Is Scepticism a Worldview?

During the recent debate with Gpuccio at one point he claimed was that it was my prior adoption of particular ideology or worldview that led me to exclude design as an explanation. Thus reducing our disagreement to a choice of worldviews.  I am not sure I know what a worldview is – but scepticism falls far short of being an ideology.  All it amounts to is the demand for strong evidence before believing anything.  This is just an approach to evidence and is compatible with all sorts of beliefs about the nature of reality.

To take the particular issue of whether life is designed.  Scepticism does not exclude design. It just asks that a design explanation is evaluated by the same standards as any other explanation. It is not sufficient that other explanations are considered to be inadequate.  If you happen to believe in a designer with the appropriate powers and motivation then you may well accept that as the best explanation for life. If you happen to believe in a designer with evil motivations and sufficient power then that is a perfect explanation for natural disasters. But these are beliefs which need to be separately evaluated with their own evidence. You cannot use the fact that a designer is a good explanation for life as evidence for that designer.

22 thoughts on “Is Scepticism a Worldview?

  1. Some of the UDers have very strange ideas about skepticism.


    In short, you need to realise that skepticism, contrary to much modern self-congratulation, is not an intellectual virtue.

    To which Mung says:

    worth repeating

    gpuccio, on another thread:

    I must say that I despise skepticism in all its forms, even in its supposed general sense.

    I cannot find any real good meaning to the word. Obviously, we all try to express critical thinking, and to form reasonable maps of the world, using our reason, our feeling, our intuition, our experience, our love. Each of us makes different choices, and that is simply to be expected. And respected.

    So, what would a “general skeptical” be? Someone who will never believe anything? Or just someone who believes what he chooses to believe, exactly like anybody else, but likes to think and declare that he is better than all the others, because his choices are “skeptical”, whatever that means?

    I try to reason and understand, but I will never be skeptical. About anything. Why? Because I try to reason and understand. Like everybody. And I make my choices. Like everybody.

    So, skepticism is really nothing, only an expression of generic arrogance in cognition.

    Selective skepticism is always the only visible expression of skepticism. Those who want not to believe certain things a priori, will be bound to believe other things a priori, just to compensate.

    The success of “skepticism” in some parts of modern though is a very strong sign of the cognitive and moral confusion of our times. It is in no way comforting that many of these “skeptics” are essentially intelligent and good people. For me, that is only a cause of personal sadness.

    It’s bizarre. They seem not to have the slightest inkling of how we use the word.

  2. So, skepticism is really nothing, only an expression of generic arrogance in cognition.

    Said the guy who is unable to support his claim (dFSCI is useful) in any meaningful way but cannot bring himself to admit he was wrong.

  3. I think this may be key:

    Obviously, we all try to express critical thinking, and to form reasonable maps of the world, using our reason, our feeling, our intuition, our experience, our love

    For Gpuccio love, intuition, and feeling are just as valid ways of deciding what to believe as evidence.  Many people can and do decide what to believe on that basis. They may be happier or even more moral people as a result. It is just that they will be wrong more often in the long run than someone who requires evidence.

  4. Gpuccio:

    So, skepticism is really nothing, only an expression of generic arrogance in cognition.

    Seems pretty clear that none of these geniuses have read Daniel Khaneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.

    Not only is skepticism mandatory, its most important target is one’s own cognition.

  5. If one wishes to distance oneself from skepticism, one moves in the direction of its antithesis: credulousness. Science itself is skeptical – of its own claims. It demands that they be supported, by investigation and reasoned conclusion.

    On a related note, I would like to see use of the word “prior commitment” in debate punishable by a mandatory slapping. It is about as intellectually useful as mimicking one’s opponent’s last utterance in a slightly mincing tone: a middle finger to their rational faculties, but also an admission that one has run out of intellectual steam. Presumably, you’re not born with a prior commitment! People tell you stuff, and you determine whether or not to believe them.

  6. That’s fascinating. i never realized there are folk who did not know what being skeptical meant, let alone that there are folk who actually dislike skepticism. Seems to me that the to reject skepticism is to embrace gullibility, but what do I know.

    Personally I don’t believe (in the technical sense of the term) in anything; I investigate so as to understand what is, and I pretty much ignore everything else. Friends, family, or even acquaintances may tell me something, but I’m not going to simply believe what someone tells me out of hand. I verify everything people tell me that have some impact on me. If a given claim has no impact on me, then I simply ignore the claim out of hand. If a claim may have some impact on me, I’ll investigate it and act on the data I glean from the investigation.

    The point is, to me skepticism is about the type of perspective one is willing to act on. If you are willing to act on claims alone, you are not a skeptic. If you are unwilling to act on a claim alone, but rather require data and analysis to determine a course of action – as I do – then you are a skeptic. It’s that simple to me.



  7. I see skepticism as a temperament rather than a philosophy or worldview. Although it can certainly become formalized through eduction to become a methodology or way of approaching knowledge.

    The world conspires against skepticism in just about every facet of life: religion, politics, science, sports. I see anti-skepticism as a component of tribalism. We are expected to believe what our tribe believes. Belief is an element of belonging, like a shibboleth or circumcision.

    Hollywood reinforces the hostility shown in the quotes from UD. How many movies — even recent ones — have lines bemoaning the fact that kids are cynical today and resist believing. Sometimes it’s movies about Santa Claus, but sometimes it show itself in Terry Gilliam movies — hardly anti-intellectual or motivated by religion.

    What I find annoying about all this is that real science is a product of imagination. the great thinkers have all been great imaginers. The quality that writers of fantasy value are the same qualities required for scientific theorizing. It’s just that scientists require the additional step of verification.

