Entities: Angels, Spirits, Demons, and Other Alien Beings Hardcover – 19 Mar 1995
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From the Back Cover
Guardian angels, demonic spirits, extraterrestrial visitors - are they only figments of the imagination, or is there solid evidence to corroborate their existence? Entities: Angels, Spirits, Demons, and Other Alien Beings answers this fundamental question by evaluating case studies of every description. From historic examples like the "Newberry Demon" of 1679 and the strange phenomena produced by nineteenth-century spiritualist mediums, to such modern enigmas as alien abductions, Bigfoot sightings, and the bizarre mystery of Atlanta's "House of Blood", Entities examines the eyewitness accounts and other evidence for strange beings found throughout the world.
About the Author
Joe Nickell (Amherst, NY) has been called "the modern Sherlock Holmes" and "the real-life Scully" (from the X-Files). He has been on the trail of man-beasts and other mysterious creatures and phenomena for four decades. Since 1995 he has been the world's only fulltime, professional, science-based paranormal investigator. His careful, often innovative investigations have won him international respect in a field charged with controversy. He is the author of numerous books, including most recently Real or Fake? Studies in Authentication and Adventures in Paranormal Investigation. See www.joenickell.com for more.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The book argues – as Nickell's mentor Robert A. Baker summarizes in the afterword – that entities like ghosts, spirits, poltergeists, devils, demons, angels, aliens, monsters, and fairies “all are human products”, “produced by the ever-active, image-creating human mind.” Well this is a clear-cut position, worth being argued for, given all the nonsense, myths, and credulity surrounding such purported “entities”. It certainly is a noble pursuit to inject a heavy counterdose of critical thinking and sober information into the discussion. Alas, Nickell's attempt to do so, soon becomes morally dubious, or – to be more precise: – hypocritical.
Let me explain how I come to this rather harsh judgment: I am in no way an “expert” on the subject of poltergeist phenomena, but I have read enough on them – beginning with Gauld/Cornell's classic casebook, over Thurston, Owen, Roll, Rogo, to several eyewitness accounts –, to see that Nickell's handling of the topic is highly inadequate and selective. He tends to ignore or facilely dismiss any evidence that may contradict or impede a naturalistic explanation, while rhetorically conflating all evidence that proves or suggests fraud and illusion, and generalizing from them to the whole phenomenon. It's a blatant case of cherry-picking. And he is using similar strategies throughout the book.
Moreover, the gist of Nickell's argument (and even more so of Robert Baker's in the afterword) seems somewhat circular to me: He argues that there are obviously no such entities like ghosts, poltergeists, demons etc., because invariably all alleged experiences with or evidence for them are just based on delusion, illusion, hallucination, mere belief, fraud or lies. And how does he arrive to this conclusion? Well, as ghosts, demons and suchlike entities do not exist, all the alleged experiences with and evidence for them must obviously be based on delusion, illusion, fraud etc.
If only he would be honest, and state from the onset, that he doesn't believe in ghosts, demons, and all the other purported paranormal “entities” he is writing about, and that he wants to amass all possible evidence and arguments to bolster his belief. Of course, such honesty would prompt the question: “And what about the evidence and arguments for the other side? Shouldn't you first state the best and strongest arguments of the opposite opinion, and then try to refute them and argue for your own?” This, of course, would bring Nickell into serious trouble (and conflate the length of the book considerably).
So, instead of being honest, he chooses another rhetorical strategy: deception. He actually has the nerve to state in his introduction: “let us be neither mindless 'believers' nor close-minded 'debunkers' but instead be investigators who follow the evidence wherever it may lead. In that respect, let us avoid the pitfalls of those who start with the desired answers and then work backward to the facts, selecting only those which fit their preconceived notion and dismissing or rationalizing away the others.” (p. 10) Well, a noble resolution – if only he would heed it! But, as it is, that statement borders on contempt for his readers. For, if you know only a little bit about the subjects he is treating, you will soon realize that he describes exactly his own method, i.e. selecting only those facts which fit his preconceived notion and dismissing or rationalizing away the others; and then he disavows this very same method. Well, this is really – bold!
There is nothing wrong with having a certain belief, conviction or opinion and arguing for it as best as you can. But it is quite another thing to deny one's own bias and to falsely pose as an impartial and evenhanded investigator.
So, what really makes this book so objectionable is – to borrow a phrase from Abraham Lincoln – “the base alloy of hypocrisy”: Professing one thing in the introduction (“follow the evidence wherever it may lead”) and doing the exact opposite thing in the rest of the book (namely cherry-picking and rhetorically distorting the evidence to make it lead where you want it to lead).
P.S.: If you like to read a more balanced approach to “things paranormal”, I would recommend “Randi's Prize” by Robert McLuhan. McLuhan at least tries to see the subject from both sides and to weigh the evidence pro and con. Where, for example, Nickell naively endorses the confession of fraud by the Fox sisters or the somewhat preposterous explanation of a 18th century poltergeist case by Milbourne Christopher, McLuhan exercises some critical thinking and exposes internal contradictions and implausibilities within the “confession” and the “explanation” that cast reasonable doubts on their veracity.
Ten years later, I've gone over this book again, it's not bad. It offers a brief overview of many different paranormal "creatures" but doesn't go into a lot of detail about anything in particular. I thought the best sections were the ones on spiritualism in the 1800's (the Fox sisters in particular), the sections on the cottingley fairy photograhs, and the alien abduction section. The book does get a little bit repetive in the middle concerning ghosts/haunted houses... that type of stuff. It seems to drag in that section.
I'm not an atheist anymore, I belive in Christ now, but that doesn't lessen my enjoyment of Joe Nickel's book Entities. I wouldn't say this book debunks religion, nor is it the aim of the other to debunk religion. At the very least, it's an informative look at false beliefs and other things on the fringe. In that regard, it's a useful resource.
The book deals with, just as the title says, all kinds of possible and impossible "beings", from poltergeists and ghosts to angels, demons, spirit entities, lake monsters, extraterrestrials, and much more. On page after page, Nickell demonstrates how even the most outrageous reports can be explained without using anything paranormal whatsoever, and he uses tons of different sources to back up his claims. For example, chapter two, which deals with ghosts and haunted houses, is 33 pages long with a total of 100 footnotes. Not only that, each chapter ends with a list of recommended reading for anyone interested in pursuing his or her own research.
But I had a real problem with this book, the meticulous research aside. It completely lacks unexplained cases. Every time Nickell, for instance, cannot find a definite explanation to an alleged haunted house or encounter with an extraterrestrial he simply concludes that it was all imagination or a hoax. Misunderstandings among the witnesses or staged supernatural events are nothing new for the paranormal researcher, but I have to say that it really does feel greatly insulting towards the reader - not to forget towards the scientific principle - to quite bluntly assume that if you cannot find an explanation through the use of mainstream science, then obviously the witness must have misunderstood the entire thing, had a hallucination, joked, or in some other way fabricated whatever it was that took place.
This attitude sounds more like fundamental scientism than healthy scepticism to me, and even though this is the only real drawback to the book the high level of annoyance it results in is such a nuisance that it overshadows all the great things about Nickell's research.
The only drawback to the book is that he seems to try to cover to much in too limited of a space. Much detail that might be interesting is lost, due to the number of beings covered. Overall, this is a good general overview of the belief systems that revolve around these nonexistent entities.
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