While I have already written on the topic, I think it is necessary to further show issues with any sort of skeptical doctrine. By skepticism I do not mean disbelief in God or any other narrow sense of the word, but doubt in general. If at first we begin, in our philosophy, to doubt things, where can we rationally draw the line? If I may reveal my conclusion early, I do not think there is a rational point at which to stop doubting; it is ever-consuming of all existence, human predication, and even material evidence. There are no limits to what can be doubted.
Let us list a few examples of skeptical behavior and demonstrate some of the fallacies associated with them. Let us begin with the most juvenile of them and work our way to higher forms of skeptical delusions thought up by ancient and modern sophists.
An Absurdity About China
The most immature skeptic says things like this: “If I cannot perceive it, it does not exist.” Usually, this young skeptic propounds this opinion when they are told about God, but why not, for a grand amusement, extend the reasoning to something physical they have not perceived?
I have never been to China. I have never seen it, smelled it, heard it, or perceived it in anyway outside of secondary sources like newspapers and Chinese migrants. Now, because I am a skeptic, I do not believe what those secondary sources say about China. If I only rely on my own perception about China, and I have never truly perceived it, then it does not exist despite what everyone else tells me.
If this seems hilariously flawed and immature, that is because it is; to universalize it, it says: “That which I do not perceive, I cannot know to exist.” Its the baby-skeptic’s continuation of the lack of object permanance that actual babies have. While man needs his senses to understand his world, there are other things that reside outside of the senses, or things that have simply never been perceived. The latter has been demonstrated, but the former can be illustrated by something abstract like mathematics: we do not “perceive” that 2+2=4 either on paper like this, or when we gather two objects to another two objects. The equation above is a universal; it is true even if no man ever acts upon it or perceives it.
Material Evidence Means Nothing
Many skeptics drink of the cup of empiricism hoping to grasp at something real in the world; if they continue down this list however, there will not be anything real at all. I do not condemn empiricism especially since much good science has been performed on such grounds, but I do wish to point out that, as a philosophy, no amount of empirical evidence truly says anything.
Imagine any sort of boring study. There is a lot of fact-hunting and statistics involved; let us suppose for sake of argument, that every fact and statistic gathered is univocally true. Now the point of any study is not to simply gather a bunch of facts and statistics; the point is to use those smaller bits of truth to say something much bigger. It is here we may introduce doubt.
It does not matter the quantity or quality of one’s evidence, the final conclusion relies entirely on human interpretation; the material evidence is simply supporting the claim, it can never prove the claim. There is precisely no meaning in that evidence itself; meaning must be at least conjectured by men. And why should we, in the doubting mood that we are, trust man’s interpretation? This leads to even more trouble.
I should like to point out, by the way, the great faith these lower-tier skeptics have in their own perception and reasoning abilities. The next few draughts of doubt annihilate these silly notions.
Predication Becomes Impossible
Now that we have sufficiently doubted all but our own perception and understand that empirical evidence in itself does not mean anything, let us approach the new doubt of predication. To be short, we cannot predicate anything at all. Allow just one devilish foot in the door, and I shall demonstrate.
Let us doubt our perception; after all, even I must wear glasses for distance, and many others suffer from greater impediments like deafness. Why should we trust perception at all? Now that we doubt that, and empirical evidence does not mean anything in itself, we can no longer say anything at all about the world, i.e., we cannot predicate. We have eliminated our senses and there is nothing left but what remains between our ears. I cannot even say the grass is green if I am a proper skeptic.
This skeptical situation is getting very bad very quickly. I assure you, it will only get worse.
The Necessity of the Self-Evident
(Do not confuse this with “Material Evidence Means Nothing.” That is about meaning imparted by human minds, this is about what really is.)
To preface our next stage of skepticism, let us first discuss the self-evident. Skeptics really do not like this word, especially the empirical variety, for it means that something is evident in itself. Do not misunderstand this to mean “it is obvious” as in most vulgar talk; all it means is that the self-evident thing needs nothing else to validate it, otherwise, a thing leads to a progression ad infinitum. A quick example, using a poor proposition:
All things are created. (Not a good proposition)
Who created God?
