Friendships with skeptics

Recently, in the course of a heated debate about science and evolutionary biology a “friend” let slip some of his true feelings about me (Mojo) and my atheism/skepticism.  In his defence, he was upset and may not have known what exactly he was saying, but as you may have already guessed, I no longer consider this person a friend as I once did.

Chances are, if you read this blog, you are a skeptic or critical thinker and you may even be an atheist.  If this is the case, you may do well to remember this article as a bit of a warning.  If you are not a skeptic but have friends that are, maybe this article will help enlighten you to what it is like for them and perhaps increase your tolerance to their way of life.  Either way, this is purely a cathartic experience for me to get a few things off my chest.

1.  We skeptics cannot pretend to be fence-sitters for your sake.  Keep this in mind when you broach “controversial” topics like evolution, UFOs or alternative medicines.  It would be a lie to everyone involved if skeptics simply shrugged away catagorically wrong statements of fact as if they didn’t care.  If you’re not prepared to go all-in with these types of discussions, don’t bring it up.

2.  Try to ignore your personal feelings when discussing science.  If you are going to discuss these things and don’t like being told that you’re wrong, again, back away slowly.  A skeptic usually doesn’t treat any topic as a sacred cow.  If you are personally invested in this topic for any reason, you should remember that as a scientist, your skeptic friend will debate the topic… not you.  If he/she discounts your claim as false, try to keep it there and don’t take it as a personal attack.

3.  Not everything is a matter of opinion.  Very often, people who realize they have inadvertently opened a proverbial can of worms that is a skeptical debate will attempt to end the conversation with statements like, “That’s just my opinion” or “Well that’s just what I beleive”.  We have all learned from a very young age that most people will not challenge beliefs and opinions because everyone is entitled to their own.  Matters of science and the nature of reality however, are not matters of opinion.  Skeptics MUST have evidence to say something is real or not.  We have a hard time understanding how people can turn statements like “Big foot is real” into a matter of opinion.  As such, don’t expect to get off the hook that easily with a skeptic.  In all likliehood, a skeptic will brush that comment aside and get back to the topic at hand.

4.  Agreeing to disagree may not cut it either.  Most skeptics are not experts in specific scientific fields, but we do like to read about this research for fun in our spare time.  As such, we are willing to share resources to help you better understand a topic, but we are usually unwilling to let you continue to hold a belief about the universe that we know is false.  We are also very good at debating.  Mostly because everyone uses the same arguments so we are usually prepared, but we are also good at recognizing logical fallacies like ad hominem attacks and straw-man arguments.  If you feel your argument is well-constructed but a skeptic retorts that it is actually not, hear them out.  They probably have a lot of experience in these matters.

5.  While we are not a religion, we do deserve to be treated with respect.  The friend I talked about in the introduction said that he considered me “fanatical” and a “lunatic”.  In a previous post, my own sister discounted what Kimbo and I were saying based on the fact that we are “just skeptics”. Imagine if, instead of the topic being personal understanding of a scientific concept, it had been religion.  If I was a passionate Jew or Muslim discussing finer points of my religion, calling me a lunatic or a fanatic would be intensely frowned upon by others.  But because we don’t hide behind a protective barrier of “cultual sensitivity” we are subject to a lot of unrestrained hate when we defend science against attack.  Please try to be more understanding of our lifestyle.

It could very well be that I am only describing myself when I refer to skeptics in general.  Maybe not all skeptics (or even most) have faced these types of situations and maybe it’s just me cause I’m a jerk!  Either way though, take heed my friends.  It may feel like a lonely battle sometimes, but we’re all in together.

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5 responses to “Friendships with skeptics

  1. Kimbo Jones

    I agree with the sentiment of most of what you said, but when you use language like “help you better understand a topic” and “unwilling to let you continue to hold a belief … that we know is false” you sound like a snobby know-it-all prick.

  2. That’s a bit harsh…. have any constructive criticism? How would you word it?

  3. Kimbo Jones

    “Help you better understand the topic” sounds like we’re educators and they are the ignorant masses. “They” may be our friends and may understand the topic well in some areas and not others, or from another perspective. How about “help you better understand the topic from my perspective”? I get that some things aren’t a matter of opinion, and that’s not what I’m talking about. But approaching it with such a better-than-you attitude isn’t going to win people over to the side of knowledge.

    “Unwilling to let you” – let them? People can believe what they want as far as I’m concerned as long as they aren’t brainwashing other people or affecting law/policy with nonsense. Who are we to “let” people do anything? How about “unwilling to let a debate of fact turn into a debate of opinion”, because I think that’s what you really meant. But it came off really snobby the way it’s worded.

  4. I wish people could just debate issues without getting side tracked by things like this. Yeah, fine, I sound like a prick, but that doesn’t mean what I’m saying doesn’t have merit. I wish the way we say things didn’t matter 1/3 as much as WHAT we are saying. Stupid humans.

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