Categorized | Science and Tech

The Skeptic Trap

Posted on 07 March 2012 by Thraxxus

I had an epiphany a while back about being a skeptic and what that really means. I can’t recall, in my old age, if I shared that epiphany or not so I decided to again here. Without further ado – The Skeptic Trap (btw I am a card carrying skeptic).


The thing about being a skeptic is the first thing you do when presented with something is to question its validity. Note this is not actually the same thing as the scientific method being applied, albeit we’d hope that it is. No, a skeptic’s first approach is to doubt anything and everything – in effect it is not true until it is proven true. Therein lies the trap.

What proof does a skeptic need to actually believe in something? Consider Christianity for a moment. Christians believe that Jesus is the son of god, that he died for our sins, blah blah. Skeptics believe that he is not the son of god, and most believe that chances are there was never a Jesus to begin with. Fair enough, considering there is no body, no proof no nadda. In effect that is the cornerstone to the argument presented by Skeptics – Prove it.
The trap in that scenario is this: what would proof all that Jesus business? Say some guy with a beard, in a cloak, with sandals walked on water and turned that water upon which he was walking into wine. Is that proof? Chances are, no. The skeptic would attempt to find a scientific reason for this. Surely this man is doing a trick? Perhaps he has invented science that we know nothing of. Anything but admitting that the dude standing there is actually Jesus.
So in effect the very logic that skeptics use to debunk everything also creates a trap as most skeptics, me included, truly have no idea what would be “proof” of the things that we scoff at.
Think about it. Think about stuff that you have gone “PSHEAH!” at. Then ask yourself, what proof would make me believe?
Congrats. You, like me brother, are trapped.

3 Comments For This Post

  1. neuroguy Says:

    This is a thought-provoking post. And I agree… at least to the point of the power law… 80% agreement. Skeptical thinking is a complex undertaking. As humans we fall prey to human cognition confounds, such as; recency, unconscious skews, conscious biases, transient moods, etc., etc. Neuroscience is just now catching up to skeptical thought. Religiosity can be mapped on the cerebral cortex. Lying can be identified through micro-expressions. Love can be determined through a blood sample (no… not what you think… I’m referring to hormones). Truth is becoming something that can be determined to a finite degree of… truth.

    As a “PSHEAH!” club member, I still have trouble with that which cannot be classified or studied, carefully theorized or tested. I’ve a membership to the Skeptics Society and have gotten into nasty debates with trolls on their site. What, mind you, is my point? Damn it, I forget. But nonetheless, this is a great post and as I stated earlier – it should be classified as an axiom and not an epiphany! But we can debate that tomorrow.

  2. Thraxxus Says:

    I am skeptical of your statement that you agree with this post even 80%!!


    (I want to get that on a T-Shirt now. The next company I make might be called that.)

  3. ZAMan Says:

    I’m not sure I’d say most people skeptical of Christianity doubted Jesus ever -existed-. That’s a pretty radical position. The only evidence we have that Socrates existed is that Plato said he did, and while scholars might debate whether or not Socrates said everything Plato attributed to him, not too many people are actually saying he didn’t exist. I mean, no habeus corpus is a criticism you can apply to virtually every ancient historical figure ever.

    I think most people skeptical of Christianity are more skeptical about the claims about what Jesus said and did.

    Anyway, that was a total side note. What I really wanted to say is that the great thing about this article is that you point out a fundamental key to these discussions: we all individually decide what “counts” as proof.

    If an atheist sees a glowing angel in his bedroom at night, is this going to compel belief? Probably not. She’ll probably start looking for the projector or wonder what she ate earlier in the day that’s causing this hallucination.

    This phenomenon actually happens in the Bible itself:

    “Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” – John 12:28-29

    Exact same empirical phenomenon – two totally different conclusions.

    This is why I think most debate around these issues is a waste of time. Usually, both sides are insisting on criteria for proof that the other side can’t meet. If there’s any profit in these kinds of discussions at all, it’s usually not around the “proof,” but around the presuppositions that define what we consider to be proof.

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