The Perils of Skepticism

 The Perils of Skepticism

If you’ve ever used Google Alert, you know the jolts it can deliver. Whenever anyone in the blogosphere decides to blow a poison dart your way, Google is happy to deliver the news, along with the more positive mentions, of course. Most of my stinging darts come from skeptics. Over the years I’ve found that ill-tempered guardians of scientific truth can’t abide speculative thinking. And as the renowned Richard Dawkins has proved, they are also very annoyed by a nuisance named God.

Statistically, cynical mistrust is correlated with premature sudden death from cardio vascular disease. Since the skeptics who write venomous blogs trust in nothing, I imagine that God will outlive them. In the interests of better health, these people should read scripture, or at least a poem, twice a day. Doctor’s orders.

I’ve debated skeptics, including Richard Dawkins (I spoke with Dawkins for over 90 minutes on camera in Oxford. He extracted 30 seconds from the dialogue and dubbed me the enemy of science.) and  I am amazed that they mistake self-righteousness for happiness. A sort of bitter satisfaction is what they reap. No skeptic, to my knowledge, ever made a major scientific discovery or advanced the welfare of others. Typically they sit by the side of the road with a sign that reads "You’re Wrong" so that every passerby, whether an Einstein, Gandhi, Newton, or Darwin, can gain the benefit of their illuminated skepticism. For make no mistake, the skeptics of the past were as eager to shoot down new theories as they are to worship the old ones once science has validated them.

It never occurs to skeptics that a sense of wonder is paramount, even for scientists. Especially for scientists. Einstein insisted, in fact, that no great discovery can be made without a sense of awe before the mysteries of the universe. Skeptics know in advance — or think they know — what right thought is. Right thought is materialistic, statistical, data-driven, and always, always, conformist. Wrong thought is imaginative, provisional, often fantastic, and no respecter of fixed beliefs.

So whenever I find myself labeled the emperor of woo-woo, I pull out the poison dart and offer thanks that wrong thinking has gotten us so far. Thirty years ago no right-thinking physician accepted the mind-body connection as a valid, powerful mode of treatment. Today, no right-thinking physician (or very few) would trace physical illness to sickness of the soul, or accept that the body is a creation of consciousness, or tell a patient to change the expression of his genes. But soon these forms of wrong thinking will lose their stigma, despite the best efforts of those professional stigmatizers, the skeptics.


Published in the San Francisco Chronicle


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  1. 🙂 well Buddha did say to investigate everything and not accept as a matter of blind faith.

    By trying to disprove a teaching ( with open mind and using logic ) I have usually proved every ( Buddha and Buddhist teaching to be true . One doesn't seem to get the same affect by trying to prove a teaching to be correct . For some reason it doesn't carry the same energy and piercing quality that comes from the tension of the opposites. Testing a teaching from every angle gives one certainty and confidence – blind acceptance does not.

    Always teachers invite pupils to test the words and try to disprove them… If the words do not stand up to the test then the teacher must rethink .. and learn from the students that point out the problems.

  2. skeptic

    1587, "member of an ancient Gk. school that doubted the possibility of real knowledge," from Fr. sceptique, from L. scepticus, from Gk. skeptikos (pl. Skeptikoi "the Skeptics"), lit. "inquiring, reflective," the name taken by the disciples of the Gk. philosopher Pyrrho (c.360-c.270 B.C.E.), from skeptesthai "to reflect, look, view" (see scope (1)). The extended sense of "one with a doubting attitude" first recorded 1615. The sk- spelling is an early 17c. Gk. revival and is preferred in U.S.

    "Skeptic does not mean him who doubts, but him who investigates or researches as opposed to him who asserts and thinks that he has found." [Miguel de Unamuno, "Essays and Soliloquies," 1924]


  3. So for me it is the open mind and sincerity that makes being skeptic valid -without open mind then investigation is worthless .

  4. deleted this post as it has been reposted below – edit function went haywire as site is doing a lot of timeouts or not available today

  5. I feel that skeptics play a very important role in society. While personally they can be extremely annoying and divisive, ultimately I think people are smart enough to see personal attacks for what they are, and real conviction for what it is.

  6. A great scholar hears of the Tao and begins diligent practice. A middling scholar hears of the Tao, retains some and loses some. An inferior scholar hears of the Tao and roars with ridicule. Without that laugh, it would not be the Tao. So there are constructive sayings on this. The Way of illumination seems dark. Going forward seems like retreat. The easy way seems hard. True power seems weak. True purity seems tarnished. True clarity seems obscure. The greatest art seems unsophisticated. The greatest love seems indifferent. The greatest wisdom seems childish. The Tao is hidden and nameless. The Tao alone nourishes and brings everything to fulfillment… Tao Te Ching, verse 41

  7. Based on my own experiences I am evidence that the mind/body connection can help overcome supposedly terminal disease. 'Quantum Healing' was one book which gave me courage to carry on despite four bouts with cancer.

    That being said, one has to question, otherwise false teachers will promulgate false teachings. Dr. Chopra, you have done much to inspire people to meditate–perhaps the greatest teaching of the great Eastern traditions–as well as provide powerful insights as a teacher. However, can you really embrace the million-selling book 'The Secret?" Just believe, and rainwater will turn to beer? Without any of the meditation and study–and work? Call me a skeptic, but I just came in from the rain. All I am is wet; sober as a judge. And I had my mouth open the whole time.

    Being a skeptic is different from being a naysayer, as Kay's definition above elucidates. Today, anyone can call themselves a 'guru' or a 'master.' I've seen it in the tai chi chuan world. Fakes abound. Caveat emptor.

  8. But if the teacher was the teacher in the first place, what hope does the student have of contradicting all the teacher knows. The teacher also has the advantage of supplying all the resource to be examed by student to come to the conclusion. Since young students hold teachers as supreme beings, what hope do they have of finding an unbiased answer????? After all, the teacher is the supreme source.