Skeptics and Closed Minds

Skeptic: A person inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions.

A Little History

I have been accused of having a closed mind, because I mentioned that I think astrology is bunk. A closed mind, really? I’m the ultimate skeptic, which is the opposite of being closed-minded. I was raised to be Roman Catholic. At sixteen I left the Church and essentially became an atheist. I did that because I was finally able to think clearly enough to see the contradictions in what I was taught, not because I shut down my thinking. If I had quit thinking about it so much, I might have stayed in the Church.

Since I no longer had a predetermined set of beliefs, I investigated many things over the following years. I learned a little about Druids and witchcraft, Tarot cards, astrology, and several more or less legitimate religious sects. At the age of 36, I was compelled by circumstances to understand that I had been biased in the way I interpreted the Bible, in reaction to my upbringing; and not long after that I had a born-again experience, and joined an evangelical church. That worked pretty well for me for some time, even though I never agreed with all the doctrine I was expected to believe.

Over the past several years, I have been seriously reexamining my beliefs, eventually arriving at my present position as a natural humanist. I now disregard anything supernatural, not because I refuse to consider it, but because, in considering everything, I have seen no indication that the supernatural is real.

Positive Skepticism

I think my friends may get confused by the negative quality of the definition of “skeptic.” I tend to disbelieve things that most others accept. Considering that alone, you might assume that I don’t even look into things I disagree with, or that I ignore what I don’t like or don’t understand. That is the opposite of the truth. When something seems wrong to me, I can’t leave it alone—I have to poke at it and figure it out. I have to compare it to my experience, and to whatever expertise I can find about anything that relates to it.

I have in fact said that I don’t believe in anything. I mean that in the religious sense, that I don’t have a religious faith in anything. There is a difference between believing something is true, and believing in something. I believe that Muhammad was probably a real person and a charismatic leader. I don’t trust in Muhammad as my ultimate spiritual guide—I don’t believe in him. If I became aware of something that definitively showed Muhammad to be the prophet of Allah, I would believe accordingly. Since I only believe things on the basis of evidence, if better evidence comes along, I am free to change my mind.

All the Way

According to the “true believers” I have known, you don’t really believe unless you buy in completely. You have to accept the whole package, then you will be given (divinely, I guess) whatever it is that goes along with that faith. You will receive feelings of universal unity, belonging and forgiveness, or psychic gifts, like healing or precognition. You may not see any objective evidence of those gifts, but that’s not too important. The emphasis is always on subjective reality. Other believers relate their personal experiences, and listen patiently to your history. Yes, they say, that’s what I went through, that’s what I thought when I was being deceived by the evil spirits.

Though I was a skeptic by nature, I bought into several of these worldviews. It is tempting, emotionally, especially if your childhood wasn’t perfect (and whose was?), and you are looking for meaning in life. The believers are happy and devoted to a cause, and they are friendly and open about their beliefs and feelings. And you can tell that they are sincere. They really believe.

I was never able to fully achieve that complete, unquestioning faith. Never. Not because I didn’t want to, oh, I wanted to in the worst way. No, I think there is some structure in the brain of the true believer that enables him or her to believe something without any good evidence. Whatever that is, I lack it. I have to have a reason to believe something, a reason that makes sense. “My world would be empty and meaningless if I didn’t believe” is not good enough.

Does that make me closed-minded? Not at all. I have tried and discarded many beliefs, and then returned to some of them after I rethought things. The more experience I gain, the more ideas there are that I have examined from all angles, and understand well enough to determine their value, or lack of value.

Feel free to use whatever system works for you to make sense of the world. If astrology helps you organize your thoughts and deal with people, use it. If the Greek pantheon helps you better understand the mysteries of the universe, use that. Just don’t assume that your personal attachment to those things makes them real in the outside world.

 Title image credit: The Henderson Group.

6 thoughts on “Skeptics and Closed Minds

  1. Millions of people believe all sorts of silly things. I gave up astrology because it involves too much math.You should try Tarot cards, if you can shuffle, you have all the skills you need.

    Claims in science that are found to be false are thrown out, unlike claims in matters of faith. That’s the difference. Astrology has gotten more complicated, but, unlike medicine or rocket science, it has not gotten more reliable or effective. If you mean that astrology works in people’s lives by making them feel good, you’re right.

    Message me some links on Unity Consciousness, maybe I’ll do a post on it. Or do your own post, and I’ll comment.

  2. Millions of people believe astrology works in their lives. What you mean is that Astrology has not been verified empirically. How can you empirically test empiricism? If you look at all the claims that have been made using the empiricist method, there would be as many false ones as made around astrology.

    You are right about people abusing others for profit as being harmful, but this doesn’t actually condemn the tools they use for manipulation.

    We should have an in depth discussion about Unity Consciousness, I have began to write a lengthy paper on the subject, and your are a reflective fellow.

    I agree about the faith aspect. Firstly, I think faith has more to do with the way you act than your beliefs. Unity consciousness is something to be directly experienced. It is functional, empowering, and blissful. It certainly conforms to any empirical evidence you could present. Not only that, but the concept is thousands of years old, and M-theory is now validating it’s mechanics.

  3. “Right, so by that logic someone is justified in believing in astrology because it has worked in them?”
    No, because astrology has never been shown to work. If you are saying that there is another method of investigation that works as well as the scientific method, then tell me about it. I would be interested in that, but you will have to demonstrate that it works.

