Tom Jonard's Why Skepticism? Page

    When I was a teenager I devoured books about UFOs because they seemed to be related to my interests in space and aircraft.  I also read some books on other abnormal events like Spontaneous Human Combustion and the original Alien Abduction -- the Betty and Barney Hill story.  This was just the sort of stuff to scare the wits out of the impressionable teenager I was.  I started to disbelieve UFOs when I discovered some writers who claimed they were psychic phenomenon.  It was one thing to believe in metal space ships from another planet but quite another to accept mental space ships from the astral plane. Since I have become a skeptic about UFOs, I have become more critical of thought about other things as well.  This does not to me seem to be a bad thing if not carried to an extreme.

    While I out-grew the naivety and credulity of my youth it seems as though others either did not or maturing differently grew into these traits.  In either case it seems clear that people are roughly divided into those who easily accept and those who easily question.  Why this should be is not entirely clear.  Michael Schermer suggests in his Skeptic column in the May, 2002 Scientific American that environmental factors are key.  Indeed if we expect education to be at all effective in bringing the benefits and merits of skepticism to a wider audience then we should agree.

    But is nurture all there is to it?  Or is it possible that here we see the expression of some genetic trait?  I don't know why I am a skeptic any more than I know why I am an Analytic (but the two may be closely related).  It's just seems to be that that's the way that I am.  I can not identify any specific training in my past that made me this way and if I could I can not be sure that I did not gravitate to it out of some preexisting proclivity.  (My mom says I was always curious and self entertaining.)  But if skeptics are born and not made then is there any hope in a program of education to turn what many see as a rising tide of ignorance?

    I really believe that nature versus nurture is a false and prejudicial dichotomy with the truth involving a mixture of each -- nature and nurture.  We may well inherit proclivities to skepticism or credulity and also be malleable enough to be influenced within that tendency one way or the other.  So an educational program is not hopeless but neither is it going to stamp out ignorance born of credulity once and for all.  This is not a program that can ever be finished.  So just add one more to the long list of things about which we must be eternally vigilant if we wish to have a better world.

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    Created April 13, 2002,
    © 2002, Thomas A. Jonard