Mar 21, 2007

Skepticism and Faith

I recently received a form letter from Kendrick Frazier, editor of the magazine Skeptical Inquirer, invinting me to subscribe to that publication. For those who don't know, the Skeptical Inquirer is a magazine dedicated to questioning and debunking myths, superstitions, conspiracy theories, urban legends, and other ideas that the publishers consider hair-brained--like religion. That I would get such and advertisement is not all that interesting. What was of interest was something Frazier said in that part of his letter where he set out a definition of the term "skepticism." He wrote: "skepticism is just a common-sense unwillingness to take anything on faith."

When I read that definition my first response was bewilderment. My second response was to chuckle. My third response was to shake my head in a brief exertion of pity for Frazier who is apparently in the grip of a powerful self-delusion. Why would I say that? Because it is patently and obviously false that anyone can live with an unwillingness to take anything on faith. That is, it is impossible not to take at least some things on faith. And if skepticism is defined as an unwillingness to take anything on faith, then no one is (or even can be) a skeptic--least of all Frazier and his skeptical cohorts at the Skeptical Inquirer!

Let me prove my point by listing a few items that I am fairly confident that Frazier believes but that he has no choice but to take on faith:

1. There is a mind-independent external world.
2. There are other minds than his own.
3. He has existed for more than 5 minutes.
4. His cognitive faculties (intellect, senses, etc.) are reliable.
5. Consciousness is a physical/natural phenomenon.
6. Evolution occured.
7. Science is the only (or most authoritative) source of knowledge.
8. He can live without taking anything on faith.

None of the above beliefs can be proven with certainty. Many of them cannot be proven in any sense, but must be assumed or presupposed. In either case, faith is involved.

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