A Healthy Dose of Skepticism

the-dude-memePerhaps due to a natural sense of curiosity in my younger years, I developed a bent toward skepticism.  I used to refer to myself as the world’s biggest skeptic.  I understood skepticism to  mean requiring evidence before you believe something, and I considered it to be a very valuable tool—a way to filter out lies when looking for the truth.  But from time to time, I would hear a religious leader deride skeptics, giving the impression that they were the most vile of heretics.  I couldn’t understand why skeptical thinking would be discouraged.

Before proceeding, we must understand the several definitions of the word skeptic.  The ever helpful dictionary.com offers the following definitions:

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.
  3. a person who doubts the truth of a religion, especially Christianity, or of important elements of it.
  4. Philosophy
    1. a member of a philosophical school of ancient Greece, the earliest group of which consisted of Pyrrho and his followers, who maintained that real knowledge of things is impossible.
    2. any later thinker who doubts or questions the possibility of real knowledge of any kind.

Skepticism on the order of the first definition is a good thing.  It is a necessary function for anyone seeking the truth or for anyone who simply does not wish to be gullible.

Skepticism on the order of the fourth definition is a serious problem that has infected the intellectual foundation of postmodern America.  The relativist mentality which is becoming increasingly prevalent in our society is very similar to that of the ancient Skeptics who thought that nothing could be truly known.  A growing portion of our society, when clamoring for governmental policy changes, rejects any notion of moral absolutes.  Their foundation for ethics is either popular opinion or individual impulse.  Any fantasy may be pursued no matter how far from reality or natural law it resides.  Dissent is the only real vice in this fairytale dimension that they try to impose on the real world.  This worldview is illogical and disingenuous, and the only way to propagate it is through emotional appeal.  When that approach fails to persuade rational human beings, they use mob pressure to coerce others into assenting to the phantom cause of the week.  Their worldview is sustained solely by emotion.  Emotional pleas to support imaginary victims; emotional vitriol spewed against anyone who refuses to acknowledge that fantasy is in fact, reality; emotional policy propositions that blatantly ignore the hypocritical treatment of those who would be subjected to it.  The irony is that those that embrace this worldview when pursuing public policy, reject it in other, more concrete aspects of their lives.  Those that believe that reality should be manipulated to align with fantasy don’t plan their investment portfolios along the same lines of logic.  They don’t demand that professional sporting events suspend the rules of the game in order to ensure an even playing field for those that can’t play.  But logic is readily discarded when personal behavior is called into question.  This mental imbalance will prove to be most destructive when the consequences of purely impulsive decisions appear.

Now back to my original dilemma where Christian leaders criticize skeptics.  Christians, the ones who should be able to offer spiritual guidance to society, have lost all credibility and ability to influence their culture.  The reason for this is quite simple:  Christians have embraced religion rather than relationship.  Religion requires a blind faith similar to that required by the secularists.  The result is that each succeeding generation of Christians has less of an understanding of the reason for a belief in God and in Jesus-as-the-Redeemer than the preceding generation did.  The preponderance of religious Christians have made a critical error in that their criticism of skeptics targets those on the order of the third definition.  They paint the picture that any doubt or questioning of the principles of Christian doctrine is a sinful practice.  Many Christians, fearful that God will be displeased with them if they question religious “authorities,” repress their doubts.  Rather than seeking answers, they tacitly assent to whatever doctrine their denomination demands.  They have no rational foundation for their beliefs.  This leaves them incapable of presenting any sort of coherent case for even basic theism, let alone the redemption found in Jesus.  Lacking a logical rationale for their beliefs, their religion is characterized by an imbalance in which emotion far outweighs intellect.  Any sense of security in their beliefs comes solely from peer influence.

A healthy and balanced dose of skepticism is required when examining any worldview, be it religious or secular.  If there is such a thing as transcendent truth, then evidence will exist that will point the way to the origin of truth.  If we truly live in a world characterized by cause and effect, than we can reasonably deduce the cause of the most important effects.  When Descartes stated, “I think, therefore I am,” he was not being trite.  He was boldly and brilliantly confronting those who thought that God was a puppet master who gave humans the illusion of existence.  Descartes pointed out that the evidence didn’t support that supposition.  If one appears to have the ability to think freely, then one must logically deduce that he exists as a free thinker.  A deceptive deity that gives humans the illusion of existence and thought is a conceptual possibility but not a logical deduction based on the evidence we can observe.

More than ever, our society needs to adopt a mentally-balanced, skeptical approach to worldview development.  We must reject demands for tacit assent to both secularist fantasy and religious dogma.  Truth is paramount, and truth is freedom.  Any worldview that is not based on truth is illusory and results in bondage.  To search for truth is to follow where the evidence leads.

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3 thoughts on “A Healthy Dose of Skepticism

  1. Someone else said it much better than I: “He in whom the love of repose predominates will accept the first creed, the first philosophy, the first political party he meets– most likely his father’s. He gets rest, commodity, and reputation; but he shuts the door on truth.

    He in whom a love of truth predominates will keep himself aloof from all moorings and afloat. He will abstain from dogmatism and recognize all the opposite negations between which, as walls, his being is swung. He submits to the inconvenience of suspense and imperfect opinion but he is a candidate for truth, as the other is not, and respects the highest law of being.” ~emerson

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    • Justin,

      Thanks for commenting. Brilliant and very well stated. My experience is that most Christians are afraid to question their beliefs. Emerson summed it up perfectly.

      -Norm

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  2. Pingback: What is Faith? | The Wild Frontier

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