I wasn't exactly sure where I should post this but I need some advice!

 

Most of my family has some kind of belief in ghosts, spirits, residual energy, aliens, and so on.  What are some arguments against those sorts of things? 

 

Example: a bunch of plates moving off of the stove or counter, hovering in midair, then crashing to the floor.  The storyteller makes a point to say the plates look as if they'd been thrown to the floor by "something".

 

I don't believe in any of this nonsense but I don't have ANY logical, explainable arguments against it, besides the point that it can't be a ghost or spirit because they don't exist.  But why don't they exist?  How can I drive a point home, or at least have some kind of grounds to stand on when I argue with them?

 

I'm very comfortable debating theism, but I have no clue how to explain how something, anything, can happen if no one is in the room, or touching the object, or whatever the situation is.

 

Any and all advice desperately needed!  Please correct any of my misunderstandings so I can more effectively oppose, and hopefully debunk, these superstitious ideas. 

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Others may have experience with these, but I will do my best.

Easiest and most vivid thing for debunking of supernatural event(s)-James Randi's Million Dollar Challenge
http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/1m-challenge/challenge-applicat...

I've read some potential applicants and I could tell you this. They have to first prove that ghosts or entities or whatever exist before they can say that objects are being moved by them-you can't put the cart before the horse.

Point 2-Show them debunking videos on youtube. It is no coincidence that magicians, people who making a living off of deception, are the most prevalent among debunker's.

Point 3- You can't test testimonials. I have a dragon in my garage, but he's very shy and turns invisible if anyone else enters. What's that? You'll put down baby powder to track his movements? Oh I forgot, when he goes invisible he also hovers around...(paraphrasing from Sagan's Demon Haunted World)
Someone has to give you something to test before they can assert it's existence.

Point 4-Set up an experiment if possible. Preferably with hidden cameras without all of those involved knowing about it.


Lastly, if they care at all about Science. Kindly remind them that our brain seeks patterns all the time and is easily tricked by colors on a page.
Example: a bunch of plates moving off of the stove or counter, hovering in midair, then crashing to the floor. The storyteller makes a point to say the plates look as if they'd been thrown to the floor by "something".

The best logical explanation I can come up with for that is it never happened. I think debunking haunting and UFO sightings sometimes relies too much on demonstrating errors in perception rather than calling people out for making up stories and emotionally demanding people believe them. It's a lot harder to do the latter; the response will almost always be something like, "Are you calling me a liar/crazy?". Well, no, maybe a little bored and lonely...
The movie Religulous is a good start - and as others have said, James Randi's site and teachings are excellent for a quick debunk.

Self-delusion is powerful - very powerful: Religulous will show you that in spades.

Objects falling (attributed to poltergiest - in German, "noisy ghost") can always be shown to be a very normal event. Often the subject is lying or just wrong - and never underestimate the stories people will tell to support their own delusions or belief.

If you give us specific stories, I (and I know others) will be happy to give you specific counter arguments.
Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy fame regularly writes on skepticism and debunking. For all of his debunking stuff go here: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/category/debunking/

I also highly recommend Why People Believe Weird Things:
http://www.amazon.com/People-Believe-Weird-Things-Pseudoscience/dp/...

I also like Skeptic magazine: http://www.skeptic.com/

And Scientific American: http://www.scientificamerican.com/

Many or all of these resources can be accessed through your public library.
best way to answer them is no answer. more logical you are, more illogical they become
There is something to be said for this approach, especially when it comes to family members. I know I hold my tongue...
I'm afraid I have to agree with this. If it's something they believe they actually saw first hand, there is no way you can tell them otherwise without insulting them.
I'm not sure I see a whole lot wrong with pointing out that they're most likely mistaken. You don't have to accuse them of lying. If they take offense, that's their problem. They're the ones that brought up the stupidity in the first place.
You could tell them that you belief their experience but not their explanation as to bypass any sensitivities. Just because you don't believe in the supernatural doesn't mean that you think they are lying, you just question their explanation.

When discussing the supernatural you can point out that by definition the supernatural cannot be investigated because we cannot observe it in any way, shape or form, to talk about the supernatural is to talk about something that is invisible, immaterial, colorless, odorless, shapeless, weightless etc. or simply said without any properties that we could observe and measure.

To talk about the supernatural is to talk about nothing.
When someone says "How could this have happened?", I simply say "They made it up" or "They mistook what happened." The onus is on them to prove what actually happened.

You don't have to prove it didn't happen or that it doesn't exist (just like God), they have to prove their position. Be confident and wait for verifiable evidence. But don't hold your breath;)
I've had people claim things about levitation and teleportation, but when I said "prove it", they ducked away. Other people I knew were convinced there were ghosts b/c of things like paintings falling off the wall, which happens all the time.

Mainly, when someone says there is no explanation, exactly. There is no explanation. Saying it was a ghost or some other supernatural thing is coming up with an explanation.
Check Neil deGrasse Tyson's excellent discussion of this exact logical fallacy, the argument from ignorance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfAzaDyae-k

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