I can’t help but think that there needs to be a test before one can call themself a skeptic. It’s amazing how many people call themselves skeptics while having no critical thinking skills once so ever. This is the biggest reason I don’t really identify as a skeptic.
Today I received a reply to a comment I wrote on YouTube. The person considered themself a skeptic, but they couldn’t be bothered to supply any evidence to support their claim that masculinity and femininity are biological despite the fact that different cultures around the world hold to different ideas about what is masculine and what is feminine. Skeptics are supposed to be critical of all claims, and they are supposed to look at the evidence before they decide what is true, but so few actually do that. So many skeptics ignore the evidence and determine what they believe to be true on what society accepts, or who they hero-worship, or what they simply feel to be right. But that isn’t being skeptical.
Skepticism is a fine line to walk. It isn’t easy. But it also isn’t that difficult. Somebody says the sky is blue? Look up. Does the sky look blue? If yes, then do you have any reason to believe you are being deceived? No? Then the sky is blue. Obviously not everything is this simple, but it follows the same pattern. Someone says god exists? Can you see god? No? Then what other ways can we know something using our senses? Can we feel god? No? Can we smell god? No? Can we taste god? No? Can we hear god? No? Then how else can we find out if this claim is true? What evidence does the person making the claim have to offer? Can that evidence be verified? If not, then what does this say about the claim? If you can’t verify something using your own senses, and the evidence offered by the person making the claim isn’t verifiable, then the person’s claim can be dismissed.
But skeptics don’t generally have an issue applying this method to gods. It’s other things, more mundane things that skeptics want to be true, where they have difficulty applying their skepticism. But applying skepticism to one area does not a skeptic make. So where do skeptics fail?
Skeptics fail at applying skepticism to claims about sex and gender. It’s widely accepted that men are stronger than women. But how do we know if this is true? Can you see a man lift something that a woman can’t? Probably. But this is one man and one woman. So how do you turn the “this man can lift something that that woman can’t” claim into a “men are stronger than women” claim? First you need a lot of men and a lot of women. Then you need to compensate for weight difference. What do the results show? Obviously the average person doesn’t have time to do all of these experiments to determine what they should believe. Luckily scientists have done much of the research for us. So what have scientists found when they have done these studies? Are there studies that contradict each other? Does one debunk the other one? Are there meta-studies that explain why one is more accurate than the other? And are you sure your sources are good (ie. can you follow the source back to original research?)? Once you’ve done all that, you can be reasonably sure that your belief is accurate. However, to be a good skeptic, you can not say that you are a 100% certain that your belief is true. There is always a chance that you are wrong, and a true skeptic understands this. The problem with most so-called skeptics is they do not understand this.
So do you need to use the process given above to determine if your believes are true if you want to be a good skeptic? Yes. But it is not as daunting as it sounds. We all do the process to a certain degree, but most people don’t look at both sides of an argument, and they aren’t often open to changing their mind. The research doesn’t have to be done all at once. It can be done over the course of months or years, but both sides need to be considered, and you need to be open to changing your mind. That’s how we learn and grow.
So please, if you call yourself a skeptic, please make sure that you are as willing to apply your skepticism equally to all of your beliefs. And please make sure that you are willing to accept that you might be wrong. Because as soon as you say “I know x for certain” you cease being a skeptic. And as soon as you fail to apply the rigorous research needed to accept a belief you cease to be a good skeptic.