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Penn Jillette’s Guide to Skepticism

Penn Jillette says healthy skepticism involves maintaining the distinction between what you think and what you feel. 

If the magician, comedian and outspoken atheist Penn Jillette had one question for God, what would it be?

“Just how hip are you?” Jillette asked in a recent Big Think interview, addressing God directly. He expanded on this question as such:

What kind of super hip, surrealist, ultra-postmodern artist are you to create a world that could look absolutely like it wasn’t created? Was your goal to one-up Duchamp? Was your goal to take it to a whole other level? Was your goal to be too hip for the room? What kind of mind creates something that in no way shows any footprint of its creator, not even the slightest fingerprint that shows that there was a creator? 

In regard to evolution, Jillette makes an astute point. We don’t see perfect creations. Instead we see a lot of mistakes that die off. The lucky ones that survive, such as humans, are marked with glitches all over our chromosome

What’s the Big Idea?

Jillette, the author of Every Day Is An Atheist Holiday, says his guide to healthy skepticism involves maintaining the distinction between what you think and what you feel, as in what people “feel as evidence instead of what they think as evidence or what they can prove as evidence.” You should not feel about the speed of light or evolution, Jillette argues, just as you should not “think about love.” In other words, you should feel “I love you,” and you should think about reality.

If you confuse the two, not only will you be cheapening the emotion of love, Jillette says, you will also be cheapening science. Instead you should think about the world and feel about your heart. 

Watch the video here:

What’s the Significance?

How can we put the tools of skepticism best to use? We’re not inclined to want to accept bad news, so Jillette says he doesn’t question it very much. On the other hand, Jillette says that when he really wants to believe something, he combats his bias by questioning it the most. 

When it comes to believing in God, however, Jillette told us he feels a little bit disingenuous with this rule, however. After all, he really never wanted to believe in God. 

Jillette’s late friend Christopher Hitchens once said he didn’t want to believe in God because to do so would be to put his faith in a “celestial dictator.” To put it another way, wanting there to be a God is like wanting to move to North Korea, said Hitch. 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock


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