The cult of skepticism

Mental sanity explained to skeptics and vice versa

Abstract. This very long argument arbitrarily divided in 6 parts, aims to defeat the claims of rationality and scientificity of so-called "scientific skepticism", with their arguments (a priori and a posteriori) for naturalism.

(The irrationality of arguments of academic philosophers on the same side, and the positive evidence for supernaturalism, are the objects of different texts).

Table of contents

Part 1

Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 List of links on skepticism

Part 1


It may look very surprising for a web site dedicated to rationally criticizing diverse religions and spiritual teachings, to list skepticism among the cults to be criticized, as, isn't it a core function of skepticism to rationally criticize religions and cults ? Some clarifications of vocabulary are needed. Let us start with these.

As any label, "skeptic" is a label in need of a definition ; a definition must come from somewhere, and it can be debatable why to choose a definition, or source of definition, against others. I see 3 main possible sources of definitions for a label qualifying people (I hope to not forget other notable ones...) :

Perhaps surprisingly, these may widely diverge from each other.
Such a divergence clearly appears in the case of "Christianity": many members of some branch of Christianity only regard as Christians the members of the same branch, or may even claim their own branch to be full of "not true Christians" while only God would know who are the true ones. They may define Christianity as "not a religion but a relationship with God", and define "Christians" as people who "have Jesus in their heart", "gave their life to God" or "follow God's will", which not only does not qualify all self-called "Christians" but according to some may even qualify people who don't label themselves Christians. They may believe this to be correlated to the membership of their own branch of Christianity, based on their faith that God would lead to this branch anyone giving Him their life with a sincere heart; and that any choice of leaving this branch must necessarily be based on either some stupid mistake or some sin of rebellion against God - ignoring that (as actually happened to me), it is on the contrary an excess of dedication which may lead to a greater justified disappointment and from there a rejection of the ideology.
Similarly for the label "spiritual" as I already discussed elsewhere (as what I reject in "spirituality" is the objective characteristics of many people giving themselves this label, very different from how they would define themselves...).

Now the point is that this divergence is also big in the case of "skepticism" : while its definition by proponents appears as being all about applying reasonable doubts and thinking rationally, it does not correlate well with the actual behavior of people claiming themselves of this label. So, when self-called "skeptics" think of their group as better doubting and more rational than the rest, this is just a belief... and it isn't actually rational. Just being obsessed about rationality is not actually making them more rational. Likewise, the famous apparent pleonasm of "Scientific skepticism", like other pleonasms such as "Democratic Republic" is only there to hide, in naive eyes, how much the real practice done under its name is devoid of what it claims to be all about.

Some people may like to cope with this divergence by calling "pseudoskeptics" those self-called skeptics whose thinking is not properly rational, as opposed to "true skeptics" who genuinely apply the theoretically good principles of skepticism, that is science and rationality according to their own definitions. But I don't see the point, just like I don't see the point of calling "true Christians" those people who truly follow God's will as opposed to pseudo-Christians who follow a flawed man-made version of Christianity, just because I consider all Christianity to be flawed and man-made, and that the true will of God has nothing to do with driving people to Christian faith, but rather to just abandon us to experiment our own will without guidance (more comments in Part 2). Similarly I don't see the point of trying to distinguish "true skeptics" from "pseudoskeptics" as

A possible source of divergence between versions of "rationality" is the diversity of MBTI types: the best MBTI fit for the precise kind of skepticism I will criticize here, is ESTJ (maybe more ESTJ-T, though that may not matter), to which I will oppose the opposite rational type INTP. Many skeptics can have other types than ESTJ-T, but skepticism is also a cultural phenomenon, an ideology first developed by diverse people close to ESTJ-T then shared to and followed by many people with any types. (This is not easily searchable because of the abundance of pages on "skepticism about MBTI"; I only found this).

A trend among skeptics is to be quite obsessed (make a fuss) about the thinking ways of people who don't think like them, which they see as irrational. Of course they sometimes properly point out irrational people, but... it is a natural illusion of perspective to generally see oneself as more rational than others, and that one's own opinions are better justified that those of others which are mere beliefs. So, just their honest impression of being more rational than others and that people with different opinions than their own are just "believers", does not always make these true. They go deal with these "irrational" others by either attacking, sealioning (ref in French) or anyhow investigating them (things which may somehow be normal or understandable but...), but fail to see their own flaws or do they ? Of course they may insist that they are pretty much aware of their own fallibility, risks of illusions and biases, but that the point of skepticism is precisely, being aware of these, to work on methodically escaping such traps better than others do... or so they think. Really ?

The main developments of this exposition on skepticism started in January 2020 (and then continued in April) a while after a long private correspondence with a skeptic (a quite notable one : author of a science popularization YouTube channel, each video with over 10k views) : while aware of my better knowledge of theoretical physics (in which he once asked me for help and I gave my assistance), in quite many messages we criticized each other for being "outside science"... so it gave me the chance to see better how skeptics (at least this one) think, and how they may fail to understand how non-skeptics think and what we may have against skeptics. Rather than spending more time somewhat wastefully trying to explain stuff privately to someone who so persistently asks for explanations but with such difficulties to understand or accept them, now that I (hopefully) clearly see the nature of the misunderstandings, here is my public work to provide in clear the needed explanations of what I have against skepticism and how I see skeptics as opposed to truly rational people. Developing lots of trivial explanations about the workings of mental sanity I did not previously expect to have to explain but which I now see needed, as I see skeptics may terribly fail to see them. Without claim of exhaustivity. While I see no more point for private debate, skeptics are invited to reply publicly and officially if they dare (thus facing the risk of further ridicule).
So, this exposition can be seen as my open reply to his insisting requests to explain what my position was, as he complained that I seemed unclear in the basis of my positions while he was searching for a way to attack my rationality.

