Last night I finished reading Believing Bullshit – How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole by Oxford academic Stephen Law. The book discusses various ways through which people are persuaded to believe things that may be factually wrong or philosophically extremist.
Overall the book is an easy read and does well to outline the various techniques used in convincing people of arguments such as only counting up successes as evidence and ignoring failures, people claiming to have hidden knowledge and ways in which smoke screens are created to convince people of mysteries.
My biggest criticism of the book is Law’s treatment of religious belief. In the introduction he states:
True, I illustrate how even core mainstream religious beliefs are sometimes promoted and defended by means of strategies covered in this book. But that’s not meant to show that beliefs in question are false, or that they couldn’t be given a proper, robust defence. Just because some religious people chose to defend what they believe by dubious means doesn’t entail that no one can reasonably hold those same beliefs.
However, he then goes on throughout the book to continually misrepresent, attack, and deconstruct religious beliefs – especially Christianity. In many of the techniques discussed Law shows how people who hold particular religious views use the techniques. However, in many of these examples he has highlighted an extreme minority view and presented it as mainstream – for example confusing Christian Science with mainstream Christianity. Or in order to validate his own point sourced random blog, forum, and chatroom postings online.
For a book coming for someone within the academic community I expected more solid references and arguments. This is disappointing as the issues discussed in the book are valid but are let down through poor examples.
In summary, Believing Bullshit is a worthwhile read and one can get a better understanding of how not to get fooled by creative arguments, but don’t get sucked into its own misrepresentation of extremist Christian viewpoints as mainstream Christian beliefs.