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Why I am a Skeptic, by Conor

by Conor Pendergrast on November 3rd, 2010

To be honest, the question of why I am a skeptic doesn’t come up very frequently. I suppose I don’t really define myself too rigidly as a skeptic. For me, it’s more of a case of applying skepticism to various areas of my life. My first introduction to the idea of organised groups of skeptics was only around a year ago, when at a UCD (Dublin) Humanist Society talk, one of the founders of the Irish Skeptics Society spoke to us. While I had already been interested and had applied skepticism to my own life, I didn’t really have a name for it at that point (other than critical thinking, I suppose). So, listening to the Irish Skeptics Society was really interesting and got me a little keen on the ideas. I dug around and found a load of podcasts, starting with science and moving on to specific skepticism podcasts (Little Atoms and Skeptics Guide to the Universe were perfect introductions to the topic).That was what first hinted to me about the Skeptics in the Pub groups nationwide. This being around April, I knew I would be moving to Belfast and was keen to find any similar groups. To my surprise, there were no skeptics groups in Queen’s University, in Belfast or even in Northern Ireland at all! I had emailed the two founders of the Irish Skeptics Society and they suggested setting up a group of our own. Speaking with Phil and Alana about this, we all realised that it was probably an excellent idea. So we set up the group.

But why am I a skeptic? I’m a skeptic because I prefer, and try to avoid, accepting ideas without evidence of validity. If we are to progress as a species, we need to weed out ideas that are baseless and encourage those that have support from reason and proof. The scientific method isn’t perfect, but it’s constantly being improved.

Should you be a skeptics? I don’t know. I think people ought to apply critical reasoning to as much of their life as possible. But is it necessary to define yourself as a skeptic? Is the term skeptic even necessary? At the moment, I think it’s pretty important. It’s a good way of promoting the ideas of skepticism among people who have yet to hear about it. I hope one day that it won’t be needed any more and that people will, by default, not accept ideas without first question their validity. It’s a long-term goal, but it’s achievable.

I was keen on starting Belfast Skeptics in the Pub Question the Answersboth for myself and for other people. For myself, I wanted a group to chat with who would attempt to discuss concepts without reference to tradition, popularity or any of the many logical fallacies (which I’m sure we’ll cover in more detail in the future). For other people, I think a forum in which you can question your own ideas is hugely important. People need to feel free to challenge ideas that are clearly (as they say on Skeptics with a K) bat-shit crazy, as well as ideas that are more generally accepted. Like millions of animals rafting across the oceans (from here). Think that’s not very important? Well, people still believe that MMR causes autism. Which it doesn’t. And yet it still gets air time.

Question your ideas and questions other people’s ideas. That’s why I’m a skeptic.

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