I am a skeptic because people are irrational. And I don’t mean just some people. I don’t just mean other people, people who aren’t me, or you, or people we know. I mean all people. All people are irrational. All people have flawed ways of looking at the world hardwired into our brains. We all have biases that make us see things that aren’t there, perceive the world the way we want to perceive it, and ignore information that could prove us wrong. We believe in a lot of stupid stuff, and skepticism is the best tool we have to fix that.
Many people equate skepticism with cynicism. They assume that being a skeptic means you don’t believe in something. That’s why the media often uses the phrase, “Global Warming Skeptic” or “Evolution Skeptic.” This is not what skepticism is. Skepticism is not the opposite of belief. Skepticism is the opposite of gullibility. It’s gullibility when a person takes, at face value, someone who claims they have magic healing hands. It’s skepticism when that same person asks for proof before believing. It’s gullibility when a person looks at a blurry photograph and concludes that it’s a picture of a UFO. It’s skepticism when that same person asks for more detailed photographic evidence, or for pictures not taken at night. Gullibility is when a person hears that their sister’s friend’s cousin knows a guy who totally saw bigfoot, and believes it. Skepticism is… well, you get the idea.
Skepticism is more than just an idea, however. It’s a philosophy, a way of life. People can gain a more accurate view of the world through skepticism: demanding evidence for claims, comparing conflicting ideas, and only believing in things that have been proven true. This philosophy turns out to be very good at avoiding most of the biases that I mentioned in the beginning.
Skepticism also goes hand in hand with atheism. A skeptic can (and often does) evaluate the claims of religion and find them lacking. In fact, I would argue that skepticism should always go together with atheism, because if a skeptic does not evaluate religious claims, then that skeptic is being dishonest. Similarly, if an atheist did not come by their conclusions rationally, their methods are just as poor as the theist. Atheism without skepticism is faith, and skepticism without atheism is delusion.
Some people may be wondering why skepticism is so important. Sure it helps correct biases, and sure it gives us a more accurate picture of the world, but who cares? Surely this stuff can’t be all that important in people’s day-to-day life. Well, as it turns out, it is. Gullibility can have very serious consequences, including financial costs, injuries, and even death. Millions of people have lost their lives by foolishly believing in things that aren’t true, and just a little skepticism could have saved them.
I am a skeptic because people are irrational. And skepticism is the only thing that can save them.