Tag Archives: skepticism

“Skepticism” (the Parable of the Boulder Explained) [The Rambling Prose of Paul Burgess]

“Skepticism” [The Parable of the Boulder Explained…as if someone need or wanted an explanation;)]
-Skepticism would benefit from being rebranded “suspension of judgment.” [“Agnosticism” would not be an adequate substitute because the term, now associated almost exclusively with religious beliefs, carries a negative connation—likely resulting from some people’s conflation of it with “atheism”. ] Despite the popular misunderstanding that skeptics insist on contrary positions’ correctness, true skeptics refuse to assert confidently that any position is beyond doubt.
-Considering skeptics’ reservations about proclaiming truths, I find it bizarre that so many people call skeptics “arrogant” for having the audacity to challenge “certainties” that have held for centuries. One might more appropriately attach the label of “arrogance” to the skeptics’ “humble” critics who defer arrogantly to traditional authority. The “endurance=truth” equation falters because beliefs—after becoming part of a culture’s inheritance—were placed in the realm of the untouchable, and anyone who would question them would face powerful opponents. Traditions often last so long because they are defended fiercely and remain unchallenged. If a fort is never attacked, should we praise its endurance? Endurance in the realm of ideas should mean little if a position endures only because it has not been considered honestly by those holding it. A rock might lie on the floor for centuries if no one touches it, and it might eventually come to seem immovable. Much of the rock’s apparent strength derives from its defenders who—despite claiming to believe in its immovability—zealously guard the door to the room in which it rests. Why not let people handle the rock to experience firsthand its immovability?

[To be continued and probably revised…]


“On Inconsistency”–The Rambling Prose of Paul Burgess [Entry 3]

“On Inconsistency”

How unfair it is to criticize a thinker for changing a view considered earlier or perhaps only briefly! Should thinkers revere what they have written? Should they defend it, as if it were a child, solely because they gave birth to it? Should they cease to question, to explore, to consider? Should authors treat their own words as dogma to be defended rather than blocks on which they and others can build? When being refuted would better serve the advancement of knowledge, should ideas become pieces that thinkers must force into a scheme and view solely with an eye for “evidence” and “confirmation”? Why make consistent adherence, i.e. stubbornness, such a virtue?

The stigma of “fickleness” should attach only to those who change views for so-called “pragmatic reasons”. Those deserving this stigma are insincere political “flip-floppers,” trend-chasing courters of academic acclaim, and avowed intellectuals interested  only in greater mass appeal and the profit and fame that accompany such appeal; in other words, the fickle are those who only pretend to seek the noblest way or purest truth. There should be no shame in ceasing to hold a weak or false position once presented with a better alternative. What some call “inconsistency” is sometimes intellectual growth, maturity, and integrity. It requires more courage to say, “I was wrong,” than to persist in error or—as some people do—to deny that one ever held the discredited view by switching slyly to the new view once it receives authority’s sanction or attains popular acceptance.

Storytime with Dr. Burgess (Entry#1)

“The Parable of the Boulder”
A mighty man once moved a boulder that his people had deemed immovable. For this feat, he was made leader.

During his lifetime, other individuals tried unsuccessfully to prove their strength by moving the boulder. Witnessing the futile attempts eventually convinced the people that the leader was the only person on Earth who could move the boulder and that he must be a deity. Once the leader was deified, the boulder became a monument to his divinity, touching the boulder became a crime punishable by death, and guards were set to watch the boulder night and day.

For centuries, no one was allowed to touch the boulder, and suggestions that someone should try to move it were met with outrage and accusations of impiety; the would-be boulder-movers were scorned for having the arrogance to mistrust hundreds of years of testimony and tradition testifying to the boulder’s immovability, and they were called heretics for believing that they or others might be able to perform an act achievable only by their deity.

One day—when his colleague fell asleep—a guard, overcome by curiosity, decided to give the boulder a try. To his surprise, he moved it quite easily. Once aware of the situation, and after overcoming his initial outrage, the colleague tried and found that he too could move the boulder without great difficulty.

On being informed of the feat, the guards’ superior had them executed after demonstrating their guilt with the following syllogisms:

Syllogism 1:
Minor Premise: Neither of the guards is the Deity or His reincarnation.
Major Premise: A person who is not the Deity or His reincarnation could not move the boulder; in other words, a person cannot do the impossible.
Conclusion: Therefore, the guards could not move the boulder; in other words, they cannot do the impossible.

Syllogism 2:
Minor Premise: The guards are people who claim to have done the impossible.
Major Premise: All people who claim to have done the impossible are lying, suffering from delusions, or producing unholy illusions.
Conclusion: Therefore, the guards are lying, suffering from delusions, or producing unholy illusions.

Syllogism 3:
Minor Premise: The guards are people who are lying, suffering from delusions, or producing unholy illusions.
Major Premise: People who are lying, suffering from delusions, or producing unholy illusions are possessed by demons and must be put to death.
Conclusion: Therefore, the guards are possessed by demons and must be put to death.

Centuries later, an archaeological dig revealed that most of the deified man’s contemporaries had brittle bones and were far smaller than him. The researchers discovered that the ancient leader was what some might call an average-sized man living among pygmies.