Aug 9, 2022 • 5M

On not being a contrarian - audio edition

Staying skeptical among people of faith

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Heather Heying
Audio reads of articles from Natural Selections: If it evolved, it's fair game: from jungles to hospitals, from herons and ghost moths to vitamin D and viruses, these reads of weekly essays cover lots of ground. Did you find an article on the main site that you want to hear rather than see? Most likely it's available here, for paying subscribers.
Episode details

Written text of this short piece is here, first published on June 27, 2022. I realized, upon looking for a photograph to go with this post, that I wrote on the same broad topic on my Patreon back in October, 2018. I have unlocked that post: Faith, Cynicism, and Skepticism as Pre-, Post- and Modern Approaches to Life.


Excerpt from the June original:

I have, during Covid, sometimes been called a contrarian, even by friends. It has been invoked by way of defending me, even, as if to be a contrarian were a cute personality quirk, or even a positive one. But when I map “contrarian” on to the framework above—cynic, skeptic, or faithful—to be a contrarian is clearly to be in the domain of the cynic. A contrarian simply disagrees. A contrarian may well avoid making eye contact with any evidence that doesn’t suit them, so as to be assured that their “everything the authorities say is wrong” worldview can persist.

I am not a contrarian….I am a scientist. Scientists should be neither faithful nor cynical. Scientists are skeptics. Scientists do not accept what authorities say simply because the authorities have said it. Scientists do not accept what anyone says simply because a particular person or institution has said it.

Excerpt from the 2018 Patreon piece:

The modern approach, the one most deeply and accurately informed by an evolutionary world view, is based on skepticism. Be open to new solutions, but absent a good reason to change, stick to what has worked before. Seek out authorities in fields about which you want to know more, or about which you need to know more, and question everything that they say, at first. Ultimately you will either arrive at a near steady state, in which you accept much but not all of what they say; or, conversely, you will discover that the authority tends to be wrong, and is not worth paying much attention to at all.

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