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Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole [Paperback]

Stephen Law
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
RRP: 18.99
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Book Description

15 May 2011
Wacky belief systems abound. Members of the Heavens Gate suicide cult believed they were taking a ride to heaven on board a UFO. Muslim suicide bombers expect to be greeted after death by 72 virgins. And many fundamentalist Christians insist the entire universe is just 6,000 years old. Of course its not only cults and religions that promote bizarre beliefs significant numbers of people believe that aliens built the pyramids. How do such preposterous views succeed in entrenching themselves in the minds of sane, intelligent, educated people and turn them into the willing slaves of claptrap? Believing Bullshit is a witty and insightful critique that will help immunize readers against the wiles of cultists, religious and political zealots, conspiracy theorists, and various other nutcases by clearly setting out the tricks of the trade by which such insidious belief systems are created and sustained.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus (15 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616144114
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616144111
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 15.4 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 241,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

############################################################################################################################################################################################################################################################### --Josh Viertel, President Slow Food

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.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
58 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The lifeline of reason 2 Jun 2011
By Sphex
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Reading this book is like watching Barcelona dismantle their opponents on the football pitch. You don't need to know much about the beautiful game to appreciate the simplicity of the passes, the fitness of the players, the intricacy of the dribbling, and so on. Likewise, anyone with a modicum of reason will enjoy Stephen Law's masterclass in how to steer clear of "Intellectual Black Holes". Perhaps as important as the detailed analysis is seeing reason in action - one of the best ways to appreciate the beauty and power of reason itself. In football, the cynical player resorts to foul play to stop a great team. In life, the sloppy or cynical thinker - the cult leader, the purveyor of quack medicines, the dodgy financial advisor - simply has to "raise enough intellectual dust" to put their opponents on the back foot. Law identifies eight strategies - including playing the mystery card, going nuclear, pseudoprofundity - which are the intellectual equivalents of the two-footed tackle, the shoulder barge, and so on. He unpacks and explains these key strategies in pungent and entertaining detail, and provides us with enough rational rocket fuel to keep our minds from being sucked into the reason-free zone that is an Intellectual Black Hole.

"Why does it matter if some people happen to believe absurd things?" It matters if they are in positions of power, in government or in the media. President Bush, for example, famously relied on the "God-sensing faculty" in his gut to guide the ship of state. It also matters if they are powerless or vulnerable to exploitation.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another outstanding book 15 Jun 2011
By Jeremy
Format:Kindle Edition
Stephen Law has long had the skill of explaining complicated ideas with clarity. His latest book greatly bolsters the rational cause by exposing, and then dismantling, the bogus arguments by which irrational beliefs are defended. This book is exceptionally useful for those seeking to understand the array of specious arguments used by those who hide their beliefs from reason - unconsciously or consciously. Outstanding.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful for 'A' Level Religious Studies teaching 23 July 2011
Format:Paperback
As a sceptically inclined teacher of Religious Studies, I was very pleased to discover this book. It actually covers a good deal of the content of the Philosophy of Religion syllabuses presently offered by examination boards in the UK and does so in a very clear and often amusing manner. Special highlights are the extensive treatment of the evidential problem of evil and the critique Law offers of creationism. I'm not sure that this is widely known but Religious Studies 'A' Level offers one of the best opportunities to encounter the thinking and writing of prominent atheists such as Bertrand Russell, A.J. Ayer and Richard Dawkins. Personally, I wouldn't be overly concerned if Religious Studies morphed into Philosophy at secondary level as there is emerging evidence that engaging with philosophical ideas from an early age boosts longer term attainment levels (as Law himself has noted in another excellent book of his - The War For Children's Minds). But in the meantime, those sceptics who would like to see Religious Studies disappear from the secondary curriculum and are, perhaps,celebrating its omission from Michael Gove's EBacc possibly need to realise that the philosophical element in this subject is something vital that surely needs to be both retained and promoted. Returning to the book itself, many (not all) of the current recommended textbooks offered by the OCR Board on the Philosophy of Religion and Religious Ethics are ponderously written and uninspiring. Law's book is therefore to be welcomed as a corrective to much of this stodgy fare. Indeed, Law seems to have positioned himself as the 'Anti-Vardy' in this territory (and if readers of this review are baffled by this term they just need to find out more about one of Law's colleagues at Heythrop). Read more ›
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but a bit one-dimensional 29 Dec 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
First off, I quite liked reading this. It's interesting and makes you think.

