Saturday, December 04, 2010

Skepticism, Fear and Belief: Part 1 - skepticism

“I do, I do, I do believe in spooks.”
The Cowardly Lion, The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Yes, I haven't written anything in a blog in ages that didn't deal solely with sports or music. Rather than try and conjure an explanation, accept it as a given – anyway, this is a multi-part tome right here. We're underway.

I am a skeptic. I am skeptical of most things, I wrap myself in a blanket of cynicism. In fact, nay, it's a snuggie of cynicism; that's right, my cynicism has sleeves. Suck on it, Richard Dawkins. I'm so skeptical that I am skeptical of what has come to be regarded as skepticism. Case in point: a friend of mine expressed envy of her friends who met some famed “skeptic” at Skepticon.

Yes. There is a Skepticism convention.

This incenses me. I am ready to take arms against these people. As I commented, the idea of gathering together to share a common non-belief is something that I thought had been limited to the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field or any sports arena in Cleveland – any alternative is just a profoundly self-congratulatory thing to do. Skepticon is a convention of true believers, their only belief, however, is a non-belief. To me, anyone with that much certainty that they are right is a grave threat to rationality. Given that any argument about the supernatural is necessarily removed from logic, you can never prove or disprove the supernatural and your beliefs are, for that reason, beliefs and nothing more. Rebutting the acccoutrements of belief (like religious zealots trying to cram theological beliefs into schools) may be a valid exercise of your time, but meeting to debate and disprove the unprovable strikes me as, for lack of a kinder phrase, the most pretentious and retarded idea of our times. And, of course, given that it's naked advocacy for a belief, it is the antithesis of skepticism.

Now, a defender could say that the point is not to celebrate non-belief, but that the point is to have debates with religious believers to point out that those beliefs are not rooted in logic. Fair enough, if there was someone who actually believed their religious beliefs were rooted in any logic other than Pascal's Wager, which, of course, would still skew heavily in favor of belief, given that one of its premises is that there is literally nothing worse than hell. If there's a person out there, they might decide to replace their false-logic-based religious beliefs with...religious beliefs?

Skepticism without doubt is faith, even if it doesn't involve a bearded guy in the sky, the evil lord Xenu, or the flying spaghetti monster.

Moreover, celebrating your non-belief in something because you regard the belief as illogical doesn't finish the answer. Why do you not believe? Not merely because you do not think it logical, that's not an answer. Why do you not believe it to be logical? Was it some heroic choice of free will? Isn't free will itself a silly idea, since it can't be explained scientifically? If all my belief and thought is comes from a different level of dopamine that's pushed out by my brain thanks to DNA I had nothing to do with assembling, aren't we back at a level of predestination that only a Calvinist could have concocted? Here, I don't have any answer. My best guess is...yes. And that's so depressing that the Catholic Church seems like a joyful celebration.

And so that explains why it's been so long since I posted. It's fatalism. Now the real explanation for how this came about will follow.

1 comment:

Mike said...

I think that: (a) you misrepresent the nature of the skeptical movement, and (b) you equate enthusiasm with with dogmatism.

If one wants to have as many true beliefs as possible and as few false beliefs as possible, one should apply scientific reasoning / critical thinking methodology to one's beliefs. In a nutshell, that is skepticism. If one doesn't care about one's beliefs aligning with reality.. well, that pretty much speaks for itself.

As such, skepticism is not a dogmatic set of non-beliefs. Skepticism, like science, is a commitment to a *methodology* of inquiry, not the end results of that inquiry. Sure, it gets old hearing homeopathy get debunked for the millionth time, but as a movement skepticism is more than just "here is a list of things we don't believe -- marvel at how much we don't believe them." It's a positive philosophy more so than, say, dictionary atheism is (being just the rejection of a certain belief). But atheism and skepticism are both political movements to some extent, so there's always something to discuss.

The fact that people have a lot of confidence that something is bunk does not make their belief dogmatic. The entire point of skepticism is embracing the idea that you will change your mind based on new/better information. Lumping both rejectance and acceptance of supernatural claims together as "beliefs" as a way of insulting the skeptical view is silly. Yes, everyone has beliefs about everything. But beliefs can either be consistent with or in conflict with the evidence, which is the entire point of skepticism. When you equate equate passion with blind dogmatism just to dismiss it, you're left with nothing to value except apathy and cynicism.

Not sure what to say about your digression into free will at the end. I'm a philosophical materialist who doesn't believe that libertarian free will exists. But I disagree that the Catholic church or John Calvin would approve, nor do I think it's quite relevant either. And I don't think it precludes me from having opinions.