Having to defend your skepticism can become quite tiring when it is the very thing that is constantly used against you in every argument, debate or discussion you have with people who hold beliefs – or entertain ideas, that have shaky evidence to support them.
I’ve often interviewed people for Righteous Indignation who, instead of answering the questions about the evidence that supports their beliefs, will turn the question on me/us and demand that we provide evidence to support our skeptical stance on the subject (which in itself serves to fuel said skepticism by refusing the supporting evidence we seek). You can read about other such logical fallacies in this great post by my co-host, Trystan Swale.
We’ve interviewed people on Righteous Indignation who tell us that our skepticism is ‘okay’ or ‘good’ but that some skepticism isn’t. That we’re different from other skeptics and that there are bad skeptics out there – and then we ‘good skeptics’ have to defend ourselves because of these ‘bad skeptics’ rather than, you know, the person we’re interviewing just providing us with the evidence to support their claims. It’s a bit like a game of tag… but on a treadmill. It is incredibly frustrating to be open minded about the things being discussed, but having to prove that you’re open minded before you can even try to make any progress into the subject. If we were to believe that, say, aliens abducted a cow – we wouldn’t have it demanded of us that we prove that we believed it in the “right way”, but because I dare to doubt something exists it is often demanded that I prove I doubt its existence in the “right way”.
When I’ve spoken at believer-oriented events in the past I’ve always had to set aside part of my talk to outline what skepticism is and what I mean when I call myself a skeptic; the blame for this general misunderstanding does lay with the media misrepresentation of skeptics in many ways. However, I think it often serves people well to create this false sense of what skepticism is – the “bad” skepticism that they are keen to insist their “naysayers” demonstrate in order to weaken the argument against them from said skeptic.
I’m not denying that there are people who call themselves skeptics who demonstrate terrible behaviours and attitudes towards people who are less skeptical about things than they are. This behaviour shouldn’t be tolerated – and isn’t tolerated by a proportion of other people who call themselves skeptics.
If someone is being closed minded though, then they are not using skepticism, for skepticism requires an open mind. Just as there are a variety of people who believe in ghosts – those who act well, those who don’t; there are also a variety of people who are skeptical about ghosts – those who act well, and those who don’t…
I generally thought society had stopped tarring whole groups of people with the same brush but it’s clear that as far as engaging with skeptics go, some believers would rather tar all skeptics with the same brush as those skeptics they may have had a negative experience with in the past. When, and if the same is done to them it’s a huge issue, yet those ‘victims’ have no issue treating others in exactly the same way.