Answering Skepticism: The Logical Conclusion of an Illogical Position

By Roger Browning

Skepticism, at its core, is a consistently inconsistent position. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. To really answer skepticism, first we should set out to define it. Not-so-unshockingly, this is more difficult than asking Siri. While Siri does have a thought:

“GENERALLY ANY QUESTIONING ATTITUDE…”

A skeptic only needs to deny this and assert his own version of skepticism. Don’t believe me? Ask Dr. Michael Shermer[i]. Shermer shares in his ‘Skeptical Manifesto’ three different definitions of skepticism[ii]. Here they are for simple reference.

Types of Skeptics

  • (common usage) One who, like Pyrrho and his followers in Greek antiquity, doubts the possibility of real knowledge of any kind; one who holds that there are no adequate grounds for certainty as to the truth of any proposition whatever (Oxford English Dictionary, Vol. 2, p. 2663).
  • One who doubts the validity of what claims to be knowledge in some particular department of inquiry; one who maintains a doubting attitude with reference to some particular question or statement.
  • (Shermer’s preference) One who questions the validity of particular claims of knowledge by employing or calling for statements of fact to prove or disprove claims, as a tool for understanding causality.[iii]

Rational Skepticism

Shermer points out that two of these definitions provide less benefit to progressing humanity and, ultimately, abandon the intent of skepticism: “these usages leave out one important component: the goal of reason and rationality.” Or, you might say, Shermer is skeptical of other varieties of skepticism.

I OFTEN HEAR, “OH, YOU’RE A SKEPTIC, SO YOU DON’T BELIEVE ANYTHING?” NO, I BELIEVE LOTS OF THINGS, AS LONG AS THERE IS REASON AND EVIDENCE TO BELIEVE. – MICHAEL SHERMER

At first glance, it’s easy to find Shermer’s skepticism rational. In fact, it’s easy to see how each of the three definitions of skeptic are different (and therefore require a different tactic to respond to their claims), but allow me to illustrate why that is not the case…

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