Friday, October 5, 2007

What skepticism means to me

So since I am creating a blog about skepticism, I feel it is necessary to define skepticism. There is a manifesto over at Skeptic magazine that explains it pretty well, but I'm also going to explain it here anyways. I may develop many of these points more in later posts.

Usually "skeptic" refers to someone who takes a doubting position. This is not the definition I use. Other times, skepticism refers to the philosophical position that we can know nothing, except for the fact that we exist, as in the claim "I think, therefore I am." That is not the definition I use either.

When I say skepticism, I refer to a method of thought that basically tries to apply the scientific method to all claims. That is, all claims are compared to their counter-claims, and the claim with the most evidence is that which is accepted. Evidence, as opposed to say, our wants and hopes, is the ultimate standard for determining truth. Skeptics do not require absolute proof, since just like in science, there are are few claims in life that can be proven absolutely. Nor do skeptics think that all claims are equally true, or some similar nonsense.

There are several consequences of skepticism. First, most every skeptic thinks favorably of science and reason, since to them the scientific method is pretty much the only way to determine truth. Second, to the skeptic, absolutely everything is open to criticism. At least in principal, even things like science and skepticism are open to criticism. Third, most skeptics adopt some sort of materialist metaphysics. This last consequence is allegedly entirely derivative; if the evidence were different, skeptics might believe otherwise. Whether a non-materialist can, in this universe, be considered a skeptic is moot.

So in case my single reader didn't know, there is a modern Skepticism movement that wants the public to adopt the skepticism as the standard for accepting claims. This movement overlaps largely with the modern Atheist movement (this is something that I honestly did not know at first, perhaps for the better). The skepticism movement is most vocal about things like astrology, parapsychology, conspiracy theories, alternative medicine, and, of course, religion. Popularly known skeptics include Carl Sagan, the MythBusters, and Penn and Teller.

Skeptics are often stereotyped as being those curmudgeonly scrooges who refuse to believe in Santa, thus depriving him of his belief-powered sleigh. Furthermore, skeptics will irrationally deny that supernatural monster even up until they get eaten. Actually, the latter example is what we might call (rather pejoratively) a denialist, not a skeptic, since the evidence is right in front of him/her. For example, the global warming skeptic might be more properly described as the global warming denialist. Also, in general, it is not true that skeptics are killjoys out to spoil everyone's fun. I mean, that might be true of myself ;-), but I insist that it is not true of everyone.