Skepticism is a philosophy that attempts to mitigate these weaknesses of the human mind. It holds the belief that absolute knowledge is not achievable and thus one should measure the ‘truth’ of various claims by employing doubt. The goal is not to obtain absolute knowledge, but rather relative knowledge of the world around us. The modern day form of skepticism is popularised by writers such as Carl Sagan and Michael Shermer. The following are what I think are the main characteristics of what it is to be a skeptic. The first three points listed below are from an article written by the historian Richard Carrier.
As a skeptic, one should believe that:
- The mind is highly prone to deception, self-deception and error. We do not know everything;
- Thus, inquiry and doubt are essential checks against such deception. We need a method, something outside of the confines of the mind, that can provide some kind of truth that we can work with;
- Logic and the scientific method seem to be the best methods we have at present that can provide us with some sort of truth that we can work with. This is borne from the belief that truth, or some degree of truth, can be realised through constant testing and scrutiny. We can never reach absolute certainty about anything – rather, we can strive to reach some degree of certainty about any idea that has withstood years of testing;
- Finally, as skeptics, we must never accept anything as ‘gospel truth’, or label any idea as absolute folly. We must strive, against the temptations of the mind, to find faults with ideas that we find highly attractive or that we strongly agree with. On the other side of the coin we must find some merit with ideas that we find repulsive. In other words, we must constantly challenge the beliefs that we hold. For all we know, we could be wrong, and the best way to find that out is to constantly test our beliefs. This is an extremely difficult exercise, to say the least!
For the conservative Christian, doubt can be seen as an inconvenient burden. For the skeptic, doubt is a virtue. As an old Hungarian proverb states:
“The believer is happy; the doubter is wise”.
What do you think? Is skepticism valid? What are the weaknesses?