in Reviews: Books and Stuff, Skepticism & Post-Faith

21 Great Reasons To Think and Be A Skeptic

How Questioning Everything Saves You Money, Time, and Makes You A Better Person

Emma photo by Lies Thru a Lens  on Flickr

Emma photo by Lies Thru a Lens  on Flickr

Seems that meditators, mystics, and people of faith advocate shutting “off” your brain so you can experience the holy spirit or altered states of consciousness. The intuition is worshipped and intellect is ridiculed. Why? Ego, or thinking for yourself, is considered dangerous to faith. It very well may be dangerous to faith, when your spiritual teacher, prophet, or guru is supposed to have all the answers. So, to follow one’s own reasoning and feelings, warn the gurus, leads you astray “off the path”. Of course, the gurus have a vested interest in you not thinking for yourself.

So what happens when you dare to use your brain and your own thinking to benefit yourself as an individual? Ironically, despite guru warnings, skepticism and thinking like a scientist leads to more intuition and creativity, to greater morality, and improves our society. This post will show you why. The bottom line is that skepticism and thinking like a scientist every day is vital to increasing your chances of living a safe, productive, and ethical life. You can’t be passive. Everyday we are bombarded with lies, false claims, and misconceptions in the media, advertising, books, and workshops– virtually everywhere. So what is skepticism?

“America is a very powerful country,” Jaisalmer, India photo by since1968 on Flickr

What Is Skepticism? – And Thinking Like A Scientist

Skepticism and science are similar. Skepticism is having a healthy dose of doubt and exercising your reason to determine whether a claim is probably true or whether it is likely b.s. or false. It means withholding your belief until solid evidence has been presented. We all practice skepticism. The question is are you a weak or strong skeptic? The strong skeptic proportions his belief to the evidence. Skepticism is not arrogance. It means keeping an open mind and being able and willing to change your mind should evidence demand.

Thinking like a scientist, or being a skeptic, doesn’t guarantee finding perfect answers to life and its challenges. Strong skeptics and scientists are willing to admit they don’t know, they don’t have answers (unlike the gurus who claim to have all the answers). Skepticism provides the most reliable way to navigate your way safely through this crazy world of ours, with all it’s quacks, liars, and scamsters. Some of these (the gurus or their faithful followers) may be sincere, but are nevertheless themselves deluded, and they are more than willing to take your money, your time, and your trust. So, what’s the solution?

21 Reasons Why Skepticism Benefits You and Your World

Here’s 21 reasons why thinking and being a good skeptic will benefit you, your family, and your world.

  1. Economic benefits of skepticism

    1. Reduces money you squander on crackpots, quacks, and shysters.

    2. Decreases spend on dubious businesses: psychics, spiritual healers, alternative medicines, and miracle cures.

    3. Increases dollars and tax revenues to fund scientific research and development of proven products backed by solid evidence, science, and medical effectiveness.

  2. Intellectual benefits of skepticism

    1. Avoids groups and organizations that discourage asking meaningful questions.

    2. Starves out (from lack of support) groups that prey on the weak and suffering.

    3. Stimulates creative-thinking, by encouraging questions rather than settling for simple, absolute answers.

  3. Spiritual benefits of skepticism

    1. Eliminates delusions and wishful-thinking, evaluates extraordinary claims using reason.

    2. Avoids investing your time and energy on con-artists, false prophets, and faith healers.

    3. Shrinks organizations that are based on dubious and supernatural claims.

  4. Ethical/Moral benefits of skepticism

    1. Questions exploitation of anyone, including women, children, and all minorities. (A few examples why faith traditions give answers that are unethical and immoral, includes beliefs that: women are subservient to men, gays are an abomination, masturbation is a sin).

    2. Reduces hate crimes and murders (motivated by irrational beliefs and religious fanaticism).

    3. Treats others more fair and justly (by reducing bigotry, avoiding righteousness, and stopping blame of the victim).

  5. Psychological/Emotional benefits of skepticism

    1. Minimizes gullibility and shame in succumbing to quackery and religious guilt.

    2. Clears thinking. Conducts our lives based on reality, not delusive wishful-thinking.

    3. Generates personal responsibility for changing ourselves and our world (rather than waiting for or giving credit to a divine, mystical being to fix things).

  6. Physical benefits of skepticism

    1. Assesses health claims based on medical science, not pseudoscience (fake science), quack or homeopathic potions, energy healing, or crackpot medical treatments.

    2. Saves lives based on using proven medicine (versus avoiding blood transfusions for religious reasons, overdosing on supplements or not getting proper medical care, or parents who don’t take their children to doctors because of their faith).

    3. Eliminates diseases and plaques (eg. recent resurgence of epidemics of measles in U.S. and HIV/AIDs in Africa from thinking “vaccines are harmful”, “condoms are immoral”).

  7. Social/Cultural benefits of skepticism

    1. Questions herd mentality, mass marketing, group-think, and peer pressure. It’s OK to say “no”, to not buy it.

    2. Reduces bad choices, embarrassment, and shame. (eg. You don’t spend many years or thousands of dollars on bad products or programs, such as: ineffective abstinence only sex ed for teens, starting wars based on bad evidence, or blind following of leaders with corporate, political, or religious authority).

