Bad Astronomy

The skeptical community

My friend, Daniel Loxton, is a skeptic, a writer, and a deep thinker. He has a habit of taking contentious issues and wrestling with them, then writing them out in enough detail that an interesting discussion can ensue. We’ve tussled over one or two topics before, but in general I find myself agreeing with his stance on things.

He’s written a good two-piece article on skepticism. They were inspired by an article written by a believer who is a friend of the skeptic musician George Hrab (Geo’s a friend of mine too). This believer attended a meeting George was at, and wrote a lengthy piece about how he saw the skeptic community. The author said he finds he loves his faith, and while he sees some merit in skepticism, he doesn’t think he’ll ever become a skeptic. He may be right… but I wonder. While some people dismissed his article as being just another mushy-headed piece on faith (some people on Twitter said as much), I actually found his thinking to be heartening. He is just the kind of person who might actually turn to critical thinking given the chance. At the very least, he’s not prejudiced against skeptics, thinking we’re all a bunch of curmudgeonly nay-sayers. That’s a necessary first step. Daniel’s read that article, too, and found an entirely different idea to focus on. His response is broken up into two parts. Part one is about the social nature of skepticism, and part two is about the skeptic community, as well as whether it makes sense for skeptics to analyze their own skeptical methodology – it does, emphatically; and my take on this is on record, and I agree with what Daniel says there… but I’m more interested at the moment on the other point he makes in that second part. Daniel differentiates between active skeptical organizations going out and doing work, versus the social groups which may or may not be a part of those organizations. His point is that whether we like it or not, we’re part of a skeptical community.

I agree. And that’s a really good thing. Skepticism is tough. It can be lonely, and difficult, and have little obvious reward to someone on the outside looking in. It’s a tough sell. But the very fact that we have a community, several communities, means we’re not alone, we can receive and give help to others, and the reward can be the community itself. We can have other goals – and boy howdy do we – but the development of that community can and should be one of them. We are social animals, and we need that sense of community. It’s a good thing we’ve got one.