Friday, January 16, 2009

Jesus Versus Roswell

Poked that troll's blog again for the lulz, and ended up thinking of a comparison not long after. What's the difference between Jesus's resurrection and the Roswell alien incident? Not a whole lot where I stand.

1) Believers cite "eyewitness testimony." Eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable. That's why science relies on forensic evidence whenever it's available. Eyewitnesses can lie. Eyewitnesses can misremember. Eyewitnesses can misinterpret what they see and adjust their memories to line up with what they thought happened. Of course, if some woo shows up, they're going to misrepresent that as me saying those eyewitnesses were crazy. Not necessarily. Those are perfectly normal mortal failings. Our brains evolved to survive, not to arrive at scientific fact or to objectively record what we see like a celluloid camera is. They've been (a little more than) good enough to ensure we've got food in our bellies and safety from predators. That's why we rely on objective, verifiable scientific evidence and not subjective memory.

2) Believers cite "eyewitness testimony" recorded long after the event. Do I really have to go into this? I remember one show that was about debunking Roswell. They had a group of people escorted by a faux group of military people while wearing helmet cameras. One month later, they were talking about being lead past unknown equipment, and one said a guard raised his rifle at him. The cameras, meanwhile, played back showing only trees and calm guys in uniform. Now imagine someone making claims decades later. Now imagine someone writing down about what someone else said centuries earlier, and can't even get straight who was there. Now imagine the possibility that those people doing the writing want you to buy their book or go to their church.

3) Believers typically already buy into unfalsifiable magic. Jesus, like all magic men, has a Green Lantern Ring. Aliens have Do Anything Robots and equally flexible spaceships. There's no limits to the powers people will invoke to explain anything, while failing to explain why it didn't happen another way. The eyewitnesses to these things typically don't understand anything about how the universe works, but they believe in magical things that can be invoked to explain anything, be it super-aliens, omnipotent men in black, angels, or spirits. So, if these people see something they can't explain, instead of seeking out known explanations for the phenomena, they'll just immediately jump to "magic." It doesn't help that there's no shortage of fantasy-prone people, especially if you live in a culture that values "visions" or "repressed memories."

4) Believers expect us to make special exceptions to logic for their case. Conspiracy nuts often ask me to just throw away Occam's razor and not talk about evidence for aliens because the MIB covered up all the evidence to make it look exactly the same as if it never happened. And that this new entity leaves no evidence of its own. For Jesus, they expect people like me to believe that the religious people who allegedly saw the resurrected Jesus were somehow more special and more objective than all the "witnesses" to non-biblical miracles and magic throughout the centuries, and thus we should throw out all the questions we'd ask about the incident we would ask for any flying saucer cult's claims.

There's probably a lot more. I might expand this post, depending on comments. Scientology tag included just because there's not too much difference between them and the standard alien nuts. That and it might provoke some painful thoughts in the Christian fundies who don't want to be associated as equals with them.


Tom Foss said...

This is something I've noticed a lot lately, since I've been digging into the conspiracy theories and autism-woo again. The same points, same fallacies, same tactics, and same failures of thought seem to pop up again and again, regardless of the subject of irrational belief.

And at the center of it is that casual assumption of personal infallibility, which I think is at the core of the elevation of eyewitness testimony/anecdotal evidence, correlation/causation confusion, and the smug arrogance with which these groups treat the outsiders. Personal experience trumps clinical trials, earwitnesses trump forensic evidence, and if you don't believe them, then you're a naive sheep who trusts the government story implicitly, or you're a shill for Big Pharma who cares only about money and not the individuals, or you're just a disciple of the religion of science. They're personally infallible, so if they can show that you're personally impeachable, then they've won. The evidence never even enters into it.

Of course, the reality is messier. After all, believers in the resurrection have no eyewitnesses to draw from, and so they either have to ignore the basic facts of the Gospel writing, or they have to assume that it's the only time in history that a game of telephone has resulted in a perfectly-transmitted story. Similarly, the believers in the Roswell account have to ignore the actual eyewitness testimony from the time, which describes a small debris field with strips of rubber, sticks, and aluminum foil--certainly not the remnants of any advanced alien spacecraft. When the witnesses conflict with the narrative, they have to be rationalized away too, even if they were the original foundation for the story.

MWchase said...

Barely related, but I managed to read that as "Of course, the reality is messier."

Back on topic, it does seem that you could turn that """satirical""" post he made into a similar """satire""" written by a Roswell believer.

But, beyond that, it gets into the special treatment you talked about people wanting over there... My thoughts... while what I'm about to say smacks somewhat of the elitism displayed by people who say that "Some people should believe, just because otherwise their lives wouldn't have any meaning"... It's a simple fact that our experience of the world stems from our perceptions, and therefore we can only have 'goals' in terms of those perceptions... Even if somebody argues that our perceptions do not reflect 'reality', they are all we have to work with. Granting that rhetorical rigmarole, science can still be cast as finding correspondences between actions and our perceptions. Since these perceptions form the basis of any goals we have, it's still 'useful' in a predictive and prescriptive sense, even if said rhetorical stuff would alter what it described...

Which is a really long-winded way of saying something that most people who read this blog already believe.

Anonymous said...

What I love about conspiracy nuts is that unasked question whenever they try to defend the lack of evidence with "it was all covered up by THEM". That is, okay, so if there's no evidence at all for it, why do you think it happened?

MWchase said...

Because they had other knowledge that got disappeared/other ways of knowing/people are SHEEEEEEEEEEEP.

You can have 9/11 deniers who just claim that the rest of... everybody is easily misled and delusional.

Anonymous said...

The Roswell show can be found on youtube. Great show, from what I remember.

Tom Foss said...

I've got an upcoming post on a History's Mysteries show that did the experiment BD mentioned, but I don't think that's the original source; I recall reading about it before, either in Demon-haunted World or Why People Believe Weird Things. then again, my memory could be wrong.