Skepticism is the process of applying reason and critical thinking to determine validity. It’s the process of finding a supported conclusion, not the justification of a preconceived conclusion.
Skepticism is, or should be, an extraordinarily powerful and positive influence on the world. Skepticism is not simply about “debunking” as is commonly charged. Skepticism is about redirecting attention, influence, and funding away from worthless superstitions and popular misinformation, and toward projects and ideas that are evidenced to be beneficial to humanity and to the world.
The scientific method is central to skepticism. The scientific method is about the study and evaluation of evidence, preferably derived from validated testing. Anecdotal evidence and personal testimonies cannot be tested, so they generally aren’t useful to the scientific method, and thus won’t often be accepted by a responsible skeptic; which often explains why skeptics get such a bad rap for being negative or disbelieving people. They’re simply following the scientific method.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, particularly in claims that are far-fetched or that violate physical laws. Skepticism is an essential, and meaningful, component of the search for truth.
In science, a healthy skepticism is a professional necessity, whereas in religion, having belief without evidence is regarded as a virtue.
Ways to Practice Positive Skepticism
- Detecting Deception – An easy to way challenge claims and notions put forth is to ask the right questions. “What makes you think this way?” “What assumptions have you based your claim upon?” “Can you find any research or studies to support what you’re claiming?” Never blindly accept what anyone tells you.
- Doubt – With much of the mass media nowadays being owned and operated by just a handful of families and corporations, it can be easy to fall prey to the commercials, TV news cycles, and political campaign ads that try to influence how we think and act. Always try to recognize the limits that come with anyone’s claim of truth. If something doesn’t feel right then it most likely isn’t.
- Play Devil’s Advocate – Skeptics like to see things from both sides, and playing on both sides of an argument allows them to obtain a better understanding of a problem. This practice is great for everyone to learn and utilize, especially children.
- Use Logic and Intuition – Everyone has both logic and intuition to some degree, but most of us tend to rely on one more prominently than the other. Alternating between the two qualities of mind will help you to become a better thinker, because “doubting and believing are among the most powerful root acts we can perform with our minds.”
- Bias-Detecting – A true skeptic bears the important task of determining whether or not information and research is without bias. Most people like listening to radio stations, news channels, and programs that are in line with the way they view the world. But to be a skeptic is to oft wonder what the other side of the story being presented is. There is a difference between messages that are meant to persuade rather than inform.