Once written, I invited him to read this but he reported having troubles with it. Then (Dec. 2020) I expanded this by the following points:

Brief summary

(Copy of my Quora answer) I wrote a very long criticism of this ideology. It is hard to sum up but I will try.
Roughly, "scientific skepticism" is only an attempt to think scientifically. It can be sincere, and represent for many people a possible step towards a scientific mindset, however it remains quite incomplete and finally appears relatively childish and caricatural when seen from a more maturely scientific viewpoint. This caricature consists in reducing "science" to a short list of recipes called "The Scientific Method", ready and easy for any idiot to apply, a condition assumed sufficient to picture oneself as a scientist as great as can be, in authority to judge anything and dismiss as non-science anything that one does not understand and that cannot be checked by these recipes. Other crucial requirements of science thus ignored are all those which cannot be taught in short times : the need of a great intelligence for deeper and more accurate understanding and discernment in complex matters (such ability may be innate and/or a form of maturity, fruit of a long training and experience) ; the need of extensive and diverse knowledge background in concerned fields (that one needs the patience to learn before wanting to conclude).
Usually, "scientific skeptics" simply take the status quo as default truth, against which any other view is seen as an extraordinary claim in need of extraordinary evidence, an evidence which is never found just because any proof can have real or imaginary flaws, unless it is more simply completely ignored for being either too difficult to understand or just not heard of from the mouth of peer skeptics.
Many have a passion to explore the craziest ideas possible in order to praise themselves as comparatively much wiser, and to run out of the time which would be needed to understand any more serious opponent and discover that they are not all the same.
They claim to be masters in chasing fallacies, and endorse the principles of naturalism, not noticing that these principles of naturalism are themselves full of nonsense and fallacies, raising unsolvable problems.
They are usually hardcore empiricists, focused on the request for experiments with no care for theoretical understanding, except when they learn that parapsychology research did produce overwhelming experimental evidence, in which case they suddenly become hardcore rationalists, believing in the right to simply dismiss all empirical evidence in the name of theoretical impossibilities from a modern physics which they are anyway clueless of, but only report from their own rumors.
They teach falsities about the concept of quantum decoherence, which they confuse with the end of superposition, because the proper understanding would require a certain level of mathematics which is above their head. And it is mainly based on this false view that they dismiss the Von Neumann Wigner interpretation of quantum physics. They have faith that if this interpretation is usually ignored by academic researchers in quantum foundations it must be for good reasons, not noticing that this is actually no more than a baseless rumor coming from: misunderstandings ; strong metaphysical prejudices by these researchers ; the fact that an interpretation is precisely made academically interesting by the quality of being plagued with an infinite series of potential unsolvable problems, because that is what makes it a great job plan for researchers ; while anyone who would notice that the von Neumann Wigner interpretation is simply by far the best one without any problem would naturally lose any interest in debates on quantum foundations seen as a waste of time, with nothing worth publishing on a topic where the correct view is actually trivial.
Another simple reason why "scientific skepticism" is outside genuine science: the heart of science is mathematics, but the philosophy of "scientific skeptics" is opposite to that of mathematicians. Indeed, most mathematicians are (kinds of) Platonists, explorers of infinite mathematical systems seen as independent realities. Such things are too mystical for skeptics to believe in.

Mental sanity and the risks of going astray

Rejecting both most spiritualities and skepticism, the position I then consider myself in (while quite close to scientism which is usually confused with skepticism...) I will rather describe as some kind of middle ground between those different extremes, and, I will simply call it mental sanity having much in common with the default positions of many people not caring for nor making a fuss about their positions...
At the same time, for those who care about the truth in detail (and I understand there is no need for all people to care), I also describe my way as rationalist, on the side of science and its methods. Unfortunately, the community of paranormal believers (if we may call it so, i.e. the "public" outside the community of researchers in parapsychology) in average, did not much care or want to manage distinguishing themselves from irrationalists and crackpots; some still mistake skepticism with mainstream science, and assume that in order to oppose their skeptical adversaries, they would have to oppose the scientific community too, by promoting diverse ideas or "research works" aside mainstream science.
These adversaries of mainstream science, can be religions or paranoid cranks with their conspiracy theories accusing scientists to be dogmatic, close-minded and to censor new (crackpot) ideas.

What they didn't notice is that by developing such alliances, they are just ridiculing their points in the eyes of both scientists and many reasonable people (just like skeptics are discrediting the scientific method in the eyes of any witness of paranormal phenomena). Here is a long explanation that I wrote about how a pro-paranormal site, which claims to be scientific, fails to stand rationality standards, and thus discredits itself in the eyes of scientists.

Ironically, in this intermediate position I am relatively less critical against these different extremes than they are critical to each other, and yet I hardly have any friend and got a reputation of being an extremely insulting person, as I am not hiding my divergences with each, and each extreme has a tendency to confuse my positions with those of opposite extremes...

Of course this sketch of description does not suffice, much more similarities are needed to show how objectively similar are these supposedly opposite extremes as opposed to mental sanity. I once wrote in French a long list of such similarities and will give some more examples below.
Let us start with a little general description of the working of mental sanity as I see it, and the risks to diverge from it.

