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Old 2nd December 2012, 11:22 AM   #1
BobR
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[Merged] What is a "skeptic"?/Was Carl Sagan a skeptic?

Just out of curiosity, how do the members of the "General Skepticsm etc." forum define skepticism? Thanks for your input.
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Old 2nd December 2012, 11:30 AM   #2
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What is a skeptic?



It's an American sceptic, of course.

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Old 2nd December 2012, 11:37 AM   #3
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Old 2nd December 2012, 12:46 PM   #4
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A skeptic is someone who never takes anything at face value.
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Old 2nd December 2012, 02:18 PM   #5
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Somebody which look at claims, compare them to what is known (science/history etc...) and agaisnt the provided evidences by the claimant, to see if the claim is at least probable or not. Note that I said probable or improbable (or even impossible). Note I did not say "to see if the claim is true or false" , IMHo such binary results are more or less only valid in pure logic/math/philosophy.
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Old 2nd December 2012, 02:27 PM   #6
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A member of a specific geek subculture focused on consuming books and other media about how dumb other people are, instead of, let's say, caped superhero comics. As in other geek subcultures, there's a small group of creators and a much larger pool of consumers, some of which aspire to join the former group, with varied success. A further parallel with other geeks cultures is the accumulation of its own lingo, in-jokes and other memes, such as "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" and "the plural of anecdote is not data".

(As you can guess, I'm in a cynical mood today.)
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Old 2nd December 2012, 02:35 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by BobR View Post
Just out of curiosity, how do the members of the "General Skepticsm etc." forum define skepticism? Thanks for your input.

Just the facts, mam.
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Old 2nd December 2012, 02:35 PM   #8
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A person who, when confronted with an extraordinary claim, examines the evidence for that claim and, if not convinced of its veracity, provisionally rejects the claim pending further evidence.
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Old 2nd December 2012, 02:37 PM   #9
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knows poop when he smells it
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Old 2nd December 2012, 04:29 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Jodie View Post
A skeptic is someone who never takes anything at face value.
I'm a little sceptical of this claim.
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Old 2nd December 2012, 04:41 PM   #11
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The search for truth.
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Old 2nd December 2012, 05:35 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by arthwollipot View Post
The search for truth.
This.
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Old 2nd December 2012, 05:37 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by StankApe View Post
knows poop when he smells it
ditto (and well said)

Last edited by Castro; 2nd December 2012 at 05:58 PM.
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Old 2nd December 2012, 05:38 PM   #14
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Vell, a skeptic's just zis guy, you know?
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Old 2nd December 2012, 06:51 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by daggerstab View Post
A member of a specific geek subculture focused on consuming books and other media about how dumb other people are, instead of, let's say, caped superhero comics. As in other geek subcultures, there's a small group of creators and a much larger pool of consumers, some of which aspire to join the former group, with varied success. A further parallel with other geeks cultures is the accumulation of its own lingo, in-jokes and other memes, such as "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" and "the plural of anecdote is not data".

(As you can guess, I'm in a cynical mood today.)
OMG, the skeptics remind me of the bigfoot community with one exception:

The plural of anecdote is the only data.
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Old 2nd December 2012, 06:53 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by Squeegee Beckenheim View Post
I'm a little sceptical of this claim.
I'm skeptical of forum members who call themselves a "thingy" used to clean windows.
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Old 3rd December 2012, 02:15 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by Jodie View Post
I'm skeptical of forum members who call themselves a "thingy" used to clean windows.
I'm sceptical of people who use the letter "k" when the letter "c" is obviously the correct one.
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Old 3rd December 2012, 06:51 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by Squeegee Beckenheim View Post
I'm sceptical of people who use the letter "k" when the letter "c" is obviously the correct one.
I doubt that.

(always wanted to say that)
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Old 3rd December 2012, 07:50 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by Squeegee Beckenheim View Post
I'm sceptical of people who use the letter "k" when the letter "c" is obviously the correct one.
Personally, I think we should all just get along.

