The Mythical ‘Psychology of the Skeptics’


It is nothing short of amazing how many believers in the paranormal, usually without the qualifications to know what they are talking about, but sometimes even those with the training to know better, try to expound upon the ‘psychology of the skeptics™’ and get their attempts at reading our minds so completely and utterly wrong. Nothing short of amazing…and amusing.

First, we skeptics are a pretty diverse bunch personality-wise, without a common theme or reason for being the way we are, so there is simply no such thing as a single universal generalization of ‘the’ personality type applicable to skeptics.

Second, a little look through any up-to-date psychology textbook or journal–yes, even those written by us ‘damned fundamentalist reactionary skeptics’–will reveal a wealth of data pertaining to the psychology of belief, from total incredulity to complete acceptance, without a need for a special psychological profile for skeptics. In most psychology studies on the causes and mechanisms of belief, skeptics are already entered into the equation–otherwise there would be nothing to compare with believers.

Most attempts by believers so far to ‘understand’ skeptics involve the use of logical fallacies, usually ad hominems (It’s comical that believers should be the ones to scream “ad hominem!” as loudly and often as they do, but so given to their liberal usage as well, but I digress…), straw man arguments, well-poisoning, the hasty generalization (using a few non-representative samples of skeptics and applying their motivations and personalities to all of us) and to support this generalization, the use of selective and often misrepresented quoting to validate their foregone conclusion.

These sloppy, unprofessional and ad hoc attempts at psychoanalysis of those who criticize their claims are simply rationalizations made by believers to justify their dislike of those of us who offend or shock their ‘delicate sensitivities.’ Pity pooh.

Lack of belief and refusal to believe are not the same. This is no arcane mystery, just basic psychology 101. When one confuses a lack of belief with a refusal to accept, and goes by the logic that as a skeptic, I must be deeply afraid of the paranormal because I don’t believe in it, one must also argue that I am deeply frightened of dragons, unicorns, faeries and flying pigs, because I don’t believe in them either. Please. That’s just silly. Do believers just not ‘get’ why we skeptics don’t take them seriously when they make claims like this?

For the record, I, a dogmatic cynical debunker™, am fascinated, not frightened, by the paranormal, like a moth to a flame, though I look at it with a more critical eye than I once did. Ever want to find out why and how any particular skeptic thinks the way they do? Just ask one. Really, how hard can that be, rather than just taking the lazy route and holding some wannabe pop psychologist’s word as gospel truth?

About Troy Loy

I seek to learn through this site and others how to better my ability as a person and my skill at using my reason and understanding to best effect. I do fractal artwork as a hobby, and I'm working to develop it to professional levels, though I've a bit to go till I reach that degree of skill! This is a crazy world we're in, but maybe I can do a little, if only that, to make it a bit more sane than it otherwise would be.

Posted on Tuesday, 19:30, August 18, 2009, in Misunderstandings & Nonsense and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I wonder sometimes that Sceptics spend as much time not believing as believers spent in believing. I think it is probably just as hard to do either all the time. Sitting on the fence may be for chickens but at least they get to see both sides. But at some point even chickens have to jump down on one side or the other before the fence falls down.
    Not having a bit of paper doesn’t mean you don’t know what you are talking about. From the heart is not a wrong way to express ones’ ideas. So please don’t dismiss us ‘dummies’ just because we don’t have letters after our names.

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    • @ Ted; I’m not prone to ‘dismiss’ anyone out of hand. It’s bad form–and bad skepticism. The qualifications I was referring to do not literally translate to a mere piece of paper or letters after one’s name, but to the actual training and experience, and the understanding that both bring, to know what one is talking about.

      Skill in freelance journalism simply does not instantly translate over to skill in analytical psychology: there is just no cross-over between them. To understand both, one must be trained in both. It’s that simple. Expertise is not global.

      I also don’t think it’s fair to think that I’m calling anyone stupid. I know many brilliant, educated, sane, and sincere believers. All that those four traits mean, however, is that those individuals having them merely have an easier time justifying their chosen beliefs.

      Belief does not equal stupidity, even to me.

      And just so you know: There are things that I do believe, that while they don’t coincide with the beliefs of paranormalists, I believe nonetheless. That, and I do express my ideas from the heart.

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  2. Great post, Troy. Coming from someone who belongs to a paranormal group, I see what you’re saying from this side of the fence; I wrote no more than a few days ago: “sometimes it simply comes down to wanting to believe more than wanting to find a rational explanation.”

    Any ‘believer’ who isn’t able to take the criticism of a skeptic is only fooling themselves.

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