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[My friend Fred is a metaphysical naturalist of 50 years standing. His short analysis of different kinds of scepticism and their motives is a useful adjunct to the passage from Bertrand Russell to which it is linked.]

Everyone is skeptical about something. Nonreligious people are skeptical of many claims made by religious apologists. Many theists are skeptical of anything in science they perceive as threatening their concept of the deity, such as evolution, because it threatens the concept of a creator God. People in conservative Protestant traditions (such as my dad’s family) are skeptical of paranormal claims, as well as claims by Catholics about miracles etc. What do the above examples have in common? In each case, the skepticism is based on claims which may be contrary to what the person perceives as already being knowledge, or at least which would require some effort to integrate with that knowledge.

But there’s another kind of skepticism, which could be called critical thinking. This is the thinking which an ideal police detective brings to a crime investigation, each theory of what happened being examined with a critical eye, an effort being made not to leap to premature conclusions, an effort to go where the evidence leads. Many of these same notions apply to science. In the case of the detective, he or she should be coming to the scene without hopes for any one theory prevailing, because there’s not a general belief system which is threatened by one theory rather than another turning out to be true.

A third type of skepticism is what we could call thought-experiment skepticism. We suppose for the sake of argument that some claim widely, or even universally, believed to be true is false. We then see where this takes us, what deductions can be made etc. This sort of thing could often arise in philosophical discussions.

A fourth type of skepticism could be called obstructive skepticism, the refusal to grant any sort of common grounds on which a discussion could take place. In the case where there really are no common grounds then this indicates there really is no basis for discussion. This may not be apparent right away when disagreements arise.

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