Not just in science, or history, or other academic pursuits where rigorous devotion to the truth is crucial. Why does skepticism matter in everyday life?
When I write about atheism — especially when I write about how the religion hypothesis has no good evidence supporting it and is almost certainly not true — there’s a response I get surprisingly often: “What difference does it make whether it’s true? Religion makes people happy. It gives people comfort in troubling times. It offers a sense of purpose and meaning. It lets people tolerate the idea of death without being paralyzed with terror. Why try to take that away from people? If it’s useful, who cares whether it’s true?”
My typical response to this… well, my first response is always dumbstruck head-scratching. To me, the idea that the truth matters is self-evident, and it seems bizarre to have to defend it in debate. And I am truly baffled by what people even mean when they say they believe something without necessarily thinking it’s true. (“You keep using that word ‘believe.’ I do not think it means what you think it means.”) But when my head-scratching is over, my typical response has been to write high-minded defenses of the philosophical and indeed ethical necessity of prioritizing the truth over our imaginings about it. Coupled with passionate love letters to the universe that would make Carl Sagan blush.
Today, I’m going in a different direction. Today, I want to talk about the uses of skepticism in everyday life. I want to talk about how skepticism — prioritizing good evidence and critical thinking over ideology and preconception, which includes declining to accept propositions without good evidence, and letting go of conclusions when the evidence doesn’t support them — can make our lives happier, healthier, and more richly satisfying. I want to talk about the real challenges that a skeptical approach to everyday life can present… and why the rewards make those challenges so worthwhile.
I want to talk about skepticism as a discipline.
Thus begins my new piece on AlterNet, Why We Must Always Be Skeptical. To find out how skepticism is more than an approach to scholarly pursuits such as science — how skepticism is a philosophy and a discipline that can and should be applied in everyday life — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!