Sheldrake on Skepticism

I disagree with the end of the penutimate paragraph, for a variety of reasons, but I quite like this piece on Skepticism/Scepticism, by Rupert Sheldrake.

In practice, the goal of skepticism is not the discovery of truth, but the exposure of other people’s errors. It plays a useful role in science, religion, scholarship, and common sense. But we need to remember that it is a weapon serving belief or self-interest; we need to be skeptical of skeptics. The more militant the skeptic, the stronger the belief.

Yes, very good; now back to work, Skeptics

The most recent eSkeptic is a pat on the back for Skeptics everywhere in regard to their continued scepticism in re 9/11 Conspiracy Theories. I read it and I have to say that I thought ‘What the?’ for two biggish reasons.

1). The article assumes sceptics are skeptics.

Now, I tend to use ‘Skeptic’ to refer to the American variety, usually affiliated with Dr. Michael Shermer and (my sponsor) ‘The Amazing’ James Randi. There are other varieties, but usually, if I write ‘sceptic’ then I’m just talking about people with sceptical positions, some of which will be full-blown philosophical sceptics and others sceptical in one area, credulous in another, et al. The problem with the article, as I see it, is that it assumes people sceptical of 9/11 Conspiracy Theories are Skeptics.

This might be unfair, on my part; the article does focus a lot of attention on the Popular Mechanics article-turned-book and talks Shermer has given, and these are very definitely skeptical outcomes, but the other strand of argumentation, that skeptics everywhere have pounced upon 9/11 deniers’ websites and winnowed them down to nothing, seems to rely merely on the ambiguity between ‘skeptic’ and ‘sceptic.’ Not every sceptic is a skeptic; for instance, I’m a sceptic who is sceptical of beliefs held by skeptics…

(For a more nuanced look at the role of scepticism, in re 9/11 denial, I’d recommend taking a look at Steve Clarke’s ‘Conspiracy Theories and the Internet: Controlled Demolition and Arrested Development’ from the ‘Episteme’ special issue on Conspiracy Theories. My summary of it is here. Basically, people are sceptical of wacky claims on the internet and sometimes not for principled reasons whatsoever…)

2). It’s all very well being skeptical of 9/11 Conspiracy Theories but really, get with the programme. If this is your great success story, your ‘pat on the back’ moment,’ then it’s also a tacit admission that the Skeptics have, by and large, failed in their ability to pull it together in regard to applying their skepticism towards Climate Change Denial Conspiracy Theories. The Skeptics (well, some of their leading figures) have come late to the realisation that anthropogenic climate change is a reality and there is still some infighting in their ranks about the issue. If they really want to have a good reason to get together and hug each other, then this is the one to look towards.