# Is skepticism always logical?

Is it always logical to be skeptical of something?

What about when it concerns alien-controlled ufo's or paranormal phenomena?
And what about the roundness of the earth?

Is it always logical to be skeptical of something?
It is logical to doubt the truth of a claim that has not been shown to be true.

The converse approach is to have faith in unsubstantiated claims. This is not logical simply due to the lack of any foundation that makes it logical.

Maybe until it is proven.. yes, I would say so.

Well not if you also like believing in junk.

Pythagorean
Gold Member
I would say logic and skepticism are independent of each other.

A lot of people like to convince you that they're rational just because they're skeptics

Garth
Gold Member

Garth

I agree with Pythagorean. The two are separate. One can be skeptical, but one's reasons for being skeptical are what determine whether it is logical.

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I would say logic and skepticism are independent of each other.
Different but not independent, there is a direct connection. It is necessary to be skeptical of a unsupported claim if you want to apply logic. If you don't apply any doubt to a claim in the absence of evidence then you cannot say that you are using logic. Call it "faith" instead, something else entirely.

A lot of people like to convince you that they're rational just because they're skeptics
Can you prove it?

I don't doubt that it happens (oops!) but it doesn't follow that skepticism is unnecessary to logic.

DaveC426913
Gold Member
I agree with Pythagorean. The two are separate. One can be skeptical, but one's reasons for being skeptical are what determine whether it is logical.
Absolutely. I have a son who sees corruption everywhere. He is highly skeptical, yet has little logic to back it up. I see it as an emotional reaction to a highly complex and confusing world.

Pythagorean
Gold Member
Different but not independent, there is a direct connection. It is necessary to be skeptical of a unsupported claim if you want to apply logic. If you don't apply any doubt to a claim in the absence of evidence then you cannot say that you are using logic. Call it "faith" instead, something else entirely.

Can you prove it?

I don't doubt that it happens (oops!) but it doesn't follow that skepticism is unnecessary to logic.
here's an example from someone on a different forum http://iwforums.com/showthread.php?t=3601" [Broken]

True Scientific Skepticism is supposed to be critical and analytical, but I often see people wear this guise to look more intelligent. The difference, I think, is between casual skepticism and scientific skepticism.

It can also be said that in some instances, scientific skepticism has slowed down the scientific process, because the skeptics (even though they were being rational) were being rational about the wrong things.

I think this is most evident in the development of both quantum physics and optics.

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It can also be said that in some instances, scientific skepticism has slowed down the scientific process, because the skeptics (even though they were being rational) were being rational about the wrong things.
Yes, scientific progress requires not only logic but also imagination and creativity. People are built in such a way that those with a proclivity for one often lack a proclivity for the other. Few are blessed with a good balance of both. Someone here has a good signature about how all progress depends on the unreasonable man because the reasonable man is not the one who tries to change the world.

It seems a lot of people lack the ability to distinguish good skepticism from bad skepticism. I continually have arguments with my Dad who doesn't see the difference and thinks that being skeptical automatically limits your ability to discover anything new, while I try to tell him that it actually helps us discover more. Perhaps he's encountered too many dumb skeptics in his life.

I'll add a general clarification: skepticism is not rejection, doubting is not denying. It just means that you cannot reach a logical conclusion. And it works both ways: there is no more logic in rejecting without reason as there is in accepting without reason.

It is logical to doubt the truth of a claim that has not been shown to be true.
Suppose 'something' has not been proven to be true, but nevertheless every piece of information with regard to that 'something' (for example eyewitness accounts) suggest that the 'something' IS true.

Is it logical to then be skeptical to the point where one still thinks its more plausible that the 'something' is not what the information indicates it to be, but that it is actually something else that does not match the information, but which has been proven to exist?

Hurkyl
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Yes, scientific progress requires not only logic but also imagination and creativity. People are built in such a way that those with a proclivity for one often lack a proclivity for the other. Few are blessed with a good balance of both. Someone here has a good signature about how all progress depends on the unreasonable man because the reasonable man is not the one who tries to change the world.
I really like http://www.sirlin.net/archive/playing-to-win-part-3-not-playing-to-win/#more-50 [Broken] description of this phenomenon. Partly because I like his writing style, and partly because I think he doesn't try and portray one kind of person as being better than the other.

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Suppose 'something' has not been proven to be true, but nevertheless every piece of information with regard to that 'something' (for example eyewitness accounts) suggest that the 'something' IS true.
Your comments beg for the definition of a proof. Essentially, a proof is nothing more than a convincing argument. Since arguments can be more or less convincing, proofs have different degrees of strength. When you say that something has not been proven to be true you are saying that no convincing argument has been provided. And of course depending on the nature of the 'something' in question, eyewitness accounts may or may not constitute proof. Even more frustrating is that the same argument can constitute sufficient proof to one but not to the other.

Is it logical to then be skeptical to the point where one still thinks its more plausible that the 'something' is not what the information indicates it to be, but that it is actually something else that does not match the information, but which has been proven to exist?
The logic lies in the reasoning process after the argument has been presented. If the argument is convincing to you then logically you should accept the claim. If not then you should remain skeptical.

