William Connolley, at Roy Spencer’s blog, claims that those who disagree with him are not skeptics.
He hyperlinks to his 2004 posting “Septics and skeptics; denialists and contrarians“
Consider his definition of the word “skeptic”
the true definition of skeptic in this context is something like:
skeptic [Gr. skeptiko`s thoughtful, reflective, fr. ske`ptesqai to look carefully or about, to view, consider] 1. One who is yet undecided as to what is true; one who is looking or inquiring for what is true; an inquirer after facts or reasons.
(I got that from here and edited it lightly (update 2004/12/11: but! they’ve changed the page. Argh. OK, so for the moment you can get the version I saw from googles cache, and if that fails, the original source is Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary. I’ve also created an entry atwictionary in frustration; and the same defn is also available from BrainyDictionary. Anyway you know what I mean…)).
“I got that from here and edited it lightly” is a confession that he manipulated the definition to suit his purposes.
The “light editing is from to dictionary.com, whose current definition is.
1. a person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual.
2. a person who maintains a doubting attitude, as toward values, plans, statements, or the character of others.
3. a person who doubts the truth of a religion, especially Christianity, or of important elements of it.
4. (initial capital letter) Philosophy.
a. a member of a philosophical school of ancient Greece, the earliest group of which consisted of Pyrrho and his followers, who maintained that real knowledge of things is impossible.
b. any later thinker who doubts or questions the possibility of real knowledge of any kind.
The first definition is about questioning something “purporting” to be factual. If somebody makes a claim that they earnestly believe to be true, they may not comprehend how anybody can be somewhat sceptical (or even incredulous) about those claims. Those who believe in alien abductions, for instance, may present “overwhelming” evidence to support that belief. If you try to convince them otherwise, you will be called stupid, or even as part of the conspiracy to discredit the truth.
The second definition is about a doubting attitude. There is nothing in those definitions that demarcates between good and bad scepticism. There can be a huge number of reasons for the doubt. For instance, a good marriage depends on trust. If one party has an affair, there will likely be a breakdown in that trust. The betrayed will now questions every statement and every motive. Once lost, that trust, it is very hard to regain – a point that Dale Carnegie makes in “How To Win Friends And Influence People“. Shifting blame, or failing to acknowledge fault, will only make matters worse.
However, given that it is worth having a healthy scepticism to any claims on the internet, a more reliable source is the printed word. My dictionary is a Shorter Oxford English Dictionary 1983 reprint edition. William Connolley, with a Dhil from Oxford, can hardly dispute its authority. This is what I wrote a couple of years ago:-
Definition 1 pertains to a school of philosophy after the Greek Pyrrho, which doubts the possibility of knowledge of any kind.
Definition 2 is someone who doubts the validity of knowledge claims in a particular area of inquiry. This includes, but is not confined to the natural sciences.
Definition 2.1 is “one who maintains a doubting attitude with reference to a particular question or statement”. The OED has this as the popular definition.
Definition 3 is one who doubts the truth of Christianity.
Definition 4 is one who is seeking the truth. That is “an inquirer who has not arrived at definite convictions”. This is only occasionally used, at least in the late 20th century.
Like with the dictionary.com definitions, there is no implied demarcation, between scepticism and denial of the truth. William Connolley’s definition is nearest to 4, implying that scepticism is transitional stage on the road to enlightenment or denial. But the oldest definition is denial of knowledge in general, and doubts of the truth of Christianity, can be a static state.
There are a huge number of possible reasons for the doubt that is scepticism. For instance, a good marriage depends on trust. If one party has an affair, there will likely be a breakdown in that trust. The betrayed will now question every statement and every action. Once lost, that trust it is very hard to regain – a point that Dale Carnegie makes in “How To Win Friends And Influence People“, although mostly with business relationships in mind. Shifting blame, or failing to acknowledge fault, will only make matters worse. William Connolley has helped betray the trust that people bestow on the authority of Wikipedia and in the authority of science. Rather than trying to restore that trust, he just makes comments that confirm people’s scepticism.