In, Why People Believe Weird Things, Michael Shermer teaches the reader to be skeptical but not ignorant to seemingly fascinating things in the world. The author himself is no stranger to miracle pills, crazy diets, and psychic readings. He recounts past experiences dealing with the paranormal and pseudosciences and how he explored each one.
The book starts off explaining the basics of science, pseudoscience, skepticism, and the paranormal much like our textbook did. He then delves into specific superstitions and pseudosciences like aliens, modern day witch hunts, cults, and near-death experiences. He then talks about the age-old debate between creationism and evolution where he includes common arguments from the creationist side and some well thought out counter arguments. In part four he showcases examples of pseudohistory with the deniers of the Holocaust being the main topic. In his final pages he discusses why the general public believes such weird things and more importantly why intelligent people believe these things, which brings me to my favorite part of the book.
My favorite part of the book is the chapter “Why Smart People Believe Weird Things”, which details how intelligent people use scientifically sound arguments and then make unfounded leaps to unbelievable conclusions. One such person was Frank Tipler, who is a renowned professor in theoretical mathematics. He’s published many credible papers in the field of physics but he also authored a book called, The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead, which explained that God is real, the afterlife exists, and everyone will at one point be resurrected in the far future. When Stephen Hawking was asked his opinion of Tiplers’ views he replied, “My opinion would be libelous.”
While the previously mentioned entry was my favorite part I thoroughly enjoyed that he included personal experiences into each section. It really made the book an entertaining read and it offered insight into real life altercations between those making claims and their skeptics. While I’ve always been skeptical of the aforementioned topics I’ve never read such well reasoned arguments like in this book. I can honestly say this book has really given me the tools and information to explain to proclaimers why it is that I don’t agree with their beliefs, and for that I considered this well worth the read.
Here's a video of Michael Shermers' skepticism in action. It's geared toward disproving elements of religion so if that's not something you find intriguing I'd recommend skipping this video.