Pythagorean
Gold Member
I'll add a general clarification: skepticism is not rejection, doubting is not denying. It just means that you cannot reach a logical conclusion. And it works both ways: there is no more logic in rejecting without reason as there is in accepting without reason.
I agree that's how skepticism is designed (and even practiced by a few) but in the real world, people generally assume the role of skeptic because they don't like something. They argue adamantly against something rather than stating it's inconclusive, and then they throw in Occam's razor.

For instance, string theory. I have no faith in it, personally. Will I argue with string theorists? Absolutely not. I use Occam's razor so that I can "cut the fat" in my own work. I take the "simplest explanation that yields the same results" because it's less work. (i.e. I use Newton's laws in some cases, ignoring relativity and quantum because it's affects are negligible). But if I have an idea that I think will work to make new predictions, than Occam's razor is a moot point. It's not an effective tool for argument in this case.

Whether string theory will ever be capable of new predictions, I cannot say. I don't understand string theory, and I will probably never take the time to understand it, so I will never be able to debunk it.

On the other hand, if I just leave string theorists alone, there's a chance (because of my lack knowledge of it) they might actually come up with a testable theory that makes new, concrete predictions.

Ivan Seeking
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
I agree that's how skepticism is designed (and even practiced by a few) but in the real world, people generally assume the role of skeptic because they don't like something. They argue adamantly against something rather than stating it's inconclusive, and then they throw in Occam's razor.
Faith based debunking:

One common tactic is to cite the weakest evidence for a claim, or even to completely misrepresent the claim, or to ignore the most significant aspects of a claim, and then denounce it as being weak. Probably the most common statement found regarding UFOs, and in particular, claims of advanced crafts of some sort, is, I need more than "lights in the sky". Well, if obscure "lights in the sky" were the only sorts of UFOs, most of us who follow the subject would have little to no interest in the claims of ET. It is the alleged observations by apprently respectable people, of seemingly advanced and "alien" looking crafts that demonstrate capabilities far beyond what would normally be considered possible, that peaks our interest. To deny this is not skepticism, it is dishonesty. To say that the whole UFO business is nonsense, is ignorance. To insist on good scientific evidence for ET before we assume that such beings exist, now that is good and valid skepticism. But, to say that the burden of proof lies with coincidental observers is a cop-out. And finally, to automatically assume that anyone making a claim that we can't explain, is lying, or hallucinating, is the worst sort of cop-out because it denies the first step in the process of discovery - observation.

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StuMyers
here's an example from someone on a different forum http://iwforums.com/showthread.php?t=3601" [Broken]

True Scientific Skepticism is supposed to be critical and analytical, but I often see people wear this guise to look more intelligent. The difference, I think, is between casual skepticism and scientific skepticism.
Right. There's definitely a difference between being skeptical and being contrarian.

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It can also be said that in some instances, scientific skepticism has slowed down the scientific process, because the skeptics (even though they were being rational) were being rational about the wrong things.
Right. Even well-documented observations that do not fit easily into a
preconceived notion of how the world should work, may be rationalized away
or just neglected. One example of this is the observed mean acceleration
$${\dot n}$$ of the Moon; from lunar laser ranging experiments this has the value of about -13.8 arcseconds/(century)^2. Furthermore, the
mean motion of the Moon $$n$$ is about .549 arcseconds/s.
Now the interesting part is that to within one standard deviation,
$${\dot n}=-Hn$$, where H is the Hubble parameter.

How should a real skeptic react to this fact?

Pythagorean
Gold Member
Right. Even well-documented observations that do not fit easily into a
preconceived notion of how the world should work, may be rationalized away
or just neglected. One example of this is the observed mean acceleration
$${\dot n}$$ of the Moon; from lunar laser ranging experiments this has the value of about -13.8 arcseconds/(century)^2. Furthermore, the
mean motion of the Moon $$n$$ is about .549 arcseconds/s.
Now the interesting part is that to within one standard deviation,
$${\dot n}=-Hn$$, where H is the Hubble parameter.

How should a real skeptic react to this fact?
I haven't done any astronomy (currently studying Lagrangian and Hamiltonian in classical mechanics) so I'm a little shaky, but I'm interpreting what you're saying is that the velocity of the moon depends only on it's location about its center of orbit.

Until I understand what you're saying though, I can't see your point.

Hurkyl
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
How should a real skeptic react to this fact?
One appriate response is "So what?"

StuMyers
I think he's stating a coincidence.

A skeptic would probably say that looking in an enormous sea of facts and figures, you are bound to find some meaningless coincidences.

Humans are VERY good at naturally finding patterns in nature. After all, that's what intelligence really is, at its core. Humans are not so good at separating meaningful patterns from coincident ones (correlation vs causation). Hence, superstition.

Suppose 'something' has not been proven to be true, but nevertheless every piece of information with regard to that 'something' (for example eyewitness accounts) suggest that the 'something' IS true.
The irony being that your 'something' is a good example of why eyewitness accounts aren't taken seriously.

The irony being that your 'something' is a good example of why eyewitness accounts aren't taken seriously.
There is a difference between an eyewitness account being 'sufficient proof' and it being suggestive of a particular phenomenom. As Ivan said:

to automatically assume that anyone making a claim that we can't explain, is lying, or hallucinating, is the worst sort of cop-out because it denies the first step in the process of discovery - observation.