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ejdalise
Skeptic Friend

USA
50 Posts

Posted - 04/01/2007 :  10:39:38  Show Profile  Visit ejdalise's Homepage Send ejdalise a Private Message  Reply with Quote
There have been a few instances on this and Skepticality's forum of people stating something along the lines of:

"I am a skeptic that believes in XXX"

For me that is a contradiction. My definition of a skeptic is centered on accepting claims based on compelling evidence. A skeptic does not hold belief in something that has to be taken on faith.

The statement could be modified to:

"I am a skeptic about most things, but not XXX"

For me that is equivalent to saying "I never drink alcohol except for Vodka". The correct statement should be "So far, the only alcohol I drink is Vodka", or "So far the only belief I hold is XXX"

I'm restating it because that is what it means. The person is open to belief without proof, and by my definition, that precludes them from being askeptic.

Having stated my opinion, my question is:

what do contributors to this forum think is the definition of a skeptic?

ejd
P.S. I posted the same question on Skepticality.

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Winning enemies and aggravating friends since 1953

Cuneiformist
The Imperfectionist

USA
4954 Posts

Posted - 04/01/2007 :  11:31:33   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Cuneiformist a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Well, to be fair I could claim that I'm skeptical about, say, supernatural beings, but still claim that based on some scant evidence that extra-terrestrials have visited earth, or that the such-and-such herbal remedy is effective in treating a particular ailment.

I imagine there are lots of theistic people who go to church and the like but who also refuse to accept evidence for UFOs or alternative medicines or whatever and perhaps are even vocal in rejecting them. Are they skeptics or not? Is skepticism an all-or-nothing deal, and if so, what do we include?
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HalfMooner
Dingaling

Philippines
15831 Posts

Posted - 04/01/2007 :  11:45:56   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send HalfMooner a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I think "a skeptic" implies a person who is skeptical about everything. But there are few people who are that consistent.

I, for instance, believe that dogs are far more intelligent than we've given them credit for (I think some of them can understand dozens of words), but I base this belief mainly on personal experience and impressions. I also hold a lot of political and social beliefs that would be very difficult to rationalize.


Biology is just physics that has begun to smell bad.” —HalfMooner
Here's a link to Moonscape News, and one to its Archive.
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26007 Posts

Posted - 04/01/2007 :  12:17:29   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
As regards skepticism, evidence vs. belief is a false dichotomy. I accept the idea that there is an objective reality (that we're not in a Matrix-style computer program or that this is all a fever dream of mine) without evidence not because I'm "open to belief without proof" but because there can be no evidence inconsistent with any position about "reality" and so it's simply more practical to accept that reality is real.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
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dglas
Skeptic Friend

Canada
397 Posts

Posted - 04/01/2007 :  12:44:51   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send dglas a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Skeptics don't truck with certainty or the feeling of certainty. Always, always there is that last, even if tiny, possibility of being in error. That's what leaves room for change and growth. It must be applied consistantly or it just ain't the same animal.

That, for me, is the very definition of a skeptic. Skepticism is not a feeling, it is a method, although a sensation of confidence (although not absolute) may arise. Which is my answer to another thread. Faith ans skepticism are different in kind and contradictory.

That said, skepticism is NOT denial, it is doubt. This is more important than might be immediately obvious. To be a skeptic is to deny (wait for it...) others the option to define your doubt of a given affirmation as a denial; the standard rhetorical ploy and a peculiar language construct.

Most people simply do not understand (doubt != denial), even many skeptics. Unfortunately a certain high-profile "skeptic" doesn't understand this either, hence certain confusions about levels of meta-skepticism. The two-value logic (affirmation or denial) is a construct designed to exclude skepticism from the equation. It is playing by rules stacked against us.


--------------------------------------------------
- dglas (In the hell of 1000 unresolved subplots...)
--------------------------------------------------
The Presupposition of Intrinsic Evil
+ A Self-Justificatory Framework
= The "Heart of Darkness"
--------------------------------------------------
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13463 Posts

Posted - 04/01/2007 :  17:17:06   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Also, here is an excerpt from The Burden of Skepticism by Carl Sagan. This is by far my favorite essay on skepticism and how to use itů
quote:
Carl Sagan:
It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas. Obviously those two modes of thought are in some tension. But if you are able to exercise only one of these modes, whichever one it is, you're in deep trouble.

If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. You never learn anything new. You become a crotchety old person convinced that nonsense is ruling the world. (There is, of course, much data to support you.) But every now and then, maybe once in a hundred cases, a new idea turns out to be on the mark, valid and wonderful. If you are too much in the habit of being skeptical about everything, you are going to miss or resent it, and either way you will be standing in the way of understanding and progress.

On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful as from the worthless ones. If all ideas have equal validity then you are lost, because then, it seems to me, no ideas have any validity at all.


Edited to add:

There are degrees of skepticism. Some people just kick the tires. Others want to look under the hood. There are people who are naturally skeptical of many of the claims that are of concern to those of us who identify as skeptics. But they may hold some beliefs that does not have supporting evidence. For example, Hal Bidlack is a Deist and I would defy anyone to make the case that he is not also a great skeptic. He understands that his belief cannot be supported and he is cool with that. It's a personal thing and does not get in the way of his critical thinking in other areas of skeptical inquiry.

