Friday, January 13, 2012

Why be Skeptical???

   Once upon a time, I wrote a post on methodological skepticism, gave some (OK, maybe only one) practical examples of where someone might use skepticism. I did not, however, really go into why someone would want to be skeptical. This post is being inspired, once again, by that lengthy Facebook tread in which a theist said something like, "Don't just be skeptical." This theist was talking about the colloquial term of the word (recall, meaning "an attitude of doubt") as they also said that we atheists need to investigate. As methodological skepticism contains an investigative element to it, the theist could not be talking about this form of skepticism. There was also the reoccurring theme on the tread discussing how theists get frustrated with atheists for asking for evidence and that atheists should essentially just trust the subjective feelings of the religious. In my last post, I discussed that we know such feelings are unreliable because of the inconsistent beliefs in gods that they create. In this post, my goal is to continue to demonstrate why following one's feelings are generally a bad idea as well as show how theists ask others for evidence.

   The easiest way, perhaps, to achieve my goals is to use the example of a used car salesman. I suspect most everyone knows when buying a used vehicle, you are not to simply trust the salesman if he tells you that the vehicle you are interested in is in fine working order. Instead, you have to at least take the vehicle on a test drive. It is also suggested that you kick the tires and check under the hood. These are even phrases that are often used to mean "to test something out" in regards to products other than cars. (In fact, I used "check under the hood" in regards to religions in my first response to that Facebook thread, which is what led me to consider this example.) I am not trying to advertise for their business—they just happen to have a useful, catchy slogan—but there is a company that suggests you have the dealer "show [you] the CARFAX!" The point of this is people are greatly encouraged to be skeptical (this is methodological skepticism, mind you) when it comes to purchasing used cars. Likely, there was a time when used car salesman gained a reputation of conning gullible customers into buying vehicles they didn't want (because the vehicle would turn out to have major defects) and likewise paying a lot more than the vehicle was worth. Sometime after that, skeptics must have come to the rescue, suggesting people look for evidence—inspect—that the vehicle is worth the asking price. And this is why being skeptical is important—it helps prevent a person from suckering for the tactics of con artists.

   So, I think people generally do understand why being skeptical is important and display skepticism in their lives. Part of the problem, as I have already discussed, is that they may not realize the terminology of what they are doing is "skepticism." Another problem, I suspect, comes into play when the shoe is on the other foot. When a person is a consumer, they understand the value of skepticism, but when they are the seller? Then skepticism becomes their enemy. Skepticism in their customer can never work in the seller's advantage, and can actually work against them. (Note that if the seller is being honest, then skepticism should have little to no net effect.) It is this problem for the seller that we see when it comes to theists discouraging atheists from being skeptical. The theists are the seller and the atheists are the consumer/customer. Yes, even though the theist may not have a financial gain in mind, they still have something to gain from converting people to Christianity. Remember that post on cognitive dissonance? I did not mention it there, but the first study done on cognitive dissonance was on a religious cult. To reduce dissonance, they proselytized! Go figure why theists don't want atheists to be skeptical!

   If I am wrong about this, theists, I present you a challenge: the next time you go buy a used car (or any product of significant cost), do not be skeptical! Do not take the vehicle on a test drive. Do not kick the tires, check under the hood, ask for the CARFAX, etc. If you get the feeling that the vehicle is a good vehicle and get the feeling that the salesman is an honest person, trust your feelings! If you can do this, then I am willing to believe that you actually find no virtue in skepticism and are not just discouraging me from using skepticism out of frustration that I am not buying your product.

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