FLORIDA, April 22, 2013 — Scientific skepticism is a well-known concept. Why is it so important during this day and age?
Many people fear that science is answering too many questions too quickly. What can be said about this idea? Mythology often finds a greater degree of popularity than scientific conclusions do. Is there a reason for this?
Despite the fact that it offers reasonable explanations for complex questions, modern science is often the subject of derision. Can this be explained?
Whether they should be rooted in theism or politics, various ideologies often attract droves of willing participants searching for a universal truth of some kind. In the long run, what does this do to any given society?
Michael Shermer is one of our time’s foremost scientific skeptics, as well as the founder of Skeptic Magazine. He has devoted much of his career to raising public awareness about the human condition; specifically how many of its more puzzling aspects can be explained through rational means.
In this first part of our discussion, Dr. Shermer answers the questions mentioned above.
Joseph F. Cotto: Scientific skepticism is a well-known concept. Why, in your view, is it so important during this day and age?
Dr. Michael Shermer: Because it is better to live in a reality-based worldview than a faith-based (or superstition-based) worldview. Plus, for a liberal democracy to work we need informed voters, but not just informed—they need to know how to think critically. That is, not just what to think, but HOW to think. That is what scientific skepticism is all about—knowing how to think about claims, how to test hypotheses, how to challenge ideas fairly and objectively.
Cotto: Many people fear that science is answering too many questions too quickly. What is your opinion regarding this idea?
Dr. Shermer: Oh? What is the right pace of answering questions? Should we go slower in trying to answer questions about cancer? About gun violence? About alternative energy sources? If anything we are going to slowly, but science is by nature conservative because so many ideas turn out to be wrong.
Cotto: Mythology often finds a greater degree of popularity than scientific conclusions do. In your view, is there a reason for this?
Dr. Shermer: Mythology (and its cousin religion) are only more popular in certain areas. When it comes to, say, medical treatment, almost everyone in the industrial West still favors going to a medical doctor instead of a witch doctor. You should me someone who prefers mythology at 35,000 feet and I’ll show you a hypocrite.
Cotto: Despite the fact that it offers reasonable explanations for complex questions, modern science is often the subject of derision. From your perspective, can this be explained?
Dr. Shermer: Derision only comes from a few corners: religious fundamentalists on one extreme and academic postmodernists on the other extreme. I have debunked them both thoroughly and they are not worth bothering about unless they try to influence education and politics, which they occasionally do, so we monitor their activities and respond when necessary; otherwise they are best ignored for the ignorance they portray.
They reject science because it is open-ended and they already know the truth.
Cotto: Whether they should be rooted in theism or politics, various ideologies often attract droves of willing participants searching for a universal truth of some kind. In the long run, what do you think that this does to any given society?
Dr. Shermer: Extremist ideologies can attract droves of followers, but in the long run they do not survive. Moderate politics is in it for the long haul, which is why no terrorist organization in half a century of attempts has ever overrun a state. In fact, studies show that 95% of the time terrorists fail to achieve even one of their objectives.
Far-left? Far-right? Get real: Read more from “The Conscience of a Realist” by Joseph F. Cotto
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