On skepticism

I’ve always been wary of the ‘skeptic’ community (that is people who readily self identify as ‘skeptics’) and the overly enthusiastic proponents of ‘science and reason’. Whilst I am no opponent of ‘science’ and indeed enjoy reading about it, its discoveries and enjoy a life aided by it, I am put off by how ‘skeptics’ have (ironically) turned science into a pseudo-religion, almost anthropomorphising a method of enquiry into a force of nature itself. There is a strand of sneering condescension from some ‘skeptics’ which does their cause absolutely no favours.

I have just stumbled upon probably the best articulation of my feelings in an article entitled “Why I Am No Longer A Skeptic” by Stephen Bond. It’s a long, but really good, read.

In particular the stuff that resonated with me were Bonds skewering of the claim that science is a beleaguered, under threat movement, when in fact it dominates our lifestyles and culture. As Bond says:

On any major political decision, the technocrat speaks louder than the bishop, or anyone else, for that matter.

He also deltly deconstructs the skeptic claim that science is the superior source of knowledge, a neutral and objective process, and that all other human knowledge is inferior or ‘spurious’.

But as Bond notes:

The scientific method generally involves observation of reality, hypothesis based on observation, and experimental testing of hypothesis. All of these elements, particularly the first and third, involve the use of human perception — which, when building models of objective reality, can introduce a dangerously subjective element.

Bond points out that humans perceive the world through metaphors, some of which are inherited, some are learned. Culture always influences science, and science cannot be objective.

As Robert Anton Wilson also liked to stress:

any description of the universe which leaves you out is inaccurate, because any description of the universe is a description of the instrument that you use to take your reading of the universe — if the only instrument you use is your own nervous system, you gotta include your own nervous system in your description of the universe.

So, ergo, any model we make does not describe the universe, it describes what our brains are capable of seeing at this time.

Bond very strongly skewers the idea that modern science is above or free from cultural or political influence.

Skeptics, in insisting on the primacy of scientific knowledge, deny the value of non-scientific metaphors in future scientific advance. As far as they are concerned, western liberal democracies have made all the political, social, cultural and economic advances they need to. Western thought is already so free that anyone who tries can perceive reality direct and unmediated, with no obscuring metaphors in the way. To the trained western eye, the truth simply reveals itself, in as much detail as our scientific understanding allows. It’s difficult to imagine a more absolute statement of confidence in liberal democracy.

There is lots of other really good stuff in there, so give it a read. It’s a very strong rebuttal to the ‘skeptic’ community and the cult of reason.