    3. Improves individuals, families, and helps society progress. All of the above 20 benefits collectively make us better: as individuals, communities, and as a sane, healthier world.

      Tibetan Cultural Parade - UN to Times Square, NYC 10/10/09, photo by asterix611 on Flickr

      Tibetan Cultural Parade – UN to Times Square, NYC 10/10/09, photo by asterix611 on Flickr

The above are my 21 great reasons to think and be a skeptic and how questioning everything saves you money, time, and makes you a better person. By no means are these the only benefits. There is so much more I want to say about the benefits of Skepticism. I strongly urge everyone to exercise skepticism everyday, especially on claims that seem to be mystical, supernatural, or commercial.

This post was inspired by my reading of Guy P. Harrison’s book: Think: Why You Should Question Everything. I strongly recommend Guy’s book to everyone. It is an easy, fun read that gives a good introduction to skepticism. If everyone reads Think: Why You Should Question Everything, and practices strong skepticism, their wallets would be fatter, their bodies and brains healthier, and this world would be a better place for all.

Works Cited

Harrison, Guy P. Think: Why You Should Question Everything. New York. Prometheus Books. 2013. Print.

www.guypharrison.com

Leave a Reply

  1. This is a solid intellectual from which to build a wordview, given the amount of fantastical claims people have to wade through, but I’d question the link between skepticism and science. Although, I may be splitting hairs here, and if that’s the case, I apologize for being pedantic.

    Science is often cited as an epistemically infallible knowledge system, when its history is littered with mistakes, oversights, and ethics violations that have harmed people for centuries– some examples include phlebotomy, conducting medical experiments on unwilling human subjects, and anatomical models built on insufficient data. (If pressed, I can find citations for these examples). These errors don’t necessarily discount the benefits that scientific enquiry has provided for us, but I think we need to consider the whole package of science, not just the attractive aspects of it.

    In contrast to science, skepticism is a philosophical position of questioning all positive epistemic propositions (http://www.iep.utm.edu/skepanci/), including those proposed by science. This leads to the problem of throwing the baby out with the bath water: when do you stop questioning what you know? Descartes’ famous Meditations call all knowledge into question, finding the only epistemological and ontological foundation for knowledge to be God (http://www.iep.utm.edu/desc-sci/#H3). I don’t think most contemporary skeptics will accepts Descartes’ position: discarding the idea that an evil demon might possess one’s mind as unrealistic or anachronistic, I think a contemporary skeptic would reply that Descartes assumes too much in positing God’s existence as an escape from the problem of doubt. I think most people would find skepticism boring or unhelpful eventually, and turn to some other epistemological position, such as pragmatism or realism if they’ve questioned what they can know for much time.

    It seems to me that most contemporary skeptics don’t question the conclusions of science too deeply. I assume this is because most skeptics trust that scientific methods include a system of checks and balances to weed out the epistemically dubious claims before information is publicized, but this “faith” or belief in the various methods science uses is anti-skeptical, which presents a problem for an espoused skeptic. I think it’s helpful to believe in the knowledge science produces: it works, and it’s useful. However, that is a pragmatic position, not a skeptical one.

  2. @My Other Feet: I agree with you and practice my skepticism as something practical, “pragmatic” as you said.

    I don’t see any inherent conflict between scientific method and skepticism. Of course, the people who may practice or fail to practice could have conflicts with them.

    To me skepticism and scientific method seem sympathetic. Read this article, that talks briefly about both, I posted on my Resources page: An Introduction to Science: Scientific Thinking and the Scientific Method

    Scientific method (and the outputs or science that results) is a process of revision and questioning, never quit settling that the conclusions are absolutely final–always more seems to be unknown and to be learned. If some people worship “science” as infallible that seems to me to be a silly as worshipping an infallible idol, god, or any other human invention.

    Thanks.

  3. @skepticmeditations: I agree with you, and I don’t have anything further to add to your point. One of my degrees is in the philosophy of science and technology: I think epistemic methods, including those used in the sciences are fascinating topics.

    One issue that I’ve struggled with through undergraduate and graduate school, which you’ve touched on in your post about the atheist who had a mystical experience, is how to reconcile extreme subjective experiences like the one described in your post with rational knowledge systems. There are possible materialist explanations for subjective mystical experiences, but objective explanations often fail to completely explain the situation, ignoring the subjective experience because that aspect is so difficult to capture objectively, beyond descriptions by the person who experienced the situation. I wonder whether it’s possible to better correlate subjective descriptions with real-time objective observations of mystical experience in a laboratory setting: although, correlating subjective and objective data sets from that kind of situation would be immensely difficult.

  4. @ My Other Feet: That’s great to have you in our discussions here. Your degrees and studies in philosophy of science and technology can be a big help on the topics we explore.

    Yes, I think there’s more to meditation than what can currently be quantified and measured in a science lab. I don’t yet find any compelling evidence outside in the research nor inside in my own personal experiences in mediation to label the meditation “qualia” anything but interesting subjective experiences. Let’s continue to explore and share here on this site.

    Thanks

  5. @S.M.: Agreed on your point about meditation, although if the interesting subjective experiences make one happier, or more productive/fulfilled, so much the better. I’m enjoying this conversation — thanks for allowing my long responses on your blog.