Is skepticism good or bad? Sure, when we are little, we like the idea of Santa Claus, and only later learn about the impossibility of it all. I feel the same way about religious beliefs and my own skepticism.
But let’s skip to secular skepticism for a minute. Is it bad or good? Hopefully everyone, or at least most people, would agree that it is good.
That does not mean that we can’t accept facts or ideas from others or other sources, but only that we have to be careful about what we accept. For example, I am confident that there is a country called Russia, a Russian people and a past and present Russian culture.
And that is not like being confident that there is a country called Oz through which Dorothy and Toto gamboled and toured. For my acceptance of Russia, I have books, photographs, newspapers, magazine articles, TV, old MovieTone News, World War II records, libraries, the Internet, radio, government archives, personal recollections of those who have been there, etc.
I do not have that with Oz, or with the countries of Lilliput and Brobdingnag of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels to the lands of little and big people. Thus, these fictional countries are entertaining but also fanciful fables and only fairy tales. We have to carefully pick our sources and facts for truthful acceptance of things.
As skeptics, we can – and should – look at medical quackery of the present and past. We have many examples. Laetrile from apricot pits to cure cancer 50 years was the big thing that the government was supposedly keeping from us – except that it was a fake.
Vaccines were causing autism in kids (just ask that eminent medical researcher Jenny McCarthy) until just recently when it was determined that studies to “prove” the vaccine cause were fudged and manipulated for money.
We also know that get-rich-schemes are false – just check out the origin and name of the Ponzi scheme in which those at the bottom of this money pyramid are left with empty dreams and vacant wallets. We are also skeptical of the claims of used car salesmen, those with special formulas that will make Mr. Pinky grow a magical three inches almost overnight,
We are – or should be – skeptical of the fervent desire of the widowed Mrs. Abdulaz Mahumadiz to transfer millions of $$$ that she cannot get out of Nigeria any other way except through your bank account, if you would be so kind as to e-mail her your bank account numbers and information. Sure. And golly – just checking my email – I found out that I have just won $2.2 million in the UK-ASIA Lottery. Funny thing – I never entered that or any other lottery.
As a friend of mine recently wrote to me, we are (or should be) skeptical of astrology, sure-fire weight-loss pills, on-line dating services (I am happily married and get promos from these outfits several times a week!), homeopaths, guaranteed gasoline boosters for my car, Tarot card readers, faith healing scams from TV preachers, any political candidate for office, paranormal “researchers””, UFO sightings, herbal remedies for anything and everything (see laetrile above), work at home ads, etc.
The peculiar thing is that most of us most of the time are skeptical of all those secular things of which we should be skeptical. How come we are not equally skeptical of outlandish religious claims, be they Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Mormon, Scientologist, Christian Scientist, Jehovah’s Witness or others?
Should not the same standards of our skepticism apply to religion? Should we not reject concepts – especially religious concepts – which are too strange for any modicum of common sense?