A few words for Skepticism

It seems to me that a few words about Skepticism* are in order.  I have talked about coming out as an atheist**; but I think it’s time to come out as a Skeptic too.

Skepticism seems a little harder for people to understand.  It’s more all-encompassing than atheism.  Deciding that you don’t believe in God is pretty straightforward in most peoples’ understanding.  While they may be shocked or disgusted, they at least get it.   It’s a simple rejection of something familiar – an every day sort of thing.  They understand it’s kind of adopting a ‘non-religious’ perspective.   While some people give up, say, Catholicism to become Protestant or Jewish, atheism rejects all theism.

But some atheists adopt an alternative set of beliefs that don’t include a god.  They might become Buddhists, Wiccans,  or (rarely) even believe in aliens.  And then there are a variety of belief systems which supposedly explain various aspects of living – ‘paradigms’ in a sense.  These would include beliefs like “quantum spirituality” and “New World Order”, etc.   None of these people would I call a ‘skeptic’.  Beliefs are beliefs, and by definition need no evidence or scientific proof.  Skeptics like myself, on the other hand, will often respond to an expressed theory, with anything from a mere ‘That’s interesting” to “Show me the science.”

I suspect I may represent the typical skeptic in the sense that I came to it relatively late in life, after temporarily adopting various ‘alternative’ theories or paradigms in different stages.  It was very gradual, and not a package of beliefs that I was sold on.   So what does skepticism mean to me in my everyday life?

It means tentativeness; keeping an open mind; accepting that we just don’t know everything, and that’s okay.  And it means change: adjusting my perspective as I learn and grow.

It means that when I hear a news announcement, for example, of  a scientific study that suggests we “may” have found “signs of life” on another planet, I don’t take it seriously.  In the context of science reporting, the word “may” is a very vague hypothesis, which only suggests a possibility for further future study.   Same with the word “signs” – and “life” – very open to interpretation.  I don’t get excited and I don’t join a movement or cult that believes this is proof of something.   The details of vocabulary are important and meaningful.

Some theories are quite complicated, and take a lot of patience, focus, time and thought, as well as trying to absorb equally complicated critiques.  Most people aren’t motivated to spend that kind of time or energy.  So many choose (not necessarily consciously) based on who’s doing the telling.  Or alternatively, it “feels right”.

Skepticism can be uncomfortable for people who need “answers” or certainty in their lives – or just plain old-fashioned “something to believe in”; it requires being able to live life without answers much of the time, yet hopefully not have to live with anxiety as a result.   Being comfortable with ‘not knowing’ helps.  It also helps to assume there’s no point in worrying as it has no benefit, and the corollary: taking  action can reduce anxiety.

My only remaining “belief” these days is more of an underlying assumption: that there is an interdependent web of all existence.  And this belief is tentative.

* http://www.skeptic.com/

** https://thinkinganddreaming.ca/2012/10/17/coming-out-as-an-atheist/

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11 Responses to A few words for Skepticism

  1. mixedupmeme says:

    I never thought of myself as a skeptic. And I definitely never questioned things in a scientific way. I could never argue a point or organize my ideas or even thought I was being inquisitive in a positive sort of way. But I remember my friends saying often that I was just being ornery or trying to argue or just taking another side and did it just to be doing it. lol

    I still do it and get the odd look. I don’t want the last word. I just want to know why and I want good reasons why … your why and your way is right.

    Sounds like I am aggressive and mean. I am really meek and mild. 🙂

    • Can’t imagine how you could interpret any of that as “aggressive and mean” LOL. Anyone who sings her way around issues can’t be mean! I do believe “why?” is one of the most intelligent, thoughtful questions a human being can ask!

  2. marksackler says:

    How’s this for skepticism. I have beliefs but I am skeptical of them! (They are philosophical based on my understanding of quantum physics and cosmology, but remain open to constant questioning and modification in the light of new knowledge and discoveries).

  3. Denise Hisey says:

    Skepticism is a healthy thing, I think. I believe in God, but I also believe He built skepticism into us because it gives us room to question, process and feel the journey. We humans have made a mess of God and turned him into so many things He’s not. Without skepticism we might just believe what the next person tells us to believe instead of finding out for ourselves.

    I think it shows you’re a strong and intelligent person to be able to call yourself a Skeptic. 😉

  4. I had an acquaintance who wanted to go into business with me. Through a couple of subtle experiences and observations I found that I could not trust him. I opted to not enter the venture with him. When a friend inquired as to why, “I said that I felt uncomfortable with his integrity.” He said, “You operate on belief; show me the police record.” Well of course there was none. The police do not have time to discriminate every aspect of my subjective life. And in absence of any investigation, odd are this guy would never be caught. The similar situation applies to science.

    Sometimes, the lack of an official record of science, is not an indicator of non-validity. Our contention of ‘show me the science’ when indeed no science has been attempted, is less ethical a contention than we might think it to be.

    Perhaps the one liner retort should be ‘show me some science’ – When no science has been conducted on an issue, then I remain skeptically neutral, not obfuscating or disdainful – the latter not constituting science or skepticism at all. Similarly, I have no opinion on the existence of a spiritual realm. Before I adopt a belief, even your belief, you gotta ‘show me some science.’

    Otherwise is it just another religion. 😎

    • Basically, I do agree with your comments. I’d add that from my perspective, whether there is scientific “proof” of something or not, I tend to continue in a neutral attitude when it comes to “beliefs”. About ethics, to me they are independent of beliefs – To me believing in something is a choice, and is ‘active’, not passive or neutral, if you know what I mean. I do agree that often a belief in something like science is really just another religion. Especially things that merely PASS for science… And I often have to remind myself that “science” isn’t a thing, it’s a process, a way of dealing with a hypothesis… I really enjoyed the food-for-thought that you left here! 🙂 I’ve bookmarked your blog as it looks like it’ll take some time travelling there!

      • LOL!! Thanks fearless. What a great response. Being a person who stripped the guts of belief, painfully out of himself through life, I enjoy others’ wise counsel on such things.
        cheers! TES

  5. Gulaym says:

    Ib4m sorry, there must be something that eveads my understading here. What are Millennials? Itb4s a very interesting article, potentially . . .

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