Thursday, August 02, 2007

Should Einstein be remembered as a great "skeptic"?

Albert Einstein is on CSI's list of Ten Outstanding Skeptics of the Century.

In the May/June issue of Skeptical Inquirer, Todd C. Riniolo and Lee Nisbet point out that Einstein was a selective skeptic when it came to his political beliefs, given that he was an apologist for Stalin's regime. In light of this information, the authors ask if Einstein really belongs on the list.

The ultimate message of the article though, is this

No one is once and for all a skeptic. Skepticism is an ongoing, self-correcting process, not an end to be achieved. It is continually possible to not only backslide but to apply our skepticism inconsistently. We are all selective skeptics. Ironically, calling ourselves skeptics may make us less skeptical in objectively evaluating claims because it may create a false sense of our willingness to subject all of our beliefs to the principles of inquiry. Self-knowledge concerning our limitations is useful in two ways: it encourages intellectual humility and honesty and it keeps the daunting task of not falling prey to our particular certainties forthrightly in view.


Simply calling ourselves skeptics is no guarantee that we will objectively apply the methods of skepticism. Self-awareness that we have limitations in expertise combined with built-in biases that hinder our consistent application of skepticism may help to minimize our own selective skepticism. However, if we ignore our own selective skepticism and inconsistently apply the method of skepticism, we run the risk, like Einstein, of deluding ourselves in certain areas like the “true believer” that every skeptic despises.
That should sound familiar.

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