Why I’m proud to be a Skeptic

May 29, 2013

dawkins philosophy religionThree things this week confirmed to me that skepticism is a noble, genuine, honest and helpful worldview to live by.

The events were:

  • An admission of flawed thinking
  • The welcoming of someone holding a contrarian position
  • The baseless claims of a frustrated snake oil merchant

For me, skepticism is about a discipline of seeking evidence to support claims and positions.

And, furthermore, that that evidence has been uncovered through sound, contemporary scientific methods.

At its heart, skepticism offers me a way to get clarity in this world of competing ideas, fads and fashions, even if positions arrived at are tempered by the earnest disclaimer; to the best of my knowledge at this time.

While some might think that is a weak position, I argue it is the only intellectually responsible one.’

Only a fool would claim that something held to be truth now will remain so in 50, 500 or 500, 000 years from now

I must confess, I am besotted by the enduring honesty of the skeptical approach to life, and humbled by the earnestness of its quest for knowledge and truth.

An admission of flawed thinking

The first of the profound events that confirmed my ‘faith’ in skepticism, happened on the Skeptics With A K podcast, episode 96.

Presenter, Mike Hall made a public confession about a flawed position he had recently adopted on the subject of a supposed sighting of The Skegness Monster as covered by The Daily Mail.

The story revolved around video footage of something that looked like a Loch Ness monster in waters near a Lincolnshire resort in the United Kingdom.

Given that sound evidence debunks theories about Loch Ness monsters, Mike latched on to comments reported in the press from a marine biologist who said the grainy images meant ‘he could not be certain, but the sighting could have been two basking sharks together.’

Mike admitted that in discussions with colleagues and family members, he had twisted the marine biologist’s ‘tentative’ language and recast it as ‘definitive’; that the sighting WAS of two basking sharks.

He explained he took that position to save himself from having to go through repeated, well-worn arguments that debunk myths about such sea creatures and to close the door on credulous people seizing the slither of possibility that there might be an alternative explanation if he had been more intellectually rigorous.

In short, he confessed he’d been lazy.

And yet, to me, this brave and embarrassing admission only adds to his stature, in my books, as a worthy leader in skeptical circles.

The welcoming of someone holding a contrarian position

By sheer coincidence, the next podcast cued for my listening was the highly regarded, Skeptics Guide To The Universe, episode 408, and it showcased a different virtue of skepticism.

In this episode, these worldly wise and scholarly presenters, displayed a profound spirit of generosity and curiosity by conducting an interview with a leading proponent of Intelligent Design, Don McLeroy.

What was most fascinating and illuminating about this interview was the respect shown to McLeroy even though his ideas and arguments were firmly and fairly criticised.

In fact, McLeroy showed a similar grace in listening to the counter arguments and also played the ball and not the players.

Even though I listen to podcasts like Skeptics Guide for some internal, skeptical recharging and relief from the world of superficial and superstitious nonsense, it was intriguing and enriching to hear proponents of evolution and intelligent design hold a decent and intelligent discussion.

What I liked about all the speakers involved was that they shared the universal motto that most skeptics live by: if I get presented with compelling, conclusive evidence, I will change my position to align with these new facts.

In my humble opinion, you need to be quite at ease with your worldview and motives to welcome someone of opposing persuasions into your limelight in your community.

The baseless claims of a frustrated snake oil merchant

The final item of the week that rounded off my pride in skepticism, was a 2010 article by the editor of Natural News entitled, What ‘skeptics’ really believe about vaccines, medicine, consciousness and the universe.

It really can be described as nothing other than a dumb dummy spit.

He lashes out in frustration at skeptics, attempting to belittle us with baseless claims.

I guess this tactic works on his site as it promotes colloidal silver manufacturing kits and conspiracy theories, but really falls flat when given even cursory consideration.

Here are a few examples:

  • They themselves admit they have no consciousness and that there is no such thing as a soul, a spirit or a higher power. There is no life after death. In fact, there’s not much life in life when you’re a skeptic.
  • Skeptics believe that ALL vaccines are safe and effective (even if they’ve never been tested), that ALL people should be vaccinated, even against their will, and that there is NO LIMIT to the number of vaccines a person can be safely given. So injecting all children with, for example, 900 vaccines all at the same time is believed to be perfectly safe and “good for your health.”
  • Skeptics do not believe in hypnosis. This is especially hilarious since they are all prime examples of people who are easily hypnotized by mainstream influences.

And so he continues.

It reads like he was trapped in a manic episode and was able to channel a delusional typist guide to write his piece.

The thing that struck me most in this silly work is that apart from him either laughing off well defended positions (skeptics are in favour of vaccines) or exaggerating claims (all skeptics think injecting children with 900 vaccines at once is safe and good for your health), his piece comes across to me as an example of the pot calling the kettle black.

For example, WHO is really hypnotised by mainstream influences? Surely not skeptics. I would argue it is the poor mugs who line up to buy magnetic bands to cure their blood or spend $30 on a bottle of water with a label claiming homeopathic ingredients.

I did take heart that even some of Mike Adams’ own choir took him to task for this loose polemic, however, at the time of writing this, those comments that were visible last week have vanished.

So I’ll finish this section with a quote from the Skeptics In Australia Facebook Group where the link caught my attention, it is by Troy Thompson:

What a great mix of lies, misinformation, outright insults and even some perfectly true points that are actually positives not negatives. That’s the best case study I’ve ever seen for rational thought, running through that you’ll find almost every fallacy known to logic. I’ll be saving that for later use.

In summary, these three examples all served to reinforce my decision to adopt a skeptical worldview in my life.

It means I will admit there are still gaps in human knowledge BUT that our scientific endeavours slowly and surely unravel the mysteries while opening new ones.