Critical Thinking

A Skeptatic Dialogue, Part 4

Quentis and Firmatio: A Skeptatic Dialogue, Part 4

Continued from Part 3.


Firmatio: So that’s it then? You’re wrong and we can move on?

Quentis: Not yet, the reason why I’m wrong is much more important than just the fact that I am wrong. A moment ago I told you that my life improved after I started jumping three times and flying, which is how I knew that it worked.

Firmatio: Yes.

Quentis: This is mixing up correlation and causation. Two things happened around the same time, but that doesn’t mean one caused the other. Just because I started feeling better after I started jumping doesn’t mean that it was caused by the jumping. Maybe I started eating better and exercising more and that was what caused me to feel better. Or maybe there was some other reason I’m not even aware of. Linking correlation and causation and assuming that the second thing was caused by the first isn’t good reasoning. It doesn’t mean that I can fly, it’s not evidence.

Firmatio: No it’s not.

Quentis: So what have we noticed here?

Firmatio: I have a feeling you’re about to tell me.

Quentis: Every argument I made was a non-sequitur, the conclusions did not follow the premises. If an idea has been around for a long time, does that automatically make it true?

Firmatio: No.

Quentis: And if something is “natural,” does that automatically make it good for you?

Firmatio: It could be.

Quentis: What about cyanide found naturally in some plants? Or the tetrodotoxin in puffer fish? Those are totally natural things and they will kill you. Being natural is not the same as good.

Firmatio: I guess so.

Quentis: And what about science itself? If scientists don’t know something, does that necessarily mean that it can never be understood and is beyond all science?

Firmatio: Well, no.

Quentis: And if I believe something, and many other people also believe it, does that guarantee that it is true?

Firmatio: Of course not.

Quentis: What about when I claim something that sounds extraordinary? Is it your job to prove me wrong?

Firmatio: No, it’s your job to prove that you are right.

Quentis: And if my claim is really extraordinary and goes against a lot of things we already know, don’t I also need to provide really extraordinary evidence and not just one small example showing I’m right?

Firmatio: Yes.

Quentis: But what if a brilliant, important, highly qualified person said it? Does that automatically mean it is true?

Firmatio: No.

Quentis: What if I can think of a clever reason to beat every argument you come up with, and rationalize my beliefs despite any evidence against them? Does that make my belief true?

Firmatio: It just means you really believe it.

Quentis: And that automatically makes me stupid, or crazy?

Firmatio: No, just wrong.

Quentis: And if one thing follows another, or two things always happen at the same time, does that mean one definitely caused the other?

Firmatio: It might.

Quentis: It can, but does it guarantee that it does?

Firmatio: No.

Quentis: So that goes back to my first questions: how do you know? How can you know anything?

Firmatio: Well, there are lots of ways.

Quentis: We can start by looking at the evidence. We can test things and see if they work. We do make a lot of mistakes along the way, which is why we need to do a lot of tests, thorough tests, careful tests, rigorous tests. We need to try to prove ourselves wrong to find out if we are right. A few anecdotes or a single study isn’t enough, we need a whole body of evidence to justify our beliefs. Things that go against everything science already knows need even more evidence to be justified.

Firmatio: Yeah, but still…

Quentis: Even if we’ve spent a lot of time and money dedicating ourselves to a particular belief: if it is wrong, it it wrong. If we believe something wholeheartedly and it is very important to us, but all the best evidence points in a different direction, the only reasonable thing to do is change our beliefs.

Firmatio: Yeah but I still believe that [alternative medicine, acupuncture, acupressure, homeopathy, chiropractic, herbalism, aromatherapy, reflexology, reiki, crystal healing, cupping, iridology, faith healing, applied kinesiology, holistic medicine, ayurvedic medicine, supplements, chelation therapy, naturopathy, organic food, non-GMO food, raw food, detoxing, colonic hydrotherapy, ear candling, hypnotic regression, kombucha, macrobiotics, astrology, palmistry, numerology, tarot, dowsing, chakra balancing, qi, self help, dualism, perpetual motion, neurolinguistic programming, ESP, channeling, self help, magic, etc.] works.

Quentis: Why?

Firmatio: Because it is traditional, it’s natural, I have faith in it, many people believe in it, you can’t prove it wrong, a qualified expert endorses it, it’s special, I feel better because of it, I’ve seen it work for myself, and science just doesn’t know everything. There are other ways of knowing besides your western science.

Quentis: If you really think science, reason, and evidence aren’t enough to know about things, what would you say if I said something crazy?

Firmatio: I don’t know.

Quentis: Okay, if you jump three times, you can fly.



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Jay teaches English in Asia and loves skepticism and teaching above all else.

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