I would not say that someone is not a functioning skeptic simply because that person allows for some unsupported belief on a personal level. Since were talking about tools, really, I am comfortable with drawing a fuzzy line in the sand when it comes to how we identify ourselves and our worldview. The main thing is that when we are evaluating critical issues, we bring reason to the table, or be aware of when we are notů

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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marfknox
SFN Die Hard

USA
3739 Posts

Posted - 04/01/2007 :  17:53:14   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I don't think skepticism rules out beliefs. But I do think that it rules out clearly absurd beliefs (one which have mountains of evidence against them) and it also rules out beliefs treated equally to or treated as higher than facts. If a person holds beliefs tentatively, and is willing to discard them when clear evidence against them is presented, that person is utilizing skepticism.

"Too much certainty and clarity could lead to cruel intolerance" -Karen Armstrong

Check out my art store: http://www.marfknox.etsy.com

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dglas
Skeptic Friend

Canada
397 Posts

Posted - 04/01/2007 :  19:01:19   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send dglas a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Beliefs are one thing, if they are such that they are subject to revision based on new information. "Believeing that" is one thing; "believing in" is quite a different animal.

That's why I was careful to use the word "certainty" or "feeling of certainty."

Indeed, a skeptic can be confident, just not 100% confident. There must always be that recognition of possibility of error, however small. And that is the very definition of a skeptic. If one wants to posit "belief" as being conditional, skepticism (as I see it) has no problem with that. If one wants to posit "belief" as unconditional and irrefutable, then that is the very antithesis of the skeptic.

Why make this distinction between "certainty" and "feeling of certainty?" It is a clear division between "knowledge" as a private sensation and "knowledge" as a public artifact. The question is not quite so easy as many might immediately perceive it to be.

One of the most consistently vitriolic and persistent battles in the history of philosophy is that between intuitionism and verificationism. (Roughly,) private realms versus public realms and the source of determining truth-values for a given proposition. We have seen the benefits of moving from the endless layrinths of intuitionist thought into the world of verificationism. The results have been staggering. There are those, however, who still wish to maintain the wholly internal realm as defensible - it isn't. Sadly, that is the place where "belief in" or faith dwells.

Kil, just as a thought experiment, try reading Sagan's quote using the two different views of skepticism I have presented. Once as if skepticism = denial. Once as if skepticism = doubt ( != denial ?. I mean, what the hell, can it hurt?

That said, however, Sagan is not the current prominent "skeptic" I was referring to. I was referring to Shermer.

--------------------------------------------------
- dglas (In the hell of 1000 unresolved subplots...)
--------------------------------------------------
The Presupposition of Intrinsic Evil
+ A Self-Justificatory Framework
= The "Heart of Darkness"
--------------------------------------------------
Edited by - dglas on 04/01/2007 20:50:11
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26007 Posts

Posted - 04/01/2007 :  20:26:41   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by dglas

That said, however, Sagan is not the current prominent "skeptic" I was referring to. I was referring to Shermer.
Whew! I thought you were referring to Kil.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
Visit Dave's Psoriasis Info, too.
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ejdalise
Skeptic Friend

USA
50 Posts

Posted - 04/01/2007 :  21:10:07   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit ejdalise's Homepage Send ejdalise a Private Message  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by marfknox

If a person holds beliefs tentatively, and is willing to discard them when clear evidence against them is presented, that person is utilizing skepticism.



That seems to imply that someone who holds a tentative belief in god until evidence is presented to the contrary is still classified as a skeptic.


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Winning enemies and aggravating friends since 1953
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ejdalise
Skeptic Friend

USA
50 Posts

Posted - 04/01/2007 :  21:16:41   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit ejdalise's Homepage Send ejdalise a Private Message  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Cuneiformist

Is skepticism an all-or-nothing deal, and if so, what do we include?



I can only speak for myself when I answer "yes". The approach I take is that when a claim is made, some sort of compelling evidence for that claim must accompany it. I'm also willing to accept the possibility of something as long as it does not violate what little we do know about the world around us, logic, or some already known physical evidence.

But you did not answer the question . . .

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Winning enemies and aggravating friends since 1953
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ejdalise
Skeptic Friend

USA
50 Posts

Posted - 04/01/2007 :  21:32:46   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit ejdalise's Homepage Send ejdalise a Private Message  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Kil


I would not say that someone is not a functioning skeptic simply because that person allows for some unsupported belief on a personal level. Since were talking about tools, really, I am comfortable with drawing a fuzzy line in the sand when it comes to how we identify ourselves and our worldview. The main thing is that when we are evaluating critical issues, we bring reason to the table, or be aware of when we are notů




The thing is that at some point or other there is the possibility that a conflict arises between what ones believes without proof and the evaluation of an event, social or political issue, or even personal experience. Does one then follow the belief, or fall back on their skepticism?

