January 7, 2015

Promoting Skepticism

English: Skepticism educator James Randi at a ...
Skepticism educator James Randi at a lecture at Rockefeller University, on October 10, 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As one gets to know more atheists, it becomes clear that there are many different paths that bring people to atheism. Some atheists were never indoctrinated into any sort of religion and have always been atheistic. They did not have to travel any sort of path to atheism. Those of us who were indoctrinated were indoctrinated into different religious traditions and in different ways. Some never really believed in what they were taught and had relatively short paths to atheism. Others of us were believers and took years to abandon faith.

When I think about how I gradually overcame my early indoctrination and eventually came to atheism, I cannot separate it from skepticism. For me, atheism was an outcome of skepticism. One of the mistakes I have made is that of assuming that this is true for most other atheists. But as Christian at I am an Atheist and this is why recently noted, there are atheists among us who did not come to atheism through skepticism at all. This is one of those realities of which I am aware but find that I still benefit from periodic reminders (of which I find plenty whenever I use Twitter).

I am not mentioning this as an opportunity to deride any atheists for being insufficiently skeptical, although I admit that this is a source of frustration and disappointment at times. I bring it up to express my agreement with Christian's statement: "Atheism should not be our only goal, it should be to promote skeptical thinking." As much as I'd like to see more atheism, I think it is at least as important (and perhaps more so) to encourage skepticism and critical thinking.

Skepticism will not bring all religious believers to atheism. Some people manage to be skeptical in most other aspects of their lives but are never willing to apply it to matters of religion. Others actively reject skepticism even though they are atheists for other reasons. But I think Christian is correct to point out that atheism is often a side-effect of a commitment to skepticism. So promoting skepticism should help to boost the numbers of atheists. In addition, there are many benefits of skepticism that have nothing to do with atheism but which are desirable for theists and atheists alike. Skepticism is not only vital when it comes to investigating paranormal claims; it can save us money, protect us from quackery, guard against gullibility, fanaticism, and dogma, help keep us humble, and so much more. It is worth pursuing even if it doesn't bring everyone to atheism.
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