woman with long braid, hands on hip, skeptical look on face

Skepticism is a questioning attitude or doubt, especially towards a belief that claims to be truth. Skepticism is often applied to dogmatic religious beliefs, to scientific inquiry or philosophy, or to conspiracy theories.

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Skepticism is an important historical tool. It is the starting point of all revision of hitherto accepted history.

— Samuel E. Morison

The poison of skepticism becomes, like alcoholism, tuberculosis, and some other diseases, much more virulent in a hitherto virgin soil.

— Simone Weil

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”

— Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory.

— Stephen Hawking

The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best — and therefore never scrutinize or question.

— Stephen Jay Gould

It’s natural to think that living things must be the handiwork of a designer. But it was also natural to think that the sun went around the earth. Overcoming naive impressions to figure out how things really work is one of humanity’s highest callings.

— Steven Pinker

Those with blurry vision, those of us who squint and peer, who don’t always see clearly and know it, who doubt the evidence of our lying eyes: we too have a role. We are skeptics, the name taken by the disciples of the Greek philosopher Pyrrho from the word skeptesthai, meaning to reflect, to look, to view. Not to see clearly, but to keep looking: keep looking even when we think we have found the answer, keep looking even when we think we have seen the truth, keep looking because the one thing we know with absolute certainty is that our sight is imperfect and there is always more to be seen.

— Susan Ives

A skeptic, I would ask for consistency first of all.

— Sylvia Plath

Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others.

— Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy

Skepticism means, not intellectual doubt alone, but moral doubt.

— Thomas Carlyle

Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever or whatever abysses nature leads, or you will learn nothing.

— Thomas H. Huxley

I am too much of a skeptic to deny the possibility of anything.

— Thomas Henry Huxley

Sit down before facts like a child, and be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses Nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.

— Thomas Henry Huxley

The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, skepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin.

— Thomas Henry Huxley

The natural cause of the human mind is certainly from credulity to skepticism.

— Thomas Jefferson

I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.

— Thomas Paine

Is it more probable that nature should go out of her course or that a man should tell a lie? We have never seen, in our time, nature go out of her course. But we have good reason to believe that millions of lies have been told in the same time. It is therefore at least millions to one that the reporter of a miracle tells a lie.

— Thomas Paine

When a man finds a conclusion agreeable, he accepts it without argument, but when he finds it disagreeable, he will bring against it all the forces of logic and reason.

— Thucydides

When adults first become conscious of something new, they usually either attack or try to escape from it… Attack includes such mild forms as ridicule, and escape includes merely putting out of mind.

— W. I. B. Beveridge, The Art of Scientific Investigation

Re-examine all that you have been told.

— Walt Whitman

If we watch ourselves honestly we shall often find that we have begun to argue against a new idea even before it has been completely stated.

— Wilfred Trotter

Traditions and dogmas rub one another down to a minimum in such centers of varied intercourse; where there are a thousand faiths we are apt to become sceptical of them all.

— Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy

A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.

— William James

When a thing is new, people say: ‘It is not true.’ Later, when its truth becomes obvious, they say: ‘It is not important.’ Finally, when its importance cannot be denied, they say: ‘Anyway, it is not new.’

— William James

By far the most usual way of handling phenomena so novel that they would make for a serious rearrangement of our preconceptions is to ignore them altogether, or to abuse those who bear witness for them.

— William James
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