De omnibus dubitandum
2 Jan 2013
The journey of my perspective on life has been a long one. As a baby I was baptised, which made me officially catholic until that church’s depraved teachings and endeavours disgusted me too much and I had myself stricken from the catholic register a few years ago.
I’d become an atheist long before then, though not after trying to find spiritual truth in a range of different areas, including christianity and what are termed ‘New Age’ beliefs.
None of those attempts at spiritual fulfilment stuck, because they all depend in large part on a suspension of disbelief that I was simply incapable of making. They all required me to abandon evidence and simply believe in something, despite a total and utter lack of proof.
I call myself a skeptic nowadays, and that moniker will likely stick for a while. I realise though that not everyone understands what a skeptical perspective on life actually means – or, specifically, what I take it to mean.
For me, to be a skeptic is to always be critical of any assumption. This applies mostly to spiritual beliefs, but extends to pretty much everything in life. As the motto goes, ‘de omnibus dubitandum‘ – everything is to be doubted.
This means that when a preacher appeals to God, when an energy healer describes auras and chants, or when a homeopath argues that water has memory, these claims should be scrutinised. Does it make sense? Is there any proof? If so, is that proof verifiable? Does the proof originate from a reliable source?
Of course, there are limits to how you can express your skepticism. In extremis, skepticism leads to solipsism, which is a rather untenable philosophy. At some level we have to accept a source’s claim and trust in their legitimacy and authority.
For me, that source is the scientific method. Science is seen by many as this big monolithic entity delivering grand truths from high above (not unlikely dogmatic religion, come to think of it), often accompanied by visualisations of high-tech laboratories and grey-haired bespectacled men in white lab coats.
But science is, at its core, a state of mind. Science is about enquiry and exploration. We all practice science almost every single day, whenever we seek evidence for something and want proof instead of accepting someone’s claim at face value.
More than that, we reap the rewards of scientific progress every single moment of our lives. Things as basic as electricity, running water, medicine and the food we eat, are all the results of science. Our modern lives would be utterly impossible were it not for science.
Science is not a novel invention. Humankind has been doing scientific research at its most basic level for as long as we’ve been using tools. Science – i.e. discovery through experiment and reason – truly is the driving force of human progress.
Also, most importantly, science is anti-dogmatic. Science does not claim absolute truths. The results of science are theories, and they’re called theories for a very good reason. Science doesn’t provide definitive answers, it merely argues the most likely answer, and that answer can – and does – change depending on the evidence.
Science goes where the evidence leads. There are no uncontested truths in science. For example we currently think the universe is 13.7 billion years old because that’s what the evidence suggests. Should there be strong evidence to contradict that, then we’ll change our minds and consider different ages for the universe.
For me, science is the authority in which I place my trust. Science is the most accurate description of reality we have, and has brought progress and enlightenment to the human condition. I trust in the critical evidence-driven approach of modern science to deliver the best answers we can currently acquire.
Science alone is not enough, of course. Science is an uncaring discipline centred on logic and evidence. The human condition is so much more, which is why my skeptic’s motto includes another element: empathy.
We all know what empathy is, so I won’t elaborate much on it. Suffice to say that empathy is what makes us care about others and fuels our altruistic efforts.
For me, empathy provides the emotional ingredient of my skeptical outlook on life. I care about what happens to other people, therefore I strive to contribute – however modestly – to the welfare of others.
So, to summarise, my skeptic’s motto is founded on three pillars: critical thinking, science, and empathy.
I strive to implement these concepts in my every day life, and I hope the wider world similarly embraces these concepts as I truly believe they will help make this an increasingly better world.