There are many ways to be a skeptic. There are knee jerk skeptics who refuse to believe anything regardless of the evidence. There are cherry pickers who only believe that which supports their previously held views. And then there are rational skeptics, people who consider all the evidence pro and con.
Knee jerks and cherry pickers give skepticism a bad name. They use skepticism as cover for their intellectual laziness. They reject evidence they don’t like while claiming to think critically. A rational skeptic doesn’t reject evidence. They evaluate claims by looking at the evidence for and against the claim being made.
Humanists are rational skeptics. Or, we try to be. We use skepticism to remind ourselves to look at the evidence available and evaluate it properly. We know our problems are hard to solve, so we use our skepticism to make sure our chosen solution will actually work and not just be a waste of time, money and resources.
If you want to actually solve your problems, don’t be a knee jerk skeptic or a cherry picker. Use your skepticism optimistically. Actually evaluate the evidence for AND against and don’t ever reject evidence out of hand. Find out what is most likely true and use that knowledge to solve your problems as effectively as possible.
If someone tells you that you are wrong or mistaken, don’t have a knee jerk reaction to them. Be skeptical about what YOU think is true. Maybe you are wrong. Maybe they are. But until you actually evaluate the evidence – you won’t know for sure.
Being a rational skeptic is hard work. Lots of people take the lazy way out and reject all evidence that doesn’t agree with what they believe. Other people have invested so much time, energy and money into things that aren’t true that they can’t bring themselves to admit they were duped. Don’t be one of those people. The only thing worse than being wrong is continuing to be wrong after it’s been pointed out to you.
Be skeptical of yourself and of your own knowledge. Seek out information that contradicts what you think you know to be so. Use your skepticism to find the truth about whatever it is you are concerned about. Whether you are struggling with a personal problem or a political one, finding the truth and knowing that there is an objective reality that we can learn the truth about is one of the most optimistic things you can do. But to get there, you have to be skeptical and rational and be willing to look at the evidence for and against your views. Only then can you call yourself a rational skeptic.
Jennifer Hancock is the founder of Humanist Learning Systems and the author of several books about Humanism. https://humanistlearning.com. Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday’s Herald.