In the conversations with theists, I often see a complete rejection of skepticism. It is not often but sometimes I hear it said that they’re skeptical of skepticism or they ask me what my evidence for skepticism is. Naturally as a good skeptics we should apply scrutiny to skepticism and we should be able to justify it. So that’s what I will do.

Let’s consider the Following: Suppose we want to find out how many people inhabit our Planet Earth. We have no data available and we have these possible options to choose from:

      • 16 people inhabit the Earth
      • 4.5 million people inhabit the Earth
      • 8000 thousand people inhabit the Earth
      • 17000 people inhabit the Earth
      • 7.5 billion people inhabit the Earth

I assume, that it is our shared goal, that we want to arrive at the right conclusion and don’t want to believe in the wrong one. Here are the 4 methods I can think of, which we could use to determine the truth:

  • choosing our favorite number
  • choosing randomly
  • going with what other people say
  • employ skepticism and wait for incoming data

Let’s look at the first option:

My favorite number is 16, so if we use were to use this method then we would have to conclude, that the world population is a total of 16 people. Another person’s favorite number, could be for example 8000. This however leads to mutually exclusive positions. One of us has to be in error. Therefore this method clearly doesn’t lead to truth.

The second option has the same underlying problem: Choosing your number at random leads people to mutually exclusive positions and will lead them to be in error. They’re more likely to get it wrong.

our third method “going with what other people say” also won’t lead to truth. With no available data the other people have only the other 3 options to choose from. They could employ skepticism, choose randomly, or choose their favorite number. If they use the aforementioned methods, rather than skepticism they will be wrong and so will you. If they use skepticism and wait for available data, then you will be right but it’s not as likely as when you cut right to the chase and use this method yourself.

Our forth option is skepticism: With skepticism you suspend judgement over all those numbers entirely until data comes in. That way, you will at least not be as likely to land in error. When the available data comes in, you critically examine it and come to your conclusion. But it doesn’t end there. Skepticism should still be used and your conclusion should still be subject to change. It may be the case, that the data was inaccurate or false data. In that case, with new data you can reevaluate your position and you will zero in on the true conclusion, namely that  7.5 billion people is the right answer, or if nothing else avoid the wrong one effectively.

Now, maybe there is a fifth method, that I overlooked and that may be more effective than skepticism. If that is the case, then I’m absolutely open to that method but you can expect that such a proposal of a more effective method, will be met with the currently most effective one. It will be met with strong skepticism and it will subject to critical examination, until the superiority of that method is demonstrated . Because that is, what a good skeptic does and what you should do as well.

Goodbye from yours truly,

Rene von Boenninghausen @Renevelation

One thought on “The Justification of skepticism

  1. The thing is, though, we do have sufficient evidence to believe one way or another, so your argument doesn’t apply.

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