Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dogmatic Skepticism and the Art of Baking

Recently I read a piece where a scientist addressed the question all of today's foremost "science" channels love to ask, "Are human beings the result of engineering by aliens?".  PZ Myers had a simple answer:  "No."  But then someone in the comments got really upset because "no" is not what a Real True Scientist/Skeptic would say.  "No" is too dogmatic!  Real True Honest Skeptics have to say "I don't know".

So now, since I'm trying to become a better skeptic myself, I have to ask myself if that's really the way I should answer questions.  Are simple yes or no answers wrong?  Am I supposed to be skeptical of everything all the time always?  Is skepticism = agnosticism about all things?

I find that baking helps me think so today I tried baking bread for the first time in my life.  Not just any bread either, it was a healthy organic artisan bread made from the finest unbleached, stone ground flour.  It was a lot of fun to make and while there is a lot of room for improvement, I'm very happy with how it turned out.  It was delicious!  Soft inside with a crunchy crust and a rich, nutty taste.  I've eaten half of it already!

So then, should someone ask me if I baked this bread what should I say?  Can I say "yes" or would that make me a bad skeptic?  Shouldn't I rather say "I don't know"?  After all, maybe I didn't bake it!

Perhaps I was abducted by aliens!  But since people always seem to figure out they were abducted because they realise they are missing some time, perhaps the aliens planted a false memory of me spending 2 hours making a baguette, even leaving me with a freshly baked one from the mothership's kitchen so I would remember all the probing!

Perhaps I stumbled across a faerie in need somewhere in the garden and after helping it out of a perilous situation it decided to call in a troop of faeries to bake me a bread in gratitude!  Of course since their very existence must remain secret they used their faerie magic to make me believe that I baked it myself!

Perhaps I did set out to bake a bread but the one I put in the oven turned out to be a massive flop.  However Empanda, goddess of bread did not want me to become discouraged lest I abandon bread making forever so she used her divine powers to replace my failed bread with a much better loaf.

Perhaps I'm actually mentally ill and I actually bought it at the supermarket and everything else is just the delusions of my fevered mind.

Perhaps I really bought it from a small artisan bakery in town but after buying it I did something terrible and completely unforgivable so the baker - who is also a stage magician and mentalist - used hypnosis to erase all memory of the bakery from my mind, replacing it with a false memory.

Or perhaps none of this is real and I'm actually living inside a computer simulation a la The Matrix, in which case there is no bread...

All of those options may sound unlikely - because they are - but its not like I could be 100% sure.  So while it's far fetched, there is an extremely remote chance that one of them could be true.  So then, if someone asks "Did you bake that bread" the only honest answer I can give as someone trying to be a skeptic is "I don't know", right?  Wrong!

I will say, "Yes I did!" because all those other options are fucking stupid!  But most importantly because I have absolutely no reason or evidence to suspect one of those fucking stupid options may be right!

So if you want me to be more skeptical, you have to give me a reason.  Either prove me wrong or at least give me some evidence that calls my version of events into question.  If you can't do that, I will remain dogmatic about the fact that I baked that delicious loaf as well as the fact that I'm not the result of an alien eugenics program.  That's not me being dishonest, that's me being entirely reasonable.  All evidence points one way and if you want me to consider a different way, offer me a compelling reason.  As the saying goes, there is being open minded and there is having a hole in your head where your brains leak out.

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