One of the greatest challenges in contemporary society is learning to distinguish to between:
(1) true / genuine skepticism / questioning, versus
(2) false / pseudo skepticism / disbelief.
Much has been written about this crucial distinction – including websites, books, and articles – and the reader is encouraged to seek these sources via search engines. One useful website is www.debunkingskeptics.com which has an extensive links page.
I discuss this distinction in some detail in Appendix D of THE SACRED PROMISE because pseudo-skepticism does such a great disservice to our individual and collective lives.
In the simplest instance, people can be classified into holding three levels of belief about anything – be it a belief in gravity or a belief in spirituality – the content of the belief does not matter.
The three levels are:
1. A “Yes” Belief
2. An “Unsure” Belief, and
3. A “No” Belief (also called “disbelief”).
True skeptics can be defined as being “critical questioners.” Typically a true skeptic suspends her or his beliefs – i.e. does not believe either “yes” or ‘no” – and essentially says “I don’t know. Could be yes, could be no, show me the data.”
Implicit in this definition is the personal orientation of being open to receiving new information which could lead one to potentially change one’s mind – for example, from being unsure to believing yes or no, or even from believing yes or no about something to becoming unsure about one’s beliefs.
True skeptics not only know that they don’t know something for sure, but they are genuinely open to changing their minds and growing in light of new evidence. In a deep sense they are humble and open-minded.
Pseudo-skeptics often are typically disbelievers – i.e. they are firmly entrenched in believing “no” about certain things. Although they may “claim” that they are open to new information, they typically react with strongly unfriendly if not hostile criticisms when their beliefs and assumptions are challenged by new ideas and evidence.
Pseudo-skeptics typically make extreme statements. They will sometimes categorically state that something is impossible, or they will make sweeping false statements such as “no evidence exists” or the experiments are “all flawed” or even the scientists in question are engaged in “pseudo-science.”
Probably the most abusive of pseudo-skeptics tactics is to denigrate and dismiss carefully documented (and replicated observations in real life as being “anecdotes” and being “worthless” as potential scientific evidence. Even if the evidence was collected carefully using established standards in mainstream science, the findings are typically ignored or rejected as having any scientific value. The key phrase here is “any.”
Psychologically speaking, simply labeling and denigrating carefully and responsibly documented evidence obtained in real life as being “anecdotal” is like labeling and denigrating caring and responsible African Americans as being “n…..r.’s.” Sure, not all evidence observed in real life has been collected carefully and responsibly, just as not all African Americans (or any other regional or ethnic group, for that matter,) are caring and responsible – the key is wise discernment here, not biased dismissal.
Sadly what this prejudicial psychological labeling tactic does is devalue the ultimate purpose of discovery and knowledge – which is to gain knowledge which can be applied to our personal lives. The true value of knowledge is that it translates into bettering our lives and the life of the planet as a whole.
The three levels of belief can turned into a “3 x 2” table by crossing the three beliefs with the two orientations of being open versus closed minded (and hearted). The true scientific mind is one which always remains open to new information, regardless of whether one holds a “yes”, “unsure” or “no” belief about a specific thing.
Dr. Carl Sagan put it this way:
When Kepler found his long-cherished belief did not agree with the most precise observation, he accepted the uncomfortable fact. He preferred the hard truth to his dearest illusions; that is the heart of science.”
The reader interested in the distinction between true and pseudo-skepticism may find Appendic D in THE SACRED PROMISE informative. Dr. Sagan’s wise philosophy is featured at the end.
Books like THE SACRED PROMISE are meant to open our minds and hearts to possibility – they are, so to speak, “proof-of-possibility” books – so that we have the potential opportunity to grow and evolve.