Monday, October 16, 2006

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I never meta-skeptic, part 2

I've been thinking more about my post about being skeptical about being a skeptic, particularly in light of the comments there from Skeptico and Paul.

I think Paul hit the key point here:

Your examples of religion, and astrology certainly support your claim. However, skepticism isn't only about those outrageous and irrational claims [...].
Yes, I think that's where I went a little bit astray. I still do think that those we call "deniers" consider themselves to be skeptics too. I think that as we demand evidence (and, yes, I do like that term better than "proof" here), they believe that they have evidence (that we reject), and they likewise reject our evidence for what we accept. So we need to look closer at the difference.

One obvious difference, of course, is in the type of evidence we accept and the type we reject. We accept reproducible, peer-reviewed (that is, by other skeptics, yes?) evidence obtained through the scientific method. Investigation that controls for side effects, considers alternative explanations, does not assume causality, and so on. We reject things that don't fall into those areas. Assumptions, beliefs, mystic connections, and such might be reasons to delve into something scientifically, but they're not reasons to accept it; they're not evidence.

But what Paul points out in my post is that when we look at the "traditional" subjects of our extreme skepticism, of course we know that we're not going to see evidence that will convince us — not because our minds have been closed to it all along, but because we've seen so many attempts that have failed that we're jaded. We just can't bear one more feeble attempt to give us yet another flawed argument that essentially says, "It's true because it's true." Something along the lines of what I saw on someone's refrigerator once: "God said it. I believe it. That settles it."

But, Paul points out, the core of good skepticism is how we look at new things, things for which we haven't already seen endless streams of unacceptable reasoning and countless failures to produce acceptable evidence. Read Paul's own post about a plan to use handwriting modification to effect behaviour modification. As he discusses that, he says this:

Here is where the practice of skepticism comes into its own. Not as an expression of instant doubt, but as a desire to examine each and every claim one comes across in a critical manner that can lead one to either acceptance or doubt.

I agree with that, and, yes, that's what I do.
"Yeah? How do you know?"
"It is? Show me."
"How does it work?"

1 comment:

Paul said...

Hey, thanks for the mention. It's true (at least I think it is) that a part of the bad rep skeptics get is due to our exasperation, when some creationist (or similar ilk) trots out what he believes to be an out-of-the park argument that we have heard a hundred times and are reluctant to address again.