I propose skceptick.
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Old 3rd December 2012, 07:52 AM   #20
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I came across this intriguing double play.
Skeptics are reactive not proactive. They are not seekers of knowledge nor keepers of knowledge they are critiques of knowledge. And because knowledge is never present in an absolute way skeptics can get caught up in endless disagreements. For example "A man is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." As abstract as the law may be it is circumspect in the application of the word "reasonable". But what is a reasonable doubt or reasonable argument is less definable or guaranteed to satisfy the skeptic because the threshold also vary from skeptic to skeptic.
Most skeptics are not in a positioned to make an informed decision or arrive at a reasonable conclusion because the process designed to extract the facts are often steeped in ignorant dogma and the failure to admit to ones own biases.
Skeptics often put the burden of proof on the one who makes the claim. It is not a cooperative exchange but an adversarial challenge. More often than not the skeptic is not an expert in the field under discussion which leads to endless missed turns, so complex issues are best avoided when confronting a skeptic. Which begs the question, why deal with skeptics if even the obvious are subject to

Quote:
a thesis about epistemic limitations and a thesis about suspending judgment.
The two most frequently made objections to skepticism target these theses. The first is that the skepticís commitment to our epistemic limitations is inconsistent. He cannot consistently claim to know, for example, that knowledge is not possible; neither can he consistently claim that we should suspend judgment regarding all matters insofar as this claim is itself a judgment.
So the question can go beyond "Why you might not be a skeptic" and can be truthfully answered with "why you might very well be a very insecure individual."
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Old 3rd December 2012, 07:56 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by Bram Kaandorp View Post
I doubt that.

(always wanted to say that)
Citation, please.
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Old 3rd December 2012, 08:05 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by justintime View Post
For example "A man is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." As abstract as the law may be it is circumspect in the application of the word "reasonable". But what is a reasonable doubt or reasonable argument is less definable or guaranteed to satisfy the skeptic because the threshold also vary from skeptic to skeptic.
Determining the truth about the natural universe has little in common with a courtroom. Your comparison is invalid.

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Most skeptics are not in a positioned to make an informed decision or arrive at a reasonable conclusion because the process designed to extract the facts are often steeped in ignorant dogma and the failure to admit to ones own biases.
Actually, the process of reason, scepticism and empiricism is designed to eliminate adherence to dogma and cognitive biases. Sceptics are more likely to be aware of their own biases than people who are not trained in critical thinking.

Is that to say that all people who self-identify as sceptics are free from these things? No. I mean, they're all human for one and, as such, are just as fallible as everybody else. But they should be more aware of the pitfalls and be better at avoiding them. And there are other sceptics around to let sceptics know if they are giving in to personal biases.

And, not to go all Scotsman on you, but if someone consistently fails to question established dogma, consistently fails to avoid their own biases, and consistently ignores or resents corrections from other sceptics then, by definition, they're not really a sceptic.

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Skeptics often put the burden of proof on the one who makes the claim.
Always, I'd have thought. That's how burden of proof works. Logic 101. That's not a flaw of scepticism, critical thinking or empiricism, that's one of the reasons why they're better than any other methodology for determining the truth of the world around us.
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Old 3rd December 2012, 08:08 AM   #23
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Sceptics care.
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Old 3rd December 2012, 08:21 AM   #24
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Was Carl Sagan really a Skeptic?

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, particularly in claims that are far fetched or that violate physical laws.

Carl Sagan did not need extraordinary evidence to spend his adult life searching for ETI (aliens). He just followed his early obsessions with flying saucers and aliens to fuel his scientific curiosity and a rather weak statistical probability based on arbitrary assumptions, hardly scientific by any definition or even scientifically skeptical.
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Old 3rd December 2012, 08:24 AM   #25
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in my opinion, a sceptic is someone who questions extraordinary claims and is open to new ideas and evidence to change their position. Alas far too many self declared skeptics have closed, small minds and are way more vociferous in what they believe, for example the climate change deniers or anti MMR inoculation brigade.
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Old 3rd December 2012, 08:33 AM   #26
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Originally Posted by justintime View Post
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, particularly in claims that are far fetched or that violate physical laws.

