Naïveté and skepticism

There is a dualism between naïveté and skepticism.  In ancient and medieval times there was a kind of skepticism about science.  Zeno’s paradoxes for example questioned whether or not motion was real.  Logic was refined to a high degree in the middle ages but was used for abstruse philosophical and theological matters rather than for practical knowledge.  On the other hand, the histories of the ancient and medieval times were quite naïve.  They were often interspersed with mythological and legendary tales so that moderns tend to dismiss them all.

An inversion occurred in the early modern period, culminating in the Enlightenment.  Since then, skeptical or critical history has been the norm.  Ancient documents such as the Bible are examined with great skepticism.  On the other hand, science gets accepted without question.  Especially those in the divinity or humanities schools who don’t understand science are inclined to accept whatever the scientists say–they are quite naïve about science.  Many scientists are skeptical about anything non-science, with a curious naïveté about the history of science.  A history of science written by scientists is always a Whig history (the good guys are on the side that turns out “right” and the bad guys are on the side that turns out “wrong” where right and wrong are defined by current science).  Historians keep trying to set the record straight but modern prejudices are as strong in their own way as ancient and medieval prejudices.

Where does this leave us?  First, we should examine ourselves.  Are we being overly skeptical in one area and naïve in another area?  Second, we should seek a balance between a healthy use of our critical faculties without falling into skepticism and a healthy acceptance of things that we don’t fully understand without being naïve.