Because the universe is beautiful enough without having to lie about it

Skeptical Heresies #2

February 26th, 2011 Posted in Education, General Science

I’m doing a series on things that we, as Skeptics, should really be discussing much more than we do – and that are often avoided because they are unpleasant to face. Here’s number 2:

2. Human beings are inherently unskeptical (Rational argument is unnatural)

I think one of the biggest hurdles that the Skeptic community has to overcome in the next few decades is simply that that humans simply do not naturally think in a way that is compatible with science. In fact, I think it’s perfectly in agreement with the evidence to suggest that rational argument is unnatural to human beings. There is an intrinsic underlying assumption to most skeptic activities that people will convert to the scientific viewpoint if they just hear the evidence, but this seems not to be the truth.

Many skeptics have moved away from this, but I think there are still quite a few who haven’t yet accepted it. Sometimes I read articles by scientists who seem genuinely surprised that a rational argument has not swayed their opponent towards the truth – or, even worse, the satisfied author who presents a thorough, logical argument and then sits back and waits for the mass conversion that never comes. I think we have to be honest with ourselves – people rarely hold beliefs of any kind for rational reasons, but we also have to be honest with ourselves that scientists should include themselves in this group.

So what does this imply for skepticism in general? Should we abandon rational methods for convincing people of the scientific viewpoint? Of course not – we’re arguing about science, and science is based on logical argumentation, evidence and rational deduction. But we do have to be aware that the best way to get people to understand what we have to say is to present it in a way that works for them. The best science educators of all time are people like Carl Sagan who didn’t just present cold facts, but made them into a story. Most people simply aren’t interested in science, and claiming that the only reason why people aren’t interested in science and mathematics is because they haven’t been taught it in an interesting way, in my opinion, is massively naive.

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