Why Does Skepticism Matter? September 2, 2010

Why Does Skepticism Matter?

Religion and superstition make people feel good… so why are we atheists and skeptics so set on ruining those things for everyone, even if we’re right?

Greta Christina has a fantastic response to that question.

… Good information about reality helps us make better decisions about how to act in that reality. It helps us understand which causes are likely to have which effects. And the reverse is true as well. Decisions based on bad information are no better than guessing. Worse, in some ways, since we’re more willing to let go of decisions we know were based on guessing. It’s like people in data processing say: Garbage in, garbage out.

Reality is a harsh mistress. She demands our honesty. She demands our work. She demands that we give up comforts, that we let ourselves feel pain, that we accept how small we are and how little control we have over our lives. And she demands that we make her our top priority.

But she is more beautiful, and more powerful, and more surprising, and more fascinating, and more endlessly rewarding, than anything we could ever make up about her.

And we can’t let her in unless we’re willing to let her be what she is.

The entire piece is here and, much like all of Greta’s writing about this subject, I’m guessing you’ll want to share it with everyone you know.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • idfriendly

    My problem isn’t with what she says, but how she says it. The anthropomorphizing of reality as a “she,” while poetic, implies some sort of entity or consciousness. It’s sort of like when environmentalists talk about mother nature. It might be a poetic figure of speech, but it is speaking directly to that irrational part of our brain that also wants to believe there is a god over us all, controlling and directing our lives. Reality isn’t a harsh, demanding god whom skeptics worship. Reality just is what it is.

  • As a wiser man than I once said:

    “You can bask in the warm, comforting fires of faith, or face the cold, bleak winds of reality. You cannot do both.”

  • littlejohn

    I wonder what she tells her children about Santa Claus? I’ve read posts from atheists who aren’t consistent when it comes to kids.

  • Matt

    Since when does religion and superstitition make people feel good? I suppose there are some cases where that is true, but how often does it make people feel bad?

  • Secular Stu

    True stuff can make you feel good, too.

  • H. L. Mencken defined a demagogue as “one who will preach doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.”

    Skepticism arms you against those who would take advantage of you. I feel that being religious or superstitious means you are giving up part of your own ability to think.

  • JD

    I’m glad I’m not the only one picking up on the potentially misleading anthropomorphization of reality.

  • While I understand idfriendly’s point, and I see where it may be useful, I’m personally tired of having to abdicate the powerful tools analogy and poetic language are for understanding and inspiration, just because some yahoos take everything literally. It makes the reality-based crowd look bland, uninteresting and boring.

    It horrifies me that in an article specifically about using skepticism as a discipline to understand reality better, the simple use of a personal pronoun is berated for fear that some would miss the whole point of the frackin’ article and assume skeptics personify reality as the Greeks did to Gaia and Ouranos. Just because some people keep staring at the finger is no reason to stop pointing at the moon.

  • Boudicca

    @ littlejohn: Why do you assume she has children?

    @ Cafeeine: agreed

  • I like it better the way Bill Maher put’s it: “‘Why do you have to go after religion? It gives people comfort; it doesn’t hurt anything’. Okay, well, other than most wars, the Crusades, the Inquisition, 9/11, arranged marriages to minors, blowing up girls’ schools, the suppression of women and homosexuals, fatwas, ethnic cleansing, honor rape, human sacrifice, burning witches, suicide bombings, condoning slavery, and the systematic fucking of children, there’s a few little things I have a problem with”.

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