November 27, 2019

Thankful I Was Exposed to Skepticism


When I was a kid, I was fascinated by all the mythical creatures (e.g., Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, aliens) and unexplained phenomena (e.g., Bermuda Triangle, ESP) that traditional skeptics used to spend their time debunking. I wanted all of these things to be real, and I read every book I could find about them at the local public library. I didn't realize it at the time, but this was my introduction to skepticism. Book after book explained that there was no clear evidence to support any of these things, and it wasn't like people hadn't been looking. I remember being fascinated to learn how scientists studied ESP in the lab and disappointed to discover that no self-described psychics had been able to demonstrate their claimed powers.

It might have been because of the part of the country where I grew up or the fact that I spent a lot of time in the woods, but the whole Bigfoot thing was especially appealing. I never thought I saw a Bigfoot creature, but I sure remember looking. It never occurred to me that they might be dangerous if I stumbled across one. I was too focused on how cool it would be to see one. After reading several books on the subject, I stopped expecting to see one. I realized that many of the reported sightings had been shown to be faked. I recognized that there was a great deal of evidence that should be there if such creatures were around. For example, why had nobody ever found a dead one?

This idea of evidence that should be there but wasn't probably helped pave the way for my eventual atheism and my doubt about a historical Jesus. If the local woods were rife with Bigfoot creatures, there would be much more compelling evidence that they were there than there was. If someone had been running around the Middle East performing miracles, people at the time would have written about it. And if there was some sort of sky god answering every prayer it received in Jesus' name, then wouldn't I have heard from it at least once. After all, I spent years praying to it every day.

Suppose I had never made it to the public library. What if I had instead turned on the History Channel (which fortunately did not exist back then) and watched countless hours of non-skeptical programming? I might have turned out very differently. There was junk TV back in those days but nothing close to what one can find just on that one channel today. And maybe instead of reading books about ghosts, I had watched the various ghost-hunting shows without anything to counter their nonsense. It is not difficult for me to imagine how some kids might grow up with very different views on these subjects.

As a child, I really hoped that Bigfoot creatures existed. It is kind of scary to think about how things might have turned out if I had not been exposed to skepticism but had found only content that told me what I wanted to be true. I might now be so convinced that Bigfoot creatures were out there somewhere that I'd be out searching for them. Is it any wonder that many religious believers are so opposed to content dealing with atheism, skepticism, secular humanism, freethought, and the like?