I wish I could post this in some of the more active and rancorous forums, because I feel that it might be of greater benefit there, but this seems to
be the only board whose category and purpose seems fully compatible with the subject matter.
I am writing this post because I have noticed as of late that there seems to be a perpetual war of words between "believers" and "skeptics"
regarding a great many subjects. I firmly believe (and this is an example of a skeptic holding a belief i.e. I could be wrong) that this is a false
dichotomy and that these arguments, and the stigma often attached to both philosophical positions are both unwarranted and unnecessary.
Why are we all here? We're here because we want to discover the truth (whatever
that may be,) and wish to discuss beliefs, facts, hypotheses,
news, and experiences with what we hope
will be at least reasonably like-minded people. Dismissing one another purely on the basis of being a
"believer" label or a "skeptic" label not only does nothing to advance our shared goals, but it also seeks to exclude one or more groups or
schools of thought from discussions which by their very nature benefit from having as diverse a pool of heads as possible taking part in them.
And what is "the truth?" If any of us knew that with absolute certainty, we wouldn't be here trying to find it. Some believe the truth is
subjective and amorphous or supple. Some believe the truth must be objective and absolute. In the absence of proof of one or the other,
philosophically, both points of view are valid. This is an example of a great point of contention which may not even be necessary, because what one
(and this is the key word) as "the truth" depends on one's proof threshold.
Not only does this differ between the
"believer" and the "skeptic," but it can even differ among "believers" and "skeptics" themselves. Many existential skeptics (such as myself)
even leave room for doubt that we are even here right now! Others are satisfied by lesser thresholds of proof. Many "believers" believe certain
aspects of a given phenomenon, but remain, themselves, skeptical of others.
One of the most pronounced things I've observed lately has been the assertion by pseudo-skeptics that they are being skeptical, when in reality they
are merely seeking to debunk (they are not one and the same.) So first and foremost, I feel it is important to establish what skepticism is, is not,
requires, and does not require. Skepticism is not debunking, debunking is not skepticism, etc.
- Skepticism is not necessarily the unwillingness or inability to believe in any given scenario, phenomenon, account, or hypothesis. Given
empirical proof, a skeptic can and indeed must, in lieu of any remaining alternative explanations, become a "believer."
- Skepticism is refraining from accepting something as factual without empirical proof. (This does not preclude accepting that that
thing may be factual. In fact, without proof to the contrary, the skeptic must accept the possibility that it is factual!)
- Skepticism is not asserting that something is not, cannot, or never has been true. That is asserting a fact, which if one is truly
skeptical, requires proof. This means a skeptic cannot assert that something is not true without proof. In other words, a skeptic cannot tell
you that you are lying, crazy, or wrong, unless they have empirical proof that this is the case. If they do so without firm proof, then they
are engaging in pseudo-skepticism (just as many debunkers refer to certain questionable beliefs or theories as pseudo-science) or are
setting out preemptively to debunk the topic at hand. The most they can say is in that instance if they wish to call themselves truly skeptical is,
"I believe you are wrong, but I cannot prove it, and I distinguish between my personal beliefs and facts."
- Skepticism is expressing that one does not know something for certain about an asserted fact, and asking questions about that
asserted fact. These can be questions one asks oneself, others, embarks on research to answer, or in some cases, unfortunately, which may never be
- Skepticism does not require that one not hold personal beliefs which lack absolute proof. In other words, the skeptic can say, "I believe
__________, but I do not know for a fact that my belief is correct." This includes religious beliefs, beliefs in certain debatable phenomena, etc.
- Skepticism does require distinction between facts and beliefs. That is to say, the skeptic can hold any belief he or she feels
drawn to or prefers to hold, but they cannot assert that those beliefs are facts without empirical proof.
So, with that having been said, you may notice how the above makes it quite possible for the believer to be skeptical in their approach, and the
skeptic to still hold personal beliefs. You may also notice how nothing in the above points makes it necessary or desirable, in any debate or
discussion, to personally attack anyone, no matter how skeptical or faithful they may be.
The implications of this should be fairly straightforward in my opinion, but people still seem intent on arguing with one another. Self-professed
skeptics call believers crazy crackpots. Self-professed believers call skeptics close-minded and ignorant. Are there believers in the world who are
wrong? Yes - otherwise they wouldn't be "beliefs." The possibility always exists that a belief is inaccurate. But by the same token, are there also
pseudo-skeptics in the world who are completely unwilling to entertain even the possibility that something is true? Yes, and that is why those
individuals are not truly skeptical.
In short, both extremes exist in combination but one does not necessarily
follow the other. Assumption is the enemy of both the believer and
the skeptic. Assumption of intent, assumption of position, assumption of feeling, assumption of experience, and assumption of fact. The skeptic is not
supposed to be making assumptions if they are to be truly skeptical lest they delude themselves into bias, and the believer, whose proof threshold is
different than that of the skeptic, is at equal (some would say greater) risk of following assumptions into self-delusion.
I would also like to touch on the ego massage that feeling as though one is part of an elite, or special group seems to impart. I have observed many
people saying things along the lines of, "I'm glad I'm a believer so that when X happens, I'll be able to say I told you
so/protected/chosen/holy/etc." or, "Thank goodness I'm a rational skeptic so that I don't have to labor under the delusions most people seem to."
What does this sort of intellectual "class warfare" or exclusivity accomplish other than to validate the poster's own ego? What constructive
purpose does it serve?
As I discussed in another thread, skepticism is a tool for determining fact, while belief is a state of consciousness which allows us to experience
possibilities before they are determined to be fact. This does not mean that those beliefs are not
facts unless proof exists to that effect,
nor does it mean that the skeptic's facts might not be in error. We are, after all, all human, fallible, and on the same journey. We're just in
slightly different vehicles.
Personally, I like to sample both. What I don't like, however, and what I deeply feel damages, slows, and disrupts our shared yet different journey
toward whatever the truth is, is the seemingly perpetual battle between these two points of view. I have learned a lot from believers (and have my own
beliefs.) I have learned a lot from skeptics (and I practice skepticism.)
To quote the Matrix, which I regard as a work of philosophical import personally, "There's only one way to get there, and that's together."
Whatever the truth ultimately is, is it not for the skeptic and the believer alike in the end?
[edit on 5/13/2010 by AceWombat04]