What motivates a Skeptic to question even the most popular assumptions about our world and how it works? Are Skeptics just nay-sayers who spend all their time seeking out new things not to believe in? Or are there values underlying the stubborn refusal to take unlikely claims ‘on faith?’
Clearly, popular acclaim is not the goal of most skeptical pursuits. Skeptic Eddie Scott explains why in his well-written and very funny song, “The Skeptic in the Room.”
“…It’s always such a drag to be the Skeptic in the room,
I state my case and watch the room go silent as a tomb
‘Cause I’m the one who always says ‘how’s that supposed to work?’
which makes me end up sounding like an overbearing jerk…”
Of course, no one has the goal of seeming like an overbearing jerk. It isn’t even a Skeptic’s goal to debunk other people’s claims; the goal is to find out the truth. Unfortunately, this argument is often lost on those whose beliefs are being questioned. A Skeptic has to live with the occasional blank stare or awkward silence.
It gets worse than that, though. Religious believers will often accuse Skeptics (and atheists alike) of being amoral, libertine, rebels. Why? Because many think that unbelief is a sin, in and of itself. The Biblical book of Revelations, for instance, lumps unbelievers in with all kinds of unsavory types:
“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” Rev. 21:8.
The treatment of skeptics in the Koran is equally enlightened and pluralistic.
So why continue to practice Skepticism in light of the potential social (and other) costs? Because Skeptics do have values, and though we can’t claim to always live up to these values and embody them as virtues, there is peace of mind to be found by aspiring to and pursuing them.
Among them (in no certain order) are the appreciation of:
- Intellectual honesty,
- Humility, and
- Respect for those who love factual truth.
Although most Skeptics have values in common beyond this list, it seems impossible to appreciate the importance skepticism without holding all of these values.
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