What and Why
What is a Skeptic?
Almost by definition someone who would question any attempt at definition! But they may be people who think that:
- just because big pharmaceutical companies abuse the scientific research process to get drugs of dubious efficacy and safety approved for sale doesn't make Homeopathy, Chiropractic, Acupuncture or any other 'complementary' or 'alternative' therapy effective,
- just because alternative therapies may be snake-oil doesn't make all conventional medicine safe and effective,
- just because UFOs are Unidentified doesn't make them alien spacecraft,
- just because you can't disprove the existence of god doesn't prove He (or She, It or They) exists.
But skeptics aren't cynics: indeed we may be better able to appreciate with awe and wonder the beauty of our world and everything in it, and the universe we are such a miniscule part of, than someone who imagines it was all made for us by some old guy with a beard up in the sky.
And a skeptic is likely to be a bit – well, sceptical – when someone calls themself a "climate change sceptic", an "HIV/AIDS sceptic" or a "Holocaust sceptic" since denialists — those who adopt entrenched positions contrary to most of the evidence — call themselves "sceptics" to convey an aura of open-mindedness and suggest that they are lone voices speaking out against Establishment Conspiracies.
'Skeptic' or 'Sceptic'?
The North American skeptics-with-a-k spelling seems to have become common usage in other parts of the world for what one might call organised scepticism, including the UK's own Skeptics In The Pub groups, so we've chosen the wrong-but-iconic spelling rather than the pedantically correct version.
What is 'Critical Thinking'?
It's a term commonly used among skeptical-type folks. Not 'critical' as in finding fault with everything, but as the opposite of un-critical thinking: carefully evaluating things rather than accepting them on face value. The late Barry Beyerstein, in his excellent Skeptics' Tool Box [PDF] offers the temperate advice:
Why be a "Skeptic" (with a capital 'S')?
One can be sceptical at home, in private: why make a big thing about it? What prompts many of us to Come Out as Skeptics — or just to come out to a Skeptics In The Pub meeting (or to blogs and internet fora)?
Maybe it's things like:
- religious fundamentalist dogma and snake-oil medicine masquerading as science, and even being taught in schools and universities,
- serious science writers being assaulted with ruinous law suits from well-heeled organisations of those they criticise,
- the government ignoring expert scientific advice and even sacking its advisors if they protest,
- children being brought up to accept as fact whatever they receive on handouts in school lessons or see on TV,
- almost daily, somewhere in the world, young men and women strapping explosives to their bodies and killing themselves — along with their 'enemies' of different religions — believing that they will be rewarded in a heavenly afterlife.
As 'scientists', 'rationalists', 'secularists', 'atheists', 'agnostics' or 'humanists' we may feel we are swimming against a tide of irrationality and inhumanity, our small voices crying out in the wilderness to our fellow humans. By nature free-thinkers and non-conformists we tend not to go by any one label, speak with one voice or even generally meet together; but as 'skeptics' we share a broad commonality of critical thinking about the world around us; and as Skeptics In The Pub we can enjoy that shared intercourse in a stumulating and convivial atmosphere.