Everyone comes to the world with some natural thinking abilities, which may vary between people, but may be metaphorically described as some kind of primordial soup of multiple understanding abilities without any a priori distinction of its ingredients. Goals of life are also diverse, so these abilities can be used and developed in multiple ways for multiple purposes, with either success or failure.
The proper understanding of complex facts may require multiple understanding abilities. A too big focus on some pieces of understanding, or skills, at the expense of other pieces which would also be needed to complete the understanding of a given topic, may leave someone unable to properly understand it. People who focus on some pieces may be in strong disagreement with others who focus on other pieces, each having their part of truths and good reasons for mocking their opponents who are lacking these. And yet they may be all wrong for the same reason that they all have incomplete understanding of the topic.

Now different people may take as mission to develop their abilities in different ways, focusing on some specific abilities relevant to respective goals, among the multiple possibilities of development. Aspects of understanding which were only latent or in trace amount in the soup become singled out and grow in importance in its composition. As according to Plato's philosophy, learning is remembering. For understanding to grow, we have to each time focus on something.
However the same development process may either produce beneficial or unfortunate results. It is beneficial when it completes the understanding of a field by developing relevant pieces which where previously ignored. But it can also be unfortunate in case it reinforces a given bias by accumulating data in support of a given idea and persisting in ignorance of its possible challenges, producing the illusion that such challenges are missing or not genuine while they are actually important - and other people may know it but either have troubles to properly explain themselves or are not listened to.

Now skeptics and religious people are both stuck in hopeless debates as each side has a piece of understanding, and from there draws wrong conclusions "justified" by the fact that their own piece of understanding is missed by their opponents. Indeed. But so what is going wrong ? One important thing going wrong is how both fail in different ways with respect to the following issue.

One comment I wrote

I wrote the below comment to this video but it does not appear. Maybe Youtube censors me???

The Burden of Proof

This is a big obsession of skeptics : to put forward the burden of proof which, according to them, their opponents called "believers" would have as a duty on their shoulders to support their beliefs, while skeptics themselves would not have a burden of proof on their shoulders, just because... they see themselves as not believers, i.e. not making claims they would have to prove. Many times as I read posts and debates, I see people making a fuss about, and disputing, this so-called burden of proof. What the **** is this all about ? Let us start with trivialities, before pointing out how it can turn into nonsense.

Consider 2 people A and B with different convictions undertaking a discussion. At the end of the discussion, there may be or not be one, say B, who comes out with modified conviction. We may list possible cases as follows:
  1. B is convinced or at least affected by some evidence provided by A
  2. Authority argument : B is influenced by A because A strongly seems to knows what he is talking about, i.e. to have some genuine evidence. Such an evidence of existence of an evidence (known by A) works as an indirect evidence for A's position ;
  3. B is influenced by A but in different terms : he sees A as a good person feeling upset about the disagreement, and/or leading the discussion in such a way that B would not know how to cope with the discussion and keep disagreeing without looking bad in some way in A's eyes. Either A sees it a shame for B to keep position or would see it "good" that B switches, or B's disagreement cannot be logically expressed in a way which would not be kind of insulting against A, something not politically sustainable even though no necessity is there to prevent this from being true.
  4. B keeps position
  5. (B's position may move further away from A because of seeing things wrong in A's positions or attitudes, which may also happen; let us ignore this case)
Of course we can say that case 1 is good and coherent with the rationality of B, while case 3 is problematic, namely a big risk of being a move away from truth, where B is not behaving rationally. This is an obvious point of agreement between me and skeptics. The troubles come next:

So here actually skeptics are making a claim and wanting people to follow it but... they failed to put on themselves the burden of proof for their claim or did they ? Because... for those who did not pay attention, that claim of theirs is not a logical consequence of the above point of agreement. The possible gaps in the deduction are actually multiple, let us develop them. But first let us point out where the misunderstanding comes from.

Of course it comes from the case of Christianity, which skeptics were first obsessed about, because of its historical importance as forming the bulk of traditional opponents of rationalism (and Michael Shermer, founder of the Skeptic Society, was a devout Evangelical christian before becoming skeptic). Indeed the Christian doctrine is quite wicked away from mental sanity : it gives the highest value to "faith", i.e. some belief without proof, claiming it to be so valued by God and needed for the eternal salvation of our souls; and that it would be the main divine mission of people of faith to spread this faith, i.e. make other people also join this belief without proof, thus following the above case 3 of convincing scenario. This of course led to multiple troubles, making people give their life to something without proper reason, multiple people so giving their lives to different mutually incompatible doctrines, thus by logical necessity often false but by the same move of "faith", and often so wasting it in diverse nonsense. This provoked a genuine need for skeptical reactions.
Christianity can also be blamed for provoking skeptics dislike of the above case 2 of convincing scenario, because of its flawed use of authority arguments, may this be the divine or biblical authority, or of so-called "witnesses" claiming to see the hand of God in their life, which I guess may actually be variable mixtures of real miracles (maybe from unwise ghosts mistaken as the "holy" one) and sophisticated practices of self-delusion (an assumed duty to see God's hand and thank Him for everything...) but anyway leads to so unfortunate and unwise results of terrible religious indoctrination.

