Carl Sagan's Skepticism
There’s a big debate in the skeptical community about taking a “hard-line” stance a la PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins or a softer stance, a la Michael Shermer and company. Well, apparently Sagan comes down on the Shermer side, which kind of surprised me at first, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that it was probably inevitable. Anyway, here’s the most recent nugget of Sagan wisdom:
And yet, the chief deficiency I see in the skeptical movement is in its
polarization: Us vs. Them – the sense that we have a monopoly on the
truth; that those other people who believe in all these stupid doctrines are
morons; that if you’re sensible, you’ll listen to us; and if not, you’re beyond
redemption. This is unconstructive. It does not get the message
across. It condemns the skeptics to permanent minority status; whereas, a
compassionate approach that from the beginning acknowledges the human roots of
pseudoscience and superstition might be much more widely accepted.
Notice that he never says to capitulate to the woo-woo crowd. Just treat them with a little compassion. You can respect a person without believing his particular myths. Heck, one of my best friends was a charismatic Christian when I met him. I thought he was a complete nutjob, but he wasn’t evil, just mistaken. And eventually, through his own search for answers, truths and the Truth, he came around to a more skeptical mindset. If I had hit him day after day with towering indignation that he dare be something so silly, he’d have hunkered down and set into a siege mentality. That’s human nature.
Being told you’re wrong is hard to hear. And it’s even harder to accept. We skeptics should remember that.
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