Carl Sagan did not need extraordinary evidence to spend his adult life searching for ETI (aliens). He just followed his early obsessions with flying saucers and aliens to fuel his scientific curiosity and a rather weak statistical probability based on arbitrary assumptions, hardly scientific by any definition or even scientifically skeptical.
OK, you got banned on yet another forum, so you are going to try this silliness here?

As you have been told, over and over, Dr. Sagan was not "obsessed" with flying saucers". He wrote, frequently, about the way credulous people see "flying saucers", and experience "alien abductions", the same way they used to see "fairies and goblins" and experience "visitations by saints".

Dr, Sagan was of the expressed opinion that it was more likely than not that there were other intelligences "out there", which is why he arranged to search for them.

Since skeptical inquiry is at the heart of properly done science (http://skeptoid.com/skeptic.php) Dr, Sagan's search for evidence of other intelligences makes much more sense than, say, claiming that the fact that the universe exists is "evidence" for creation.
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Old 3rd December 2012, 08:37 AM   #27
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Originally Posted by justintime View Post
I came across this intriguing double play.
Skeptics are reactive not proactive. They are not seekers of knowledge nor keepers of knowledge they are critiques of knowledge. And because knowledge is never present in an absolute way skeptics can get caught up in endless disagreements. For example "A man is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." As abstract as the law may be it is circumspect in the application of the word "reasonable". But what is a reasonable doubt or reasonable argument is less definable or guaranteed to satisfy the skeptic because the threshold also vary from skeptic to skeptic.
Most skeptics are not in a positioned to make an informed decision or arrive at a reasonable conclusion because the process designed to extract the facts are often steeped in ignorant dogma and the failure to admit to ones own biases.
Skeptics often put the burden of proof on the one who makes the claim. It is not a cooperative exchange but an adversarial challenge. More often than not the skeptic is not an expert in the field under discussion which leads to endless missed turns, so complex issues are best avoided when confronting a skeptic. Which begs the question, why deal with skeptics if even the obvious are subject to



So the question can go beyond "Why you might not be a skeptic" and can be truthfully answered with "why you might very well be a very insecure individual."
http://skeptoid.com/skeptic.php

It's all about the evidence, just as you have been told over and over on the other fora from which you have been banned.
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Old 3rd December 2012, 08:39 AM   #28
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Had Sagan insisted that alien life exists despite having no direct evidence, then one could certainly question his scientific skepticism. But he simply followed what evidence we do have to the conclusion that, given the possibility of extraterrestrial civilizations and the low cost of searching, it is certainly worth having a look. One can hardly say that his curiosity regarding the possibility of other civilizations in the galaxy was fueled by an obsession with UFOs given that he was quite clear that he was convinced that the UFO phenomenon was the result of human psychology and sociology, and not extraterrestrial visitors.

In short, Sagan never made an extraordinary claim. He never said, "Alien civilizations exist". He (and many other scientists) essentially said, "Given what we know about biology and astronomy, it is possible that alien civilizations exist. Given the low cost of observation it's worth having a look. If we detect something, that's certainly worth knowing. If we don't, and the sky is silent, then that's also worth knowing".
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Old 3rd December 2012, 08:43 AM   #29
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Originally Posted by Hellbound View Post
I propose skceptick.
I expect that word is too similar to 'skepchick' for some people to embrace.
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Old 3rd December 2012, 08:47 AM   #30
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Originally Posted by justintime View Post
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, particularly in claims that are far fetched or that violate physical laws.

Carl Sagan did not need extraordinary evidence to spend his adult life searching for ETI (aliens). He just followed his early obsessions with flying saucers and aliens to fuel his scientific curiosity and a rather weak statistical probability based on arbitrary assumptions, hardly scientific by any definition or even scientifically skeptical.
If you haven't read "the demon-haunted world", you should. It's a fun read and contains the answer to your question.
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Old 3rd December 2012, 08:48 AM   #31
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Originally Posted by Foster Zygote View Post
In short, Sagan never made an extraordinary claim. He never said, "Alien civilizations exist". He (and many other scientists) essentially said, "Given what we know about biology and astronomy, it is possible that alien civilizations exist. Given the low cost of observation it's worth having a look. If we detect something, that's certainly worth knowing. If we don't, and the sky is silent, then that's also worth knowing".

