Are skeptics aggressive?

“Truth is tough. It will not break, like a bubble, at a touch; nay, you may kick it about all day like a football, and it will be round and full at evening.” Oliver Wendell Holmes

Are skeptics aggressive? This is a question I’ve been asking myself lately. Of course I believe the answer is “No.” But judging by the kind of conversations I end up having whenever I assert my opinion on matters like religion, the supernatural, magic and CAM, it seems some think otherwise.

But the knife doesn’t cut both ways. If a Buddhist were to explain his or her beliefs, then elaborate why he or she believes such things, I don’t think anyone would be disturbed or think their own beliefs were being aggressively challenged. Ditto for any religious believer. But when a skeptic says, for instance, that he or she is a materialist, an atheist or whatever it is almost certain to elicit a response such as, “Well, I don’t like having your views shoved down my throat.”

The double standard is obvious. Believers in all sorts of things enjoy the freedom to expound on those beliefs. They expect to be heard out, respected and thoughtfully considered. Fine. But why can’t skeptics expect the same? Why must it always be, “Don’t force your truth on me?”

Skeptics don’t adopt that tactic because it’s not what skepticism is about. We like to air opinions. We are even glad when someone proves us wrong. We are not at all dogmatic, as we try to have good reasons for believing what we do. None of it is based on faith or intuition – things we are, well, skeptical of.

In fact, we love nothing more than talking things over. That this approach should be considered “aggressive” is perhaps telling us more about our interlocutors than it does about us.

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2 thoughts on “Are skeptics aggressive?

  1. As you undoubtedly intended by opening with the Wendell Holmes quote, the real answer here is to reverse it; if you think a belief you hold is necessary but might not stand up to intense scrutiny, you protect it by whatever means you can. That does not mean that not wishing to discuss something necessarily means you think your view is fragile. A credentialled evolutionary biologist does not decline to debate a creationist because he fears the creationist will win. Some ideas are too absurd to dignify with discussion. But still, people fling mud at us when we include religious dogma in that category.

    1. Well, yeah, it’s a bit like a credentialled historian declining to debate a Holocaust denier. But those are extreme views, and both are demonstrably irrational (unless you’re the denier or the creationist). I am trying to underline the frustration in speaking one’s mind and having the dialogue slammed in one’s face. And the language used is nearly always accusatory: we thrust, impose, preach, shove, demand, pontificate. That’s so far off the mark from reality, yet it’s like a recurring nightmare. It happens again and again.

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