Skeptical of Skepticism

One of the curious features of modern post-Enlightenment thinking is that doubt or skepticism is held as a high virtue. Part of thinking scientifically is that conclusions are always supposed to be tentative, and we should be prepared to revise them pending future new evidence or better theories. In practice, of course, scientific theories are often held with anything but tentativeness, and some scientists who disbelieve in the supernatural certainly do not seem prepared to revise that belief under any circumstances.

One thing I've noticed, however, is that skeptics tend to apply their skepticism selectively. When it comes to ideas like the universe popping into existence out of nothing, or of an unprovable hypothesis like the multiverse theory (that our universe is just one out of an unknown number of unobserved alternate universes), the skepticism applied to supernatural claims suddenly seems to disappear. In fact, the very attraction of the multiverse theory, as even cosmologist Sir Martin Rees admits, is as a way of escaping the conclusion that the universe was, in fact, designed. If this universe is the only one that exists (which as far as we know is the case), the conclusion that it was designed for life is virtually inescapable. Indeed, as William Lane Craig points out, the fact that the multiverse hypothesis is taken so seriously by many scholars (even though there is no empirical evidence to support it and quite possibly can't be even in principle) is a backhanded compliment to the strength of the cosmic fine-tuning argument. Of course, no scholar that I know of says that they know for certain that there are multiple universes. But that's really the point. The theory allows the skeptic to have a permanent out, never having to explain the evident fine-tuning of the universe, and never having to actually prove the hypothesis empirically, all the while denigrating belief in God for lack of evidence!

Even if God is the best inference of all the evidence, the goal of the skeptic is just to suggest that there could be (as far as we know) some possible natural explanation for the evidence, no matter how outlandish. This strategy is seen in many different areas. For example, in regards to the origin of life on earth, some skeptical scientists have actually suggested that the first life forms were sent here by aliens on an intergalactic spacecraft. This is due, of course, to the insurmountable difficulties that scientists have encountered in trying to explain the origin of life on earth naturalistically. The more the issue is studied, in fact, the more difficult the problem has become. Some scientists suggest that maybe things are different in other places in the universe, and so life could arise elsewhere more easily where it doesn't seem possible here. Skeptical approaches to the Resurrection like that used by Bart Ehrman also utilize this strategy. Ehrman thinks all that is needed is any outlandish theory to explain the evidence, even if the explanation has no evidence in support of it at all. Detailed analysis of such theories, however, quickly show that they hold no water whatsoever.

One skeptic I interacted with felt that God could certainly not hold him accountable for simply "having a higher evidential standard" than most people. However, skeptics don't have a higher evidential standard. It's just a selective one. Even as the apostle Paul writes in Romans 1:18-20: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse." The advances of modern science have not changed this fact one bit. If anything, they have made this argument even stronger.

So I think it's a little funny that the word skeptic should be only used for people who doubt the supernatural. I'm skeptical about a lot of things myself. For example, I'm skeptical that the universe could come into existence with no cause and for no reason, I'm skeptical that there are untold billions (or even infinite) other universes out there, I'm skeptical that inanimate matter just came to life on its own one day and started to reproduce, eventually developing into all life forms on planet earth, and I'm very skeptical that my conscious existence can be explained purely in terms of the emergent properties of brain chemistry (look for more on that one in future posts). I guess you could say I'm skeptical of skepticism. And I refuse to suspend my skepticism until someone can prove to me that the above mentioned phenomena have a natural explanation. So there.

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