Friday Food For Thought: Hitchens on Skepticism

Friday Food For Thought: Hitchens on Skepticism April 27, 2018

The ultimate test of skepticism: do you doubt things you want to be true?

The late Christopher Hitchens was the bane of the religious during his lifetime, but in one of his many debates with believers, he also offered us a quick and easy test for the strength of our skepticism. It’s just before the the one-minute mark in this video:

“I’m more inclined to doubt something if its truth would be something that would suit me.”

Putting the Think Back in Critical Thinking

I know it’s not one of his more famous quotes, but I think it’s a real mission statement for the skeptical. We could even debate how closely Hitch himself lived up to the maxim. He may have been an anti-religion crusader, but he was also an Iraq War cheerleader and the sort of guy who thought nothing of saying strange and unscientific things about women just for laughs. If Hitch could see through the hypocrisy of Mother Teresa, why couldn’t he do the same for the neoliberal numbnuttery of Tony Blair?

Intellectual Laziness Poisons Everything

For all the time we spend debunking religious claims, I think it’s important to analyze the things we believe. This blog is here to examine our beliefs about things like science and knowledge. We know exactly why we don’t believe in The Big G and why we reject claims about vaccines causing autism. However, what about the things we want to be true about truth, progress and society? Isn’t skepticism about circumventing things like confirmation bias and giving a fair hearing to information that disconfirms our beliefs?

Shouldn’t our skepticism toward a claim increase in direct proportion to the degree to which it validates our beliefs?

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Skepticism should be at the mid-point between faith and nihilism. We should be able to examine the world without either believing only what we want to believe or by rejecting anything out of a false sense of objectivity.

  • As I’ve said lots of times, we’re skeptics because we’re just more comfortable with the prospect of making a type I error than a type II error, i.e. rejecting a truth for lack of justification rather than accepting a lie. But it’s an ongoing process, and critical thinking is about a lot more than just debunking things we already know we don’t believe.

  • Dekker Van Wyk

    Hitch would have never been tolerated by the PC fascists that dominate the discourse today.

  • “Oh noes, those damned PC fascists are withholding their good opinion from me! How ever will I survive this devastating assault?!”

    I’m pretty sure Hitch would have laughed at those who think themselves oppressed simply because they are publicly criticized.

  • Yeah, you sound like just the sort of critical thinker Hitch had in mind.