How does one maintain a particular belief and keep it from influencing their view and interpretation of the world around them? And does the propensity to believe one thing without proof makes one susceptible to accept other beliefs at some later time?

Now, I do grant you that a Deist would have fewer conflicts because their is a non-participatory god (it is, in fact, no longer around).

ejd





--- Disperser ---
Winning enemies and aggravating friends since 1953
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ejdalise
Skeptic Friend

USA
50 Posts

Posted - 04/01/2007 :  22:08:49   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit ejdalise's Homepage Send ejdalise a Private Message  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Dave W.

As regards skepticism, evidence vs. belief is a false dichotomy. I accept the idea that there is an objective reality (that we're not in a Matrix-style computer program or that this is all a fever dream of mine) without evidence not because I'm "open to belief without proof" but because there can be no evidence inconsistent with any position about "reality" and so it's simply more practical to accept that reality is real.



You accept reality? Do we even have a choice? . . . I suppose we do on a personal level (although my imagination fails me when I try to determine what that would entail).

But I'm not sure what you are saying . . . you are claiming evidence vs. belief is a false dichotomy. What then do you think constitutes a skeptical approach to evaluating our surroundings? How do you define skepticism? Is skepticism a valid approach to take in life?

I remember the deep philosophical discussions in the late 60s and early 70s . . . "Hey man, we could all be someone else's dream." We can certainly postulate almost anything we can imagine, but to what end? We still must go on participating in what surrounds us, bound by the same enduring physical limitations/laws/rules that have proven consistent and unbreakable in all of human memory. We may not "know" if this is real, but given absolutely no indications to the contrary, why even doubt it? Is the question even relevant?

ejd

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Winning enemies and aggravating friends since 1953
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Ricky
SFN Die Hard

USA
4907 Posts

Posted - 04/01/2007 :  22:42:10   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Send Ricky an AOL message Send Ricky a Private Message  Reply with Quote
quote:
We may not "know" if this is real, but given absolutely no indications to the contrary, why even doubt it?


Can this be applied to other claims? We can accept X so long as there is no contradicting evidence that X isn't true? Certainly that isn't the case, so why then does it apply to this claim and not others?

Why continue? Because we must. Because we have the call. Because it is nobler to fight for rationality without winning than to give up in the face of continued defeats. Because whatever true progress humanity makes is through the rationality of the occasional individual and because any one individual we may win for the cause may do more for humanity than a hundred thousand who hug their superstitions to their breast.
- Isaac Asimov
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HalfMooner
Dingaling

Philippines
15831 Posts

Posted - 04/02/2007 :  00:57:07   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send HalfMooner a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I'll give an example of some of the unskeptical thinking I do. If I have a strong intuition about something, and the intuitive insight does not violate any known facts or evidence, I tend to take such an intuition very seriously until presented with contrary evidence. This happens most often in dealing with strangers, or with politics.

More than two decades ago, my then wife and I got together with an artist friend and his girlfriend after the San Francisco 49ers had won the Superbowl. We drove together all over the City, listening to cars honk, and watching people celebrate on the streets. We finally parked near Columbus and Broadway, where a large celebratory crown had gathered. After a few minutes in this crowd, I had a very bad "premonition." I told the others that the happy crowd was soon going to turn very violent, and that we really should get the Hell out of Dodge at once.

They looked at me funny, but did as I asked. There was a bloody riot soon after we left. I do not consider myself psychic, but I believe there are unconscious cues that a person can pick up about crowds, and some of this may be instinctual.

Another case of intuition was my "secret dictatorship" hypothesis. But I was wrong there, and corrected my impression after the November elections. I was never more happy to be proven wrong!

My point is, sometimes, as in that mob, it just makers sense to go with your "instincts" or intuition, if they have served you well in the past, and if logic and evidence are not applicable, or would take too long to apply.


Biology is just physics that has begun to smell bad.” —HalfMooner
Here's a link to Moonscape News, and one to its Archive.
Edited by - HalfMooner on 04/02/2007 00:58:15
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beskeptigal
SFN Die Hard

USA
3834 Posts

Posted - 04/02/2007 :  02:10:36   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send beskeptigal a Private Message  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Kil

...For example, Hal Bidlack is a Deist and I would defy anyone to make the case that he is not also a great skeptic. He understands that his belief cannot be supported and he is cool with that. It's a personal thing and does not get in the way of his critical thinking in other areas of skeptical inquiry.

I would not say that someone is not a functioning skeptic simply because that person allows for some unsupported belief on a personal level. Since were talking about tools, really, I am comfortable with drawing a fuzzy line in the sand when it comes to how we identify ourselves and our worldview. The main thing is that when we are evaluating critical issues, we bring reason to the table, or be aware of when we are notů


I like the degrees of skepticism analogy. But for the Hals in the skeptical community, I'd say that was more of a blind spot. And no matter how skeptical we are, we still have imperfect brains that alter incoming stimuli before using it. So no matter how skeptical you are, you still interpret the world of evidence through a filter. And that filter has had a long time to grow distortions.



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