Monday, April 30, 2007

Ghosts in the Library

Recently, the student-run newspaper of the university which I attend, The Western Front, ran a story reporting on the alleged existance of a ghost on the second floor of the school library. A link to the story can be found here.

Obviously, someone with a blog entitled "Jeremy the Skeptic" would find something wrong with a news story such as this. And indeed I did. Here's a letter I sent to the editor of the paper.

To the Editor,

I was deeply disappointed to find as a feature story in the April 27, 2007 issue of The Western Front an unsubstantiated report that a ghost inhabits the microform of the Wilson Library. Providing first hand accounts of “cold spots” and electrical disturbances simply does not provide any evidence for the claim that the spirit of a deceased librarian is currently occupying the building for which she is named. Just because a place feels “creepy” does not mean anything supernatural is going on. I found it particularly amusing that the president of “Advanced Ghost Hunters of Seattle-Tacoma” was contacted as if to provide an air of legitimacy to a story which would otherwise be a mediocre camp fire tale. I am hard pressed to come up with a reason why a representative from the “Society for Sensible Explanations,” also based in Seattle, was not also contacted to provide an alternative, and possibly more sensible, explanation.

Before I read this story, I had held the Front in generally high regard; I found the opinion pieces particularly fascinating. However, with the printing of a story such as “The Ghost of Wilson Library” I now retain the same amount of esteem for the Front as I do for The AS Review which, thanks to the Review’s recent uncritical look at “extra sensory perception,” is not very much. I sincerely hope that the next time an opportunity to report on anything having to do with the supernatural presents itself, the staff of the Front will gaze upon it with a more skeptical eye.

Jeremy Schwartz

I will post any response I get. Here's hoping it's a good one.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Idea of Prayer and the Virginia Tech Tragedy

Before I start here, I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to the families who lost loved ones on April 16th, 2007 on the campus of Virginia Tech. That includes both the families of the victims and the gunman.

It utterly blows my mind that anyone could think that praying to a god that allowed such a disaster to occur would do any good. I personally could not think of a more useless, if well intentioned, gesture. What exactly does, “My prayers are with the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting,” mean? Why does an omnipotent and omniscient god need to be reminded that 33 people who have suddenly and tragically died should go to heaven? And what of the person who did the shooting? Are the prayers of people across the country telling God that he should burn forever in the fires of eternity? How would that make the gunman’s parents feel? This is one of the things that so enrages me about the idea of prayer; the inconsistency of it all. How something that could be so well intentioned could also be used as a petition to damn someone to eternal punishment. I think it is safe to assume that at least one of the parents of at least one of the 33 students prayed for the safe return home of their son or daughter that day. Why wasn’t that prayer answered? How does God choose the prayers which he answers?

The only way I could understand the need for some people to prayer is to make themselves feel better. This is a natural human need, especially in the face of such an unspeakable calamity. Trying to come to turns with the uncertainties of the world is one of the main reasons religion evolved in the first place. It is natural for humans to try to find order in chaos. However, I have long since come to terms with the fact that there are many things that happen of which I cannot affect the outcome. There are simply some things that happen in this world that no one can change. Now, I do not know the specifics of the Virginia Tech incident and what could have been done to stop the person who did the shooting. Still, if that student was determined enough to end that many lives, he would have found a way to do so. My point is, no one can stop these random events, and it has made me much happier now that I have come to realize that. So, instead of wasting my time pointlessly beseeching a most probably non existent entity because of an event that entity should have been able to stop in the first place, I merely extend my deepest sympathies to the families of the deceased and move on with my life. Because if there’s anything that such a disaster can teach all of us, it’s how quickly our relatively short lives can be snatched away.

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