Of course what is implied is that these beliefs are not true, or at least unproven. And as it happens that’s quite right, he sets about dismantling each of these beliefs. Harrison does this by assembling the facts, the evidence, the basis of the story. Where did it come from? Who said this? What evidence is there for this belief? With some beliefs like flying saucers, he is ready to believe, he does not dispute the possibility, but is waiting for reliable evidence, which he shows does not yet exist. Because something is not understood, that does not mean we should believe in some explanation that has no factual basis, like ancient Greeks thinking Zeus was throwing lightning bolts whenever there was a storm.
There are plenty of beliefs to consider. Here’s a list of a dozen.
Your Either Born Smart Or You’re Not.
Astrology is Scientific
A Psychic Read My Mind
Atlantis is Down There Somewhere
Creationism is True and Evolution is Not
Stories of Past Lives Prove Reincarnation is Real
Ghosts Are Real and They Live in Haunted Houses
UFOs Are Visitors From Other Worlds
Area 51 is Where They Keep the Aliens
My Religion is the One That is True
Global Warming is A Political Issue and Nothing More
Television News Gives Me An Accurate View of the World
Well there are still about 40 more beliefs to be examined.
This is an interesting book, one that you can dip into at any chapter. First he gives a presentation of the belief, and then explains why it is false or unsubstantiated. That is, he gives factual evidence, not opinions.
Yet there is another aspect to this book; someone who believes in Creationism– that the world is only 6,000 years old and was created in six days–is not going to be convinced by any amount of factual information. Their beliefs are not evidence-based, but faith-based. People who believe in many of these beliefs do so not from logical, scientific, reasoned information, they do it from emotional convictions, or accepting the word of some “authority”. Facts are not going to disturb their beliefs. And yes, they have a perfect right to their beliefs as all of us have.
We can understand that, because most of our beliefs become set with emotion, and once that happens it is hard to shift them. For example, most of us vote for one political party, and will do so all our lives no matter what happens. It is the small number of swinging voters who actually decide who wins elections.
Harrison met a woman in California who carried a sandwich board which proclaimed the world would end on May 21, 2011. She believed that 97% of the world’s population would be destroyed; only the faithful, the chosen, would be taken to heaven. Despite all his arguments, she was utterly convinced of her belief. The Judgement day had been proclaimed by Harold Camping, but when it failed to occur he told his followers, it was an “invisible Judgment Day” and the actual date of destruction had been revised to October 21, 2011. Even after this, many of his followers still believed in his prophecy.
This book is interesting reading, particularly if you are prepared to listen to what is presented. For example, “A Flying Saucer Crashed Near Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947… ” Personally, I have always had doubts about this, possibly it could be right, yep, I saw some blurred photo of a Martian, but was never quite convinced either way. It is nice to get some unbiased information about something that so many people believe in.
Reading this book will expand your understanding of life. It gives you both sides of many issues, and teaches you to consider the facts, the science if there is any, without swallowing some internet story without thought.
Harrison points out that good sceptics don’t accept any wacky claim that comes along without evidence, but neither do they reject wacky claims totally. There is always a door left open, waiting for evidence.
Harrison discusses some of his own experiences, which leads him to understand why people believe things that are not true. He tells of his college days when he lived in an old two-storey house. Often he was alone in the upstairs section, but he would hear creaking noises, as if someone was walking around downstairs. When he investigated, he found nothing. Although he logically came to accept this, his emotions often cried out with fear. So when he hears of people believing that a house is haunted, he feels some sympathy, some understanding.
He makes an interesting point about miracle cures by evangelical preachers when he points out that although there have been many thousands of people who say they are cured from various illnesses, in all history there has never been a case of an amputee being restored. The cures are all on the inside. He once went to a religious meeting and wrote about an elderly woman who was taken up to the stage, blessed, and cured of cancer. He wrote this case up for his newspaper. But the following week she died. The newspaper editor told him not to run the story of her death. So people were misled.
Harrison explains how we accept some of these beliefs. Think of a stage magician, he is not using magic to perform these miraculous tricks. He is using Tricks! Smoke and mirrors, psychological tricks, false panels. Sure, you can enjoy the “magic” but don’t for a minute believe in his “magical powers” just because you don’t understand how his tricks are done.
In this book, each belief fits into a larger pattern, such as Magical Thinking, or Strange Healings. At the end of each chapter he provides a list of books that give evidence about each belief so that you can follow-up with some more detailed information.
If you read this book, it is certain that you will broaden your mind, and learn to think more objectively. You will be more aware, not sceptical, but less unsuspecting.
Finally, he provides a theory as to why people continue to believe unproven, discredited beliefs.
“… it is important to be aware of how we perceive and assess the world around us. We know that humans are pattern-seeking creatures. Without even trying, we naturally attempt to connect the dots in almost everything we see and hear. This is a great ability if you are trying to catch a camouflaged bird in a tree for your dinner… But pattern seeking also leads us to see things that are not there… which might waste our time and maybe get us into trouble… we also have a tendency to automatically make connections and find patterns in our thinking. This is one reason that unlikely conspiracy theories are able to take root and blossom in the minds of so many people.”