February 5, 2010
It is ironic that for a philosophy which is pervasive in Western society and whose motto is “Doubt everything” that skepticism itself is so seldom examined. I am no philosopher, but being skeptical has practical consequences – from being skeptical of evolution and global warming through to the existence of Jesus and of God. Here is just one reason why I am not a skeptic.
There are two primary duties to the truth which every thoughtful person faces in their life. These are:
- To believe true beliefs
- To reject false beliefs
It can be complicated to balance these competing responsibilities. The big temptation is to be intellectually lazy and, instead of grappling with the issues, to reject one or other of these duties entirely. But neglecting either one can be harmful. You end up just as dead if you disbelieve when someone tells you that the bridge up ahead is out, as if you believe the car is able to jump the gap. We have names for people who jump to one extreme or the other.
On one side of the equation are gullible people. Their catch-cry is “You are not open-minded enough!” These people, who we all know and love, are primarily concerned maximizing the number of true beliefs they hold (1) but neglect attempting to minimize the number of false beliefs (2). To do this, they will believe almost anything unless it’s undeniably proven false. They undoubtedly do believe many true beliefs, but also many false beliefs. Gullible people have neglected their human responsibility to truth – to reject false beliefs.
On the other side of the equation are skeptics. Skeptics are concerned with rejecting false beliefs (2), at the expense of their responsibility to believe true beliefs (1). Skeptics often refuse to believe something unless is undeniably proven true. Although this attitude has the benefit of rejecting many false beliefs, unfortunately it also leads to the rejection of many true beliefs. Skeptics have neglected one of their key their human responsibilities to the truth – to believe true beliefs.
In my humble opinion, both gullible people and skeptical people have both taken an easy way out. They have placed an elephant on the scales of belief, rather than to live up to both our key responsibilities required to grapple earnestly and evenly with the truth.