But from this, the error comes when confusing this particular style of religious indoctrination with the bare claim of supernaturalism, under the same label of "belief", as if the correlation in metaphysical positions between religious faith and supernatural claims implied an equivalence of their epistemological flaws. Of course this implication is pure bullshit, yet skeptics strangely keep behaving as if it was obviously valid. Do I really need to explain what a bullshit is this ? There even is a whole branch of Christianity, namely JW, going far in their "mission" to try making people believe without proof yet quite Bible-based materialists in a sense, namely that they reject any belief of an afterlife without the physical body (they insist that our bodies must be resurrected on Earth to give us an afterlife...)...
Seriously. Of course the point is that supernaturalistic claims do not imply either a practice nor a praise of "faith" in the Christian sense (of belief without reason). They do not, by themselves, imply any need to join, nor duty to spread their recognition. Because usually, unlike the Christian doctrine, and as confirmed by lots of NDE testimonies, supernaturalistic positions keep regarding atheism/materialism, like most other human errors, as genuinely okay in God's eyes and not jeopardizing afterlife fate.

So the question is, once cleaned up of this mess from the historical heritage of religious faith, what is there left of the "burden of proof" on the shoulders of "believers" of the supernatural, which skeptics keep making a fuss about ??? Namely, while

Seriously: In the name of what, according to skeptics, should believers care about the "lack of proof" which they (skeptics) are feeling and complaining about in the face of supernatural reports and testimonies ? Actually different cases need to be distinguished, with a burden of proof being applicable to some cases but not to others.

But not all the supernatural takes the form of alternative medicine or other things for sale where the above risk applies: when someone accidentally happens to witness some supernatural phenomenon, this accident is not naturally coming together with a burden of proof on his shoulders.

A question is : if evidence for miracles is what skeptics are demanding, then why are they just trying to blame witnesses for this lack but at the same time refusing to financially support scientific research in this field ??? The question of afterlife is, in principle, much more interesting for so many people (with many people on both sides of the controversy, each convinced to have some evidence on their side), than the quest for the Higgs boson, and is no less accessible to scientific inquiry. Seriously, the last findings on particle physics, can only interest specialists, while all the popularization works about it that "gets the public interested" is a mere casting of shadows in Plato's cave, i.e. a senseless vanity, a way of lying to people by pretending to explain them things as if they had a chance to grasp from there something about how the universe works, when they really don't. Keeping an amount of resources for parapsychology so ridiculously smaller than the one for particle physics, doesn't make any sense, rationally speaking.

So skeptics have a tendency to forget that the question of the burden of proof is not just a question of logic and science, but it also has a political dimension (which can itself be rationally approached) about the fair ways to share burdens in general. Now not only do they make political mistakes in trying to put burdens of proof where, politically speaking, they are not due, but they also strangely forget to criticize other unsubstantiated claims for which, again politically, a burden of proof should be due, because of how dangerous they may be. They terribly forget to put this burden on some claims just because these claims are neither supernaturalistic nor extraordinary looking, as if it mattered.

They fail to put burdens of proofs over the claims that current educational institutions are doing well the job they are supposed to be doing, that is to organize life and learning as good as possible and at least better than if they didn't exist, and that generally young people, and particularly all young geniuses, "need" to dedicate their life to follow these institutions until they graduate in order to get a good life. Actually these are very dangerous claims, because a number of people are actually driven to suicide, not because they would have troubles making their life good (as they never even had the chance to start trying to make their own life), but because the only "life" they had the chance to know due to all the pressure by the believers of those claims was the academic one, and they found this academic life (the only seemingly possible "life" under those pressures) to be not worth living.
Trying to figure out why skeptics don't put a burden of proof on this... something is, such questioning would logically make enemies a kind of people which skeptics really don't want to have as enemies...
Also, they like to put burdens of proof on the supernatural which they can call "extraordinary claims" and of a kind that begs for a proof, as they are existential positions (the existence of supernatural phenomena) while naturalism being phrased as a non-existence of supernatural phenomenon is not of a kind expectable to produce some specific evidence, allowing skeptics to keep practicing their skepticism by the method they are good at : passively claiming that nothing exists, laughing at their opponents and the job is done. But the claim that academia does its job right does not look extraordinary but looks like a default position, so that to express a criticism would require some data which unfortunately isn't going to fall already cooked from the sky into your mouth, you would need to undertake something... too exhausting a perspective for skeptics.

I reported another example of pseudo-science which skeptics failed to criticize. And there are the dangerous claims of psychiatry, which skeptics also failed to criticize.

The main argument here

The issue of the burden of proof once explained as above, we can now come to the explanation of what will be the point of this exposition wherever the argumentative format (as proof) is not explicit. And I am not going to care specifying which parts of this exposition did I mean as already containing their full proofs, versus those which I did not mean that way, thus for which the following other value is meant to be applied instead. I will leave it to readers to figure this out.

So, here is the main point : it is that I do not have a burden of proof on my shoulders, for the following valid reasons.

A first reason is very general : there is generally no reason to expect of any big topic such as this, that it should be possible to close it by any fully self-contained argument of reasonable size. Even while this exposition is a big one, such a size would be far from sufficient for closed arguments to be possible. Then, anyway, such written expositions should not be expected to contain the full understanding and basis to be convinced what the truth is. The more complete expectable source of understanding and basis of evidence is rather that of real life, and everyone's own path of research, in which nobody can much do for anybody else.
Then, also generally, truth seeking is not only a matter of proof, which implicitly assumes that the proposition in need of proof or refutation is clear, but also a matter of explaining what are the propositions, i.e. what are the candidate positions which any argument can then be considered to support or oppose.

