Skepticism - its uses and abuses

From: Iain Strachan <>
Date: Sun Dec 11 2005 - 12:29:30 EST

I'm writing on a new topic that I hope will provoke some useful discussion.

I'm sure we're all aware as scientists that we always need to evaluate data
and theories critically, and to beware of falling into the trap of believing
what we want to believe.

I'm writing this against the background of the trouble a couple of my
Christian friends are in. I'm kind of closely involved having been the
"best man" at their wedding. The wife has very bad depression, for which
nothing seemed to work, and so as a couple, they sought the help of
"alternative medicine" to try and treat her symptoms (some of which are
physical). Since then, she has not got better, but has got steadily worse,
being convinced, because one of these "alternative" doctors told her so that
she is sensitive to electric fields, resulting in the fact that she's put
herself beyond the help of her friends because she won't come into your
house unless you unplug all the electrical appliances at the mains, and she
won't walk with you unless you switch your mobile phone off. Everything in
my understanding of science tells me that this is all bunk. However, the
most helpful websites that support my view come from self-styled "Skeptics",
notably the best one being which does a lot of
debunking of alternative medicine (in fact most of the treatments that she
has had). However, I find that quackwatch is linked to the so-called
"skeptic ring" of internet sites, many of which like to bash Christianity
(and not just the creationist kind).

This kind of makes me uneasy - one has to be skeptical to a degree about
these things, especially when it comes to health matters as there are a lot
of people out there who want to make money out of you and will feed you any
old pseudo-scientific gobbledegook. But at the same time, it seems to me
that skeptics want to blow everything away. Another very useful site is, a Skeptic's dictionary, which has lots of useful stuff about
the placebo effect etc. But it also dismisses things like glossalalia
(speaking in tongues) as a load of rubbish as well, and I don't know how I
feel about that.

I guess what I'm saying is why can't one be skeptical but selectively so -
the package seems to be that you have to be critical of everything, and
corrode away faith and everything else.

What do other people think?


After the game, the King and the pawn go back in the same box.
- Italian Proverb
Received on Sun Dec 11 12:32:27 2005

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