There are things I believe. There are things I don't believe. And then there are a vast and multifarious number of things about which I have absolutely no idea. Not a clue. Couldn't tell you one way or the other. And what fascinates me is that there are people, ordinary decent intelligent people whom I count as my friends, who seriously want me to rule those things out of existence, on (as far as I can see) no evidence but their word alone.
Not just me, of course, it's not personal. They want everyone to be sceptical, to believe nothing that has not been scientifically proved. They see no human need for magic, for aliens, for gods, for faeries, and a huge body of literature proving otherwise cuts no ice with them. They want us all to grow up and cast off the chains of illusion that shackle our minds and stop us thinking. They're very big on thinking, and they believe that if you once consider the possibility of, say, a divine creator of the universe, or an alien spacecraft visiting Earth, a little status bar in your head starts to sink and you lose a little of your capacity for ratiocination.
I think this is, frankly, piffle. I've been thinking all my life, and I don't believe for one second that what we think affects whether we think. Some people do think more than others, but that is their personal choice, for goodness sake, and I am quite sure that there are as many unthinking unbelievers as unthinking believers, and fully as much objective proof of the fact either way. Which is to say, none.
Let's take UFOs. I don't think anyone disputes that sometimes people see flying objects that they can't identify, so no question of that, UFOs exist. Where the arguments arise is when people start identifying them as alien spacecraft and saying they've been for a ride in one.
I don't disbelieve that. I don't necessarily believe it, but that's another matter.
Evidence for UFO encounters comes from people of all walks of life, the same people who, if they served on a jury, would be trusted to decide whether a person should go to prison (or, in America, die) or go free. The same people, who, if they said "I saw X come out of the bank with a bag of money and a gun in his hand" would be taken perfectly seriously. When they say "I was taken on board the ship and the aliens subjected me to anal probing" it is taken for granted that what they are saying cannot be true. Just as it was taken for granted that what Galileo was saying could not be true.
Of course, Galileo was describing the outcome of easily repeatable experiments, and UFO abductees are talking about experiences they didn't choose and could not possibly repeat on command even if they wanted to. But it's strange how their claims are refuted. The fact that many abductees tell similar stories is counted against them, rather than as corroboration, because they obviously got it from films or TV. Under hypnosis, the abduction experience is recreated, and this serves as proof that it didn't happen, even though it would be equally possible to recreate any experience, including getting your head chopped off or dancing with Elvis. The goal of UFO sceptics is not to find out what the truth is. They think they know what the truth is, and their job is to prove it, and to their own satisfaction they do...but not to mine.
To prove that a person was not abducted by aliens, one would have to have an eye witness see that person in a particular place at the time during which the person believed they were on the spaceship. And even if that happened, it would only disprove that specific abduction. There is no doubt that many alleged abductees could be suffering from delusions or practising deceit. But if even one is genuine--even one--then the sceptics are wrong, and that is all there is to it.
Same with crop circles. Yes, it's certainly possible to tramp round someone's field with string and a plank and make any shape you want, and either pretend to be mystified while sniggering behind your hand or reveal yourself as a merry prankster (or plankster) and pay the nice farmer for ruining his harvest. Proves? Nothing. Unless someone can go back through the archives, locate every single crop circle that has ever occurred and identify a human perpetrator for each and every one (and also explain the various little anomalies that crop up (sorry) about the way the stalks are bent, the local temperature, and so on), there remains the possibility that one could be genuine. And if even one is genuine--even one--then the sceptics are wrong, and that is all there is to it.
Same with God. Or Odin, or Vishnu, or whoever. It's obvious that all the holy scriptures in the world were written by human beings and may contain
nuts as much as ninety-nine per cent pure invention. Anybody who doubts that seriously isn't thinking. But...what does this prove about the existence or otherwise of deity? You guessed it. Nada. Science buffs are wont to quote Haldane or whoever it was who said "the universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine." (Personally, I'm none too sure; I can imagine pretty strange.) And yet these same science buffs are confident that this unimaginable strangeness does not include, for instance, any kind of deity, purely on the basis that they personally haven't met him yet. (I haven't met Boris Johnson, but I believe he exists.) Push them, and they appeal to the aforementioned holy scriptures and point out that they don't find the deities portrayed therein to be very nice. Which, while true, is hardly relevant. The universe might not only be uglier than we imagine, but uglier than we can imagine, and it might indeed have been created and be ruled by an infantile tyrant who forbids his creatures to plant two crops side by side, and if that were true, then pretending that he didn't exist would be a little silly.
I don't believe that, though. The universe is, on the whole, a nice and interesting place to be, and whether it happened by accident or was created by a deity doesn't change that either way. People are on the whole fairly decent, if occasionally stupid or malicious or barking mad, and if in that they reflect the image of a creator then I can live with it. And, as with UFOs, if sensible, unbigoted, intelligent, kind-hearted people tell me (and they do) that they have an inner certainty that a deity exists, I'm going to take that on trust and not rule out the possibility, even if I don't feel it myself. Because if even one is right--even one--then the sceptics are wrong, and that is all there is to it.
Sceptics puzzle me. They claim to believe only that which is scientifically provable by observation and experiment, and then come out with all these negative beliefs which have never once been proved. It is, of course, not actually true that you can't prove a negative, but there are many kinds of negative which are not susceptible to proof. It's not possible to prove that there is no God. What you can truthfully say is that you have seen no objective evidence for God, and that the scriptural accounts of him don't make sense and don't paint a very pretty picture, and that is all you can truthfully say.
And then I can say exactly the same about Boris Johnson. I've seen representations of this person in photographs and on television, just as I've seen representations of God in paintings and films. I've heard reports of this person saying and doing various things; same with God. But I have no objective evidence of the existence of the entity named "Boris Johnson," and the accounts I have seen of his acts and his words do not paint a very pretty picture. Some day I may meet him. Some day you may meet God (not for a long while yet, I hope). But for the moment I take the existence of Boris Johnson (unwillingly) on faith, and while I don't go quite that far with God, I'm not going to argue with those who do. Moreover, I'm not going to push my lack of objective evidence as a reason for claiming that they should abandon their certainty. Nor am I going to say that because I don't particularly like something about the universe, anyone else should pretend not to believe in it. I don't like the limiting velocity of light or the time dilation effect, but even though I've not experienced them personally I accept the possibility of their existence because people I trust have told me about them. I extend the same courtesy to people who tell me that some guy in Palestine died for my sins.
I'm not an agnostic, as I've said elsewhere in these pages. I think it's possible someone somewhere may be right about these things. But I don't believe it's the sceptics, and won't, till they come up with some better evidence for their unbelief. And if they can't, then that is really their problem.