The skeptic is a true ally to anyone proposing answers to controversial subjects. Skeptics are a test for the quality of an argument, and for extraordinary claims and evidence. An informed skeptic will help you refine out all inaccuracies and irrelevancies so that you can arrive at a pure, intellectually honest and sound position. With such a refined position, even a skeptic can be swayed. The role of the skeptic is both noble and necessary.
Unfortunately, I fear there are fewer and fewer real skeptics. Instead I see more deniers masquerading under the more legitimate guise of a skeptic. These are two very different mindsets. The skeptic will listen to and consider valid argument and weigh evidence. You may not sell him, but he is sellable. The denier doesn’t really care what you have to say—to the denier, each statement merely presents a target at which he can throw his stones. It’s like a graffiti writer whose goal is to make his mark, and cares little for the bus on which he sprays his paint can.
Most of us have encountered them. There’s no having a meaningful exchange with them, no matter what the subject. They’ll throw out whatever refutation comes to their minds, even if it’s not exactly relevant or contradicts what they previously said. That’s why such an exchange has the feel of intellectual schizophrenia. The skeptic will pause and consider were he ever to personally witness an apparition or a miraculous event. The denier will submit himself to a complete physical and psychological examination to find out what’s wrong with him. The goal of the skeptic is to arrive at truth—the agenda of the denier is far more personal and dogmatic.
I’ve often found that deniers have little to offer in the way of contemplative or independent ideas. They seem to derive a feeling of power by parroting the establishment view. It’s about security in numbers and a sense of empowerment. They’re often more akin to a gang member with his “boys” behind him (i.e., the establishment view), trolling through the alleys of chat rooms and forums in search of victims to assault. But, also like the hoodlum, when you take the gang away, they really have very little of their own.
Of course, there are those deniers who fearfully defend their personal notion of reality, flailing wildly at any contrary fact that threatens to invade in the hope of striking it a mortal blow. You can’t have an intelligent exchange with an inanimate wall either.
Sadly, we as a society are partially to blame. We have allowed the term skeptic to be hijacked by those to whom this honorable title really doesn’t belong. Over time, we have been lulled into accepting skepticism and denial as the same. They are not. Maybe someday we will collectively correct this mistake.
So hail the skeptic as your friend and partner, but shun the denier. Tag the deniers as such and move on, unless you really feel you’re qualified to expose them for what they are, and if taking on that thankless challenge is a worthy investment of your time and effort.