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Exorcizing All The Ghosts? Paranormal Skepticism and Religion Taner Edis Truman State University www2.truman.edu/~edis Skepticism and the gods Skeptics debunk weirdness; say “unproven” rather than present a view of the world.

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Exorcizing all the ghosts paranormal skepticism and religion l.jpg

Exorcizing All The Ghosts?Paranormal Skepticism and Religion

Taner Edis

Truman State University


Skepticism and the gods l.jpg
Skepticism and the gods

  • Skeptics debunk weirdness; say “unproven” rather than present a view of the world.

  • Much weirdness is not supernatural: Bigfoot, homeopathy, alien spaceships, …

Exorcizing all the ghosts?

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Why only the small ghosts?

  • Should we include religion? Why is God, the ghost in the universe, out of bounds?

  • Practical reasons for skeptics’ groups to avoid taking on religion. But is this all?

Exorcizing all the ghosts?

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Separate spheres?


A mind.


  • Maybe religion is not testable –– morality, meaning, ultimates? Beyond science.

  • Religion is not just moral philosophy: anthropomorphic view of world. Reality claimed to be fundamentally mind-like, top-down.




Exorcizing all the ghosts?

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Paranormal is religious

  • Paranormal beliefs are not arbitrary. (Boyer: internal organs not rearranged in sleep.)

  • Paranormal beliefs usually involve agents, take on religious roles. Alien abduction beliefs acquire religious tone (Mack).

  • God not a matter of debunking. But also, skepticism is more than “insufficient evidence.” Naturalistic background.

Exorcizing all the ghosts?

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  • Historically, anti-materialist research program. Seek not just anomalies, but spirit which acts upon matter.

  • Liberal theologians sympathetic to psi. Go beyond narrow naturalism; “agent causation.”





Exorcizing all the ghosts?

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Evidence for psi?

  • Schwartz: mediums talk to dead! Critics: cheating, bad methods.

  • Psi claims don’t stand out from complex but normal background.

  • Coin flips: guessing 80% stands out, not 51%. Need not find precise flaw.

  • Also NDEs etc. Like other weirdness in brain. No violation of natural background.

Exorcizing all the ghosts?

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Psi fails –– so?

  • Psi not just failure on its own terms, but does not fit science in general. Especially neuroscience.

  • If no non-material spirit which acts on matter exists, if mind and intelligence is materially based, what then of personal gods? What of the top-down universe?

Exorcizing all the ghosts?

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“Intelligent Design”

  • ID: creationism without Bible-thumping. Appeals to broad theistic intuitions about top-down creativity.

  • Certainly not practiced as a science.

  • Its intuitions about creativity are scientifically wrong.




Exorcizing all the ghosts?

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Darwin in Mind

  • Darwinian mechanisms are central to all creativity, including in our own brains.

  • But the notion of divine creativity relies on analogy to our own intelligent designs. If that is reducible to chance and necessity, what then of the creator God?

Exorcizing all the ghosts?

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Skepticism and spirit realms

  • Denying the paranormal is to deny the miracles of many traditions, Catholic to Muslim to New Age.

  • Psi, ID, and many other targets of skeptics express deep intuitions about spiritual realities. Their failure is significant.

  • Skepticism tends to be mutually supportive with a naturalistic view of the world.

Exorcizing all the ghosts?

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Skeptics ≠ Infidels

  • Paranormal skepticism does not strictly require denying the gods.

  • Certainly skeptics can and perhaps should stay away from anti-clerical politics.

  • Still, skepticism tends to lead to exorcizing all ghosts.

Exorcizing all the ghosts?

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The Ghost in the Universe

  • The Ghost in the Universe: God in Light of Modern Science, by Taner Edis, Prometheus Books, 2002.

  • A comprehensive defense of scientific naturalism.

Exorcizing all the ghosts?

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My web site


  • Contains all sorts of articles, including the slides of this talk, and the introductory chapter of The Ghost in the Universe.

  • My e-mail is [email protected]

Exorcizing all the ghosts?

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Thanks for listening!

  • Any questions?




Exorcizing all the ghosts?