What David Hume Can Still Teach Us About Skepticism

David Hume Enquiry Concerning Human UnderstandingThe upcoming movie Breakthrough tells the story of a teenager who, while playing with friends, fell through the ice and nearly drowned, resulting in a coma and subsequent “miraculous” recovery through divine intervention (for starters, if god did intervene, one might wonder why an all-powerful being didn’t do so before the boy fell in the ice, but we’ll get to that later).

These stories are not new; they crop up from time to time with the same inane storylines (remember Heaven is For Real, the one where the author admitted the whole story was fabricated?). It’s easy to just dismiss these stories outright, but I think it’s worthwhile to revisit the specifics of the faulty logic underlying these narratives.

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How to Be a Skeptic: 5 Tools for Better Critical Thinking

The Skeptics Guide to the UniverseThe Skeptics Guide to the Universe by Steven Novella is one of the best books on critical thinking and skepticism since Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World. Although you would hope, in the 21st century, that it shouldn’t have to be explained why treating eczema with turmeric infusions is a bad idea, gullibility for pseudoscience is a recurring feature of human psychology and in need of constant debunking.

The running theme throughout the book is the concept of fallibilism, and how we are all wired to engage in biased and logical fallacious thinking (even self-proclaimed skeptics or critical thinkers). As the authors constantly remind us, this is a tendency we all have to perpetually work to overcome, and that no one is immune to bias simply because they identify as a skeptic.

With that in mind, here are five concepts/tools to become a better critical thinker.

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Denis Diderot on the Art of Freethinking and the Dangers of Religion

Diderot and the Art of Thinking FreelyDenis Diderot, the French philosopher, art critic, and writer, was described by Voltaire as a pantophile, or the type of person who falls in love with everything they study, from mathematics, science, and medicine to philosophy, politics, literature, and art. So while Diderot never produced a masterpiece that would put him in the highest ranks of philosophy or literature, he did over the course of his life think and write about a wider range of topics than most.

This disposition had several benefits. First, it made Diderot uniquely suited for the position of chief editor of the Encyclopedie, the first and largest project to secularize all human knowledge from the materialist and humanist perspective. More than any other work, the Encyclopedie captured the full spirit of Enlightenment thought.

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