In his call for submissions for the 45th Skeptics' Circle, host Karl Mogel challenges us to consider skepticism itself, and what makes us "skeptics", rather than "just deniers whose opinions will never change, which, as you all know, is not what skepticism is about." As I think about that, I see that that makes this a "meta-skeptic" post, addressing skepticism of skepticism.
Because, you see, as I think about it I realize that there are basically none of us who are skeptics, in that "true" sense that we're asking questions, refusing to believe without proof, but that if given proof we will accept it and believe. OK, if they dug up a bunker in Iraq tomorrow and found a stash of nuclear missiles in it, we'd probably accept that as proof that, well, there were WMDs in Iraq after all — though, actually, I'd still question whether they'd been planted there, so I'd still be skeptical.
But I'm talking about skepticism about the usual skeptic issues. God. Astrology. The kookier bits of alternative medicine. Whether King George has a brain larger than a walnut. It's easy to say that all someone has to do is show you proof that astrology works, and you'll accept it and be a skeptic no longer... when you know that no one will provide such proof. It allows us to say that we're skeptics while we nudge each other knowingly over a beer, forever safe in our skepticism.
It's rather like the old conjugation:
I stand firm.Only here it's the view of "skeptic" vs "denier", and the difference between them seems to be based on which side of the argument one accepts: If I don't believe you, I'm a skeptic; if you don't believe me, you're a denier.
You are hard-headed.
He is an obstinate pig.
We say that the difference is one of proof, that disbelieving something for which there's ample evidence is denial, but disbelieving something that lacks solid proof is skepticism. And yet those with whom we disagree certainly think our evidence is lacking, and find plenty of "proof" for what they believe. The pious say, "If you show me proof that there's no God, I'll believe you — but you can't!" The godless say the same the other way. It's all in the mind of the believer.
So what this exercise has made me understand is that there's really no "skepticism" in that purest sense. And I don't write this as self-criticism, really. I find nothing wrong, nothing at all wrong, with the form of skepticism that we really have. We're all more or less like kids on the playground, standing in front of each other with arms crossed, defiantly shouting "Is not!" and "Is too!" It doesn't change anything, of course. I know what I know, and I'm skeptical of the rest.
Now, go ahead: Deny it.