Re: Skepticism - its uses and abuses

From: Michael Roberts <>
Date: Sun Dec 11 2005 - 14:52:16 EST

Surely we need to be critical rather than sceptical in everything in the sense of testing everything.

However as I am sure you would approve, you cannot prove anything except maths and that is theoretical and not concrete. As a rider to that, is our concept of absolute proof getting us into a mess with everything?

What about a missionary doctor I knew who gave patients an injection of a saline solution because the patient KNEW it would make them better. Almost quackmedicine but it worked.

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Iain Strachan
  To: asa
  Sent: Sunday, December 11, 2005 5:29 PM
  Subject: Skepticism - its uses and abuses

  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 14:59:19 2005

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