This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

A field guide to bullshit

How do people defend their beliefs in bizarre conspiracy theories or the power of crystals? Philosopher Stephen Law has tips for spotting their strategies

You describe your new book, Believing Bullshit, as a guide to avoid getting sucked into "intellectual black holes". What are they?
Intellectual black holes are belief systems that draw people in and hold them captive so they become willing slaves of claptrap. Belief in homeopathy, psychic powers, alien abductions - these are examples of intellectual black holes. As you approach them, you need to be on your guard because if you get sucked in, it can be extremely difficult to think your way clear again.

But isn't one person's claptrap another's truth?
There's a belief system about water to which we all sign up: it freezes at 0 °C and boils at 100 °C. We are powerfully wedded to this but that doesn't make it an intellectual black hole. That's because these beliefs are genuinely reasonable. Beliefs at the core of intellectual black holes, however, aren't reasonable. They merely appear so to those trapped inside.

You identify some strategies people use to defend black hole beliefs. Tell me about one of them - "playing the mystery card"?
This involves appealing to mystery to get out of intellectual hot water when someone is, say, propounding paranormal beliefs. They might say something like: "Ah, but this is beyond the ability of science and reason to decide. You, Mr Clever Dick Scientist, are guilty of scientism, of assuming science can answer every question." This is often followed by that quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy". When you hear that, alarm bells should go off.

Read more

TAGGED: CRITICAL THINKING, SPEECHES


RELATED CONTENT

Atheists On Religion, Science, And...

- - YouTube - townsquare Comments

Cara Santa Maria (Senior Science Correspondent, Huffingtonpost.com) leads this week's panel on 'The Point' to discuss these issues and more with Michael Shermer (Publisher - Skeptic Magazine), Sean Carroll (Theoretical Physicist - Caltech), and Edward Falzon (author of 'Being Gay Is Disgusting').

WALK DARWIN’S TREE OF LIFE ~ 25 - 26...

- - Ancestors Trail Walk Comments

WALK DARWIN’S TREE OF LIFE ~ 26 AUGUST 2012 - event begins on Saturday 25 August

Why I won't take part in debate with...

Richard Dawkins - for the Press and... Comments

I was invited several months ago to speak at the Faclan Book Festival in Stornoway and I was delighted to accept, as I have a great affection for the Highlands and Islands but have never visited Lewis and have heard such good things about its beauty and about the friendliness of the islanders.

CCI: DAVE MCKEAN ON DAWKINS, CHRIST AND...

Andy Liegl - CBR (Comic Book... Comments

In front of a packed crowd during his panel titled "My Two Years with Dawkins, Christ and a Small Crab Called Eric" at Comic-Con International in San Diego, artist, writer and indie filmmaker Dave McKean recounted two recent life events on radically opposite ends of the philosophical spectrum: an all-ages book he illustrated with scientist and Atheism proponent Richard Dawkins called "The Magic of Reality," and a film he shot starring Michael Sheen in Port Talbot, Wales called "The Gospel of Us," a modern day interpretation of "The Passion" story chronicling Jesus Christ's final days of life on Earth.

Update - Podcast June 5 Interview with...

Jacob Fortin - The Good Atheist 103 Comments

Update 6/7 - podcast


"Faith: Pretending to know things you don't know"

What Would Darwin Say to Today's...

Eugenie Scott - YouTube -... 17 Comments

Many creationist arguments would be familiar to Darwin. But others--such as Young Earth Creationism--would have baffled him. Genie Scott explores the then and now of creationism. Where: Transylvania University. When: 2/15/2012

MORE

MORE BY ALISON GEORGE

MORE

Comments

Comment RSS Feed

Please sign in or register to comment