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He introduced himself as "Chris Carter - heretic."

For Carter, creator of the popular TV show "The X Files," which depicts apparently paranormal mysteries, there may have been no tougher audience: a standing-room-only lunch-time crowd of card-carrying skeptics at a conference put on by the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.The group's members crusade against pseudosciences, from astrology to UFO studies.

"When they told me I was going to be had for lunch, I got a little afraid," Carter quipped.

Not to worry: By the end of his talk, the potentially hostile crowd last week was almost ready to eat out of his hand. His defense of the show was simple: "I am a dramatist," Carter said. "All I want to do, in a very smart way, is to scare the pants off people every Friday night.

"I am not a believer or purveyor, in the schlocky sense, of this kind of pseudoscience," Carter said. "But I use it for what I do, which is storytelling."

Carter argued that "The X Files" is in fact a skeptical show because it never does firmly commit to a paranormal explanation of the events it depicts. Agent Sculley, the scientist half of the team, "is the great big anchor of science towing down Agent Mulder's need to believe," Carter said.

"I've always thought that the Sculley point of view is the point of view of the show."

The explanation didn't entirely satisfy his critics. One, a physicist, reported that "every one of my friends who isn't a skeptic thinks your show's a documentary, and they cite your show as evidence for their beliefs."

Carter's response: Anyone who would take the show "at face value is gullible anyway, and you have to do your job as scientists" - an answer that met with more than a few grumblings.

"I don't know that it's my responsibility to say, `I've created a fiction which is a fiction,"' Carter said, answering a question from entertainer and intellectual renaissance man Steve Allen, a longtime friend of the skeptics' group.

But he also admitted that the show isn't quite as skeptical as he would have wanted originally.

"I wanted Agent Sculley to be right as often as Agent Mulder," Carter said. "Lo and behold, those stories were really boring . . . The idea of dramatizing a hoax is a very downbeat idea."

And to the extent that the show tickles less-rational parts of its viewers' minds, Carter said, that is the very stuff of drama.

"I think people's need to believe in these superstitions, in the paranormal, have to do with their emotional lives, which is what I deal with as a dramatist," he said.

The desire to believe and the search for truth "are different, but not inseparable," he said. Science "is a noble pursuit and calling," he continued.

"But beyond the facts, there is a need to have a spiritual life."