I once subscribed to something called Skeptic Magazine, in hopes that it would enlighten me on what the other side was thinking. I assumed it would be advocacy of an anti-religious viewpoint. There’s certainly no dearth of that around, however, so why, you might wonder, would I be interested in this particular magazine?
It was because of the name. I had an idea that it would promote a stunted view of what skepticism actually is, and boy was I right. If you’re going to say you’re a “skeptic,” that self-description only has meaning when referencing the thing you’re skeptical of, doesn’t it? I mean, you can be skeptical of claims of alien abduction or bigfoot or holocaust deniers, but how can someone just be a skeptic in the abstract? Isn’t that like the sound of one hand clapping?
Plenty of people are skeptical of the claims of Christianity: that God is real and that He manifested as a man, in history, to redeem a fallen world to Himself. I get it that one can be skeptical of those claims. Being a “skeptic” has meaning, in that context, because the target of the skepticism is identified.
But if someone says they’re a skeptic in the abstract, what is the thing they’re skeptical of? If someone is going to be skeptical in general, and therefore skeptical of Christianity in particular, why wouldn’t they also be skeptical of atheism in particular? Why wouldn’t the self-described “skeptic” just as readily be a skeptic of the atheist view of reality? If you’ve read my blogs at all, you know I think that atheism has a lot more explaining to do than does Christianity. So why wouldn’t a skeptic-in-the-abstract demand the explanation, in satisfaction of his skepticism?
Because their advocacy of anti-religion employs deceit. By leaving out any reference to the object of one’s skepticism, we’re encouraged to believe that Christianity alone makes claims; that other points of view are neutral and therefore not amenable to skepticism. That is a falsehood.
The so-called Skeptic Society provides an example. Its founder, Michael Schermer, was interviewed by Angela Wolfe in the Wall Street Journal’s “weekend confidential” column in its Review section, on September 2nd. He says the Skeptic Society is dedicated to “promoting critical thinking and lifelong inquisitiveness.” Well if we stop there, who could argue with that? I’m all for critical thinking. It’s what you and I are engaged in right this minute. We don’t just accept claims as true without examining them. And when we examine them, we should examine them from scratch, rather than making a priori assumptions that limit our inquiry.
But then Shermer went on to say that “the burden of proof is on the person making the claim.” Well hang on. Why do I have to prove Christianity is true? Why doesn’t an atheist have to prove materialism is true? Each claim is the opposite of the other. If I don’t prove Christianity is true, why is the opposing claim presumed true? Why is materialism the default? Why aren’t we to be skeptical of that? Schermer is pridefully saying he’s a critical thinker, but he’s not. He’s only a critical thinker about one side of a two-sided debate. Schermer is proud of the label “skeptic.” So proud that in his picture for the article, he wears a pin with that one word. But he’s selectively skeptical. To my mind, that means he’s not really skeptical at all. He’s skeptical of religion, but he’s not skeptical of materialism, the point of view he necessarily adopts when he rejects religion.
And he ought to be. According to the materialist paradigm, something came from nothing; people have no agency and no responsibility; there is no meaning to life and no purpose; there is no basis for humility nor gratitude. There is not even an explanation for this drive we have for truth, which is invoked in our skepticism! The anti-religious claim should be subjected to the same skepticism as everything else. If it were, it would not sustain the burden that the Schermers of the world say it must.
Let’s be skeptical, and let’s be critical thinkers. But let’s go all the way with it, and not allow groups like the “Skeptic Society” to use deception and muddled thinking to lead us around by the nose.