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The Value of Skepticism

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posted on Aug, 28 2009 @ 05:16 AM
Before I can hope to discuss the value of skepticism, I have to explain what I mean by the word. Unfortunately, "skepticism" has two different meanings.

The first meaning "skepticism" is "a refusal to believe something". This would be the close-minded skeptic, the person who is out to "debunk" whatever claims he doesn't like. This form of skepticism is not beneficial. It is just as dogmatic and sterile as the refusal to disbelieve. The close-minded skeptic is not open to learning. The close-minded skeptic disbelieves.

The other meaning of "skepticism" is "requiring evidence before accepting something". This is the open-minded skeptic, someone who does not form an opinion about something until he has seen evidence of it. The open-minded skeptic doesn't believe, but he doesn't disbelieve, either. He hasn't formed an opinion. This form of skepticism, i my opinion, is valuable and necessary.

As an open-minded skeptic, I make a genuine effort to avoid deciding about a topic, until I've seen the evidence. Being human, I often fail at this. Chances are, I've made mistakes in both directions. Still, I try to keep an open mind while also looking for faults in the evidence.

Quite often I am able to find unremarkable explanations for the claims or theories or ideas that are discussed. In fact, I work hard to find ordinary, mundane explanations for the bizarre, the strange, those incidents that appear inexplicable. I often sound like quite a killjoy. I do this for a good reason, though.

Many people think that I'm trying to take all the magic out of the world, to deny the miraculous and amazing. This isn't true. Far from it. I would love to find that these amazing things were actually true. Unfortunately, I've been so often fooled in the past, had my magic stomped on by harsh reality, that now I examine everything with a seriously jaundiced eye.

So yes, I will pick apart a story, look for its flaws, question the photographs, and in general work to uncover any fraud, error, or boring explanation I can. It's not that I want to chase away the magic; I just want any magic to really be magic, and not just one more joke or trick or mistake.

So of all the surprising, amazing, miraculous, supernatural stories I encounter, probablly 99% of them wind up either being explained by normal phenomena, or shown to lack enough evidence to be convincing. For example, I really am not convinced by photos of UFO's. It's just too easy to fake them. I'm not saying they're all fakes; maybe only a few are fakes. But since I have no way to tell, photos don't convince me. I'd really need to see one with my own eyes.

But there are things that happen that I can't explain. I've seen them for myself. I've struggled to explain them using natural phenomena, and these few just won't go. Any "natural" explanation I've been able to come up with have required so many coincidences or special situations, that the whole explanation becomes ridiculous.

I like to thnk of all these stories of UFO's and Bigfoots and ESP and conspiracies and everything as a huge pile of costume jewelry, some of it quite pretty, but most of it fake. As I sift through, testing each one, I find that most of them really are fakes, rhinestones and fool's gold and tinsel. There are others that seem kind of real, but I can't test them properly - so I don't count them, either. But out of that pile, I still find a few gems that pass every test I know. They're the ones I have hopes are real.

So I guess if you accept almost everything, it's like getting a big pile of costume jewelry. Most of it's fake, but it looks pretty. For some people, that's good enough.

As a skeptic, I don't keep most of the costume jewelry. I throw most of it out. I only keep a few pieces, but those are the ones that (I think) could be the real deal, the rare diamond. That's why I'm a skeptic.


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