Re: Skepticism - its uses and abuses

From: Mervin Bitikofer <>
Date: Sun Dec 11 2005 - 22:57:52 EST

Iain Strachan wrote:

> ISince 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?
> Iain.
I find it increasingly hard to believe there could even be such a thing
as skepticism that wasn't selective. (What could it possibly look like?
-- since the 'skeptic' must first accept their own rationality & methods
of skepticism.) The internet has a multitude of sights of self-labeled
"free-thinkers" who insist that they consider all the scientific
evidence and choose their views objectively and rationally on that
criteria alone. And then several paragraphs into their "free-thought"
manifesto one often begins to encounter sarcastically edged diatribes
against anything smacking of faith or religion (I'm not implying that
much of their scathing criticism is not well-earned, even true -- even
against Christians) but it seems that "free-thinker" in its common usage
really means one who has a predisposition against truths associated with
tradition or traditional (non-modern) authority.

Didn't Kurt Godel prove (apparently to the satisfaction of
mathematicians & philosophers like Bertrand Russell) that even in
mathematics there will never be complete set of postulates that could
bring all truth (or even just all mathematical truth) under its net?
When we speak of proof in mathematics we still are forced to first
accept a body of postulates (albeit seemingly obvious ones) on faith.
If mathematics demands this axiomatic acceptance -- how much more
science, philosophy, and religion? So when somebody starts in with "I
only accept the facts..." then it seems to me that they've already
uttered one statement of faith before the first 'fact' graced their
audience. I don't hold that against them -- we all have to start
somewhere. But the claim that no faith has been involved betrays (I
think) a certain deficiency of reflective insight.

Regarding psycho semantic ailments, isn't it a scientifically
established that the brain exerts incredible power over our own healing
processes? Having the almost hostile suspicion of pharmaceutical
companies that I already harbor, I am tempted to consider it unethical
to give my children the 'real drug' if the placebo effect would
suffice. Doctor to bedridden patient: "It's a good thing you called me
when you did -- in another day you would have been up and feeling fine."
<< some only see the danger of denial in this -- but I still think it is
a wonderfully humorous insight. (My wife has quite a different outlook.)

If we reassure our children with the words "you'll be okay..." as they
fight off anxieties about this or that and just need to get to sleep,
are we lying to them since we aren't God and don't really know that they
will be okay? Or are we giving a welcome reassurance that they need
from us and that somehow falls within a different level of Truth that
parents are entitled to give? I can see the feared slippery slope in
that, and yet somehow I can't buy into letting a child see only 'factual
realisms' from a parent. That couldn't be healthy could it? This is
why I really appreciate the view of God that is labeled 'Kenotic' in
your paper, George, because I think I have some sensitivity to what my
children are ready for and I like to think God might treat us in the
same way.

Sorry this may have strayed from your dilemma with your friends Iain --
it sounds like you're just doing what any good host would do, catering
to the wishes and even whims of your guests as well as you can within


"A cynic* [skeptic?]* is just a man who found out when he was about ten
that there wasn't any Santa Claus, and he's still upset."
-- James Gould Cozzens
Received on Sun Dec 11 23:03:31 2005

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