Here is Part II of a series regarding skeptics and prevalent misconceptions regarding them. Please refer to Part I for disclaimers and definitions.
Part I covered a skeptics true stance and elaborated on the difference beliefs a skeptic may possess, while pointing out that said beliefs should be
put to the side when analyzing the Alien Hypothesis.
2. All About Proof and Evidence
The dreaded proof question. Yes, it's true, us skeptics are sticklers for this and love to throw the word around. However, we're not doing this
needlessly, but rather because this is the holy grail of the true skeptic's goal and mindset. A true skeptic is interested in fact, and something
cannot be considered fact unless it has verifiable evidence that speaks to the veracity of the claim.
I should also note that when speaking of proof and evidence, skeptics are coming from a scientific frame of reference--not
a legal one, which
has often been referenced in ATS. The Alien Hypothesis is surely a scientific claim, and thus should be considered within the realm of science. Now,
obviously there is some wiggle room here--it could be debated (and has been) that science itself is imperfect, tenuous, and those who wish to be quite
literal might state that even current scientific fact is questionable. Be that as it may, we must have some frame of reference, some criteria and
process by which we question reality, and science is the best we can do at present.
Obviously proof relies upon evidence, and the question of evidence is one of the greatest contention points between skeptics and believers. An
oft-repeated complaint I've seen in ATS regarding this topic is that no amount of evidence will ever be enough for a skeptic to accept a claim.
Another is that skeptics are vague in defining what, exactly, would be good enough to do the same.
While the quality of such evidence is in some part dependent upon the individual skeptic, I'm going to take the liberty to expound on this in a
general sense. First, let's look at a broad list of the different types of evidence that is typically presented for the Alien Hypothesis:
- Eye Witness/Personal Testimony
Perhaps the most common. This includes UFO sightings, claims of abduction/contact, and any other personal narratives involving the Alien Hypothesis.
Photographs, video, and audio recordings. This could perhaps be classified as Physical evidence, but I think it deserves a class to itself.
- Physical (trace)
The most rare. Implants, injuries, alterations to the physical environment, fragments, crashed and recovered UFOs, and alien corpses all fit here.
This is more of a "meta-category" that includes such corroborative evidence as ancient texts that describe witnessed phenomena, predictions, and
claims from category A that are referenced to further back up other claims.
Now that we have evidence generally defined (and I won't pretend the list is exhaustive or perfect), let's turn to how skeptics weigh each category
when scrutinizing presented evidence.
Category A, again the most common, is also the least reliable in terms of proving claims. The obvious sticky point with this type of evidence is that
it's only as good as the credibility of the witness, and even when such credibility is quite high, it is still considered "soft" evidence because
it usually cannot be verified by any outside means. One must also consider that many alternative explanations for supposed experiences can usually be
provided. As an example, consider Whitley Strieber's famous accounts of abduction experiences: even the author himself refrained from attempting to
define who or what exactly was interacting with him, hence his generic term "visitors".
This, of course, begs the question: when does
personal testimony cut it? What if the President himself came out claiming to have had alien
contact? It is my opinion that solitary testimony--while perhaps opening minds and doors to further investigation--is never enough for proof. If the
President came forward with the above, would alien existence be treated more seriously? I'm sure it would. But in the end, I do not believe any
scientist worth his or her salt would proclaim that the Alien Hypothesis is fact based upon that testimony.
Notice I said "solitary" above. What if multiple testimonies to the same event--or multiple individual events--all corroborated each other? While
this lends more credence to the claim, and thus may be a stronger case for believing in the Alien Hypothesis, it still does not prove it as fact.
Again, primarily because these accounts can not be externally verified.
Category B, Recorded Evidence, bears slightly more weight than A, but not much. The reasons for this are three-fold: 1) too many photos and videos
have been proven to be hoaxes, and as technology increases, so too does the potential for hoaxing such things; 2) a failure to prove a recording is a
hoax does not prove that it is not; and 3) recordings that can be assumed to be authentic generally do not prove anything other than unexplained or
curious phenomena. The obvious example here are UFOs themselves--the best you can really get out of such recordings is exactly that: unidentified
flying objects. A photo or video of such a thing says nothing about its true origin.
Category C--Physical or trace evidence--is the best thing going for proof, and unfortunately is the least common. This is where the scientific method
can truly take hold, and skeptics feel like something
substantial has been provided. The only real drawback here, however, is the same drawback
that faces all evidence: even proving something is not of terrestrial origin doesn't prove where it came from or how it got there. I think this is
the point that most believers get fed up with skeptics, and is most likely why they think nothing will be good enough for us. I can sympathize with
such sentiments, but I'd like those who feel that way to understand that this is just part of a rigorous process. Scientifically speaking, we may
draw certain conclusions personally, but empirically it is a step by step method, often frustrating, whereby one proof only leads to more questions,
each of which in turn needs to be evaluated as before. While every part of one's intuition or reason may be screaming the obvious, we simply cannot
afford to skip any steps or leap to any conclusions empirically. This is the only honest way to approach such things.
Category D--Corroboration--carries as little weight as Category A, for generally the same reasons. Again, corroborated accounts may be given more
credibility, but in the end we still rely upon verifiable results.
This probably seems like a rather dim outlook regarding the evidence at hand, and unfortunately that is partially true. Most skeptics would say that
there simply is not enough verifiable evidence today to claim the Alien Hypothesis is fact. I'm sure some are wondering, "What if you take the
amalgam of all existing evidence? Surely you can't simply ignore all of it together?" And my response is, no, you cannot. What you have to be
careful with, however, is what conclusions you draw based upon the totality of evidence. Something, undoubtedly, is going on. What that something
is--well, that's the question of the day.
And back to the question of what, exactly, would be good enough to be considered proof for skeptics? While I don't have a list of common scenarios, I
don't believe such a list is needed. Suffice it to say, if alien existence can be observed, verified, and reverified by multiple external parties
(including, of course, scientists), then I'd say we'd be well on our way to that holy grail.