Article > Skepticism
Description ::
I will attempt to present a case for the healthiness of a reasonable amount of skepticism. This article assumes you know a bit about data theory and logic. You have been warned. ;-)

First, you should probably know that by nature, I am a very reason- and logic-oriented creature. I don't like not knowing things and want to know, at least at the surface level, how pretty much everything works. As such, it simply goes against my nature to blindly accept anything--I want to know "why".

One of the few things I actually got out of my fanatical Natural Sciences professor's lectures (which were generally science as a byproduct of Christianity) was the concept of a "worldview". I didn't buy all of the conclusions he drew regarding religion and science based on this premise, but it's a useful one nonetheless. Basically, everyone is a byproduct of their belief system and experiences. There's no such thing as an unbiased opinion, because all opinions, assertions, hypotheses, etc. are at least subconsciously affected by the worldview of the originator. This would include their inherent nature as well, e.g. the fact that I am, as I stated, grounded in reason and logic. It is essentially the aggregate of everything that makes you yourself, different, and unique.

It, therefore, does not make sense to simply take information and add it to your own worldview (incorporate it into your belief system) without analyzing it first. To do otherwise is to assume that your worldview is 100% compatible with the one feeding you said information. From a purely data-oriented perspective--with your mind being a database composed of beliefs, experiences, etc.--to assume the infallability of data coming from an unknown source, and merging it with your existing data, is to flirt with disaster. Such a merge is an exacting undertaking, requiring careful analysis of the data presented, where and how it fits with existing data, and even if it is accepted, there's a good probability that it will be necessary to reformat the data for compatibility and that not all of the data will even be used.

An example is overdue. Say you're a Christian, of denomination X, and you are a regular church-goer. You staunchly believe the Bible is the absolute truth, and you want to, by nature, believe what the pastor/priest tells you during sermons. However, a sermon is simply a verbalization of an interpretation of the Bible. You're getting your information second-hand (third-hand if you account for translation from original texts; fourth-hand if you account for the original texts being God-inspired and only believe God himself is infallable and not his Word as well). That is to say, your information is being filtered by a human being, influenced by his or her own world-view. As such, you should not assume that every word is also the absolute unwavering truth, in the same way that you shouldn't believe everything you see on the news or read on the internet. To the other rationalists out there, this is just "common sense" (which isn't, by the way).

I'm amazed nearly every day though just how many people fail to take this critical step. The sheer stupidity in being so slothful as to let somebody else tell you what to believe is staggering. It's also possible that people just don't want to take the time to verify and validate data; however, skepticism doesn't require you to. In general, validity (whether certain conditions are met, and the data at least "fits here") is verifiable. Correctness often cannot be proven. As such, you have to decide for yourself what you believe and what you simply consider "a possibility". Therefore it is not necessary to immediately accept or reject incoming data--you simply set it aside for later evalutation. That may come in the form of you finding out additional information yourself, or simply one or more other people making a more convincing case, which enables you to move the data up the ladder of possibilities, firmly into your own belief system.

The only problem with this is that people inherently want to know the truth. To be able to believe that somebody, somewhere, has a monopoly on the truth, and that through them, you too know the truth, is somehow satisfying. Verity of that information is impossible to assertain however. That's why some data will never move beyond a skeptical possibility (cannot verify as true), while others will pass through because they at least match up with your existing belief system (are valid data). The decision of what to do with that information should be wholy influenced by your own worldview and nobody else's. Skepticism is a powerful tool conducive to keeping your worldview your own.

I just say stuff. I open my mouth and words fall out. Sometimes it even makes sense. Even a broken clock is right twice a day (in the US anyways. YMMV)