For many years I was a committed, evangelical christian. That changed a while ago. I no longer have belief that there is such a being as god. I'll probable blog some time about the process of change through which I went. I now describe myself as a skeptic and critical thinker. In the search for truth I asked questions such as, “When I pray does it change anything but me? Is prayer heard ‘out there’”? I arrived at no satisfactory positive answers.
Recently I have been following a blog written by a young Canadian woman, Lindsay; it's called Struck by Enlightening. She writes about the journey she has undertaken from believer to atheist. Lindsay learned to think critically and to be skeptical early in her life. It took me much, much longer. It is not so very long ago that 'skeptic' and 'critical thinker' were entirely new concepts to me. Although I was well along the road to acknowledging that I was no longer a believer it was in reading Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World - Science as a candle in the dark that I encountered them and understood my experience. I knew that faith was, for me, no longer viable but I had no words to describe myself. Recognising what was real for me was wonderfully liberating.
I am aware that many who read this may not have a clear understanding of what being a skeptic is. It is, perhaps, a common misconception that one who defines him or herself as such could also be labelled a contrarian or a disparager. A skeptic is certainly not someone who is cynical, close-minded or who rejects new ideas. In fact, quite the opposite is true. A skeptic is someone not in a fixed position but rather one who adopts a process. Skepticism uses the application of reason to evaluate all claims and requires compelling evidence before accepting something as believable.
John Jackson, on the UK Skeptics web site, puts it like this:
Skepticism is an honest search for knowledge. It is an approach to claims akin to the scientific method. It is a powerful and positive methodology (a collection of methods of inquiry) that is used to evaluate claims and make decisions. It is used to search for the (provisional) truth in matters and to make decisions that are based on sound reasoning, logic, and evidence. Skepticism is based on a simple method: doubt and inquiry. The idea is to neither initially accept claims nor dismiss them; it’s about questioning them and testing them for validity. Only after inquiry does a skeptic take a stance on an issue.
See a fuller explanation here.
Finally, here is a short video on critical thinking.