Sweeping Generalization


Today I’m going to talk a bit about a logical fallacy called “Sweeping Generalization”. In this LF, a conclusion is made about a group of people based on experiences with several. I’ve written about this several times but I keep seeing reasons to bring up this same argument.

A sweeping generalisation applies a general statement too broadly. If one takes a general rule, and applies it to a case to which, due to the specific features of the case, the rule does not apply, then one commits the sweeping generalisation fallacy. This fallacy is the reverse of a hasty generalisation, which infers a general rule from a specific case.

In this specific case I’m going to discuss the sweeping generalisation that all skeptics are atheists. It is true that skepticism does bring many to the conclusion that there is probably no god or that there may or may not be a god. However this is still, in my opinion, a very divisive attitude. When we state that, in order to be a skeptic, you have to give up a belief in a higher power, that automatically  turns off so many people that might be interested in learning more about critical thinking.

For those of us who had to learn to be skeptical and came to it later in life, this is a hard journey. Even leaving the God question out of the equation, many of us have fought our way through very tightly held precious beliefs. It may come as a shock, but giving up the idea that fairies and dragons exist on another plane was REALLY hard! Giving up the belief that I was helping people with Reiki was REALLY hard!

Asking someone to examine their cherished and deeply held beliefs in a higher power is going to be (wait for it) REALLY hard!

So why not let them come to that point on their own? Why exclude them because they have a belief in a higher power. In all seriousness, how many of us have had, or STILL have some belief that might be considered odd or unusual by the skeptical community? Most of us still talk to mechanical devices. We know full well they’re not exhibiting human qualities but that doesn’t keep us from cursing at something that’s malfunctioning. Everyone grows at their own pace. And perhaps we don’t need those people to be willing to let go of everything we think of as woo woo bunk.

But I digress. Even if new people NEVER give up a belief in a higher power SO WHAT?? People who believe in a god can still use critical thinking. They can still apply the scientific method to other things in their lives. They can still be assets to the skeptical community.

They can still be skeptics.

Now, what prompted this post? George Hrab of The Geologic Podcast has a very close friend who wrote a fantastic post about their experience as a non-skeptic being introduced to a skeptical group for the first time. You can read that post here. Geo’s friend is now actually interested in learning more because people were NICE. The Chicago Skeptics were warm and inviting. In this way, they helped a non-skeptic learn about skepticism.

This sweeping generalisation, sadly, doesn’t just occur on the skeptical side. Many non-skeptics have this idea that skeptics are atheists who love sucking the light from the world. Read yesterday’s post “Stomping Puppies” for more details about that. We need to work on that image. And we do that by being more accepting of the differences of others. The skeptical community could care less if some of its biggest leaders are gay. But Hawking help the poor sot who mentions God. They are ostracised or at the very least, mocked mercilessly.  That type of intolerance needs to stop and it needs to stop NOW.

There is room in the skeptical community for everyone. The ONLY criteria to be a skeptic *should* be: Are you thinking critically?

1 Comment

  1. jwalker1960 said,

    September 17, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    I completely agree with you, Maria. We need to be welcoming to all who are willing to think critically. It is important that people discover on their own what they want to believe after having questioned everything.


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