  8. If that is what IDers and the like believe is meant by “skepticism”, then much is explained.

    And yet another instance surfaces of them loading a perfectly good and widely understood word with superfluous semantic baggage.

    It’s little wonder that the great majority of them have difficulty with clear and unambiguous communication. 

  9. Yeah, except the evidence shows that you probably don’t do all those things much of the time, as a human being you probably make a lot of irrational decisions. You are pretty much declaring yourself to be the perfect skeptic. I do hope that what you are describing is an ideal state that you aspire to (I would aspire to be that way too) and that you don’t really believe that’s the way you are, otherwise I think you’ve learned the wrong lesson from skepticism entirely.

  10. I think they are confused between philosophical skepticism (don’t believe anything without certain proof) and scientific skepticism (require sufficient evidence for how you will use that belief).  And that’s because they have little understanding of science.

    To illustrate:  I see dark rain clouds approaching.  A philosophic skeptic says that there is no proof that it will rain, so he need not change his plans.  The scientific skeptic says that there’s enough evidence of rain to warrant taking an umbrella with him.

  11. Believers love the “worldview” concept because it gives them an invalid but plausible-sounding defense against skepticism. If someone presents them with evidence that one of their cherished beliefs is wrong, they can shrug it off as originating from their interlocutor’s alien worldview, rather than being a problem with their own.

    Earlier this year, I commented on this:


    The OP’s whole argument boils down, to my reading, to “None of us really knows anything, so my choice of beliefs is just as good as yours.”

    While visiting the Creation Museum a few years ago, I saw a clever bit of propaganda. A diorama showed two paleontologists working side by side excavating a dinosaur skeleton. One was a creationist and the other an evolutionist, and though they were contemplating exactly the same fossil evidence, they held vastly different beliefs about its provenance. The signage explained the discrepancy by noting that the evolutionist began by trusting human reason while the creationist trusted the Word of God. Each man’s interpretation was valid, given his starting assumptions, but because the starting assumptions were so different, they led to vastly different conclusions.

    The messages:

    1. Creationist scientists are out there working side by side with their evolutionist colleagues, but reaching different conclusions.

    2. If a pointy-headed scientist tries to tell you that your biblically-based beliefs are ludicrous, it’s only because he starts with different assumptions. Your beliefs are just as valid as his, given your starting assumptions. No need to consider his arguments, as they simply follow from his alien worldview.

    3. Godless scientists trust human reason. Creationists trust God’s Word. Who are you going to trust, God or man? Which worldview will you choose?

  12. They are, of course, hyperskeptical of those bits of science that threaten their worldview.

    And the specific bits vary from person to person. 

  13. It strikes me that the only people who should fear / dislike skepticism are those who peddle lies. Truth should welcome skepicism. As it passes each review, every test, people’s confidence will grow in it. Each inspection is a chance for it’s perfection to show, each question a chance to appreciate a new facet of it.

  14. In practice, I don’t think skepticism means doubting everything, nor does it mean demanding sufficient evidence for any given conviction. I think it means holding convictions tentatively, and being ABLE to change them based on new information.

    Inability to accommodate new evidence is generally rationalized by redefining the meaning of “evidence” into “whatever supports my non-negotiable convictions.” The corollary is, whatever does NOT support my convictions is not evidence. So what is it? Well, it’s misinterpretation based on a misguided worldview.

    Are genuine miracles possible? I’m not talking about extremely unlikely fortuituous events, but rather outright violations of the laws of physics under normal conditions. What would constitute “evidence” for such a miracle? It’s been said often enough that science would classify it as “cause as yet undetermined” forever. Yet the Christian religion is founded on a set of exactly that sort of miracles, from which it cannot be decoupled. Can a Christian afford to be a scientific skeptic? How WOULD a Christian biologist come to terms with a demigod resulting from a woman mating with a figment of the imagination? Yet our Christian biologist must accept it as “real” – and many do. No weight of scientific evidence can really be said to be relevant.


  15. I don’t understand why anyone would want to be a skeptic.

    This statement is quite probably true.

  16. hotshoe:

    because it’s [skepticism] a closer match with reality than being a believer.

    A believer in what? A believer in skepticism?

    I’m skeptical of all beliefs, including the belief in skepticism, aren’t you?

    I’m skeptical of reality, aren’t you?

    What now?


  17. Milke:

    This statement is quite probably true.

    I’m skeptical of statements, aren’t you?

    I’m skeptical of probabilities, aren’t you?

    I’m skeptical of truth claims couched in terms of probabilities, aren’t you?

    What next?

  18. Skepticism is a joke. No one can live their life as a skeptic.

    Why is this blog named “The Skeptical Zone”?

    Is no one (but me) skeptical of the choice of that name?


  19. Oh no Mung, you’ve got it all upside down as usual.
    You claim to be skeptical of all beliefs – which probably would be good if it were true, but it’s not true; you’re either lying or at best fooling yourself since we know you faithfully believe in ID (with no evidence for its verity) – but at the same time you claim to be skeptical of reality.

    Which is the stupidest thing anyone has ever said.  

    It’s a braindead thing to say.  It’s a complete dead end.   You don’t have anywhere else to go when there’s no reality for you outside your own head. When you don’t accept our basic intersubjective reality, you must go suck your thumb inside your head like any other solipsist. 

    What now?  Well, it’s a remote possibility that you could decide to stop rebelling against reality and decide to acquire some of the knowledge you should have gotten as a schoolkid.  But if so, it’s not going to come from me.

    I can’t waste any more time on you when you don’t accept humans’ basic intersubjective reality.  That’s just the bare minimum to go forward here.

    Best luck with the rest of your life!  Elsewhere, I hope.  

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