So, without excluding the possibility for some readers to get convinced of something by reading this exposition, I mainly expect 2 kinds of readers

As a second reason, some claims here being given without proof, does not mean they are anyhow speculative or dubious. They are not. On the contrary, I commit myself claiming infallibility in all the main ideas there. This means that, while it would be too huge amounts of work to prove me right, here is the challenge to prove either wrong (i.e. contrary to reality) or seriously misleading, any of my main points, a challenge which in principle would be much cheaper to undertake than me proving everything (and even anyone reading such proofs), if only there was actually something wrong there.

Third, if as some saying goes "what is claimed without proof can be dismissed without proof", then it is actually the skeptical ideology which deserves to be dismissed without proof for this reason. Because most of the skeptical propaganda I know of, seems to claim containing its own full rational evidence, expecting to directly convince any rational person, and claims every rational person must be necessarily a skeptic in the sense of agreeing on, say, most of the numerous articles of skeptical thought, even if one happens to not practice them in terms of activity. Or at least it needs to be clarified whether this expectation is there or not, while I never encountered any clear denial of this yet, i.e. any recognition by skeptics of the logical possibility be rational without agreeing with skepticism (except maybe, one claim that there is no unified skeptical ideology but a diversity of views of diverse skeptics, but I will explain how this raises as much problems as it solves). But this claim of rational self-evidence is not actually true : this propaganda contains many loopholes, its claimed rational validity actually depends on many hidden assumptions. Now, a main object of this exposition is to point out what those many loopholes and hidden assumptions are. As such, this work is clearly self-sufficient, while skeptics are the ones who would need to refute everything of this to justify that big claim of theirs (the claim of rational necessity of all those many points and arguments of their long ideology). Now, only once they will have closed all these loopholes, their big claim of rational necessity of their ideology can finally stop being the big lie it has always been.

The forth reason is a matter of institution and government-funded activity: the fact there already exist official, public funded courses of skepticism, at least in 2 French universities (Grenoble and Nice). Such a status should be deserved by providing objective evidence that the content of the course is not bullshit. Well I know, this lack of justification is also suffered by academic philosophy which is also government funded, but... so for this reason I also think the public funding of much of academic philosophy is undeserved and should stop. On the other hand, I have no burden of proof because nobody pays me for my work and I am not asking for such payment.

The Art of Doubt

Skeptics make fuss about their practice of the Art of Doubt, how they care to abstain from claiming certainty in lack of evidence, visibly assuming themselves to be generally better at this art than others... seriously ? The only thing actually clear is that they are making a louder fuss about it than others. This does not make them better doubters than others.
Sane people can be full of doubts about many things too. They just don't make such a fuss about it, because they see uncertainty as something normal and simple like breathing. We need to breathe for living, however it would be wrong to make it noisy, because breathing is just good and normal for oneself but it is only one's own business; it is nobody else's concerns how good we are at the art of breathing. If you don't hear someone loudly breathing, it does not mean that he is suffocating, only that he is behaving in a civilized manner. But skeptics commit a similar misunderstanding when they see people not making a fuss about how doubtful they are, as if it necessarily meant that they are falling into some trap of gullibility. Of course this may eventually happen but the generalization is wrong.
A good reason why it may be uncivilized to make a fuss about how doubtful one is, is that cases can happen when 2 people meet, the one A happens (by any circumstance) to clearly know something (having checked it somehow) but B happens to not have a clue, so that A has something to say on the topic but B doesn't. The most rational behavior in this case is for B to patiently listen to what A may have to say about the issue, so that B has a chance to learn, which may require some time before success. If instead of behaving in a silent and patient manner B quickly voiced his doubt, it would only result in disturbing the explanation, wasting the time and nerves of A with B's personal problems of having not yet completed the learning phase. So wasting A's time and nerves with B's requests to discuss things in a way which B believes is relevant in challenge for A, but which A knows is irrelevant for reasons which cannot be shortly explained by direct reply, would just be a pure waste of time for both, a harm to the progress of general understanding.

Not only uncertainty can be natural, mistakes can be natural too. Often, being mistaken is not tragic, it is just life. Of course we have to distinguish cases, between heavy questions on which some investment is made, and light questions on which being mistaken just doesn't matter. To explain what I mean, consider the following fictional dialogue between a normal person N and a skeptic S:

S: Are you sure about X ?
N: Yes I am sure.
S: Do you have any evidence to support this position ?
N: Sorry I have no time for you about this.
S: How sure are you more precisely in % ?
N: Let us say I am 99% sure.
S: Okay, for you I found a way to make a 10 against 1 bet on this, so you can commit $10k that you would lose if X turns out to be false but you would win $1k if it turns out to be true. Are you ready for this bet ?
N: Sorry I wouldn't go that far.
S: But under your claim of 99% certainty you must logically consider this commitment as advantageous.
In this scenario N seems to contradict himself, but the point is that normality can follow some kind of fuzzy logic which is adequate for practice without simply fitting some strict abstract rules of logical evidence. The error of S in this fictional discussion is to over-interpret what it meant for N to be sure about something, because "certainty" does not mean the same between cases of light questions and heavy ones. It would be irrational to invest resources developing doubts and seeking strong evidence on issues where being mistaken is not likely to cause great harm anyway.

