The term "skepticism" is from the Greek skepsis, meaning "enquiry." It has ancient roots in both the East and the West and falls generally under the term "Philosophical Skepticism". In the East, sensation essentially is an illusion. In the West, this skepticism ranges from disbelief in contemporary philosophical solutions, to agnosticism, to rejecting the reality of the external world. Thus, in essence, ancient philosophical skepticism questions our ability to claim any knowledge about the nature of the world and how we perceive it.
Contemporaneous use of the term generally means "Scientific" (from the Latin meaning "knowledge") or "Rational" (from the Latin meaning "Reason") skepticism. Scientific skeptics believe that empirical investigation of reality leads to the truth, and that the scientific method is best suited to this purpose. Considering the rigor of the scientific method, science itself may simply be thought of as an organized form of skepticism. This does not mean that the scientific skeptic is necessarily a scientist who conducts live experiments (though this may be the case), but that the skeptic generally accepts claims that are in his/her view likely to be true based on testable hypotheses and critical thinking. Scientific skeptics attempt to evaluate claims based on verifiability and falsifiability and discourage accepting claims on faith (defined as belief without sufficient evidence) or anecdotal evidence. Skeptics often focus their criticism on claims they consider to be implausible, dubious or clearly contradictory to generally accepted science. Scientific skeptics do not assert that unusual claims should be automatically rejected out of hand on a priori grounds - rather they argue that claims of paranormal or anomalous phenomena should be critically examined and that extraordinary claims would require extraordinary evidence in their favor before they could be accepted as having validity.
Modern skepticism is part of the scientific method; for instance an experimental result is not regarded as established until it can be shown to be repeatable independently. By the principles of skepticism, the ideal case is that every individual could make his own mind up on the basis of the evidence rather than appealing to some authority, skeptical or otherwise. In practice this becomes difficult because of the amount of knowledge now possessed by science, and so an ability to balance critical thinking with an appreciation for consensus amongst the most relevant scientists becomes vital.
Modern skepticism is NOT "cynicism". Modern Cynicism is the belief that human conduct is motivated wholly by self-interest and is, thus, usually looked upon negatively.
In summary, modern skepticism essentially views reality as the natural world and it can be evaluated best through science. Theists claim that there are other ways of knowing and/or there is another reality. To these claims, this blogger asks the following:
- If there are other and/or better ways of knowing about the natural world, what are they?
- If there is another reality, how do you know about it so that others can verify it as being real?