Sunday, October 11, 2009

Atheism and skepticism - Are the two connected?

No. Not for one who uses a correct thinking method.

Skepticism is the approach of doubting every single thing available to one's mind and senses.

Using it leads not to knowledge but to the destruction of knowledge. It leads one to become helpless in having certainty even in the existence of something as concrete a wall.

If a full skeptic does not believe in god, it is not the grace of any rational thought, but simply one more instance of doubting. A full skeptic equally doubts the existence of god and the existence of planet earth.

Knowledge is gained by collecting evidence based on observations of reality, forming generalizations, concepts and conclusions based on what one observes. It is a positive process of building one's knowledge, not a negative destruction of it.

You might ask: Isn't it important to be critical in one's thinking? Yes, but using critical thinking and being skeptic are not the same.

Critical thinking is merely a cautious, careful thinking on a topic - to make sure one's conclusions and knowledge are non-contradictory.
It is not the same as skepticism, which means to doubt all the knowledge one has.

If one uses logic and a positive process of collecting evidence, Atheism follows simply because there is no evidence pointing at the existence of god. There is nothing to doubt or reject since one does not form such a conclusion to begin with.

So in conclusion skepticism is not the proper method on which Atheism is reached. Logic is.


10 comments:

  1. Okay...I was planning on reading this article but your cat distracted me.

    Oh man, the mouse got away! I gave it some water anyway.

    Alright back to the article...

    Love that last line!

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  2. If anyone is bothered by the sound of the cat, you can mute it (bottom left of that window).

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  3. You are quite right there. Skepticism is different from Atheism. The former is because of lack of intellectuality and the latter is because of excess of it. Sort of :)

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  4. I think you meant that Skepticism is because of over-intellectuality and Atheism is because of the lack of it? (you wrote it in reverse)

    I think the reason for Skepticism is the prevalent philosophy today. People get the idea (including me at some point) that to seek the truth is to be skeptic of everything. Even very smart and intellectually active people can become skeptic, perhaps more than the intellectually passive.
    However, not every intellectually active person is a Skeptic. It's all a matter of your philosophy (specifically, your epistemology).

    Believing in god is, in my opinion, a matter of convenience for many people, or something they were brought into and never challenged.

    When I was 12 a teacher told my class about the existence of god. And I think this was the first time that I thought of that idea. And I asked him: "if god created the universe, who created god?"
    My mom was passively religious, my dad was an atheist, but they never spoke to me about religion. All I did at the age of 12 was to think logically, and to me it was self evident that "god" is an invention of man.
    And I think this is what many people don't do when it comes to religion - think about it logically.

    So in conclusion I don't think that being intellectually active leads to Skepticism.
    Intellectually active people look around, like everyone else, for a method of thinking, and Skepticism just happens to be there because this is a common idea.

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  5. I must re-label aspects of my approach thinking to accept that skepticism is not positive. I see your point that skepticism is independent of a desirable intellectual approach. For myself, skepticism was my response to ideas presented as truths all around me as a capacity to ponder matters developed (about age 8 or 9). I suppose as happenstance it was that well-meaning (i assume) but irrational adults filled the landscape of my upbringing. More correct, I would hope, was that probably that the rational adults in my environment were there but did not actively engage the children. Anyway, it seemed that skepticism about superstition and the idea that a being outside oneself could read own's thoughts (prayer) led to my atheism. I'm not sure how to reform that to be intellectual activity and not skepticism.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking entry.

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  6. Here is what I think: One needs to make a distinction between rejecting an idea that does not make sense and skepticism.

    I think skepticism came as an answer to the fact that we can make mistakes and unknowingly rely on those mistakes as truths to be used for future conclusions, which is a problem when one attempts to apply or to expand one's knowledge that rests on the mistake. The solution was (I think): "Doubt everything! Don't assume you got things right". On the face of it it sounds good, but it isn't. If one takes this approach seriously one ends up doubting everything, including one's senses and the existence of one's mind.

    The actual process we go through in identifying a mistake is re-examination of the previous process of building that knowledge by going backwards: seeing what premises the error rests on and checking them one by one.

    Like, say I think a bacteria multiplies at a rate of 2 per hour, and at the end of 1 hour I discover that the bacteria I have has not multiplied. So, either the bacteria is dead, or is incapable of reproduction, or I was wrong about the rate. I go back and check each one. But it is not skepticism. It is logic.

    Maybe Skepticism was also an attempt to counter the approach of unconditional acceptance (or being gullible or conformist or self-indulging in one's wishes instead of seeking the truth).
    So I think people made the mistake of concluding that the opposite of such flawed approaches is to doubt everything. These people don't doubt, what is the opposite? To doubt.

    But it's not true - doubting does not build knowledge. It is only good when there is an indication of an error.

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  7. "I think you meant that Skepticism is because of over-intellectuality and Atheism is because of the lack of it? (you wrote it in reverse)"

    I meant the reverse too. In meant it in sense that skeptics are not sure of things. That shows they are not intellectual. Can't think deep and so can't understand. While Atheists are intellectual. They have thought things deeper than "believers" and so they understand that the idea of God which the believers have created is not right. It's just a product of weak human mind. Hope it's clear now :)

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  8. "I meant the reverse too. In meant it in sense that skeptics are not sure of things. That shows they are not intellectual. Can't think deep and so can't understand. While Atheists are intellectual"

    You are making a separation between skeptics and atheists that I don't understand; as if the two cannot exist together in one man. I don't think there is a single Skeptic which is a theist, so they do exist together.
    In any case that's a side point...
    Second point is that I don't think that skeptics are non-intellectual people. I have a friend which is very into thinking and knowledge, but he's partially a skeptic. Point is, I didn't mean to suggest that just because someone uses a wrong method of thinking that he is not intellectual... It is not easy to stay clear from wrong ideas in a culture full of them.

    In any case, thanks for your comments, Darshan. We are likely to see things differently on many topics since I have a lot of background in Objectivism (the philosophy of Ayn Rand) which often has drastically different view-point on things than "conventional wisdom" or widespread ideas.

    So don't let disagreements discourage you, and I hope you'd always feel free to say exactly what you think (including objections). It is the only way to gain knowledge.

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  9. No no... I see. What you said is right. I just reflected "on the surface", or you can say in limited context (for e.g. God alone)... I get your point. They can co-exist perfectly.

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