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Entry 714, on 2008-03-05 at 21:40:14 (Rating 2, Skepticism)
I listened to a podcast today which mentioned the subject of how skeptics are viewed by the general public. The word which seems to keep coming up is "curmudgeonly". While that is one of my favourite words (I love trying to find conversations where I can use it) I don't think it necessarily describes the majority of skeptics very well.
Its true that skeptics tend to debunk other people's belief in all sorts of weird and wonderful subjects, and maybe in some ways the world is the less for not having bigfoot, UFOs, crop circles, the Shroud of Turin, clairvoyants and psychic detectives. But on the other hand you could say that the world is better without all of those cheap imitations of reality, and I personally think that the real world is at least as fascinating as a fantasy world encompassing all of those paranormal beliefs would be.
Most skeptics support science and I find that to be more bizarre and interesting than all the pseudoscience I have ever encountered. The strangeness of the truth seems to go beyond what people can imagine. If you look at the competing stories of science and mythology you can see this. Here's some examples...
The true story of the origin of the universe in the Big Bang is on a far grander scale in space and time than the Genesis myth in the Bible. The scientific explanation happens over billions of years and extends over unimaginably huge distances of space. The scientific Universe is filled with unbelievably huge and beautiful galaxies and more stars than their are grains of sand on every beach on Earth. What does the Biblical story say? God spent six days creating the Earth and life and (of seemingly little importance) a few stars as well. Gee, how inspiring... not!
What is the strangest thing in the Universe? I believe it is quantum theory. I've talked about some of the bizarre findings of this theory in previous blog entries and most of it just doesn't seem to make sense, yet the predictions of the theory are so good that it must represent at least a close approximation to the way the world really works. What pseudoscience could compare with a theory like this? Nothing I know of.
And examining the details of incidents supporting the paranormal is also fascinating. Its more interesting tracing the errors, incompetence, and dishonesty involved in experiments which support homeopathy than just pretending that some crazy theory involving water remembering vibrations of an active ingredient is true.
Observing and understanding the superb subtlety of a cold reading is better than just accepting some crazy story about spirits. Discovering the tricks used by faith healers is fun. And explaining a UFO siting by comparing the reports of witnesses with what they actually saw is both amusing and worrying.
So I don't think skeptics are curmudgeons at all, although that word might be used to describe the believers in pseudoscience when their beliefs are exposed as nonsense!
Comment 1 (1242) by Anonymous on 2008-03-08 at 17:28:36:
Hey nice try OJB but I can't totally believe everything you say. You seem to be underestimating the value people attach to their faith. All the atheistic skeptics I know are curmudgeons too!
Comment 2 (1257) by OJB on 2008-03-10 at 11:49:36:
No, I'm not really underestimating faith. I have seen people who are deeply immersed in their faith and I don't think they have as much as they think. In fact I think they are missing out on all the good stuff I described above. Look at my comparisons of fact versus myth. Which do you think are really the more inspiring stories?
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