What is skepticism?
Skepticism is the act of being initially doubting of claims. The term on its own can be used in any fashion. e.g “I am sceptical of evolution”, but this usage does not mean you are a “skeptic”(with a k). When referring to a “skeptic” or the skeptical movement we are invoking the philosophy coined by Carl Sagan, “Scientific skepticism”.
What is a Skeptic?
Well what is a skeptic exactly? A skeptic is an individual who approaches every claim with a degree of scepticism proportional to its plausibility. They use the basis of science, the scientific method, to analyse objectively each issue they encounter so as to come to a conclusion that is most supported by the evidence. For example, when confronting the issue of Intelligent Design (ID), a skeptic would look at the overall evidence for and against evolution and ID and come to a conclusion based on the evidence.
Here is the definition of what a skeptic is by Dr. Steven Novella of The New England Skeptics,
A skeptic is one who prefers beliefs and conclusions that are reliable and valid to ones that are comforting or convenient, and therefore rigorously and openly applies the methods of science and reason to all empirical claims, especially their own. A skeptic provisionally proportions acceptance of any claim to valid logic and a fair and thorough assessment of available evidence, and studies the pitfalls of human reason and the mechanisms of deception so as to avoid being deceived by others or themselves. Skepticism values method over any particular conclusion.
It is because of this embedded moral value of materialistic and physical science that skeptics find themselves in a position to “debunk” or examine pseudo-scientific claims (psychics, mediums, homeopathy, UFO sightings etc.)
What a Skeptic is not!
A common misconception by non-skeptics is to define skeptics as “atheists”. This is not the case; skeptics are not atheists by default. Skeptics can be of any religious denomination but due to skeptics being generally dubious of topics that hold no evidence they tend to lean towards an atheistic view of the universe. Skeptics do not set out to “debunk” religion as this is a job that is very large in scale and not necessarily related to scepticism as a movement. It is only when religious ideas such as faith healing or mediums make an appearance that a skeptic should step in.
Skeptics are also seen as greying, bearded old men, this is not the case either. Many people heavily involved in the skeptics movement are very young, and the numbers of young people interested in scepticism are growing! Are you one of them?