Justintime's post on another thread claims that skeptics don't look for new information, so it is necessary for him to argue that Sagan (or anyone else exhibiting this behaviour) wasn't a skeptic:
Originally Posted by justintime View Post
Skeptics are reactive not proactive. They are not seekers of knowledge nor keepers of knowledge they are critiques of knowledge.

As FZ said, Sagan didn't claim that aliens exist, he just advocated looking for evidence.
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Old 3rd December 2012, 09:03 AM   #32
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Originally Posted by Reno View Post
I expect that word is too similar to 'skepchick' for some people to embrace.
Hmm.

Looks like we need to think outside the box.

How about "Thinky-type person"?
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Old 3rd December 2012, 09:15 AM   #33
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I am a Scot, but I prefer the hard 'k' in skeptic. 'Sceptic' could be pronounced with the first c silent. Not good.
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Old 3rd December 2012, 09:17 AM   #34
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Originally Posted by justintime View Post
Skeptics are reactive not proactive. They are not seekers of knowledge nor keepers of knowledge they are critiques of knowledge.
No. Many skeptics are driven to seek knowledge. So much so that they are prone to ask "but what if this claim is wrong?" regarding a great many things. So skeptics simply hold claims to a higher standard of evidence than the more credulous.

Quote:
And because knowledge is never present in an absolute way skeptics can get caught up in endless disagreements. For example "A man is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." As abstract as the law may be it is circumspect in the application of the word "reasonable". But what is a reasonable doubt or reasonable argument is less definable or guaranteed to satisfy the skeptic because the threshold also vary from skeptic to skeptic.
Your analogy does not seem relevant. The whole idea behind innocence until proof of guilt is derived from the moral position that it is better that a guilty person go unpunished than an innocent person be punished. Thus, in legal systems that make such a moral judgement, skepticism is applied to the charges leveled against a defendant.

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Most skeptics are not in a positioned to make an informed decision or arrive at a reasonable conclusion because the process designed to extract the facts are often steeped in ignorant dogma and the failure to admit to ones own biases.
Examples?

Quote:
Skeptics often put the burden of proof on the one who makes the claim.
That is where it belongs. If you claim that a '67 Dodge Dart is orbiting a star in the Andromeda galaxy, that your god has given you supernatural powers, or that the sparkly rocks that you sell for $500 will cure all forms of cancer, then the burden of proof lies with you.

Quote:
It is not a cooperative exchange but an adversarial challenge.
Yes, it is a challenge to provide sound evidence of a claim. Many extraordinary claims have met that challenge: Heliocentricism, relativity, metric expansion of space, continental drift.

But you seem to be conflating this challenge with a mean-spirited aggression. Are you, perhaps, an exponent of some hypothesis or claim that has failed the challenge?

Quote:
More often than not the skeptic is not an expert in the field under discussion...
More often than not, those discussing any subject are not experts in the field being deliberated. This does not invalidate any consensus reached by those who are experts in the field.

Quote:
...which leads to endless missed turns, so complex issues are best avoided when confronting a skeptic.
That sounds an awful lot like an excuse to dismiss anyone who does not accept your ideas. Do you suggest seeking out the company of the credulous when attempting to deduce the truth of a claim?

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Which begs the question, why deal with skeptics if even the obvious are subject to
Subject to what?

Quote:
So the question can go beyond "Why you might not be a skeptic" and can be truthfully answered with "why you might very well be a very insecure individual."
Ah, the 'poisoning the well' fallacy.
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Old 3rd December 2012, 09:17 AM   #35
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Is scientific skepticism really rationalism?

I keep hearing that Skepticism is a process of applying critical thinking and demanding credible evidence to determine validity. Now they are nice catch words. But the roots of Skepticism are closer to a psychological state of mind than a philosophical approach.

Definition of Skepticism: . A doubting or questioning attitude or state of mind; dubiety synonyms with uncertainty.

