A beginners guide to doubting everything

I became a skeptic four years ago today. I say that but it’s not entirely accurate, what I should instead write is that ‘I became open-minded four years ago today’, and allowed that open-minded approach to seep into all aspects of my life. Until July 9th 2007 I held a belief in ghosts and an afterlife and I accepted the idea that rituals associated with my belief in ghosts had merit (such as smudge sticks will rid a house of a ghost, amulets will protect you from evil entities, Latin prayers are a must etc.)

Four years ago on this day, after doubt had started to edge its way into those beliefs, I dared to say “enough is enough” and I started to think differently about life. I stopped doing things like table tipping and seances, and I started to educate myself about the realities of the ghostly experiences and occurrences I had surrounded myself with, and had been investigating for so long. Around the same time I became aware of a collection of communities from around the world, and around the UK that are widely recognised as ‘the skeptical community’ – a collection of people who all think critically about the world around them, aim to reach out and spread critical thinking and also campaign for evidence-based decisions to be made in society – from health care to the legal system.

In the last four years I have learnt a lot about myself and the universe around me. I’ve become involved in some pretty awesome projects (the latest of which is a surprise that I can’t wait to share with you all later this year), and I have made friends with some pretty awesome people.

I’ve also found myself as the receiving end of a lot of abuse, threats and negative behaviour because of the outspoken way in which I blog and podcast, and there have been times when I’ve wanted to quit blogging and podcasting and just go back to being the geek who reads and listens to what others have to say. Being new to doubting and to skepticism can be tough, tricky and tiring, so I thought it would be awesome to mark the 4th year of my enlightenment by sharing some tips and tricks with others who may be where I was four years ago.

1) The most important lesson everyone should learn is “everyone is fallible”, because it’s true and it happens all the time. No matter how intelligent, or how old, or how educated you may be, you will make mistakes and you will realise that certain things that you think, believe or do are irrational. That isn’t a weakness or something to be ashamed of. Learning from your mistakes (and the mistakes of others around you) is a brilliant thing.

2) I’ve had a good I look at my bookcase today and I’ve spent some time musing over which books of mine I would give to me four years ago if I had the chance, and those books are listed below (with a link to Amazon) – a star marks the most recommended.

Why people believe weird things
– Flat Earth News*
– Bad Science*
– Paranormality*
– Super Sense*
Trick or Treatment
 The Demon Haunted World
– Six Feet Over*
– Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural
Flim Flam*
– Suckers – How Alt Med makes fools of us all
– Death from the skies
– Voodoo Histories*

There is a huge list of recommended books here, but the ones above were the ones that helped me to gain a good, basic understanding of skepticism and how it applies to life.

3) These websites have proven extremely valuable to me over the last few years, and I would imagine they would to anyone who is an old hand, or new hand at skepticism.

– A guide to logical fallacies
– The Skeptics Dictionary
– What’s the harm?
– Snopes
– Bad Science
– Comittee for Skeptical Inquiry
– Centre For Inquiry
– James Randi Education Foundation
– The Skeptic (UK) < great magazines
– The Skeptic (US) < great podcasts

4) I thoroughly recommend that anyone who can do so, watches Penn & Teller’s ‘Bullshit’ – it can be found on youtube. They have various episodes from each of the series that cover a broad range of topics in an outspoken, rational way. Some of the things they cover on that show have challenged the way in which I thought about certain things. It’s worth watching. You can start here with Series 1, Episode 1, Part 1 – talking to the dead.

5) Check for skeptic or science community groups or events happening near you. If I’d had a local ‘skeptics in the pub’ group when I first started questioning things, it would have probably helped a lot. That’s why I formed Bath Skeptics in the Pub, to help reach out to people who aren’t quite sure about things. Plus, it’s bloody good fun!

You can find events listings on the ‘Grassroots skeptics‘ site if you’re in the US, or ‘The Pod Delusion‘ site have a great events listing page for the UK. You can also check out ‘skeptics in the pub’ pages and add individual events to your google calendar. Check out the Bath Skeptics in the Pub page, scroll down and look for a local group.

6) Now, as a skeptical podcaster, it’s obvious that I’m going to recommend that you listen to my podcast ‘Righteous Indignation‘. However, the following podcasts are also worth checking out too:

– The Pod Delusion
– Skeptics with a K
– Skeptically Speaking (though technically, this is radio, but still…)
– Monster Talk
– Token Skeptic
– The Conspiracy Skeptic

Now, I don’t get to listen to these all of the time, but these are the ones I check out as much as I can. There are loads of podcasts that will appeal to different people, so be sure to explore Itunes.

Four years sure feels like a long time, and it was only when I discovered my first ever pair of dowsing rods and an old hygro-thermometer this morning, things I once used on “paranormal investigations” that I realised the significance of today. I can quite clearly remember being on location at a supposedly haunted pub when I realised enough was enough. I also remember how negatively my team mates reacted when I explained to them that I wanted the group to change the way it worked.

They all left the team except for two, and then I had months and months of bullying at their hands because I dared to think differently than they did, and I had the audacity to talk about the new way in which I saw things. As someone who was, at the time, pretty shaky on her feet (I’d just “come out” as an atheist and was also discarding loads of beliefs that I had realised were bunk) it wasn’t the best reception and really knocked my confidence in the decisions I was making.

If there was one thing I have taken from my experience of becoming open-minded and openly skeptical it’s this; people who hold irrational beliefs like I used to, will resort to bullying because they have no stronger argument to throw your way. If they had any solid facts to base their beliefs and points on, they would provide you with them. Instead you get names, threats and disdain. In fact, to this day, I get the behaviour I have listed previously from the people who hate me because I don’t agree with them.

It should (and does) speak volumes, and it’s important to not let Ad hominem attacks shake your confidence in your doubt. The wonder as I learn new things outweighs the vitriol I experience at the hands of the closed-minded, and if you’re new to skepticism I hope it will be the same for you.

I hope that the things I have listed above are of some use to people. Who knows, maybe this is just another resource list in a whole collection of resource lists, but it felt like the right way to mark the 4th anniversary of my enlightenment. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to light a smudge stick and align my chakras.

Love & Light brothers & sisters x

About Hayley Stevens 434 Articles
Hayley is a ghost geek and started to blog in 2007. She uses scientific scepticism to investigate weird stuff and writes about it here while also speaking publicly about how to hunt ghosts as a skeptic.

5 Comments on A beginners guide to doubting everything

  1. Well said, Hayley. I hope you keep blogging and podcasting because you have a lot of valuable things to say and because I personally enjoy reading your blog and listening to RI. And I love your passionate curiosity. 🙂

    Nancy, aka Pinko Knitter

  2. I’m enjoying your tweets, blog posts and podcasts Hayley. I’m curious to know what caused your ‘light bulb’ moment four years ago?

  3. Excellent article, I’ll be using this as a link whenever I come across borderline woos who have not yet been been completely taken in by the silly illogicality of blind belief.

  4. Oh, Hayley. You had to mention The Conspiracy Skeptic. Now Mamer will skeeve on you once again 🙂 You know he has a Hayley Stevens Google Alert.

    I’m glad you turned skeptic. You’re an asset to the community. Absolutely.

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  1. Recommended articles for July 11, 2011
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