RE: Dan Caldwell, Babaji, and Paranormal claims--Comments on Lane's Answers Part I
Jun 06, 1997 02:43 PM
by Daniel H Caldwell
RE: Dan Caldwell, Babaji, and Paranormal claims--Comments on Lane's Answers
>From Daniel Calwell:
I thank David Lane for his answers to my series of questions. So we
are learning more and more about David's worldview!
There is so much in David's answers (and in his other published statements
on his web site) to criticize that it would probably take a book to properly
handle all the issues. I have been struggling in my spare time to write
a proper rebuttal to K. Paul Johnson's "Gnat" article but now I believe it
is even more pressing to confront some of the statements to be found
in David's "new" worldview. In fact, although Johnson and I disagree on many
things, on reflection, my worldview is probably more akin to Johnson's than
to David's philosophy!!
As time permits I will try to post a series of messages in which I
will try to clarify David Lane's point of view and try to present some differing
In the current web version of his book THE UNKNOWING SAGE, David Lane
has added the following paragraph which is not in his 1989 edition of the book.
The paragraph reads in part:
". . .I have yet to unearth an
airtight, empirical case for genuine psychic powers. There are always
some uninspected loopholes which reveal that natural (versus
supernatural) processes were involved. I realize that my skepticism
will turn off a number of parapsychology buffs, but in light of
Occam's Razor I see no overwhelming evidence to suggest that Faqir
Chand's autobiographical admissions are not right on the mark."
The first two sentences of this paragraph sound quite similar to
remarks made by the Amazing James Randi!! David says that he
has not discovered one AIRTIGHT case for genuine psychic powers;
and that in all such cases "uninspected" [I assume this is a typo for
"unsuspected"?] loopholes ....reveal that natural
processes were involved."
Exactly how does Lane define "airtight"?
One dictionary defines "airtight" as follows:
""having no noticeable weakness, flaw or loophole." But the question
to ask David is: Are those "unsuspected" loopholes "real" or only
possibilities. Also, as far as I know, nothing is 100% airtight, or flawless.
In an unpublished compilation of mine, I have a chapter entitled
"POSSIBLE FLAWS: There Must be an 'Error Some Place'." I quote
the words of James MClenon. He is writing about the skeptic's strategy of
"unpacking" any successful parpsychological experiment.
"The goal of the critic using this strategy is to 'unpack' and examine in detail
any experiment, and to demonstrate how methodological flaws *could* have
entered into the experimental process, thereby producing an invalid
results.. . .The critic ...thinks of some...methodological flaw that *could*
have occurred. . . .His or her 'unpacking' of methodological assumptions
tends to render the experiment into an anecdotal form. . . .This unpacking
strategy makes the 'perfect' ESP experiment an impossbility. Sooner
or later, the critic will ask for information that is no longer available, or
for a degree of experimental control and exactitude that is desirable in
principle but impossible in practice. . . .[Another] rhetorical ploy is to
total perfection. It is always possible for critics to think of more rigid
methodological procedures after an experiment has been conducted...
The a priori arguments of the critics mean it is highly logical to assume
that, within *all* experiments which successfully 'prove' the existence
of psi, there must be an 'error some place'."
Ray Hyman, a psychologist and skeptic of the paranormal, has agreed
that in using such a method of argument, "it is *always* possible to
'imagine' *some* scenario in which [for example] cheating [or lying],
no matter how implausible, *could have* occurred."
Such a method is "illegitimate" [as Marcello Truzzi, another skeptic points
out] because by its use, "one can 'hypothetically' explain away *any*
result [even] in science."
David, look for "suspected" flaws in regular scientific experiments. Pray
tell, is there even one experiment in science that has no "possible" flaws?
In effect, this becomes a game in which the skeptic cannot lose!
Turning to the realm of historical inquiry, the historians Barzun and
Graff point out:
"If you receive a letter from a relative that  bears what looks like
her signature, that  refers to family matters you and she commonly
discuss, and that  was postmarked in the city where she lives, the
probability is very great that she wrote it."
"The contrary hypothesis would need at least as many opposing signs
[of evidence] in order to take root in your mind---though the possibility
of forgery. . .is always there."
Please note that the hypothesis that the letter is really written by your
relative is supported by three positive signs of evidence. But as Barzun
and Graff point out, even in spite of all that, the *possibility* of forgery is
always there! An agressive critic could take the ball at this step and
try to "explain away" the three pieces of evidence.
For example, the skeptic could "reason":
"Isn't it possible that  the relative's signature was forged, and, isn't
it possible that  some "forger" was somehow privy to family matters,
and, furthermore, isn't it possible that  the forger could have mailed
the letter in the city wherw your relative lives to throw you off the track?"
And if you (the level-headed researcher) objected to such speculation by
your resident agressive skeptic , he might quip:
"Prove to me that the three statements, I just listed, aren't possible!
