In Portugal, the main enemies of skepticism are a mild spirituality and general scientific ignorance that permeates a great part of the population, which makes it prone to accept spiritism, astrology, etc. Also, scientific-sounding lies, as homeopathy. This general ignorance about science and rigorous thinking makes people readily believe in any example they meet and ignore statistics. People tend not to like a frank discussion of ideas and tend to make everything personal. So, any conversation in which we try to convince others using serious arguments may be met with derision or be considered a kind of “mental violence”.
Being in Portugal, defending skepticism is a bit different from defending skepticism in the U.S. I tend to think religion is not the main enemy of skepticism in Portugal — in fact, people here don’t see a contradiction between being somewhat religious and quite happy believing in evolution, big bang, etc. In high school, I was enrolled in religion classes, as many Portuguese students are. My religion teacher explained quite well Darwin’s findings about human evolution, in order to make us see we should never ever read the Bible literally — something like “see, this is what science tells us [implying we should accept it]; so, the Bible could never be read in a literal way”. I would like to discuss and reflect about this: is this something Portuguese? Something European? Something about my personal experience with no relevance to others? I don’t really know, but would like to understand it better.
(Maybe I’m deluding myself. I understand religion plays a part in the lack of scientific culture in my country. My grandfather once told me people are now living less and less, since the Bible spoke of 900-year-old people. I tried to argue, but to no avail: “either we believe it all, or we don’t”. He is more coherent and maybe a bit more lucid than myself regarding the true compatibility of religion and science…)
I think skepticism is a method of acquiring knowledge, which is extremely important in life since we are bombarded by information, contradictory demands on our attention and clashing world views every day.
For me, skepticism is a way of using our natural curiosity to look at the world in an increasingly accurate way, a way of not letting that curiosity die in the hands of a totalitarian worldview, a way of asking questions and search for answers and be healthily open to the world without being undiscerning about what reaches our mind.
In my mind, being skeptical is also being curious, marveled at the world and serious about ideas and knowledge. Being skeptical is also a way of not reaching conclusions about ourselves and the others too readily, but being able to reach workable conclusions that let us live.
It’s not an easy stance to take, of course.
I would every much like to raise a skeptical child. But I have doubts and questions and this blog is my tool to discuss them and reach out to other skeptics worldwide who may help me. Also, being very interested in these questions, I find myself in a peculiar position, which I think may be of interest to other skeptics. I’ll explain it later.