Why Skepticism Should Be Practiced: Addressing A Recent Critique

Stanley Fish wrote an excellent article in a recent NYT on the limits of reason in fulfillment of man’s desire for spiritual significance. It is excellent because it is well-written and revealing, not that it is right. In the last line lies the revelation: “There is still something missing (from secular humanism).”

The logic of his article, through judicious use of the writings of philosophers is as follows:

  1. Science is aimless and without moral bearings.
  2. Since reason is the bedrock of humanism and science, it offers insufficient guidance in the world.
  3. Moderation is where science guides the workings of man and religion is used to buttress the despair that our science and technology brings us. I think he’s inferring that there is increasing evidence through science that we’re finite beings and there is no such phenomena as immortal souls and gods.
  4. The two sides, religion and secularism, remain opposed and as of now, combining the two isn’t working.
  5. Secular reason probably can’t be saved, because people feel “there is still something missing” from it.

The entire point of science, skepticism, and other forms of independent thought, is to attack the argument “You can’t prove that it doesn’t exist.” The first read-around, I swear he wrote the following phrase, and taking his logic to its conclusion, he infers “The metaphysical and spiritual beliefs of humanity exist because we feel something is missing. You can’t disprove that this feeling isn’t significant, so secularism won’t last. *Owned secularists!” Well, you can’t disprove treelobsters don’t exist either, therefore they must. How can you argue with such master debaters! I have a feeling this is going to be a series of posts. Yes, yes probably.

Skepticism, a sibling approach to science and a cousin of secularism, is a tough thing to keep up. If you’re well-read and the least bit curious, you’re going to form opinions, sometimes so strongly that they become biases you feel are truths. I thought health care reform was important, so I started blogging about the truths, as I can verify, of the debate. Admittedly, I found myself strongly skeptical of arguments against the bill, because by all indicators health care seemed necessary to reform and there were only the votes to do it in one way. The reforms were based off a Romney-Massachusetts plan that was containing costs better than the national system, was politically pragmatic, and the only tools we have available to analyze the bill said it would do positive things to the budget and the state of national health care. In this way, I was biased in how I presented information, because I believed these things.

I wasn’t trying to find truth to anything personally metaphysical, nor was I trying to make sense of my place in the universe, but the reality that we as a society created regarding our health care – that it was getting worse and needed to be fixed in a way politically feasible. It was pretty easy, we’ve been recording and studying how we behave with health for many years. You just have to want to find out about it and those who do pretty much reached the same conclusion I did: it needed to be fixed and there are only a couple ways to do it.

It seems that the farther back from your own life you step, the more truths you can grasp without too much trouble. I know the chemical properties that make up my body, the physics as they affect my body on Earth. I know the backdrop of my reality very well. So do all who have HS diploma in any developed society. Truth as a concept is not something you can deny: gravity won’t stop pressing you to the center of the larger mass and the quack of a duck does echo – really. It’s the metaphysical things that shake people up and make them less reasonable – that is to say, less willing to challenge their assumptions.

And it’s the metaphysical reality of your own soul that gets people downright un-skeptical, incurious. We all want to keep on living, and when you think about it – the threat of not existing is pretty much the scariest thing conceivable – so many people simply deny that dying with your body is possible. Since we all fear not existing, we all have a built-in bias against evidence that this occurs on death.

Fish’s belief that humanism misses something from what it can’t know, the spiritual-divine-Santa Claus, so it cannot last, is such postmodern bullshit.  **The term itself, postmodernism, shows you just how dead and impossibly stupid the movement is. It can’t even describe itself as a value outside the chronology of past thought movements. Post-reason maybe? Insanism? (Kidding) ** He writes “Postmodernism announces (loudly and often) that a supposedly neutral, objective rationality is always a construct informed by interests it neither acknowledges nor knows nor can know.” Postmodernism is a method teenagers employ for arguing. “I’m different than you, because we want different things, so let me not do my homework” “You just can’t understand” or “You’re just afraid I’ll make the same mistakes you did.” Any smart teenager would use this, because most adults would pause to analyze its validity. It remains petty and immature regardless.

Because as I mentioned above, we all have biases, but it’s the proclivity of postmodernism to use this as a wimpy negation tool against a philosophical challenge. Of course I don’t know what I don’t know, it’s how we deal with what we don’t know that separates the secularists and skeptics from the spiritualists and religious.

Skepticism is amorphous, it’s really just approaching things by questioning assumptions. Secular humanism is certainly tied to this movement, because it questions the assumptions of religious-based institutions, and science is where smart and patient people go to practice skepticism. Science and skepticism share one thing that makes this whole argument mute. It demands positive evidence. That is it’s objective. Follow the evidence that lets you prove something exists.

The objective of the metaphysical has always been to prove what can’t be proven, because it exists “beyond” the human experience to analyze – whatever that is. So is the secular-science-skeptic approach going to fail because it seeks neutrality and strict objectivity from real life? No because that’s not what it is. Maybe Enlightenment thinkers espoused too strongly the goal of neutrality, but at their hearts, skepticism and science are about the neutrality of the result. Go where the positive evidence, the things you can prove, takes you. Believe what you want along the way.

There is not enough positive evidence on immortality for me to say comfortably that we’re all gone come the time our brain stops shooting electrical charges, but I think there’s enough that we should stop killing each other and doing stupid things like dying from overdoses and unnecessary risks.

Why can’t Fish admit that we feel something is missing because life doesn’t have a purpose, and the basis of religions are groundless regardless of how sad it makes us feel?

That will be Part 2, coming next unless someone does something inane in the meantime.

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