On the fallability of skepticism
No one is infallible. Not I, not Plaitt, not Randi, no one! We all make mistakes sooner or later. I am sure that in my years of blogging I have made many errors, committed logical fallacies, reported or commented on something too soon, based on insufficient evidence etc. That’s because we are human; we all come with baggage, biases, emotions that, try as we might, we cannot completely isolate or stop from affecting our thinking.
Today was a great day for skepticism. Simon Singh emerges victorious from his libel suit against the BCA. I am very happy, but that event brought something into my mind. For the past few days I have been engaged in the arrest-the-pope saga, specifically in the “should organized skepticism get involved” side of it. Many prominent names in skepticism have voiced their opinions, and they range from “not our job” to “could be our job depending on the defence the Church uses” approaches. Since the beginning, I had a strong feeling that yes skepticism should get involved, but that was a gut feeling, I coud not quite articulate properly why. Could be due to an inherent bias, the fact that I strongly believe that skepticism, properly applied to the god hypothesis, should lead to atheism. Maybe that is why I feel that the Church, the “enemy” must be held accountable. Perhaps!
But then, the Singh news brought it all into perspective. Because, you see, the Libel Law Reform case, that the whole of organized skepticism got behind, is not a purely skeptical issue either. The BCA made no claims that fall within the skeptic’s sphere when they sued Simon Singh. They said he had defamed them and proceeded to sue him. THAT is not a skeptical issue, anymore than the arrest -the-pope issue is. Yet, we, the skeptics, got behind Simon and endorsed and loudly advocated for reform in the British Libel Laws. AS WE SHOULD!
However, how is the libel law case different from the pope/church case? They are both legal issues, neither of them falls within the skeptical sphere of expertise; yet we support one but remain silent on the other? Why? Because, someone may say, the libel laws are being used, or can be used, to silence skeptics. Hmmm, interesting, but if the church is left to its method, doesn’t that mean that it can continue practices that can lead to a child of skeptical parents being molested? Would it then become something we can get behind? I find that excuse unsatisfactory. Clearly, the skeptical world has, and still can, get behind causes that do not fall within its area of expertise; the Simon Singh case proves that. Then the question becomes: how do we choose which causes we’ll get involved in? That’s a more interesting question, but we cannot have our cake and eat it too. Either we stay “pure” and do not get involved in anything that cannot be examined skeptically, or we do; but we cannot, at the same time, claim to only want to get involved in “skeptical issues” and, as a movement, support Simon Singh’s battle, a purely legal issue! If I have to choose, I choose to support Simon, but that implies that we should be open to support other issues as well, if logic so demands. If we do not, when we do not, we only prove that skepticism isn’t immune from fallibility either.