Archive | Thursday, 1:00, April 12, 2012

The Unremarkable Road: My Journey to Skepticism

What is it that led to my evolution in thinking over the years? What chain of events resulted in my current path as a skeptical blogger and general annoyance?

I cannot point to a particular moment in time and say, “That’s when it happened, that’s when I decided to be a skeptic.” — because it wasn’t something I decided at any given point — it was decided for me by events in my own life, and all I did was accept it.

Let me be clear: I don’t like labels, whether ‘atheist,’ ‘skeptic,’ ‘aleprechaunist’ ‘aunicornist’ ‘aUFOist’ or various cognates of words denoting such complex things as attitude, philosophy, worldview, belief, or the absence or lack of adherence to beliefs or doctrines.

Attempts to encapsulate a person in so few words are a case study in mistaken oversimplification, no matter the subject labeled, and often lead to misunderstandings based on popular but erroneous assumptions conveyed by the labels — but it’s a convenient shorthand, so skeptic it is for now.

Where to start…

I was raised in an Adventist family, not as strict as some, where my parents were concerned — I was allowed to watch cartoons on Saturday, normally a no-no in stricter households because of prohibitions on violating the Sabbath. I held a number of erroneous notions during most of my childhood, even through my teens during the 1970s, including creationism (from the church upbringing), and various paranormal ideas, like astral projection and other forms of psychic ability.

As I said, my immediate family wasn’t that strict, though my grandparents were, which sometimes resulted in me getting in or causing trouble during summer visits with them during school breaks. Though not a skeptic, I’ve always been one to argue, even as a boy, and it was during my preteens that we stopped going to church, partly for economic reasons (we were right in the middle of the energy crisis, and gasoline was too expensive to spend it going to church, when my mom needed it to get to her job.).

Probably from the lack of sustained indoctrination, my religious beliefs erroded over time, and I had already read a lot of science fiction, plus the paranormal ideas (which lasted longer than the religious ones) led to an interest in weird things that lasts to this day.

I’ve written before that the paranormal is boring, which is an unfortunate misstatement on my part: the paranormal as subject matter is fascinating — it’s the persistent lack of convincing evidence and unimaginative nature of some of the claims that’s boring.

But at some point, when I don’t remember, probably several times punctuating moments in my life, I started reading books by skeptics — sure, I was hooked on reading things paranormal, but I had just found out about skeptics, and was curious to hear what “the other side” had to say.

I think it started with Martin Gardner‘s column in Scientific American, and the things I’d heard about popular psychics of the time — word was getting out, and getting to me, that they weren’t what they said they were — that they weren’t really psychic.

I looked closer, and time rolled on.

Fast forward to 2006.

I’d just started thumbing through a Harlan Ellison book, the collection Edgeworks, with a first taste of real critical thinking, conveyed by the author’s brilliantly biting wit, and as a Christmas gift (Yes, we still celebrated it, but as a family tradition, more like the Yule celebration, without the overtly Christian ceremony.), I got my first Michael Shermer book, Why Darwin Matters.

I was fascinated to learn more about these skeptics…their perspective on seeking the truth instead of declaring it so as their opposition often did intrigued me. There was the fact that they warned outright never to take even them as unquestionable authorities, to check things out and think for myself — I don’t know about others, but that’s the message I got, anyway.

It had been over two decades since I realized I didn’t believe in any gods, not even my own anymore, I had just gotten my first iPod, and while looking for podcasts, I came across The Skeptics Guide to the Universe. Hmmm, a radio show by skeptics...I might have thought to myself then…I thought I’d check it out, so I downloaded a few episodes, and decided I liked the show.

I’ve been listening ever since.

Fast forward again to 2012.

After almost five years of skeptical blogging, just going into my fourth year posting on this blog, I’ve been honing my critical thinking skills, trying to maintain a realistic perspective on both my beliefs and my approach to skepticism.

I’ve met some amazing people online and in person…I’ve argued, sometimes productively, sharpened my science literacy chops and critical thinking skills, and learned from a lot of cool people, whether met by blogging or on Twitter, and though I’ve met my share of asshats, well, those have been and can be dealt with.

I’ve much more to learn, but I’m not the noob I started out as. I don’t think that there’s any such thing as a single skeptical movement, but rather a lot of different grassroots organizations working to promote science and reason. I’m not an active member of any of them, but I share their goals, since it’s good to be involved in something bigger than any one person alone. Nobody can change the world all by themselves, but together, I think we can make a difference, and it’s that which keeps me going, to help push back the darkness, chip away at the madness in the world just a little bit, molecule by metaphorical molecule.

And maybe, just maybe, I can help show that there’s something of genuine worth about a real world that exists no matter what anyone believes, a world where we don’t have to live forever, where we don’t have to be the center of the universe, where we can accept that reality and not feel the need to make up nonsense about it, where we can accept that we all have limits and work around them instead of denying they exist and remaining ignorantly trapped by them.

After all, you can’t fight an enemy you won’t admit exists, and to me, the most pernicious enemy of all is a rejection of reality and a denial of an honest search for whatever truth the facts of a matter bear out, even if I don’t like it.

Revealed metaphysical certitude is worthless to me, so I find it better not to reach so impossibly high, and seek out an understanding that can be attained, even if we can only call it provisional knowledge.

This unremarkable road of mine winds ever onward. Where it leads, I know not.