Daily Archives: May 9, 2009

Re: Skepticism

Posted by David

This is a response to Skepticism.

When I used to teach kids about various natural history topics in Olympic National Park, I would use a special Skins and Skulls activity taught to me by a friend named Nick. It was all based on having the students recognize the difference between observations and conclusions. Each of the 15 or so students were passed out either a skin or a skull. The students had a great variety of objects to choose from. Actually, they didn’t choose. That would have taken way too much time. I passed them out. There were specimens such as a bobcat skull or a deer skin.

On the first round of the activity the students were to make only observations. No conclusions were to be made. We went around the table and each student made one observation. As was expected a students would say something like, “These teeth are made for eating meat” or “This thick fur keeps this animal warm.” Then I would say, “No conclusions please, only observations this time around.” Eventually, most of the students understood the difference.

Next we would go around the table and make conclusions based on their first-round observation. Then I could praise them and say, “Yes, you’re right, those sharp, pointy teeth are so that the animal can grip flesh, ” or “Yes, that thick fur is to keep the animal warm in the water.”

We all must be keen observers, whether we are naturalists or just human beings trying to figure out our life. But being a observer and not jumping to conclusions is only the first half of the program. We must also draw conclusions from what we observe. If we don’t, then we run the risk of thinking that there really are no conclusions to be made. Eventually, we must take the risk—have faith—to draw a conclusion, because there are conclusions to be made.

The fur is made to keep the beaver warm.

The sharp canines are to hold flesh tightly.

What about truth? Is truth observable? Is the nature of truth a conclusion we can make? If we are a true skeptic, we don’t allow ourselves to assign a judgement to the nature of truth. But even the skeptic can’t help from leaning this way and that way toward a particular ideal or a presuppositions. It’s in our nature. These leanings are unavoidable it seems to me.

We are continually bombarded with observations in the natural world that help us define truth. These observations beg questions as well as answers. Why are there so many stars? Why is water liquid on earth? What is the human mind? 

We are also given testimonials to truth from witnesses. These observations of others also begs questions and answers—unless we just consider all testimonial of all other humans to be either lies, fantasy or insanity.  If we believe the observations of others, then we must consider at least a part of their observations in the body of evidence. Then it’s time for us to draw conclusions. We make a judgment based on the what we know.

This is what the Gospels are about. They are evidence to truth. They are observations from the field. Either the witnesses were lying or they weren’t. Read them and see what you think. Does it sound like they were written by people who truly believed their own observations? The witnesses observed Jesus. They saw him on the cross. They saw the empty tomb. They saw him alive. There are witnesses to Jesus today. In these witnesses you can observe a changed life. In them you can witness God’s love. 

 Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Matthew 7:7

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