WHY PEOPLE BELIEVE WEIRD THINGS: Pseudoscience, Superstition, And Other Confusions Of Our Time by Michael Shermer
“Michael Shermer, as head of one of America’s leading skeptic organizations, and as a powerful activist and essayist in the service of this operational form of reason, is an important figure in American public life.
This book on his methods and experiences and his analysis of the attractions of irrational belief provides an important perspective on the needs and successes of skepticism.
The old cliche that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty must be the watchword of this movement, for if the apparendy benign cult maintains the same structure of potentially potent irrationality as the overtly militant witch hunt, then we must be watchful and critical of all movement based on suppression of thought.
I was most impressed, on this theme, by Shermer’s analysis of the least likely candidate for potent harm—Ayn Rand’s “Objectivist” movement, which would seem, at first glance, to be part of the solution rather than the problem. But Shermer shows that this sect, despite its brave words about logic and rational belief, acts as a true cult on two key criteria—first, the social phenomenon of demanding unquestioned loyalty to a leader (the cult of personalities), and second, the intellectual failure of a central irrationalism used as a criterion of potential membership (the false belief that morality can have a unique and objective state—to be determined and dictated, of course, by the cult leaders).
Shermer’s book moves from this powerful case in minimalism, through the more “conceptual” (however empty of logic and empirical content) irrationalisms of creationism and Holocaust denial, to the scarier forms of activity represented in ages past by crusades and witch hunts and, today, by hysteria about Satanic cults and the sexual abuse of children (a real and tragic problem, of course) on a scale simply inconceivable and therefore resting on an unwitting conspiracy of false accusations, however deeply felt….”
FOREWORD | The Positive Power of Skepticism by Stephen Jay Gould
INTRODUCTION TO THE PAPERBACK EDITION
- Magical Mystery Tour
- The Whys and Wherefores of Weird Things
PROLOGUE | Next on Oprah
PART 1: SCIENCE AND SKEPTICISM
- I Am Therefore I Think | A Skeptic’s Manifesto
- The Most Precious Thing We Have | The Difference Between Science and Pseudoscience
- How Thinking Goes Wrong | Twenty-five Fallacies That Lead Us to Believe Weird Things
PART 2: PSEUDOSCIENCE AND SUPERSTITION
- Deviations | The Normal, the Paranormal, and Edgar Саусе
- Through the Invisible | Near-Death Experiences and the Quest for Immortality
- Abducted! | Encounters with Aliens
- Epidemics of Accusations | Medieval and Modern Witch Crazes
- The Unlikeliest Cult | Ayn Rand, Objectivism, and the Cult of Personality
PART 3: EVOLUTION AND CREATIONISM
- In the Beginning | An Evening with Duane T. Gish
- Confronting Creationists | Twenty-five Creationist Arguments, Twenty-five Evolutionist Answers
- Science Defended. Science Defined | Evolution and Creationism at the Supreme Court
PART 4: HISTORY AND PSEUDOHISTORY
- Doing Donahue | History, Censorship, and Free Speech
- Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened, and Why Do They Say It? | An Overview of a Movement
- How We Know the Holocaust Happened | Debunking the Deniers
- Pigeonholes and Continuums | An African-Greek-German-American Looks at Race
PART 5: HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL
- Dr. Tipler Meets Dr. Pangloss | Can Science Find the Best of All Possible Worlds?
- Why Do People Believe Weird Things?
- Why Smart People Believe Weird Things