a nickel found and he goes slightly and they’re dismissive. 

We’ve talked about this before, I think, but it’s sort of dismissive. And the implication is that I’m on a fool’s errand. I’m looking for Jason Monsters. And, yeah, tilting at windmills. I’m I’m chasing lake monsters and and going into non haunted houses looking for Ghosn. And I’m on a failed errand. And and and the implication is I’m wasting my life. And I don’t I don’t think so. And I say to them, you know, if if the question is just do these paranormal things occur? If that’s if that’s the question, then of course, I think they don’t. And I’ve I’ve had nearly 40 years of of of just proving just that. But I don’t think that’s the question. And they look at you, you know, sometimes like they think you’re on drugs and medication or they all say, well, what is the question? 

I say, let’s see. The question isn’t just whether there are ghosts, et cetera, or not. The question is, do vast amounts of the public think that there are ghosts and flying saucers and weeping icons and so forth? Well, they do. Right now, we have a moral choice then is both tactical and ethical. Do we say in an elitist way? Well, those search a silly, gullible, superstitious people and would just dismiss them and make fun of them because we’re a really smart, smarter than thou group. And so that that not only doesn’t play well in Peoria, it makes you end up speaking only to the choir, but it also just is not respectful of people. And so if you want to be convincing to anybody, if you want to actually not just talk to the people who already know that crop circles are are made at night by hoaxers, then you must actually use tactics of showing people evidence. And that’s why science is so great. Science says, as opposed to dogmas, dogmas put people in into warlike situations all the time because, well, you have your dogmatic truth and it’s it’s not amenable to any change. And I have mine. So I guess I just have to shoot you. Whereas science says if you have some better evidence, please put it on the table. Show me. And. And scientists are not drawing guns on each other. By and by and large. 

And they’re all open to changing their minds based on better. 

Exactly. And I could tell you the times where I have thought something of a paranormal explanation even said so in print and later got some different and better information and wrote a new article and said, I used to think. This and I don’t think that anymore. And it’s maybe a little. Occasionally a little embarrassing, but I’m almost never embarrassed because I had very good reasons for thinking what I thought originally. And later, I just did more work. More evidence came in and you changed and I changed. I changed my opinion. 

Joe, do you think that the skeptical movement itself can be moved in this more ethical direction that you’re talking about? 

I’m sure of it, because there’s no doubt that there are many skeptics who have good ethical and moral foundation and. For them, if they haven’t thought about sort of humanistic skepticism, you only have to sort of bring the debate up and and they will label just immediately see the wisdom of it. And the truth of it, I think. And for young people coming along, I think you can persuade them. I think it’s it’s really hard to argue against because I could just show you the folly of the other the other ways, the dismissive debunking way. Just ask people the questions. Do you care whether you change anybody’s mind or are you only playing to the people who already think like you? And as soon as you say no, I would like to have some influence on other people. Then you have to say, well, do you think that you get there by hooting at them, making fun, acting in an elitist, put down a shway? Or do you think a little more equalitarian approach saying to people, look, I used to believe in some of these things and here’s why I don’t anymore. Using we rather than us versus them, we human beings are prone to seeing illusions and mistaking things. I to do that. Let me show you how you could be doing this at this lake with this monster. And I think that it’s it’s more human and it’s more tactically. It works better because all of us respond better to being treated with respect than we do the other way. So I’m hopeful that we can get people to do that. My having that approach, I don’t believe makes me any less skeptical. Then the other approach. There’s the idea that, oh, Mr. Nice Guy isn’t going to get any new. 

I, I absolutely am not a nice guy with the phonies and the gurus and the hoaxers. I could tell you stories of going undercover and in disguise and catching them almost literally red handed and humiliating publicly. OK. Let’s do that. 

But the average Joe who believes you’re not going to stick it to him or her. 

I’m not saying I never did. This is we’re getting back to when I say I’ve done everything wrong. I have I have made all these mistakes and I’ve learned and I’ve occasionally been ashamed that I that I was rude to somebody or or that I talked over somebody. I remember a lady once bringing me some ghost photos up on stage while I was right after a talk. And I immediately recognized that these were camera strap effects, that the flash was bouncing back and the camera strapped, producing some odd looking effects. And I was saying so. And all the time she’s sort of not listening to that. And she’s telling me about her dead father and so forth. And I come to one that’s is clearer what she would ever see. Where you can actually see the slide fastener actually silhouetted as she grabbed them back from me and said, you don’t understand. No. And I realized later that we were just ships passing in the night there. We were we were talking at cross purposes. And that I should have been listening more to her. 

And then I should have more carefully, smoothly changed gears and then tried to be helpful to her to the extent that I can’t. But I may never have gotten through to her, of course. All right. I remember one other case in Campbell, Ohio, with a case of the glowing statues which I’ve written about. The statues, of course, weren’t weren’t glowing. They were they were shining and the gold leaf was shining in the sun or at night from the parking lot lights. 

But the next day at the church and the bishop and the priest were in full agreement with me. I was not having a war with with them or anything. We were on the same page. They agreed. But one nice, nice lady said to me, you know what? How do you explain this, Mr. Skeptic? And so forth. And I told her and she looked at me very sweetly and said, well, I prefer not to believe that and walked off. Well, okay. See, that’s that’s. You just have to let that go. I could have chased after her and called her vile names or something wrestled to the ground. But I think I’m not called upon to do that. And I think that if you’re just nice to people when you can be and respectful, it’ll come through my book. Looking for a Miracle is a hard hitting book, but it nevertheless is respectful of people, I think. And I’ve been told this. I think we we, you know, hate the superstition, but love the superstitious. 

It’s kind of a play on somebody else’s line. But I. 

I absolutely know that that this can work. I got a letter from a priest who had read Looking for a miracle, and he was not being sarcastic. And he said it was a wonderful gift, was a wonderful gift to his to his religion. And but by which he meant if you can sort out the false beliefs or error or what have you. More power to you. And and I’m pleased that there are some people on the other side who can believe that. So I’m hopeful that that there are good people. I’ve known many good skeptics who the little wrong headed because they were frustrated. 

And I’ve known many good and decent people who were paranormal ists, who treated me kindly. And we just agreed to disagree. And I think that much better things come from from that dialog between people. That’s where minds are changed. One must always keep in mind we have to respect people. So I am yes, I am hopeful that we can we can talk humanistic skepticism to to people, whatever their beliefs. And it’s an ethical point of view. And we should be comfortable with it. 

And it works. Thank you very much for joining me again on point of inquiry. Joe Nicole, a real pleasure. 

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Point of inquiry is produced by Thomas Donnelly and recorded from St. Louis, Missouri. Executive producer is Paul Kurtz. Point of Inquiry’s music is composed for us by Emmy Award winning Michael Quailed. 

Contributors to today’s show included Sarah Jordan and Debbie Goddard. I’m your host DJ Grothe. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.