In addition to their pathological extroversion and their judgemental character (ESTJ) which does not let them stop messing with what they imagine to be the unjustified beliefs of others who don't think like them (as if it had to be strange or wrong for different people to not have the same understanding and not see the same evidences), and their inattention to the distinction between the questions which don't matter (where uncertainty and possible errors are no real issues) and those which do (which need more care), I see 2 more probable differences between many skeptics and many sane people (I don't claim to give any method to tell the difference from the outside), likely to make skeptics make such a fuss about their doubts – an explosive combination that understandably makes uncertainties and doubts cause them much worse nightmares indeed :

The Risk of Bias

It is an obsession of skeptics to point out the risk for humans to be biased, analyze it, and develop ways out of it. But then they picture themselves as more reliable than others because of their care about it. Indeed it naively looks natural to assume that if someone cares well with methods to not fall into some traps then that makes him less likely to fall there than others. Yet considering this more carefully, it turns out to be very questionable. Should I insist, I mean to talk about the result, not just the natural trend, because of course they loudly deny any claim of seeing more natural bias in others than in themselves: they are perfectly aware of being naturally subject to the risk of bias themselves, their only claim is to make the best self-criticism, the best work of awareness towards their own bias, and that is where the difference of result would be coming from.
Let us first mention some risk of ambiguity of the question : comparing them to others, but which others ? I must admit this source of confusion can play a big role in the misunderstanding here. Indeed, skeptics have a natural trend of being very interested to explore the behaviors of some of the most biased possible kinds of humans they can find, those who may believe in the craziest ideas possible. This naturally gives skeptics references for comparing themselves in an advantageous manner. I happen to have the opposite attitude, of ignoring the craziest stuff and focusing on what may hopefully be wiser. For this reason it can be a standard higher than the true average, to which I then compare skeptics. But, well, putting high standards of comparison seems to me necessary for the question to have any point. Because, well, what skeptics generally claim loud is not just that they are better than average, but that they are the best in terms of objectivity, isn't it ? So, this is the question.
Now to answer this question, takes 2 steps.
  1. To check the facts. And it appears (not only to me but to many others) that this expected result is not there : overall, skeptics are falling into quite serious biases (probably more than, say, some of their groups of opponents).
  2. Then, to give some natural and verifiable theoretical explanation for this fact, why it is actually not surprising.
The first point will be illustrated by many examples in this exposition. Let us already give an anticipated answer to the second point.
As a question of overall result, its understanding requires to distinguish different possible factors it depends on. At least here is an important distinction to make:
The natural idea of how skepticism can help to fall into less bias, is actually no more than a possible reason of how those people who happen to practice skepticism would better succeed than they themselves would have done if they did not undertake their practice of skepticism. Therefore in itself it can say nothing of how all this compares to the success levels of different kinds of people. To accept the validity of the argument, requires the implicit assumption that those people who come to practice skepticism were no worse in terms of natural likeliness to fall into biases, before undertaking their practice, than what other kinds of humans are actually doing.

But it is easy to see, looking at this implicit assumption, that it is likely to be hugely mistaken in two ways.

But even aside these, the argument that the practice of skepticism reduces the risk of the practitioner falling into biases than the same person without this practice, is also questionable as follows.

While the obsession of tracking and defeating biases in oneself and others may sometimes succeed, this activity may as well fail and result in the opposite effect instead, in the following two ways:

  1. By failing to find biases that exist. This should not be surprising, since it is the very nature of a bias to remain naturally unnoticed. While in itself the effect of this would have been null, it can also increase the bias by fooling (giving excuse to) the author of that failed search for biases, to believe his conclusion more reliable than it really is (or than the conclusions of others)
  2. By succeeding to find biases that do not exist. A favorite method of skeptics to succeed finding biases that do not exist, consists in pointing out 2 cases, one of someone falling into some bias, another of someone not falling into such bias, and victoriously failing to see the difference.
Reference of a site with more developments in French. This method can be pushed in a way explained in this video: I know, skeptics have difficulties to conceive such a view as the idea that skepticism ("rationalism") would not be the best correlate of rationality (avoidance of bias), as their usual reaction to any claim of existence of any reliable way to discern things is to ask "so what is your method ?" ; then, whatever method that would be, would first need to fit the kind of "rational methods" they can accept, then would be integrated it in their list. Unfortunately, this question can be misleading, as the possible factors of proper discernment (including factors of rational ability) are not limited to matters of "method" of the kinds they expect, that is which I'd rather call "recipe" (more comments in "The Scientific Method" section).

Then, what else ? A short list of such other factors is given in the last section. For now even more briefly, just to indicate that such other factors exist, let us name

Political views

Consider the danger of believing things in lack of formal, objective evidence. But now consider to set aside the harmless cases among these, where mistake would not cause direct harm, however scary and hard it is for skeptics to ignore these, to focus our fears on the more dangerous cases of beliefs which lead to concrete actions with possibly heavy consequences.

