What Is a Skeptic?

Skeptic (Altadena, CA), Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

What Is a Skeptic?


What does it mean to be a skeptic? Some people believe that skepticism is rejection of new ideas, or worse, they confuse "skeptic" with "cynic" and think that skeptics are a bunch of grumpy curmudgeons unwilling to accept any claim that challenges the status quo. This is wrong. Skepticism is a provisional approach to claims. It is the application of reason to any and all ideas--no sacred cows allowed. In other words, skepticism is a method, not a position. Ideally, skeptics do not go into an investigation closed to the possibility that a phenomenon [night be real or that a claim might be true. When we say we are "skeptical," we mean that we must see compelling evidence before we believe. Skeptics are from Missouri--the "show me" state. When we hear a fantastic claim we say, "that's nice, prove it."

Skepticism has a long historical tradition dating back to ancient Greece when Socrates observed: "All I know is that I know nothing." But this pure position is sterile and unproductive and held by virtually no one. If you are skeptical about everything, you would have to be skeptical of your own skepticism. Like the decaying Subatomic particle, pure skepticism uncoils and spins off the viewing screen of our intellectual cloud chamber.

Modern skepticism is embodied in the scientific method, that involves gathering data to formulate and test naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena. A claim becomes factual when it is confirmed to such an extent it would be reasonable to offer temporary agreement. …

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