Quote:
The Pyrrhonians, in contrast, did not claim that knowledge is impossible; rather, they suspended judgment on all such theoretical questions, thereby avoiding the mental discomfort that comes from taxing one's brain with insoluble problems. For them, skepticism was a mental attitude and a way of life, not an abstract philosophical position. The Pyrrhonist refused to judge or criticize the laws and customs of his society, resolving instead to accept things as they appear to be, without committing himself to any judgment about them. In this way he attained the psychological tranquillity of ataraxia.


ataraxia definition:
a state of tranquility free from anxiety and emotional disturbance.
Why a Skeptic seeks ataraxia or a stress free state to pacify his insecurity, uncertainty or doubting attitude.
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Old 3rd December 2012, 09:19 AM   #36
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Originally Posted by justintime View Post
I keep hearing that Skepticism is a process of applying critical thinking and demanding credible evidence to determine validity. Now they are nice catch words. But the roots of Skepticism are closer to a psychological state of mind than a philosophical approach.

Definition of Skepticism: . A doubting or questioning attitude or state of mind; dubiety synonyms with uncertainty.
Source?
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Old 3rd December 2012, 09:23 AM   #37
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Originally Posted by Foster Zygote View Post
Had Sagan insisted that alien life exists despite having no direct evidence, then one could certainly question his scientific skepticism. But he simply followed what evidence we do have to the conclusion that, given the possibility of extraterrestrial civilizations and the low cost of searching, it is certainly worth having a look. One can hardly say that his curiosity regarding the possibility of other civilizations in the galaxy was fueled by an obsession with UFOs given that he was quite clear that he was convinced that the UFO phenomenon was the result of human psychology and sociology, and not extraterrestrial visitors.

In short, Sagan never made an extraordinary claim. He never said, "Alien civilizations exist". He (and many other scientists) essentially said, "Given what we know about biology and astronomy, it is possible that alien civilizations exist. Given the low cost of observation it's worth having a look. If we detect something, that's certainly worth knowing. If we don't, and the sky is silent, then that's also worth knowing".
I think Carl Sagan did more than insist alien life exists. He went looking for them!!! for over 50 years. That is an obsession, conviction and wishful thinking all rolled in one.
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Old 3rd December 2012, 09:32 AM   #38
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Was it reasonable to send ships into the ocean looking for new land? Or should people not bother because someone drew a waterfall edge and "There be dragons here" on a map?
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Old 3rd December 2012, 09:34 AM   #39
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Originally Posted by justintime View Post
I keep hearing that Skepticism is a process of applying critical thinking and demanding credible evidence to determine validity. Now they are nice catch words. But the roots of Skepticism are closer to a psychological state of mind than a philosophical approach.

Definition of Skepticism: . A doubting or questioning attitude or state of mind; dubiety synonyms with uncertainty.
Cherry picking. There are definitions of skepticism other than the Pyrrhic definition.

Even after three posts it is apparent that your goal is to construct a puerile straw-man of an exemplary skeptic as someone who is simply driven to reject all claims out of prejudicial disbelief. The truth (which I suspect you've been told innumerable times) is that many skeptics apply rational skepticism to ideas that they feel very well may be true. Before subjecting a scientific paper for peer review by other skeptical scientists, any good scientist will first subject his/her own ideas to the greatest skeptical scrutiny that he/she can manage.

You seem to be directing a good bit of vitriol toward skeptics, but you give the impression that it is you who have the visceral issues you ascribe to others.


By the way, this thread seems to be in the wrong sub-forum, unless you have something to say regarding religion and/or philosophy.
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Last edited by Foster Zygote; 3rd December 2012 at 10:47 AM. Reason: Corrected "and" to "any".
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Old 3rd December 2012, 09:38 AM   #40
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Originally Posted by justintime View Post
I think Carl Sagan did more than insist alien life exists. He went looking for them!!! for over 50 years. That is an obsession, conviction and wishful thinking all rolled in one.

Nope. While he said that it was likely that they exist, he didn't "insist alien life exists"; he tried to find evidence for it.
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