Now look at the principles of Democracy: to let the political power be decided by the majority, more precisely through voting ballots cast by ordinary people about topics or candidates who they don't really know as it is often not their main field of interest or expertise, and... just their opinions, their choice of candidate they think best, without any duty to provide any formal evidence !!!! and doing that in secret, to not even be personally accountable and bear the bad marks which skeptics would be eager to distribute for the irrationality of the so expressed opinions !!! But why aren't skeptics mad at this system ????
One big reason why they don't criticize democracy on these grounds, of course, is that democracy is the accepted standard, while skeptics normally side with accepted standards to focus their attacks on whatever looks fringe or weak. Another one is, as the famous saying goes, democracy is the worst system except all others, so to dislike it one would need to figure out something else and more precisely something better, but skeptics do not normally take on as their job to innovate, as their job is just to criticize any strange or different views away from usual standards.
Moreover any attempt to criticize the lack of evidence to prefer a candidate (in case of representative democracy) or a decision (in case of direct democracy) would beg for finding any method to make or check such evidence. But there is no chance, at least at first sight, to find such a solution. And even if there was... it could not satisfy skeptics either. Because they would automatically criticize it. Because not only they want objective evidence, they also want to be themselves the authorities who can decide which stuff succeeds to be an objective evidence. And as long as we are just vainly discussing the supernatural, it is easy for them to keep the role of ultimate judges of objectivity : forever focusing on the one same yes/no question of the existence of the supernatural (and some long established scientific facts away from political or other hot questions), helps them avoid serious controversies in their ranks, so they can simply comfortably claim being the universal centers of objectivity, ignoring any view which differs from theirs. But as soon as serious stuff would be undertaken in terms of making some kind of objective system to answer new questions, they might lose their personal control over the definition and content of what "objectivity" means... what a frightening perspective.

An alternative to democracy one can think of would be libertarianism, that lets everyone just victim of his own mistakes instead of being victim of the mistakes of others. But, at least that particular skeptic I was corresponding with, definitely disliked libertarianism, as he appeared much more on the far left of the political spectrum (generally, not just for environmental concerns). He visibly wasn't fond of the idea of autonomy of the individual, to which he preferred much more that of mutual control. If I had to infer from his general attitude the link (continuity) between his skepticism and his far-leftism, I'd say these are both kinds of intellectual populism and simplicism, between the "for dummies" version of science he is following (where dummies deserve the right to be right just if they apply the right method) and siding "for workers" against intellectuals ; a trend to believe in "objectivity" meaning that everyone should understand and conclude the same, assuming all to have the same background and competence, i.e. all have or should be given the same information, and all have the same intelligence ; thus denialism towards the diversity of natural intelligence which lets some people more competent than others just because they happen to be diverse rather than this being administrated. So these are both kinds of bureaucracies where, by lack of clues how to deal with real stuff, it suffices to proclaim our dream goals as universal declarations and laws - expecting every other good person to agree with the same statements.
Indeed the type ESTJ which best represents the kind of skepticism analyzed in this exposition, happens to be the type of executives and supervisors. That is, people who don't value freedom but need to rule the world.

To illustrate this trend towards expected unanimity of people and acceptance of mutual control, here is a quote from one of his replies - which came after quite many other messages where I lengthily explained my epistemological libertarianism until he starts to understand what I am talking about:

"You are introverted and you have your own method ok, you do not care to convince others. You just want a version of the truth that suits you. Okay let's admit. But in this case I don't really understand your incomprehension from my point of view. I mean. Imagine there is a guy, let's call him Charlie, who came to see me, describing to me the method which is yours: based on intuition, on nothing measurable, on testimonies themselves subjective and subjectively selected, emphasizing the personal and relatively incommunicable nature of its conclusions, not specifically seeking to question its merits, etc. So if this charlie came to see me this way, would you consider me sane to trust him?"

First mistake is to describe this as the method which is mine, as if he knew what each method is and could tell if they are the same or not, while all he can actually tell is that these are not his favorite expected methods which he is comfortable to decipher, and he has no clue which methods these are, just stuff different from his and that we did not or could not bother to explain to him until he understands... so that these are things not directly verifiable in his eyes. Quite distorted is his way of summing up stuff as if it had all biases just because it did not fit his conception of objectivity...
Second, is his nonsensical use of the phrase "to trust him" which lacks a definitional context as earlier explained : to trust for what, i.e. as an accepted basis for which kind of involvement ?
Third, well.... he is expecting me to specify how I would judge him... on the basis of this ridiculously unspecific description about how in such scenario he might have formed an opinion about Charlie... so, regardless of any details about the way, which he does not care to specify here, in which Charlie would have expressed his own incomplete testimony with what kind of refusal/inability/unavailability/impossibility to more fully explain how he had reached his own conclusions....
What a fanaticism of mutual misjudgement is this. No wonder how such people can be at odds with libertarianism worse than with democracy. So, maybe without telling it loud, they rather dream of a world shaped as a kind of dictatorship of proletariat, where some underclass of skeptics would be dictating their decisions, or rather decisions to block decisions by some rule of social paralysis, over anybody who might claim to know better but could not "prove" it satisfactorily in skeptics eyes.

I see no easy way out of this comparison between Skepticism and Marxism. Marxism defined itself as a "critique of classical political economy". From Wikipedia: "Marxism," as Ernest Mandel remarked, "is always open, always critical, always self-critical" and also defined itself as "dialectical materialism". Today's skeptics may try to dismiss the comparison with Marxism based on that they want to defend rationality while Marxism was not rational. But the matter of debate is not whether it is good or bad to be truly rational (of course true rationality is good), but it is whether skepticism actually correlates with rationality. It is too easy now retrospectively to observe that Marxism was not rational, based on the observation of political and economical facts which ultimately unfolded as outcomes of the Marxist ideology. The genuine question, instead, would be whether the same discursive criteria used by skeptics to assess "rationality" could have defeated Marxism before waiting for the unfolding history to give the final answer. And that, I think, is far from clear.

After so discussing about burdens (to which we'll come back later), let us switch to the other side of the phrase "burden of proof" : what is a proof ? Here again, multiple disagreements can be found. Let us review some of them.