A higher God.
And who created this higher God?
I think you can see where this goes. At some point, there must be something self-evident; in the case of God, if He really is God, He does not need to be created. He is self-evident. We cannot have some silly chain of omnipotent beings claiming to be God; if that power seems split at all, then they are not God, for they would not be omnipotent; only one can be omnipotent.
Aristotle remarks, in a similar way,
- " … it is impossible that there should be a demonstration of all things; for one would go on in this case to infinity, so that there would not be any demonstration at all in this way." – Aristotle, Metaphysics Book IV, Chapter IV
Let us now continue to where visceral, irrational skepticism takes form.
Human Reason Itself May Be Doubted
We have doubted the senses, evidence, and now cannot predicate anything about the world except that it exists because we exist. Actually, that last clause may be doubted too, and is precisely the tipping point into abject irrationality. Once we become skeptical of even our own reason, then there is no trace of rational thought left, all while thinking we are being rational.
Chesterton can word it better than I can.
- “Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, “Why should anything go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?” The young sceptic says, “I have a right to think for myself.” But the old sceptic, the complete sceptic, says, “I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all…Man, by a blind instinct, knew that if once things were wildly questioned, reason could be questioned first." – G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Aristotle also says,
- “Now, doubts of such a sort as this are similar to one’s doubting whether we now sleep or are awake. For all such doubts are tantamount to the same; for these persons demand that there should be a reason of all things: for they seek for a first principle, and expect to obtain this by demonstration, whereas, at least, that they are not persuaded of the validity of their position they make manifest in their acts. – Aristotle, Metaphysics Book IV, Chapter VI
Skepticism is far from the savior of rationality, it is, in fact, reason’s silent assassin. It promises us safety from “blind tradition,” but leads us into a sort of despair that empties man of everything he is. Even Descartes’ doubting in his Meditations on First Philosophy do not doubt far enough, for even he retains faith in his thinking abilities.
What Is Left?
Frankly, nothing. The earlier skeptical arguments are totally dwarfed by the denial of human reason; I am not sure one can even make the case for solipsism at this stage of skepticism. Solipsism is the belief that we “create the world” as we pass through it, like a videogame not rendering certain parts until the player can actually see them. We need only to doubt that we have reasoned properly about our thinking about what we see and we have denied everything. Everything.
I should point you back to that Aristotle quote, and take note of his final, almost shady statement that, “… that they are not persuaded of the validity of their position they make manifest in their acts.” He is, doubtless, sharply criticizing sophists saying that they do not live their philosophy. That is, Descartes may doubt everything in his Meditations, but he very well trusts his sense of sight when he reaches for a piece of bread.
The insanity that results from rampant skepticism has now been demonstrated multifariously, progressively leading to bald irrationality. That is not to say we should not doubt things that seem dubious in the world, but we clearly have some sacred cows which we must not touch in order to remain rational beings, namely, the world itself, that it exists; the human reason, that it exists and does function correctly (with the exception of verifiable madmen); and the senses, that they perceive correctly unless there is reasonable doubt otherwise (I say this to make arrangements for those deficient in sight, or hearing, or other senses). The skeptic may first approach skepticism looking to deny God or other metaphysical facts of the world, but if he does not stop along the path, he will end up denying everything including himself.
I have omitted talk of the line in the sand for skepticism up to this stage and for a very simple reason: there is no line, there is no reason to stop at any point in the progression. To be continent in the belief (non-belief?), the immature skeptic denying China’s existence must become Chesterton’s old skeptic who denies his right to think; any stopping point along that progression is merely a lack of serious introspection on the topic, or a convenience to actually function in the world. If one tried to actually live this kind of non-belief, he could not; no man can function by believing precisely nothing, especially not even believing himself. It is a non-philosophy doomed only for self-destruction.