Written by Michael Blanford
Written by Tyrel Eskelson, opinions writer for the Sheaf, the student newspaper at The University of Saskatchewan. It's great to see this in a student publication.
What it Means to be a Skeptic
It is perhaps a common misconception that one who defines him or herself as a skeptic could also interchangeably be labeled a contrarian or a disparager.
A skeptic is not someone who is cynical, close-minded or rejects new ideas. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
A skeptic is someone not in a fixed position but rather one who adopts a process. Skepticism uses the application of reason to evaluate all claims and requires compelling evidence before something is believable.
Modern skepticism is embodied in the scientific method, which gathers data to formulate and test natural phenomena. With the use of this tool a claim becomes factual when it is confirmed to such an extent that it would be reasonable to offer a provisional agreement.
Skepticism is therefore a process of applying reason and critical thinking to establish validity. It is the practice of finding supported conclusions, rather than the justification of preconceived beliefs. This statement is essential to understanding the following.
Why is it that skeptics seem to hold such dismissive or flippant positions on claims of supernatural or paranormal grounds?
All facts in science are provisional, subject to testing and challenge and therefore skepticism is a method leading to provisional conclusions. Claims like that of psychic ability, water dowsing or creationism have been tested and failed enough times that one can conclude that they are not valid. These results are provisionally held until proven to be false or subject to change.
There is also a point where the compilation of evidence becomes strong enough that it is reasonable to agree with its conclusions. An example that has been tested time and again is the laws of thermodynamics. Every physics course usually conducts a lab testing this law and finds the same supported conclusions. This weight of evidence would suggest that perpetual motion is extremely unlikely and one must use the tools of skepticism to bestow a decision on any claims of such.
Skepticism is a tool that costs nothing to use and can provide an invigorating glimpse of reality. It redirects attention, authority and subsidy away from insignificant superstition and refocuses towards ideas that are beneficial to humanity.
The next time you are presented with a claim that seems far fetched or hard to believe remember that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and it is important to demand such.
Skepticism is a wonderful tool and one which I hope you will find useful in your own search for life’s truths.
Reprinted with permission from the Sheaf (online edition).