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Skepticism can be just another scheme for avoiding reality

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The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths

In “The Believing Brain: Why Science Is the Only Way Out of Belief-Dependent Realism” Scientific American (July 5, 2011), Michael Shermer informs us,

dependency on belief and its host of psychological biases is why, in science, we have built-in self-correcting machinery. Strict double-blind controls are required, in which neither the subjects nor the experimenters know the conditions during data collection. Collaboration with colleagues is vital. Results are vetted at conferences and in peer-reviewed journals. Research is replicated in other laboratories. Disconfirming evidence and contradictory interpretations of data are included in the analysis. If you don’t seek data and arguments against your theory, someone else will, usually with great glee and in a public forum. This is why skepticism is a sine qua non of science, the only escape we have from the belief-dependent realism trap created by our believing brains.

Imagine. He even mentions peer review, widely understood to be the enforcement arm of mediocrity, as if it were some kind of protection. Skepticism, as typically understood in practice today, becomes an invitation to make fun of traditional assumptions, not an invitation to face reality. If you are a “skeptic,” you put your faith in Bloomberg’s Ida fossil or the Big Bazooms theory of human evolution. It also means you are constantly trying to disprove the fact that thoughts can sometimes influence events.

SkepticismTM is just another cult, really, with a whole bunch of rules and assumptions, and it makes science into a cult object.

There just isn’t an easy road to truth. There are easy roads, to be sure, but they don’t go there.

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11 Replies to “Skepticism can be just another scheme for avoiding reality

  1. 1
    William J Murray says:

    Shermer apparently makes the same mistake so many make; they mistake an imagined, perfect commodity for what the commodity actually is in real life.

    Progressives imagine a “just” society based on equal distribution carried out by noble functionaries, when in actual fact such systems are always corrupted into fascistic, bottle-neck control systems by human operators.

    Scientist imagine that such “control mechanisms” will be applied by just, honorable humans for the benefit of the advancement of science, and not taken over by corrupt individuals and bureaucracies that recognize the power such control mechanisms offer for personal enrichment and the advancement of their ideological goals.

    I like the title of his book, though; as if the premises and methodology of science are not themselves a form of belief-dependent realism. Empiricism is itself a metaphysic, not a means of escaping metaphysics.

  2. 2
    kairosfocus says:

    Mrs O’Leary

    Mr Shermer needs to get a basic education in epistemology and worldviews.

    Take any given claim of consequence A. Why accept it?

    It has grounds of some sort B.

    Why accept B?


    And so forth.

    You will then have the choice of (i)infinite regress, (ii) a circle or (iii) stopping at some set of first plausibles F that are accepted as that, plausible without further demonstration. The first two are absurd and fallacious in turn.

    Since many such sets F are possible, the matter now turns to comparative difficulties on factual adequacy, coherence and explanatory power across live options F1, F2, F3 etc.

    Have a look here on.

    But, every such set F, is a Faith-point. Faith and reason are inextricably intertwined in the roots of our worldviews.

    Get over it.

    GEM of TKI

  3. 3
    kairosfocus says:

    Selective hyperskepticism, premised here on turning evolutionary materialist scientism into a default ideology enforced by a new magisterium in the Holy Lab Coat.

  4. 4
    Joseph says:

    Unfortunately Shermer refuses to apply his skepticism to his position.

    Beliving brains? That sums up evolutionists to a tee.

    Thanks Mike

  5. 5
    Barry Arrington says:

    GEM, this is the most succinct and clear way I have ever seen this put. It deserves its own post.

  6. 6
    bbigej says:

    Marxism looks great on paper, too.

  7. 7
    EndoplasmicMessenger says:

    And what double-blind scientific experiment was it that determined that science is the only escape we have from our belief-dependent brains?

  8. 8
    Timbo says:


  9. 9
    kairosfocus says:

    Will this do? (I have given some additional context, references to Locke and Greenleaf [should I add on newton in Opticks, Query 31?], and a turtles all the way down illustration.)

  10. 10
    kairosfocus says:

    Lewontin’s and Sagan’s of course! NOT

  11. 11
    bevets says:

    Johnson is a radical skeptic, insisting, in the best Socratic tradition, that everything be put on the table for examination. By contrast, most skeptics opposed to him are selective skeptics, applying their skepticism to the things they dislike (notably religion) and refusing to apply their skepticism to the things they do like (notably Darwinism). On two occasions I’ve urged Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine, to put me on its editorial board as the resident skeptic of Darwinism. Though Shermer and I know each other and are quite friendly, he never got back to me about joining his editorial board. ~ William Dembski

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