    My point about money is that astrology, Tarot cards, and palm reading in themselves might be entertaining diversions, but the fact that practitioners con people out of money makes them harmful. This also applies to quacks and many of the medical drugs that are sold.

    Subjective and objective are both aspects of reality, not of each other. I don’t know of any reliable way to interpret the symbolism of dreams. It’s interesting, but not useful.

    I don’t know if I am atheist with regard to your Unity Consciousness. I need a better definition. I am atheistic to most gods, as is everyone, I think. I don’t think it is possible for anyone to have perfect faith in something without evidence, they can only pretend to believe. But there are different levels of evidence.

  4. To be frank Steven, I try to reflect on my beliefs and how they correspond to my experience every day. I do my best to test the things I believe against my experience and constantly hold my beliefs under scrutiny.

    //I am skeptical about empiricism. I rely on it because it works, not for any philosophical reasoning. If something comes along that works better, I’ll use that.//

    Right, so by that logic someone is justified in believing in astrology because it has worked in them?

    Your point about people making a quick buck of astrology doesn’t have anything to do with astrology itself. The same argument could be applied to pharmaceutical companies who use chemicals to make absurd profits off of peoples illness’ arguable perpetuating more illness in order to make even more money. Does this invalidate chemistry? No, in fact it validates it.

    Now I do agree with you that when people are motivated by money, what ever they are doing usually can be considered bunk.

    You are mixing terms when you say subjective reality isn’t objective. It is simply an aspect of objective reality, not objective reality itself. As we’ve discussed before, given your determinist view of human behavior and consciousness, those dreams absolutely do correspond to the reality “outside” of your head. The connection is in the causes. The problem is that you are trying to look at the content of the dreams directly instead of symbolically as some manifestation of your “outer” reality.

    You bring up a mistake I made in my first comment. Unity Consciousness lacks nothing, and therefore it has no wants or desires. A much clearer way for me to make my statement would be: Unity Consciousness enjoys your happiness, and would have you fully realize your creative potential, if that is what you choose to do.

    Again, given that you rely on empiricism simply because “it works” means that you haven’t truly questioned every judgement you hold.

    Here’s something every atheist who believes in the scientific method needs to do. Come up with the most logical conceptualization of God they can, and test that against their experience honestly. If an atheists hasn’t done that, they can hardly call themselves an atheist.

    If they are an agnostic, I think they should question the concept of agnosticism as fervently as they question other positions. If that doesn’t bring them to the realization that although their perspective is limited, their beliefs don’t have to be, well then they should come have a talk with me.

  5. Thanks for your comments, Tyler.
    I do indeed call astrology bunk, because there is no good evidence that it does what it claims to do. In fact, studies show no correlation between “time twins,” people born within minutes of each other, at the same location. When practitioners use unfounded tradition or myth to earn money from gullible clients, the practice becomes worthy of the term bunk.

    I am skeptical about empiricism. I rely on it because it works, not for any philosophical reasoning. If something comes along that works better, I’ll use that.

    Of course subjective experience is part of reality, but it’s not objective, by definition. Your subjective experience is real, but I can’t observe it. It is valid for what it is. I wouldn’t expect you to accept that what I say is true on the basis of my dreams or my imagination. My dreams are real, but they don’t necessarily correspond to what is outside my head.

    I agree that there is some kernel of truth in mythology, otherwise the myths would all die out. Many of them have, as we have discovered more about how the world really works. Nonetheless, a myth can be helpful in dealing with things we don’t understand.

    There is no way to falsify a subjective truth. That makes it impossible to verify. I don’t know what the Unity Consciousness, or Allah, or Jehovah, or the Brahma want. I think it unlikely that such entities exist. I think it is up to us to determine reasons for being here. I agree with your last sentence. I suggest you apply that in your own life.

  6. Your first statement reveals your closed mind. This is the closed-mindedness I often find skeptics possessing. If you were truly a skeptic, you would not allow yourself to call astrology bunk. In this statement you have made a positive judgement concerning astrology’s truth.

    Thus, you aren’t actually a skeptic, you are an atheist. Perhaps an agnostic. But skeptics must actually commit themselves to not making judgements concerning things truth. If you were truly a skeptic, you would be skeptical about empiricism as well.

    Your final paragraph is also telling in terms of the limitations of your hap-hazard worldview. It highlights the assumption you make that our subjective experience is not a part of the objective. It removes your subjective experience from the whole in order to invalidate it. I am not asserting that your subjective experience perfectly represents objective reality, rather your subjective experience is a part of it.

    In this way, astrology or mythology may be considered true in the same manner physical theories may be considered true. For instance, although Einstein did not have a complete physical worldview, and yet using limited physical theories he was able to create functional technologies. These technologies, although based on incomplete theories were functional things in our reality. So too is mythology. Some mythologies may be incomplete (although I would argue that some are as complete or more so than our contemporary physical theories) but if they produce positive results in our experience, they necessarily have some truth in them. That said, mythology is symbolic, which makes them much easier to invalidate because they are so often taken in the wrong light.

    Astrology’s truth is subjective. If you can’t see the value in that then don’t use it. If the only faith you need is in the words skepticism and empiricism then have it. Unity Consciousness wants you to do exactly as you please, for that is why you are here. Just don’t go thinking you have it all figured out because you question a lot of things. Until you truly question every judgement you hold, you cannot be free to completely experience reality.

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