The Scientific Method

What an oxymoron is this sacred phrase in the mouth of skeptics. As if science and rationality were synonymous with "The Method". Such a conception of science is so offset.

The fact of how far such phrasing is from genuine science, is well illustrated by Feynman's metaphor of the centipede. In other words, science has not one method, but hundreds of methods, which may be well or not well applied, but its process is anyway sometimes too complicated for the question of specifying which method is this, to be of any relevance. Exaggerating but to make it clear, skepticism is to science what the skill of counting by one's fingers is to mathematics. It is just a "for dummies" version of science, it may have its role (indeed, there also exist dummies in need of skeptics methods and teachings as crutches to fill some gaps in their natural reasoning abilities) but very far from a proper exposition of what science really is.

Someone whose understanding of mathematics would be reduced to the skill of counting by one's fingers, may come to heavily complain of the people who claim to know more math, that he could not check their conclusions by watching their fingers demonstrating these (even after asking them to provide this kind of proof), so that to him they look the same as those not knowing at all how to count. Surprised and dubious to the claim that a difference would still exist, he demands the reality of this difference to be demonstrated by giving a method to effectively, objectively distinguish between people who cannot count by their fingers and people who do not need to use their fingers for doing math. To distinguish between those having no method, and those having hundreds of them. Verifiable difference, i.e. that can be found just by checking the use of fingers.
Sorry, there is no such method I can offer. There can even be continuous progress from having no reliable method to having hundreds of them without passing by any step of focus on specific ones which skeptics can identify. And that is not my problem.

Checking the composition of the Skeptics Society, few scientists can be found. Michael Shermer first studied Christian theology before switching to psychology with its rudimentary use of statistics, journalism, competitive cycling and the exploration of diverse popular strange health practices around it. Among other members of the editorial board, the main skills there are also journalism and psychology, education, anthropology; then also some biology, geology, paleontology.... just 3 appear as physicists, and still without so much focus on theoretical physics, much more on scientific popularization writing (the art of depriving the findings of modern science from the understanding of their mathematical core) and other stuff. No mathematician.
The one who paid the most attention to the implications of theoretical physics seems to be John Gribbin: he wrote a book on quantum physics and its paradoxes "In search of Schrodinger's cat" in 1984. The philosophical stuff there can be summed up as follows (for those who know stuff already) : he claims there are only 2 interpretations of quantum theory : Copenhagen and many-worlds ; and his preference goes for many-worlds.

So they seem to reduce science to the main thing they know about it, because it happens to be the main method used in psychology and debunking of alternative healing practices : producing and analyzing statistics from double-blind randomized testing. That is the one little bit of math which can be easy and useful to apply by non-mathematicians, and more generally by almost anyone without any special skill of any kind, to make some discoveries just by the brute force of repetitively trying something. All right that is better than nothing, yet that would have been far from enough to end up to modern science as we know it. Of course many sciences make use of many different methods : astronomy, paleontology, mathematics... use so many other methods than that one.

This caricatural view of science and its methods as childishly simplistic ways of trying to analyze life and the universe and forcefully expecting them to fit into some simple laws and explanations, is an ironical common mistake between skeptics and religious people, as opposed to genuine scientists.
Actually, if I committed in my youth the mistake of turning my back away from scientific and rational ways of thinking seen as hopelessly stupid ones, in favor of a seemingly wiser religious irrationalism, it was in large part the fault of skeptics with their caricatural views of science which they undertook to promote (and how I read them in scientific popularization magazines so stupidly dismissing the significance of NDE testimonies as evidence of afterlife...). While rationality is normally indeed the right self-sufficient root of all credibility, how ironical it is to see it discredited by clumsy defenders trying to promote it as a religion, by irrational methods. So, their campaigns trying to promote the values of "science" and "reason" as they conceive these, are so self-defeating, as any ideology such as rationalism suffers so much more of being terribly promoted than of being strongly opposed... a quite irrational enterprise I must say.
The other thing that disgusted me of scientists was how they appeared as the evil governors over the hell of academia. An important aspect of this even parallels the nonsense of skepticism : the obligation put on students to exclusively follow the official method to resolve problems. Actually some math problems may be resolved in different ways, and creative geniuses are especially eager to find different ways, but teachers cannot always follow the imagination of students who found different methods than the expected ones. And they don't like that, because they need to give marks to judge their students in an "objective" manner, and the only possible "objective" way to give marks is according to whether the student complied to the expected method. So, school is the kingdom of "The Method", and that is a killer of the minds of future scientists, not a support for them. And young geniuses are compelled to follow, not because it makes any sense, but because it is supposed to be the only way to get the freedom to live with the freedom of thought they need, and/or (?) to be accepted by that very class of official scientists to join their ranks, a supposed position of power that would finally allow one to have a say in this dictatorship... among the peer dictators who were supposedly able to reform things but never did it... that is the default view that I was forced to follow with not even a right to disagree.
But all that flawed system is very similar to skepticism itself, as skeptics cannot stop figuring themselves as the ruling professors and the rest of the world as their students under a permanent obligation to justify their beliefs in skeptics eyes by providing "objective evidence" in conformity with "The Method".

Indeed at one point of the conversation with this skeptic I found the need to write the following explanation: "...In other words I don't give a damn about the note that you give to my copy that I did not seriously take care of writing, and I did not seriously take care of writing it precisely because I do not give a damn about the note you will put there. Because I reject the game of trying to pass any exam" (to be judged by skeptics or anyone else)
Next : Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6
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