Didn't Barzun and Graff admit that *the possibility of forgery. . . is
But the perceptive researcher should point out to his skeptical friend
that POSSIBILITIES are not to be confused with PROBABLITIES. Barzun
and Graffe clearly enunciate an important dictum for the researcher:
"The rule of 'Give Evidence' is not be be violated. . . .No matter how
possible or plausible the author's conjecture it cannot be accepted
as truth if he has only his hunch [which is not evidence] to support it.
Truth rests not on possibility or plausibility but on probability.
Probability means the balance of chances that, *given such and such
evidence*, the event it records happened in a certain way; or, in
other cases, that a supposed event did not in fact take place."
Unfortunately, far too many skeptics of the parnormal become fixated
on "possibilities" and never progress beyond to considering "probabilities."
Such skeptics---after pointing out that if two or more explanations are
possible, none are proved---*seem to be uninterested* in the question
of where the *weight of the evidence* lies. Many of these skeptics
fixate and speculate (almost ad infinitum and ad nauseam) on
various possibilities---hoping that careless readers will *assume*
that 'something' has been proven or disproven by such rhetoric."
So when David Lane writes: ""I have yet to unearth an
airtight, empirical case for genuine psychic powers. There are always
some uninspected loopholes which reveal that natural (versus
supernatural) processes were involved," is he referring to "possible"
loopholes that he has conjured up in his imagination or is he talking
about loopholes that can be documented with evidence? Furthermore,
if by "airtight" Lane wants to convey the meaning of perfect, flawless,
100% confirmed, then I would say he is living in a "fairytale" world. What
is completely flawless? For example, is there a medical test in the world
give accurate results anytime, anywhere, under any and every condition?
David Lane in his recent post on alt.religion.eckankar wrote in part:
>An extraordinary claim has been made by Yogananda about the alleged
>existence of an Avatar he calls "Babaji". . . .
>Okay, the skeptically minded will naturally ask for evidence that
>such a being exists (as described by Yogananda).
>I see nothing wrong in this approach at all. Indeed, I think it is
>up to those who claim that Babaji exists (and that he is thousands
>of years old) to prove their case. As is often stated in Critical
>Thinking Textbooks, the burden of proof is on the one making the
>And, if this "Babaji" really does empirically exist (as Yogananda
>other have described him), then I would imagine that most of our
>known laws of physics and biology would be overturned.
>That would be groovy, Baby (as our hero, "Austie" Powers might say).
>But I haven't seen that evidence; I have heard merely lots of
>Being skeptical doesn't mean one is closed off to new ideas; it just
>means that there should be some grounded evidence to prove the case.
>As it stands, we have very very little to go on.
In the above statements of David Lane, we certainly can agree with the need
to ask questions and look for evidence. But even a skeptic needs to
ask himself what he will accept as evidence, what kind of evidence, quantity
and quality, etc. The skeptic also needs to question his own background
Notice the following 4 statements David wrote about "evidence":
"the skeptically minded will naturally ask for evidence that such a being
"I think it is up to those who claim that Babaji exists. . .to prove their
"... I haven't seen that evidence; I have heard merely lots of stories...."
" ...there should be some grounded evidence to prove the case. . . ."
What kind of EVIDENCE and PROOF would Lane accept??
Quoting from one of my unpublished MSS:
"In a general sense, proof is a matter of individual judgment. The person
proof is under an obligation to state explicitly what he will accept as proof."
"What do we mean by 'proof'? It would be well if we asked ourselves
precisely what sort of evidence we should be prepared to accept as
proof, and then we cansee if it is obtainable."
"The proponent of the paranormal claim and the skeptic must agree on a
for verifying the claim (intersubjective verifiability). It is evident that
an agreement is reached , arguments concerning claims and counterclaims will be,
in principle, insoluable."
What kind of evidence would David Lane accept concerning Babaji??
Again David writes:
"... I haven't seen that evidence; I have heard merely lots of STORIES...."
Notice how David devalues the testimonies of witnesses by labelling
them as "stories"? Again what kind of evidence is David Lane asking for??????
Stepping back for a moment, couldn't ALL of history be characterized as
merely a bunch of "stories"? Putting the "paranormal" totally aside,
one can be quite skeptical even of ordinary history.
This point is brought up in THE MODERN RESEARCHER
by the historians Barzun and Graff. They write:
"Facing the Doubtful in All Reports
. . . .'But,' says the skeptic, 'you were not there.
All you know is what others choose to tell you---in memoirs,
newspapers, and your other vaunted evidence.
