I started reading a new book by Michael Shermer, “Skepticism 101: How to Think Like a Scientist” and it’s informative and very interesting but something confused me.
On page 6, Michael talks about something he calls “weird things” and explains why people believe in them.
Why People Believe Weird Things
What do skeptics define as a “weird thing”? Generally, a weird thing is one of the following: (1) a claim that is unaccepted by most people in a particular field of study, (2) a claim that is either logically impossible or highly unlikely, or (3) a claim for which the evidence is largely anecdotal and uncorroborated."
So, what confused me was definition (2). Michael says that one of the definitions of a weird thing is something that is either logically impossible or highly unlikely. Logically impossible is understandable here, e.g. fitting a circle in a square peg, 1 + 1 = 3, etc.
However, why would Michael categorize “highly unlikely” as a “weird thing”? Sometimes, even skeptics give alternative but highly unlikely explanations for an an actual but unusual event, but these explanations are more plausible than the claimant’s claim of something supernatural e.g. god did it.
For example, few months ago I got confused over a verse in Quran where I thought it mentions the geological phenomenon of floating movement of mountains. At that time, @David_Killens said that I should understand that even if Quran mentions something incredible like that, it doesn’t prove that it came from a divine origin. All it proves is that a brilliant mind existed back then.
Also, there are so many alternative ways someone could’ve found out that mountains float. Perhaps the person was dreaming, or was on drugs, or read it from a book that was later destroyed so nobody could benefit from its knowledge.
But aren’t these alternatives equally unlikely? Couldn’t these explanations of a skeptic also be categorized as “weird things”, according to Shermer?
If that is the case, we’re all hypocrites because we give equally unlikely alternative explanations for unusual events.
Here’s another example. Suppose a detective is called to a case where a man seems to be murdered in his own apartment.
There are no signs of breaking and entering, no signs of any struggle either. The man was shot to death with a rifle. The detective rules out suicide because it is extremely unlikely that the victim could reach the rifle’s trigger with his “short” arms (assume they measured it or something)
However, the actual truth of the case is that the victim really did suicide. He was flexible enough to lift up one of his legs and use his foot’s toe to press to trigger. A highly unlikely scenario but that’s what happened.
So, once again, if a skeptic did suggest this unlikely, but actually true, scenario, he’s believing in a “weird thing” or claiming a “weird thing” according to Shermer?