So, I’ve been a very bad Skepchick lately. Well, really, since TAM. Consider this my penance and pledge to try to contribute more regularly to the site. I don’t have a lot of free time right now, but I’d like to get into the habit of writing something–anything–daily, and hopefully that will result in more Skepchick posts.
I’m currently working another overtime night shift stint at the nuclear plant with a crew of 5 coworkers, each of which I’ve logged many work hours with, and we’re all quite close, as far as working relationships go. We span a variety of worldviews, and I’m really enjoying the great philosophical and theological discussions we’ve been having. Because there is a baseline of history and respect between us, we are able to dig into some usually touchy topics without offending each other, and it’s great to be challenged.
Our human knee-jerk reaction to these challenges is to hunker down behind our own assumptions and spew out supporting facts without really considering the question. Uncertainty is uncomfortable to most of us, so we tend to cling to our particular understanding of reality in the face of contradictory information. I feel these impulses as much as the next person, but I try to be aware when I’m doing it, and make a conscious effort to embrace the uncertainty and truly consider new information. When I do that, I find myself rethinking my assumptions, making new connections, and usually coming out of it with a better understanding of the topic. I find it very rewarding.
Most people seem to think of certainty as a virtue. I couldn’t disagree more. I can’t say it better than PZ Myers did awhile back:
It is unassailable certainty in their positions that allowed good Christians to march people of another religion into ovens at bayonet point; that allowed good Christians to hang widowed old women for witchcraft; that led to wars and genocide over trivial matters of theology, like the degree of god-nature in Jesus’ existence; that allows racists and homophobes to declare a significant portion of our population to be second-class citizens; that encouraged priests to appease imaginary beings by burning babies; that led to monsters cutting the living hearts out of their neighbors so that the sun might rise. Let’s leave certainty to the oleaginous evangelists, the jingoistic war mongers, and the other con artists selling us bogus solutions to imaginary problems. A little uncertainty, a little willingness to accept that deeper knowledge might change our minds, is a good thing.
And that, to me, is true skepticism. It’s something that must be practiced, because I don’t think it comes naturally to most of us. We want to know, and we want to believe that we do know, but at the end of the day, anything we think we know could be contradicted by new evidence, and we have to be open to that if we are to exemplify true intellectual honesty.