Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Why I Don't Call Myself a Skeptic

Oh my goodness, blogger has changed since I last time I posted, and I'm totally freaked out by it, so I hope this blog looks okay format-wise.

Anyway, I was just having a discussion with Greg Laden on Facebook (of Greg Laden's blog fame), and we were talking about skepticism and how people are skeptics. I was finally able to articulate why I don't self-identify as a skeptic.

To me, 'skeptic' is not a noun (okay, well, it is, but I don't like it as a noun). Being a skeptic is not a hard and fast definition-- no one is ever 100% skeptical all the time. I know lots of people who identify as skeptics who don't behave in a skeptical manner most of the time. And I know lots of people who don't identify as skeptics who question and critically think about things. It isn't like the term 'atheist,' which is something you either are or are not. You can't be both a theist and an atheist at the same time-- but you can act skeptically in one situation and not in another.

To me, skepticism isn't something you are. It's something you do. While yes, we do have words that classify people by things they do (for example, a vegetarian or a hockey player), I don't think skepticism is the same. Well, maybe it is, I guess I just don't like using that as a term of self-identification. I think people should be able to tell that I'm a skeptic by how I behave (do I ask questions? Do I make decisions based on sound evidence?), not by what I call myself.

I'm not at all saying that people can't or shouldn't identify as skeptics. By all means, do so. Self-identification is a big thing, and if that's the term you want to call yourself, do it. Just like some people prefer 'humanist' versus 'atheist.' Being able to select your identifying terms is a really important and empowering thing. When I'm asked to describe myself, atheist is usually one of the first terms I go to, because so much of my life has been shaped by the things that have happened to me since becoming an atheist, and it also is a huge part of my life right now (it's kind of my job). Maybe in a few years I won't feel that way, and I'll choose another term to be my go-to identification. Who knows?

Anyway, the point of that last paragraph was just to say that how you identify is completely up to you. This is just why I don't identify a certain way. :)

And to close, here's an excellent quote by Carl Sagan!

"It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas...If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you … On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful ideas from the worthless ones." -Carl Sagan, The Burden of Skepticism