Daily Archives: October 19, 2011

What would a real skeptics’ movement be like?

“Skepticism,” as the word is used by self-proclaimed professional skeptics, means being skeptical of heresy.

Some people doubt the official versions of such historical events as the Holocaust, the moon landing, the JFK assassination, and 9/11; others believe these events happened more-or-less as advertised. Which group do professional “skeptics” belong to? Some people question the dominant scientific theories about evolution, AIDS, and climate change; others are impeccably orthodox. Which ones get their views endorsed by Skeptical Inquirer?

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Doesn’t skepticism imply being critical of received opinions? The only received opinions “skeptics” criticize are old-fashioned religious beliefs — and those are déclassé. Debunking prole beliefs and fringe beliefs is not meaningful skepticism. We already have a perfectly good word for debunking everything that goes against received orthodoxy: apologetics.

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But to be skeptical of A is to be an apologist for B. So who is “really” a skeptic rather than an apologist? Possible answers: (1) someone who focuses criticism on dominant (mainstream and respected) beliefs; (2) someone who criticizes everything and supports nothing, focusing on the unexplained and on the imperfections in every theory. Either of these would be infinitely more valuable than the self-appointed sci-cops and inquisitors who call themselves skeptics today.

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