Hayley is a Ghost

I am a skeptic

Posted on: July 27, 2010

Previously I’ve spoken about people who identify themselves as skeptics being friendly when dealing with people who hold opposing beliefs or ideas. I got a lot of criticism for what I had said, and somebody even went as far as to suggest that what I had said (on the podcast, originally) was part of the ‘don’t be a dick‘ meme that seems to have tumbled out of TAM8.

As far as I see it, that’s not what I’m talking about at all. The original context of my comments about being friendly and polite were with regard to comments that people who listened to the Righteous Indignation podcast were making about the people we had on the show who had ideas or beliefs that were questionable.

In the past I have seen people who listen to the show call our guests “insane” or “a moron” and other such things which, in the long run, aren’t exactly terrible things to call somebody. However, that sort of attitude to people who have opposing opinions can have a knock on effect when other people who hold the same questionable ideas or beliefs as the person we interviewed sees that reaction and the name calling. A shutter goes up and nothing that anyone says to them will make a slight bit of difference, whereas before, suggesting reasons why their ideas/beliefs are flawed might have made them think differently.

It also makes it increasingly difficult to get people with questionable beliefs or theories to agree to come on the podcast. Why would they? If people are just going to call them insane rather than offering up some sort of constructive criticism instead?

As a skeptic, I don’t view skepticism as meaning that I am trying to change what people believe about things that I don’t agree with. That would be preachy and arrogant of me. I feel that as a skeptic, the best way to stand up for logic and reason is to approach the subject in hand (whether it be ghosts, homeopathy, mediumship etc.) in a manner that means the person with the belief doesn’t feel like they are being ridiculed. I feel it’s more beneficial to ensure that they are aware that there are alternative explanations for what they are experiencing or seeing, which could plant a seed of doubt in their mind.

I feel that skepticism is a process that one comes around to in your own time. I know that when I became skeptical of the things I believed regarding ghosts, I didn’t do so because someone had told me I was wrong and my reaction was “yes sir!” – I became more skeptical because somebody suggested I was wrong and why they thought that, and it made me doubt my beliefs. This in turn led me to start researching things and my skepticism developed from there.

Yes, there are times when a more heavy-handed approach is required and there have been times when I have been not-so-polite to people. When it comes to people making dangerous claims like “I can cure cancer” or “there is an evil spirit in your house” I think it’s justifiable to become more stern in the way the situation is handled.

When people are making dangerous claims that can mislead others then it is vital that people who can see the claims for what they are, challenge them without worrying about upsetting the person making the claim.

I don’t dispute that. Call bullshit, bullshit.

However, a lot of the people that skeptics communicate with aren’t necessarily people who are making the claims, they’re just people who have fallen for the claims, who hold a belief that somebody has convinced them is right.

They don’t necessarily deserve ridicule and anger from a skeptic who is frustrated, and they certainly wont change their mind if someone gets in their face to tell them how stupid they are. I mean come on, be realistic here.

I’m not saying that we should tip-toe around people who have different beliefs to us, I am also not saying we should start self-censoring ourselves (as one person suggested I was) I’m just saying that there is a time and place for being  stern and brutal in skepticism, and there is a time and place when that sort of behaviour isn’t necessary. People need to realise that, because if we’re rude in our approach all the time, we’re just going to get people’s backs up and give skepticism a terrible name.

It hasn’t exactly got a great reputation as it is, so why damage it even more?


3 Responses to "I am a skeptic"

I can’t help that some people get a high of being ‘right’.

When of course, one belief I believe many skeptics hold is that we don’t actually always know if we’re ‘right’, just that we’ve come to the best conclusion that we can currently come to.

And that conclusion may not always end up being right.

Good thoughts on a tricky subject. My own still rather muddled view is that people have the right to believe whatever they like; and I respect those beliefs. But that does not mean those beliefs are beyond criticism or robust questioning. If somebody rooted in ideology claims special privilege because of them or it can be shown that said beliefs cause harm – even indirectly (religious moderates) – they must be prepared to engage critically. The problem seems to be (as Sam Harris points out so eloquently) that some forms ideology – namely religions belief – seem to be protected from any criticism at all – it’s almost taboo to engage at all. Which means any engagement is likely to cause offence, however gentle. So a compromise has to be made and we have to live causing minor offence, because it’s long past the time free thinkers must stand up for a neutral society/state.

Yes, I agree completely. The mind is like water, the harder you hit it, the more strongly it resists. I think if most skeptics (those actually interested in creating awareness, that is) understood the kind of internal reaction their heckling causes, they would change their tactics.

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Hayley is a ghost

Hayley Stevens is an advocate for science-based research into seemingly paranormal experiences and occurrences. With a background in the pseudo-scientific research into ghosts, Hayley offers a unique insight into the strange world of ghost hunting through her experience.

She describes herself as 'a ghost hunter who doesn't hunt for ghosts' and this is her personal blog where she writes about ghosts, people, and other interesting things. Read more here.

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