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Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole Paperback – April 26, 2011


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 271 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (April 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616144114
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616144111
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #254,847 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A philosophy professor at the University of London, Law describes eight "intellectual black holes," traps that seem to lend credence to scientifically or rationally incorrect propositions. Recognizing such black holes as "playing the mystery card" (e.g., arguing that science can tell us whether ghosts exist) will help readers identify and critique illogical arguments. One particularly interesting concept is the "blunderbuss," which cites real but irrelevant illogical elements of, say, certain New Age beliefs. Another concept is what philosopher Daniel Dennett once called a "deepity," which Law defines as "saying something with two meanings"—one true but trivial, the other false but seemingly profound. Law shows how these and other verbal sleights of hand are used in a wide variety of belief systems, including the paranormal, homeopathy, Christian Science, and belief in UFOs. Law includes an entertaining appendix of fictional letters called, pace C.S. Lewis, the "Tapescrew Letters," which recapitulate his eight logical black holes. Though he writes clearly and persuasively, this is not a particularly easy read, but his subject is important and deserving of readers' attention. Illus. (Apr.)
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Review

"Everyone who values truth, reason, and evidence over sophistry should buy this book." --Chris French, professor and head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, Goldsmiths, University of London and editor of The Skeptic magazine.

"Stephen Law offers us not only a primer on how not to believe but about why so many people do believe-bullsh*t, despite the lack of evidence for such beliefs, or even in the face of disconfirmatory evidence. It is a roadmap to a promised land free of undue credulity, where the best ideas win and 'intellectual black holes' no longer suck people in. Believing Bullsh*t should be read by every college freshman and every person seeking public office, and its strategies memorized and put to use by every critical thinker." --D. J. Grothe, President of the James Randi Educational Foundation and host of For Good Reason

"Sadly, the people who would benefit most from Believing Bullsh*t are the least likely to read it. We all get taken in by bullsh*t sometimes, though, and if you think you don't, you definitely should buy this book. But you should anyway." --Nigel Warburton, senior lecturer in philosophy, The Open University (London) and author of Philosophy: The Basics.


More About the Author

Stephen Law (Oxford, England) is a senior lecturer in philosophy at Heythrop College, University of London; provost for the Centre for Inquiry UK; and the editor of Think: Philosophy for Everyone (a journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy). He is the author of numerous books for adults as well as children, including The Greatest Philosophers, Companion Guide to Philosophy, The War for Children's Minds, and Really, Really Big Questions, among other works.

Customer Reviews

This was a good book with useful tips for avoiding being as the author puts it "sucked into an intellectual black hole".
Book Fanatic
For example, isn't it playing the mystery card for the naturalist to insist that undirected processes must have been the origin of DNA?
Randal Rauser
Don't be mislead by the title: this a very scholarly book written in an easy conversational style that most anyone can grasp.
David

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

134 of 137 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer VINE VOICE on April 21, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
...it has a feature I find a little disingenuous. So I'm just going to get that criticism out of the way before I go on to praise the book to the rafters.

Early in the book, in the introduction, Law sounds very reasonable when he says that his religious examples of BS should not be taken to mean that no intelligent argument for theism exists. He is, he says, only going after those defenses of theism that employ one of the BS strategies that most of the rest of the book covers (more on that in a second). But despite the fact that Law discusses other types of BS (astrology, crystal healings, UFO cults, etc.), his focus consistently shifts back to theism and it's very clear that despite his earlier protestation to the contrary, and despite often making conciliatory-sounding comments about how there just may be some reasonable defense of theism he hasn't come across yet, Law is one hundred percent convinced that by far the most reasonable position is atheism.

And he makes the case very well, and I think he's right. And that's FINE. Maybe books like this one (the other book "like this" I read recently is Reasonable Atheism: A Moral Case For Respectful Disbelief) are a backlash against some of the harsher and less compromising-sounding books by the so-called New Atheists--Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Vic Stenger and others. Maybe authors like Law were genuinely put off by the "tone" of books that just flat-out insist that there is no good reason for believing in gods, and wished to find a way to soften that message somewhat, to make it sound more soft-spokenly reasonable, less shrill and polemical.
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88 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Stephen W. Law on September 10, 2011
Format: Paperback
Hi

The previous reviewer, S J Synder, suggests that my book tries to "prove" there is no God. It doesn't. It does not even to try to show there is probably no God. In fact the book does not argue against theism at all!

However, the book does contain an entire section on the myth of "You can't prove a negative" (it's in chapter one), particularly as employed by theists to try to immunize what they believe against intellectual attack.

So it is highly ironic that the previous reviewer should choose to play that card in defence of theism here. It appears that S J Synder has not actually read the book.

(PS excuse the self-praising stars but I had to choose something!)

Stephen Law - author
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40 of 45 people found the following review helpful By CXC on May 18, 2011
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Little time to write reviews -- too busy reading books! Call me selfish. But had to write a short comment regarding this S. Law book.
I absolutely loved this book. I wish everyone would read it. Why? Because it is well-written, entertaining, full of wisdom --really has something important to say and teach, and just the last section of the book alone is worth the price to me!
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Rough Customer VINE VOICE on July 24, 2011
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I enjoyed most of this book. The author has a nice writing style, and his logic and presentation is excellant. Only drawbacks, were that he got a little too deep in the first few chapters, and I thought he lingered too long on the Young Earth Creationists, didn't address the current wave of "ghost shows" on television, and let his political stripes show when he repeatedly used President George W. Bush as a whipping boy for certain illustrative purposes. Otherwise it was a very enjoyable book, glad I bought it, and opened my eyes to some real issues I had never thought of before.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Tinker on September 10, 2011
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I participate from time to time in discussions groups on Amazon and I wish I had had this book before. I recognized some intellectual black holes in the book that I had been in the middle of and was confused as to how the other debater could think they are making any sense. Mr. Law breaks down the different types of intellectual black holes in a simple and clear way. The author doesn't promise a rose garden of quips to stop people in their tracks with superb logic because basically logic has nothing to do with it but at least you will know when to quit trying to debate someone.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Charles on March 30, 2012
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I thought this was a phenomenal book! It's very accessible and easy to digest. The examples Dr. Law gives are excellent and very illustrative.

I'm especially grateful for this book because Dr. Law points out various species of BS that I had been wrestling with ever since I first encountered people who espoused the radical skepticism of far-Left academic post-modernism (citing Hume, Godel, Wittgenstein, et al) a few years ago. I spent hours and hours discussing the merits of and grounds for belief in God with several post-modernists (some of whom don't even realize they are PMists) and they used almost every one of these tactics, sometimes in combination; ESPECIALLY the mystery card, pseudoprofundity, moving goal posts, and going nuclear. These conversations made my head spin. "Wait, science is just *another* way of knowing?" At times I literally thought I was losing my mind! Of course, what better (not to mention dishonest) way to shut your critics up than to make them think that they're crazy?! Was I really so out of touch and intellectually unsophisticated?

I wasn't opposed to learning new ways of seeing the world, but my instincts told me that something was VERY wrong with their perspectives and arguments - especially in the light of science - but I couldn't put my finger on it. I spent several months trying to wrap my brain around PMism, but it's a very nebulous concept. I began to realize that all of these individuals were using principles of PMism to discard the bits of the Bible and Theology that they didn't like and/or reinterpreting it so it was either more palatable or more mysterious. They're more than happy to crap all over logic, reason, and the Enlightenment when it suits them, and then as soon as you're distracted or disoriented they slip back into using it.
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