I have something to admit: I am a skeptic.
I feel the need to “out” myself because the word skeptic often conjures up images of crusty old farts, closed off to any new ideas.
But being skeptical does not mean being cynical. The Skeptic Society‘s website puts it best:
Some people believe that skepticism is the 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 might 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.
I’ve been a skeptic as long as I can remember – apparently, I informed my parents that Santa wasn’t real when I was two years old.
This kind of approach to life often makes you unpopular. When I was 8 years old or so, my classmates were all exchanging stories about hearing Santa on their roof. I chimed in and claimed to have heard him too, just so I could fit in. Whenever something like this happened, my rational brain screamed in agony.
Looking at life through a skeptical lens has led to conversations like this a few times over the years:
So you don’t believe in X??
But X happened to/worked for/is endorsed by my aunt/my boss/this celebrity!
While that may make for a good story at parties, I’m afraid that’s not proof.
So you don’t believe *anything*?
Well, no – that wouldn’t be very productive, would it? I believe in things that have compelling evidence.
But how can you prove that our whole existence is not more than a dream?
Ok, I’ll leave that one to the philosophers.
Do you believe Y?
You’re really closed-minded.
Well I don’t believe Y because there’s no convincing evidence. I’m not saying Y is impossible – all facts in science are provisional and subject to challenge. If there’s enough compelling evidence for Y, come back and talk to me about it then. And actually, I think searching for the true cause of Y instead of believing mythology is pretty open-minded. The real explanation for things often turns out to be a lot more fascinating than the myth!
Well, how about Z? How do you explain that? Your precious science doesn’t know!
You’re right! I have no idea how to explain Z. However, unexplained doesn’t mean unexplainable. Just because we don’t have an answer now doesn’t mean we never will. Unlocking these mysteries is what make life interesting!
You’re no fun.