1.3 Positive Skepticism

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1.3.1 Generally speaking, skeptics are people who attempt to match their degree of belief in a proposition, to the degree of evidence there is for that proposition. A healthy skepticism, as opposed to gullibility, encourages us to think for ourselves. It also suggests that we can have confidence in assertions which are supported by the evidence. Such a healthy skepticism is as much affirmative as it is questioning. This is different from a cynic, who doubts any and all claims to knowledge, or claims that may contradict the status quo. Because much of the public thinks of skepticism as cynicism, I use the term "positive skepticism" to help avoid this negative and inaccurate connotation.

1.3.2 Skeptics do not accept dogma, mythology, or ideology at face value, be it nationalistic, religious, political, racial, economic, or cultural in nature. Our first commitment should be to truth, as far as we are able to determine it, regardless of how it may make us feel.

1.3.3 Skeptics recognize that human beings are imperfect in their ability to gain and evaluate evidence. We also recognize that we do not have all of the evidence, nor will we ever. For this reason, a skeptic will never consider any claim to be 100% infallible or an absolute truth - there is always a possibility of error. The best we can do is to look at the information we have at present and make the most likely conclusion from that. A positive part of skepticism is that we keep an open mind. This way, as new evidence comes in, we can continually rethink our beliefs.

1.3.4 But isn't it possible that there are all sorts of things in the world that we don't have evidence for and that cannot be proven or disproven? Yes, there almost certainly are. However, there are infinite possibilities; many of them contradictory. There is simply no reliable way of determining which of these to believe in without evidence. This is a harsh reality that is so unsettling to people seeking answers to the ultimate questions, that they are willing to accept any and all other alleged means at getting at this information, no matter how unfounded. Examples include mysticism, faith, alleged revelation, magic, fortune telling, alleged psychic powers, prayer, dream interpretation, spells, tarot cards and other "magical" items, visions, and drugs. The problem with all of these methods is that they introduce more pain and anguish in the long run than they resolve and are not nearly as effective as rationality.

1.3.5 There is also an issue of wise resource management. While it is true that nearly anything is possible, not everything is probable. Take psychic powers for example. There have been speculations about the "powers" of the mind for centuries, yet, no one to date has ever provided substantial, verifiable evidence. Contrast this with antibiotics or electricity, or any of our recent discoveries. Few of these have been rumored about for centuries. Most of them presented clues, we quickly followed with experimentation, and they were proven to be real in relatively short order. While psychic powers are possible, they have followed a pattern more akin to folklore than that of serious discovery and are therefore extremely unlikely to be true. There must be a proportionate rationing of time and resources towards those endeavors which are more likely to be fruitful. If people wish to follow outlandish claims as a hobby, for amusement and in the hopes that the incredibly unlikely will be true after all, then they have every right to do so. But for them to accuse the rest of the world of closed-mindedness because they refuse to waste their time on extreme pot shots is irrational and ignorant.

1.3.6 Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Once we step off the foundation of requiring physical evidence for our beliefs, we step into "la la land" where there is no real way to determine between fact and fantasy. This limitation is something that skeptics must be mature enough to live with, instead of giving in to the sweet temptations of superstition. Until or unless something can be proven, the reasonable person can only suspend belief and accept that some things are simply unknown.

Continue to 1.4 Theism, Atheism, Agnosticism, and Nontheism Defined