Guest Contributor: Dan Kiskis from Some Forgotten Corner
If you have been watching the news lately, you know that at least one Christian lunatic thinks that today is going to be the Rapture, marking the beginning of the end of the world. Somehow, he’s managed to get a lot of media attention. I’ve heard people mention it on the street, and local skeptic groups are having an End of the World Party to poke some fun at the idea.
When tomorrow comes around and we’re all still here, what will the Christians say? Will the ones who believe in the Rapture actually change their beliefs based on the fact that the Rapture didn’t happen as predicted? Unfortunately, no. In general, their belief that the Rapture will some day occur is based on their faith that the Bible is the absolute, unerring word of God. It’s truth is permanent and unchanging.
On the other hand, if the Rapture did actually occur, if billions of people suddenly ascended into Heaven in a clap of thunder, skeptics would change their beliefs. If I saw this happen, of course I would believe that some sort of superior being existed and these events happened as predicted in the Bible. I would have to be delusional not to.
That’s the difference between “people of faith” and skeptics. Skeptics understand that we don’t have complete knowledge of the universe. Science is a process of gaining facts and modifying our understanding based on the observed facts. History is full of cases where the scientific consensus was one thing at one time and then changed when a new hypothesis was introduced or new facts came to light that changed our understanding of the universe. One only has to look at the history of medicine for ample examples of this. It was once thought that bloodletting was a useful treatment for disease. We now know that good health isn’t a matter of balancing the body’s “humors”. We have a much better understanding of the mechanisms of disease and such practices have been rightfully abandoned. Religious people see this as a fault in science. They somehow think that admitting that you were wrong and accepting a new idea as a better representation of the truth is somehow a failing in science. For them, it seems to be important to have beliefs that are absolute. They do not change no matter what. This, somehow, is a virtue.
I think that stubbornly sticking to your ideas and being unwilling to change is sad. How can we grow as individuals if we are unwilling to accept that sometimes we are wrong? How can we continue to grow and improve our family relationships if we aren’t willing to accept new ideas and change as our life situation changes? How can we ever expect to improve our society if we aren’t willing to question the assumptions about the values of our culture, our interactions with others, and our relationship with our planet?
Being a skeptic is a positive world view.
It shouldn’t be confused with being a cynic, which is a pretty negative view. Skeptics want to use all the tools of science, philosophy, and art to increase their understanding of the world. They want to know the Truth, but they always keep in mind that our current understanding of what is the Truth can change, based on sufficient evidence.