I was watching Michael Shermer (publisher of Skeptic Magazine) on TED speak about the nature of belief. That humans have evolved to look for patterns; which is why we tend to believe things.
Now I follow him all the way through but then I find I have a question. Is this not a pattern itself that Shermer is finding in human behavior – if so how does he distinguish his belief from other beliefs? His is presented very scientifically, no argument there. Where I do have an argument is that Shermer, by his own reason, may no longer call himself a skeptic. He believes! I’ll explain it this way. An umbrella has the tendency to keep the rain off me. But that says absolutely nothing about the weather or about the climate. Umbrellas may one day survive rain, they may even survive the earth. Umbrellas also have the tendency to keep falling orange juice and M&M’s off me. Again that says absolutely nothing about the likelihood of such an event – nor the likelihood of me having an umbrella should such an event occur! What umbrellas and logic do tell me is that rain was here before umbrellas and umbrellas (with all their tendencies) did not just happen. Science can prove a billion beliefs to be untrue, but that says nothing about belief itself being legitimate.
I have no problem with Shermer believing that there is something in this pattern he’s discovered, we all believe something. I have a problem with him calling himself a skeptic. I have a problem with anyone calling themselves a skeptic, it’s simply untrue. I agree that one can and ought to be skeptical about a number of things, skepticism is a great tool; but no one can be a skeptic by definition, we believe way too much. As Shermer adequately shows us. Just because you have trained yourself to think laterally and to follow the scientific method does not mean that you have, thereby, ceased to believe anything. It is a particular Western delusion to imagine oneself free from belief. It is the sure sign of a religion to define oneself by one’s tools.
The trick with Skepticism as a definition is a logic one. It attempts to describes what someone is not in the positive. It is supposed to be all encompassing but it can never be. A true skeptic would immediately stop breathing, he would poke out his lying eyes, he would put a bullet in his deceptive mind – just to see if they are really there, both the bullet and the mind. A rational thinker, a lateral thinker is skeptical of many things because of all the things he accepts. What I want to know from people is what they do believe, not what they don’t, and I want to know why they believe it. And I’d like the opportunity to give the reason for the hope that I have.