The Mythical “Psychology of the Skeptics”

It is nothing short of amazing how many proponents of extraordinary claims, usually without qualifications to know what they are talking about, but sometimes even those who should know better, try to expound on the “psychology of the skeptics™” and get their attempts at reading minds so completely and utterly wrong. Nothing short of amazing. And nothing better than chance odds of getting it right.

First, skeptics are a pretty diverse bunch personality-wise, without a common theme or reason for thinking or feeling a given way, so there is simply no such thing as a single universal generalization of “the” personality type applicable to skeptics. That can apply to anyone as well, skeptics, believers, agnostics, and proponents alike

Second, a little look through any up-to-date psychology textbook or journal – yes, even those written by “damned fundamentalist reactionary skeptics” – will reveal a wealth of data pertaining to the psychology of belief, from total incredulity to complete acceptance, without a need for a special psychological profile for skeptics. In most psychology studies on the causes and mechanisms of belief, skeptics are already entered into the equation–otherwise there would be nothing to compare with the sometimes uncritical acceptance of such claims.

Most attempts by proponents so far to “understand” skeptics involve the use of logical fallacies, usually ad hominems (interesting that they should be the ones to scream “ad hominem!” as much as they do, but given the liberal use of those as well, but I digress…), straw man arguments, well-poisoning, the hasty generalization (using small, non-randomized, and non-representative samples of skeptics and applying their motivations and personalities to all of them) and to support this generalization, the use of selective and often out-of-context quotations to validate their conclusion.

These sloppy, unprofessional and ad hoc attempts at psychoanalysis of critics of extraordinary claims are just rationalizations made by proponents to justify dislike of those who offend them or shock “delicate sensitivities.”

Provisional lack of belief and refusal to believe are not the same. This is no arcane mystery, just basic psychology 101. When a lack of belief is confused with a refusal to accept for any reason, and ten reasons that skeptics must be deeply afraid of the claims they examine for not accepting them without strong evidence, one must also argue that skeptics are deeply frightened of dragons, unicorns, faeries, chupacabras, and flying pigs, as well.

For the record, I’m fascinated, not frightened, by the paranormal, by pseudoscience, by grand conspiracy theories, by science denialism, like a moth to a flame, though I look at it with a more critical eye than I did when I believed. Ever want to find out why and how a skeptic thinks the way they do?

Just ask one. How hard can that be?

(Last Update: 2019/2/8, Text corrected)

3 thoughts on “The Mythical “Psychology of the Skeptics”

  1. I wonder sometimes that Sceptics spend as much time not believing as believers spent in believing. I think it is probably just as hard to do either all the time. Sitting on the fence may be for chickens but at least they get to see both sides. But at some point even chickens have to jump down on one side or the other before the fence falls down.
    Not having a bit of paper doesn’t mean you don’t know what you are talking about. From the heart is not a wrong way to express ones’ ideas. So please don’t dismiss us ‘dummies’ just because we don’t have letters after our names.


    1. @ Ted; I’m not prone to ‘dismiss’ anyone out of hand. It’s bad form–and bad skepticism. The qualifications I was referring to do not literally translate to a mere piece of paper or letters after one’s name, but to the actual training and experience, and the understanding that both bring, to know what one is talking about.

      Skill in freelance journalism simply does not instantly translate over to skill in analytical psychology: there is just no cross-over between them. To understand both, one must be trained in both. It’s that simple. Expertise is not global.

      I also don’t think it’s fair to think that I’m calling anyone stupid. I know many brilliant, educated, sane, and sincere believers. All that those four traits mean, however, is that those individuals having them merely have an easier time justifying their chosen beliefs.

      Belief does not equal stupidity, even to me.

      And just so you know: There are things that I do believe, that while they don’t coincide with the beliefs of paranormalists, I believe nonetheless. That, and I do express my ideas from the heart.


  2. Great post, Troy. Coming from someone who belongs to a paranormal group, I see what you’re saying from this side of the fence; I wrote no more than a few days ago: “sometimes it simply comes down to wanting to believe more than wanting to find a rational explanation.”

    Any ‘believer’ who isn’t able to take the criticism of a skeptic is only fooling themselves.


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