Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Selective Skepticism

First watch this video which I think rather nicely sums up the position of skeptics vs. religious believers. (HT: E-man)

Besides the monotone this is a great video! Should be required watching in yeshivot!

Anyway I also saw on eskeptic today (here) an interesting study comparing the beliefs of Wiccans and Creationists. The common factor, of course, between these two rather irrational types of thought is a certain suspension of skepticism in favor of either the inerrancy of the Bible or the existence of the supernatural and paranormal. However, and this is extremely interesting, creationists tend to eschew the paranormal and be highly skeptical of such popular beliefs like UFO's and the ability of psychics. (click to enlarge)
This is not exactly unexpected, because creationists are traditionalists and don't like new-fangled ideas, but it is nevertheless a completely unjustified approach to skepticism. You can't justify being completely skeptical about paranormal beliefs while on the other hand being completely accepting about equally unsubstantiated beliefs such as the inerrancy and divinity of the Bible.

These statistics essentially remind me of the attitude the Orthodox community has towards paranormal beliefs. Most Orthodox people I know are exceedingly skeptical of things like UFO's. They often roll their eyes and make comments about how bankrupt American religious life is that it forces people to believe in such nonsense. They often say such things like "everyone needs religion either it's God or UFO's".

Of course these same people who are so skeptical about the paranormal also believe that they have invisible souls which will somehow go to an invisible afterlife.

In our day and age many people are increasingly more skeptical. HOWEVER they are usually only skeptical of things not already within their accepted Weltanschauung.


Zak said...

And the real joke is that the many thousands of claimed UFO sightings by people in our own day -- many with extensive backrounds in aviation and space technology -- give it a much stronger evidential base than even the best formulation of the Kuzari argument.

Shilton HaSechel said...

lol well I suppose there are more UFO siting nowadays than prophets but both can equally be ascribed to psychological phenomena.

G*3 said...

> You can't justify being completely skeptical about paranormal beliefs while on the other hand being completely accepting about equally unsubstantiated beliefs such as the inerrancy and divinity of the Bible.

Sure you can. It’s all about your epistemology. Most people are not radical skeptics a la Descartes. They don’t try to justify all of their beliefs. They just take certain things for granted, and build their beliefs on those assumptions. That other people exist, that the world is objectively real, and that the bible is a (or the) source of truth are all assumptions on which their worldview may be built. As you say, things not within their weltanschauung are dismissed as ridiculous.

That someone is skeptical of things not part of his worldview doesn’t make him a skeptic. It makes him typical. You have to remember that most people never go to the trouble of justifying their core beliefs.

Zak said...

That's an explanation, not a justification.

Lisa said...

I can't decide if the art style is more Kirby or more Ditko.

Also, Kuzari proof.

Shilton HaSechel said...

>Also, Kuzari proof.

I hope you don't mean "But we have evidence i.e. the kuzari proof" If so read all the links I brought over here:

G*3 said...

Hmm. I think you're right.

Upjets said...

Totally Kirby.

e-man said...

There are just as many people who "experience" G-D or talk to G-D as there are UFO sightings, so that is a ridiculous statement.

Shilton HaSechel said...


e-man said...

So am I.

Shilton HaSechel said...

The usual defense is that to repeal a national revelation you need another national revelation - not a private chat with Jesus or Muhammad.

Mellock said...

I think there is a weakness in your argument. First off, I am not sure if Descartes would be the best example of a "radical skeptic." I might even say that "for a 'smart guy' he was pretty stupid!" I certainly would not call Descartes a genius, though he did have some interesting insights. The problem is that he started from a position of extreme skepticism comparable to Gorgias the Sophist or Pyrrho, then took a very reasonable step to the postulate, "I think therefore I am." From there he took more and more progressively less reasonable steps culminating in a leap of faith to the position that a fundamentalist Roman Catholic theology with a solipsistic type ontology is the correct religious belief and a Platonistic-type deity is the true god. Essentially, the "skepticism" of Descartes was all in vain and took him full circle, back where he started!

I think that you neglected to make a distinction between accepting the natural and belief in the supernatural. There is, after all, a world of difference between empirically evident facts and religious or paranormal beliefs. I take it that Shilton's original point was that believers of an organized religion tend to arbitrarily disregard all supernatural beliefs, with the exceptions of those that they hold, which are beyond scrutiny. Like Descartes, they use "critical thinking" to arrive at precisely the belief they began with.

Mellock said...

For the record, UFO = "Unidentified Flying Object"

I am sure you all knew that, but remember that nothing in the definition of UFO suggests that it is necessarily an extraterrestrial spacecraft, hence why the charts that Shilton posted included one titled "UFOs Are Spacecraft From Other Planets."

There are countless claims of UFO sightings, most of them being dubious, many having been proven to be aircraft or natural phenomena or oprical illusions generated by such phenomena. There have even been a few credible, documented cases of such UFO, but NO SUCH EVIDENCE for alien crafts. Belief that an UFO is extraterrestrial in origin (when it is more parsimonious to believe that it is an astronomical or atmospheric anomaly or even an experimental aircraft) is largely due to the influence of science fiction.

But I think Zak makes a good point that the evidence for UFOs, whatever they may be, is much stronger than the "evidence" from the Kuzari argument.

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