There are certain claims that we think are either prima facie false, or so unlikely to consider taking seriously. Note that the former claim (even if it turns out we are wrong) gives us grounds to reject some claim. The unlikeliness claim, however, gives us grounds for suspicion, but not sufficient reason to reject a claim outright.
Take the idea that the real rulers of the Earth are alien, shapeshifting lizards who exist at a different vibrational frequency from the rest of us. Is this idea something we think to be prima facie false, or just something we think is unlikely? I would say that it is unlikely. Like debates about the existence of the gods, there is either evidence of their existence, or little reason to believe in them, but no evidence that they do not exist. In the same way, we might be sceptical of Icke’s lizards, but that does not tell us that they do not exist. Rather, we think it highly unlikely. We are sceptical because of our other beliefs about the world, but we cannot definitively rule them out.
But let’s modify the theory. According to the primary proponent of the shapeshifting lizard hypothesis, the material world is entirely illusory, and what we take to be the physical is really only the perceptual. Note that this view is not obviously false. For one thing, philosophers have seriously entertained this view (see Berkley, for example), and even physicists have toyed with the idea. None of this is to say that Icke’s view is either the philosophical thesis of Immaterialism or the scientific theory of the hologrammatic universe. Yet if we are to be charitable in our reading, then we should accept that Icke is not making claims which are prima facie false.
So, why are we sceptical of Icke’s metaphysics? Here are some suggestions:
- His epistemology: Icke gets his information about the world via intuitions and what he considers to be synchronic moments. This might make us sceptical about his metaphysical proclamations. But note, most people don’t know how Icke’s epistemology works. Indeed, my suspicion is most of you reading this can’t confirm what I’ve just written is even true. We think his epistemology must be weird, but that doesn’t tell us it is. It just tells us that as we think his conclusions are wrong, his method of co ing to them must be wrong as well. But that gets things back-to-front.
- His evidence: Icke’s evidence for these views is consistent with a number of different hypotheses. The fact Icke decides upon one view might be taken to suspicious. [More…] Yet grappling with the evidence here is hard, because Icke claims to have so much of it. It is hard to know from the sum total of it which interpretation is the best, and the worry here is that we think Icke has come to the wrong one without realising we are assuming there must be better interpretations.
- His politics: We might think Icke’s conclusions are a reaction to views, rather than the product of research. Icke is deeply anti-intellectual, and anti-authoritarian. Certainly, elements of his rhetoric trade upon these features, but while politics can colour a view, it does not tell us the view is wrong.
- He starts from the end: Maybe we think Icke came to his conclusion, and only then looked for evidence of it. That is to say, he’s not really engaged in a research project, but found evidence which merely fits pre-existing views. But why think that? No matter what we think about Icke, his views have shifted over time, and he has rejected theories; he certainly looks to be someone developing a theory, not merely finding evidence to support his view.
- He’s inauthentic: Does Icke believe the theory he promotes, or is he simply making money off of the gullible? Whilst people claim this (and Icke disputes it, claiming that he makes little money off of his tours once costs have been accounted for), claiming ‘X doesn’t really believe p’ is a problematic move, given it requires evidence, rather than just mere suspicion.
- Other theories like his have turned out to be less good than their rivals: This, I guess, is the best bet for justifying our scepticism of Icke’s views. Icke and his theories fit into a spectrum of largely discredited theories, and so his views seem implausible because they are not necessarily new nor novel.
My worry is that we assume Icke is wrong, and then backport that into our considerations as to how he came to his conclusions. Option 6 seems our best bet, but note that the cognitive work here to establish it is tricky. Other views like Icke’s have been discredited, but we now need to assess a) the similarity of these views to Ickes, b) the dismissal of those theories, and c) the dismissers themselves (since Icke addresses b and c in his own work, to argue that his work can withstand criticisms levelled against similar works.