WTF is a Skeptic?!

23 May

by Craig Mullenbach (aka The Falcon)

A skeptic or being skeptical or having skepticism holds different meanings
for different people. I most often hear those words used as a negative.
“Oh, you are just being skeptical.” or “Don’t be such a skeptic.” I’d find
that amusing if I didn’t find it ignorant and insulting especially coming
from people who know me. I think part of this reaction comes from the
sometimes poor way in which I express myself but another part of that might
be that some people just don’t want their illusions dispelled.

I’m not sure if skepticism is technically or philosophically different or
the same as critical thinking. Perhaps another post is in order on that
topic. Feel free to go here and discuss it (you may have to become a fan of Mully410 to get into the discussion board).
I think the general perception is that being a skeptic is negative and
critical thinking either is not negative or isn’t as negative…but I
digress. defines Skeptic:

1. a person who questions the validity or authenticity of something
purporting to be factual.
2. a person who maintains a doubting attitude, as toward values, plans,
statements, or the character of others.

Merriam-Webster provides an etymology: “Latin or
Greek; Latin scepticus, from Greek skeptikos, from
skeptikos thoughtful, from
skeptesthai to look,

And a definition of Skepticism
from M-W:

1: an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incr
either in general or toward a particular object
2 a: the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular
area is uncertain b: the method of suspended judgment, systematic
doubt, or criticism characteristic of skeptics
Dr. Novella’s definition is more technical and complete. This one might
not fly well at every dinner party because of it’s length:

“A skeptic is one who prefers beliefs and conclusions that are reliable and
valid to ones that are comforting or convenient, and therefore rigorously
and openly applies the methods of science and reason to all empirical
claims, especially their own. A skeptic provisionally proportions
acceptance of any claim to valid logic and a fair and thorough assessment
of available evidence, and studies the pitfalls of human reason and the
mechanisms of deception so as to avoid being deceived by others or
themselves. Skepticism values method over any particular
conclusion.” -Steven Novella – MD

I fail to see how anyone can have a valid logical reason for the belief that
being a skeptic, being skeptical or having skepticism is negative. In fact,
I’m very confident that EVERYONE is a skeptic. Don’t believe the tooth
fairy left you 50 cents for your lost tooth…skeptic. Don’t believe the
herbal supplement on the TV commercial will cure your baldness…skeptic.
Don’t believe the skeptic who says your god/God/gods probably aren’t
I think the best definition of skeptic
comes from Michael Shermer at

Skepticism is a provisional approach to claims. It is the application of
reason to any and all ideas ó no sacred cows allowed. In other words,
skepticism is a method, not a position. Ideally, skeptics do not go into an
investigation closed to the possibility that a phenomenon might be real or
that a claim might be true. When we say we are ìskeptical,î we mean that we
must see compelling evidence before we believe.

That is how I view the world. I take a provisional/tentative approach to
claims. I’m ok with saying “I don’t know.” You make a claim, let’s talk
about the facts and the evidence. I may not even have a position on the
story your heard from some guy who you met who knows some guy who saw such
and such. I want you to think.
I strongly encourage all of my readers to read the brief introduction and
a skeptical manifesto at Skeptic Magazine. This means all of you. If you don’t
consider yourself a skeptic, you will learn something. If you already
consider yourself a skeptic, you may learn better ways to education your
friends, colleagues and acquaintances.
Sum Ergo Cogito ó
I Am Therefore I Think


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