Monday, June 23, 2008

Part Two: Skepticism: skeptics appeal and skeptics burn out.

In the previous segment of this loosely written, multi-part essay, I said that growing up in America it is difficult not to be exposed to paranormal claims of various kinds. I also argued that we are socialized to keep an open mind to these claims. Furthermore, I said that unless one has looked into these claims deeply and logically, there really is no sound reason to dismiss them entirely.

But let's turn around for a second. In the previous section I wrote: "we've all heard some reports of UFO or ghost sightings, use of allegedly psychic means to obtain seemingly unobtainable information or strange places where ships and planes disappear without a trace or where visitors catch fleeing glimpses of hairy, ape-men like creatures or sea serpents."

How is the typical man or woman, or even boy or girl, in the street supposed to question these claims? Why should they?

Some might argue that scientists do not believe them. Yet I could argue that one could easily find a scientist here and there, or at least some other form of "expert," who does. Furthermore, why should we care what scientists think?

Years ago on one of the skeptics e-mail lists there was a Filipino gentleman who provoked a mass outcry by posting "To become an atheist, one first has to be religious enough to question the prevailing religion of your society." Many of the atheists on the list found this offensive and did not like him referring to them as religious. Yet I agree with it wholeheartedly. Before one can question any belief that society has thrust upon you, one must have enough interest in the matter covered by the belief to examine it deeply and independently.

Therefore I'd argue that, at least in my case, before one can discard a societally normal belief in the paranormal or other unusual claims, one must have enough interest in the subject of these beliefs to be willing to examine these beliefs independently and deeply. At least that was the case for me.

More later.

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