Skepticism

I am skeptical about the effectiveness of the skeptic movement.

            I am concerned about the audience (or lack thereof) that the skeptic movement reaches. Let’s face it, most of us seem to be nerds and nerds only seem to attract other nerds. This is not a bad thing, but it is obvious we need to attract a larger and more diverse population if we really want to see positive change in the world.

 

It is old news that we, as a community, are failing to reach our desired demographic (those who consistently fail to think with reason, logic, evidence and criticality). Which is well… everyone else. Skepticism helps people live better, healthier, and more fulfilling lives. And unlike most religious doctrine and other wacky beliefs there is evidence to support this claim. So, if we want to help people, it is very clear that we need to somehow reach a wider audience instead of simply “preaching to the choir.” I want to discuss ways to both build community and improve the marketing of skepticism.

 

            Often, when I try to share the benefits of skepticism I will get a reaction similar to “That’s too much work! Why would you want to analyze everything!?!” or “That sounds hard.” After calming down from my frustration over the slacker culture of my age group, I wonder about what possible strategies can be used to influence people who just seem too lazy or uninterested to care about improving their lives.

           

            How does one convince another to give up their easy question-free lives in exchange for a life where most every decision involves some effort (i.e., critical thinking, etc.)? Many practiced critical thinkers fail to realize that their life involves a lot more effort than the average non-skeptic. Convincing someone to change the way they think to improve their lives is a lot harder than, say convincing them that there is a magical sky daddy that will make everything better. This is especially true when most people only meet a few practicing critical thinkers in their lives while being surrounded by non-critical thinkers on a daily basis.

 

How do you sell quick-fix America on the idea that they need to make an effort to think if they want to live better lives?

 

            I am very convinced that having one conversation or interaction with a person is not going to change their world views. So I have come up with a few key points we need to remember when trying to change minds.

  • Establish a positive relationship with the person before you try to change their mind
  • Choose an appropriate time to offer your message and be sure to let the person know that you have made decisions devoid of logic and evidence in the past and are claiming to be perfect
  • Live well. This is important because you want to be an example of the benefits of critical thought and skepticism. When I talk to people I try to be upbeat and happy. If you live a healthy and happy life, people are more likely to come to you and ask for advice on living well.
  • Open up to people that are not just of the atheist, agnostic, humanist persuasion. Let some cafeteria Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Jews etc. into your circle of friends and acquaintances. I have many friends who are religious (liberal in their views). They love and accept me and I’ve been able to help them be skeptical about alternative medicine, psychics and other woo.

 

What are your suggestions for preaching the “gospel of skepticism?”

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7 Comments

  1. sleeprun
    October 24, 2009 at 7:26 pm —

    duh….yup our brains ain’t designed to work thinking too hard on stuff…supernatural stuff is whole lot easier to get by with….given our own “irrational” beliefs in logic/data/science we come across as snobs and dum…..

  2. Cassie
    October 25, 2009 at 9:07 pm —

    Right. So, that means we need to hold off on the logic and reason until we earn someone’s trust. The people that we want to join our cause need to know we care for and support them and are not just trying to pick a fight.

  3. FFFearlesss
    October 26, 2009 at 9:53 am —

    Funny, in my former days as a Christian this is exactly how I encouraged people to witness to others. Shouting hell and damnation wasn’t going to bring people into the fold. They had to get to know you, see you weren’t crazy but in fact were a good person, a cool person who led a good life, and then start opening up about the Lord.

    Thankfully, most of them never took my advice and the number of atheists is growing.

  4. Cassie
    October 26, 2009 at 10:48 am —

    A lot of religious people use this method to witness, its where I got the idea. 👿

  5. October 27, 2009 at 2:25 pm —

    Except the difference is that, unlike the religious flavor, science/skepticism works. I think a great way to approach it is that often it’ll save them $. As Jeff Wagg at the JREF says, Consumer Reports is the number one skeptical magazine out there because nobody like “being taken.”

  6. rwphillips
    November 7, 2009 at 4:11 pm —

    I am constantly amazed that many/most other people are not in the least bit curious about the world around them. Intellectual laziness is a huge barrier to this good work.
    I propose that we concentrate on the children. Developing and encouraging a sense of wonder and curiosity, I hope, will foster the critical thinkers of tomorrow.
    This frustration always brings to mind the JFK chestnut:
    The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.
    John F. Kennedy

    Cheers!

  7. exarch
    November 13, 2009 at 6:30 am —

    Yeah, I think a big key point could be money.
    Nobody likes to pay extra, or buy a cat in a bag. You can easily explain how being lazy is just fine, as long as your willing to literally pay the price.

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