What It Means To Be A Skeptic

The Sheaf writer Tyrel Eskelson has this concise article on what it means to be a skeptic:

It is perhaps a common misconception that one who defines him or herself as a skeptic could also interchangeably be labelled a contrarian or a disparager.

A skeptic is not someone who is cynical, close-minded or rejects new ideas. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

A skeptic is someone not in a fixed position but rather one who adopts a process. Skepticism uses the application of reason to evaluate all claims and requires compelling evidence before something is believable.

Modern skepticism is embodied in the scientific method, which gathers data to formulate and test natural phenomena. With the use of this tool a claim becomes factual when it is confirmed to such an extent that it would be reasonable to offer a provisional agreement.

Full Article

via the JREF


3 Responses to “What It Means To Be A Skeptic”

  1. Modern skepticism has its advantages, at least it looks beyond entirely internal referents, but it is not even close to the whole story. As a philosophical skeptic I cannot, with any intellectual integrity, limit the scope of inquiry the way scientific skeptics, as a rule, do. So, I am a scientific skeptic, but also more.

    There is a problem with truth in scientific skepticism, but it’s difficult to get at, let alone explain. Truth is an end to inquiry in the same way God is.

    The difficulty with the JREF, just as one would expect with scientific skeptics, is precisely that it has a tendency to cherry-pick the limit on the scope of inquiry. Hence we see claims that people ensnared by metaphysical fluff (on the other side of NOMA) are still seen as skeptics despite their decidedly unskeptical approach to incredibly fantastical claims. The result is to reinforce NOMA, and undermine skepticism. The hostility philosophical skepticism receives from scientific skeptics is a symptom of this.

    So, while I will go on record as being a scientific skeptic, and will defend the scientific enterprise, I will not engage in the scientistic dogmatism common to some scientific skeptics, and typical of the JREF. The goal of skepticism is not to create waving pom-poms. It is to create thinkers. There’s more to being a skeptic than being a bobble-head for just another team.

    The JREF is not even honest in its skepticism, even so far as it goes. It holds some claims for which there is no evidence, indeed for which there can be no evidence, harmless. When Randi gives a pigasus to the pope, who surely makes claims without evidence, I will re-examine his integrity. Until then…

  2. What do you mean by “I cannot, with any intellectual integrity, limit the scope of inquiry the way scientific sceptics” do?

    I’m just curious as I see all these labels thrown about which ostensibly mean the same thing to me. Thanks.

  3. I would disagree with the philosopher on this. Although he is right that scientific skeptics do not turn the skeptical thinking on all claims, but this is for the purpose of enlightening people with rational science. However, science is in no way dogmatic, unless you consider the scientific method a creed or something. Philosophical skepticism is definitely more consistent with the the definition of skepticism itself, but that is not the point. The point is to show people how a lack of critical thinking leads to claims that undermine reality. The objective is to work with large bases of knowledge to understand the universe, whether or not that knowledge is categorically irrefutable. We work with what we have.

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