Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Brief little post and not responding to a video. PZ myers, Steven Novella et al have been discussing skepticisms and its limits. Really this has been going on for some time but it has flared up again. For my part I want to take a moment to define what skepticism is for me.

To me the key concept of skepticism is question everything. Challenge, explore, criticize examine everything. Nothing should get a free pass. If the ideas are valuable and useful they should stand against examination if they aren't they we should discard* them and move on. There are some (Barbara Drescher comes to mind search micahelD in the comments) who limit skepticism to scientific skepticism saying that skepticism can only examine testable claims everything else is beyond it. I disagree, to me science is only part of skepticism which should not be limited to science but all of critical thinking. Where science ends philosophy begins and that is where skepticism and critical thinking should continue.

Our values and untestable beliefs inform our actions and our actions  have consequences, I don't think anyone disagrees with this. As they have consequences both on ourselves and others there is all the more reason to challenge them, examine them and if necessary discard or change them. If you examine a value you shouldn't use science (although it may influence your views) but use philosophy and ethics. If you examine an untestable claim you should look to epistemology. Someone reading this might say that without science finding the truth about them is hard, maybe impossible. To me that's only a call for greater thought, greater discussion, and yes greater skepticism.

Skeptical bunny borrowed from deviant art.

*I want to leave a little note that it's not as simple as absolute right or wrong. There are plenty of wrong ideas that can still be useful in certain discussions as long as you are aware of the limitations. See Asimov's the Relativity of Wrong for a further discussion.

[Edit/Update] It seems (there's always a chance we've miscommunicated) for what it's worth that Novella agrees with the view that skepticism is about more then examining scientific claims (although I don't know how far he'd go for sure) See comments section ctrl + F for harker

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