How can you be sure? Most people are notoriously
bad obververs; some are deliberate or unconscious
liars., there is no such thing as a perfect witness. And
yet you naively trust any casual passerby, and on his
say-so you proclaim, 'This is what happened.' '
Barzun and Graff go on to say:
"Except for the words 'naively trust,' everything
said above is true. But in its effort to discredit
history it proves too much. The key sentences
are 'You were not there' and 'There is no such thing as a
perfect witness.' Granting the force of these two statements,
what follows? **It is that if any of us had been there, there
would simply have been one more imperfect witness on
the scene** We might be convinced that our vision, our
recollection, our interpretation was the right one, but
other witnesses would still feel no less certain about theirs.
To put it differently, every observer's knowledge of the
event doubtless contains some exact and some erroneous
knowledge, and these two parts, multipled by as
many observers as may be, are all the knowledge there
can be. Only a divine being would have perfect and
complete knowledge of the event-'as it really happened.'
Outside our imperfect knowledge, the event has no
independent existence; it is not hidden in some
'repository of the real' where we can find it.
This is important to grasp and remember; it makes
one both humble and grateful about the known and
"In trying to discredit this 'second-hand' knowledge,
the skeptic about historical truth unconsciously
assumes that because he is alive and observant
he knows the actuality of his own time. . . ."
So is David Lane also a skeptic of historical truth, of normal "stories"? Why
just be skeptical of the paranormal?
What, pray tell, could Yogananda have done to prove
the existence of Babaji that would satisfy the skeptic? Which skeptic? Where
Would Lane believe in Babaji's existence if Babaji
"appeared" to him in Lane's office
at Mt. San Antionio College? What if Mike Mueckler was also with Lane
in his office and also saw and conversed with Babaji?
What would Dave and Mike concur about their experiences? Would their
experiences and testimony be merely "stories"?
Again when Lane writes: "... I haven't seen that evidence; I
have heard merely lots of stories....," we should all remember that
"stories" can be testimony either positive or negative. For example,
there are positive "stories" about Sai Baba's psychic powers and then
there are negative "stories" about Sai Baba. Critics of Sai will
no doubt "believe" in the negative stories whereas believers will
focus on the positive stories. A true skeptic should be as critical
of the "negative" stories as he would be of the "positive" stories.
In David's comments on Babaji, he says:
"And, if this "Babaji" really does empirically exist (as Yogananda
and other have described him), then I would imagine that most of our
known laws of physics and biology would be overturned."
What asssumptions are under the surface of this statement that
"most of our known laws of physics and biology would be
overturned"? Notice also in the first quote from David that he
uses the term "supernatural". What are the assumptions in David's
mind that lead him to choose this word?
Would the laws be overturned? Could there not be other still
unknown laws of nature that scientists have not discovered?
Are there no more forces in Nature than those which science
have already discovered? etc. etc.
Even the skeptic Paul Kurz has written:
"New data and discordant, anomalous, or bizarre experiences or facts can
the best explanations. Thus we cannot say with absolute confidence that the
data and theories of parapsychology must be false because they contradict
the existing body of physical [scientific] theory."
David Lane in his response to me writes:
"Quite frankly, Daniel, the paranormal has yet to be repeatedly "proven"
to a skeptical community. I have an open mind, but I am not going to
settle for 'stories.' "
Again that word "stories"!
Please define the "skeptical community". Do you mean the professional skeptics
like those of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of the Claims
Paranormal? Even some of the "fellows" of this Committee have resigned in
when they learned that their fellow skeptics were nothing but "True
Or do you mean the scientific community?
Well quite frankly, David , after 30 years of study, I have the impression
have, for the most part, turned a blind eye toward the claims of the
paranormal and have ignored the study of such phenomena.
Dr. Andrew Greeley confirms my own observations:
"Despite years of attempts to study paranormal phenomena, there's been
a scientific iron curtain raised against serious research on these
experiences. . . ." Pretty opened minded people?!
And if Greeley's opinion is suspect, then here is the opinion of Dr.
Ray Hyman, probably the foremost scientific skeptic of the paranormal.
Even he has had to admit:
". . . members of the scientific community often judge the parapsychological
claims without firsthand knowledge of the experimental evidence.
Very few of the scientific critics have examined even one of the many
experimental reports on psychic phenomena.
Even fewer, if any, have examined the bulk of the parapsychological
Consequently, parapsychologists have justification for their complaint that the
scientific community is dismissing their claims without a fair hearing. . . ."
Such a response on the part of the scientific community is nothing but ...
PREJUDICE. If such an arrogant attitude is part of science, I want
nothing to do with it.
Hyman wrote this in 1988 and as far as I can tell it still applies in 1997.
Yes, I agree one should be skeptical and ask questions concerning the
claims of gurus, avatars, psychics, etc. But one should also not
let one's guard down and naively accept the statements of so-called
scientists. Their statements can also be full of bullshit. However
scientist may be in his own speciality, one must ask how much that
scientist knows about subjects outside his own field.
To be continued. . . .
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