I’ve got a bit of a confession to make: I’ve had my moments as a larval skeptic, and I’m not out of the chrysalis yet… When I first got into the skeptical movement some three and a half years ago, I was, like anyone involved with something novel and interesting, just a wee bit more excited about it then than I should have been.
In my newbie enthusiasm, I have said things on this blog that I am not particularly fond of recalling, things I no longer agree with which make me cringe when I think about them. Have I dismissed believers as though they were all idiots or lunatics? Have I criticized unfairly? Have I attacked faith itself and not merely taken its excesses to task? In many of my earlier posts, perhaps I have, often without meaning to, and in doing so shamed myself by contributing in my small way to the condemnation of other skeptics to ‘permanent minority status,’ as Carl Sagan once put it.
I have, over time, acquired a much more comprehensive view of those who espouse certain… non-scientific doctrines and concepts, and they are at least as diverse as skeptics, and almost certainly more common.
As a former religionist, I do not consider religion itself to be the evil that the so-called New Atheists make it out to be. There are far too many people I know, good, caring people who practice a religion or spiritual tradition, Old or New Age, who are not zealots. Many are steadfast supporters of science and reason, and express opposition to religious extremism in politics. These are people who I think the world of, who have done nothing but wish me well in my endeavors. Certainly they and the traditions they practice deserve more respect than I’ve given.
Regardless of its benefits and drawbacks, its gems and its warts, religion will be with us for some time, though individual traditions may rise and fall with the march of history. It is not my place to take away from people that from which they draw solace. I restrict myself to commenting upon its fallacies and excesses. Faith in moderation is not the enemy — my problem is with extremism.
As a former paranormal believer, I do not wish to dismiss those who still are as universally crazy or stupid — there are many brilliant, articulate, sane and well-educated believers in the paranormal and fringe-topics. While this alone does not validate their beliefs as true, nor their views correct, it does mean that I need to treat them with respect as individuals, and avoid hasty generalizations of them in my commentary. If one cannot respect those one disagrees with and even criticizes, one is not a skeptic, but a bigot.
In my experience, many of the paranormal and fringe-science proponents I’ve dealt with play by different rules of logic and evidence, some with none at all that I can discern, and these discussions are rarely constructive — often we have wound up talking through each other instead of to each other. But some employ the same thought-processes and reasoning as I, and these discussions have been enriching to say the least. Not all believers come from Mars.
It has sometimes been frustrating to me, and at other times instructive, but in any case it’s something to learn from, and illuminating with the insights it imparts and clues it reveals about the thought-processes of some believers. I’m not psychic — I can’t get inside peoples’ heads and read their minds directly, and I don’t know of anyone who really can — but I can learn a bit on how they think by listening to what they say, online and in person…
…And this blog is at its heart a learning experience — so learn is what I’ll continue to do. Fnord.