However, I was also rather disappointed by it. I was hoping for a wide-ranging discussion on the various "intellectual black holes" as well as a good selection of examples of such thinking. However, the author seems rather fixated on debunking young-earth creationism, and while I agree with his views, the repetitive banging on about it got a bit tedious after a while. I would like to have seen more variety in his arguments. As it is, the book veers uncomfortably close to a rant.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
This is fairly likable, if you like this sort of thing, but there is an element of fish-in-a-barrel dynamiting about it, and it is not clear exactly what the intended audience is: the fish are certainly not paying attention, and the prose hews more closely to the style of professional analytic philosophy (i.e. it reads more like a discussion of complex but remorseless end-game strategy in chess - if your opponent moves his knight here, then you can move your pawn here, if, on the other hand, he moves is queen here, then you move your bishop there...) than popular journalism. I wonder how much of a popular appetite for this sort of thing there is. The sort of people who are likely to read it (people with decent degrees, who do not believe in god, or crystal power, or the Daily Mail, but who sometimes, and more often than they would admit, have a weakness for homeopathy), are not likely to find a lot to disagree with, or to be surprised by: what they will get, and it is worth having, is everything in one place.

I was not expecting the focus to be so much on attacking theological arguments. I was, to be honest, expecting a more general discussion of intellectual hygiene. But it is fairly short, and, as I said, if you like this sort of thing, then it is worth the read. Or at least most of it: I suspect that only a professional philosopher would bother to stop to take a swing at Alvin Plantinga, and I'm a bit skeptical that reliabilism has quite carried the field in epistemology to the extent that Law implies.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars First any new idea is ridiculed
This author was interviewed on a recent episode of Skeptico. Clearly progress in science will only be made by questioning assumptions about consciousness, energy and time in the... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Peter
1.0 out of 5 stars again dissapointing
I sometimes wonder if authors of these books, which really belong on the philosophy/religious shelf of a library, use a slightly risky title to attract people who wouldn't normally... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Aly Gator
4.0 out of 5 stars Religious Logic Errors
This book is a collection of logic errors often made by religious people to defend their faith.

I don't think it comes even close to covering all the mistakes they make... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Charles
4.0 out of 5 stars A Spotters' Guide to BS and Baloney
Stephen Law offers us a spotters' guide to various forms of evasion and dishonesty used to prop up bad arguments. But what is a good argument? Read more
Published on 21 Jan 2012 by F Henwood
5.0 out of 5 stars If only more could read it
Excellent book confronting the ways that people justify believing things that cannot be rationally or evidentially justified. Read more
Published on 5 Aug 2011 by David
5.0 out of 5 stars One star for not reading an article correctly and one star for woo...
The water thing....if I understand correctly he is saying that it is a belief system about the boiling and freezing points of water. A belief system doesnt mean that its true. Read more
Published on 15 July 2011 by Wormfaust
1.0 out of 5 stars Critics of science need to learn some
I have not read the book nor will I, having read a review in the New Scientist on 11th June. Stephen Law argues that there are some facts we all agree on, and chose as his example... Read more
Published on 8 July 2011 by Dr Liz Miller
5.0 out of 5 stars very good book; flawed review process
I wrote a rather detailed review, but it does not seem to have made it passed the good folks at Amazon. Read more
Published on 26 Jun 2011 by Pieter
1.0 out of 5 stars Straightforwardly reasonable in most respects, but crucially lacking...
I give this book a low scoring because of the author's seriously unexamined inclusion of homeopathy amongst his examples of deluded ideas, i.e. Read more
Published on 14 Jun 2011 by Trevor Jago
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