Are skeptics hypocrites, according to Shermer?


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?

Well to me: highly unlikely more or less means an extremely small probability.

But it seems you are implying: if a skeptic is wrong about something, then they are somehow a hypocrite.

Being wrong doesn’t make you a hypocrite, imo.


Hey :wave: I remember you! Long time since you’ve posted! You also had a few other struggles with the Koran (and the emotional attachment/programming).

Weird does not equal bad or supernatural. Weird is an accepted word depending on its use and context. If “ball lightening” was to happen in my little neck of the woods I’d be like “weirdest shit I’ve ever seen!” (We do get a lot of sheet lightening, not so weird).

Just because something is more unlikely to occur does not equal supernatural.

Now it may appear from a distance that mountains float on land (perhaps they thought it should sink because the mountain would be heavy … think boat on water) who knows??? Were the roots mentioned?


So alternatives were offered because IS there DEMONSTRABLE EVIDENCE of a DIVINE ORIGIN???

All the other alternative explanations (and we only have a few, lol) have basis in reality. People do drugs. Mirages occur. Poetry and symbolic language is used… please demonstrate the reality of a deity. The other explanations may be weird :woman_shrugging:t2: so. The deity explanation is make-believe.

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BTW - people are not obligated to believe anything without meeting their standard for evidence based on the claim.

I could tell my neighbor about the ball lightening and they may not believe me because they didn’t see it or their own knowledge doesn’t include “what would be needed for it to occur” etc. I could pursue it and perhaps someone who specializes in weather may believe me.

It’s a weird but mundane claim that doesn’t affect anyone’s worldview, life, actions, etc.

The “murder” scenario likewise would require specialists

…perhaps upon the autopsy it was discovered he had Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS). “It’s a collagen disorder , and it makes me very, very flexible ,” said Smith. The syndrome can cause extreme elasticity of the joints and skin.


So, what does Shermer examine as “weird claims”

…isn’t it going into a line of thought that a NWO hit man killed the flexible guy because he was onto their “reptilian” takeover and the hit man stole the evidence that would have “once and for all” exposed the truth of this agenda???

One more thought … I mentally use “confidence in” instead of believe. Believe is reserved for the imagination (make-believe). Reality, the world that I physically live in, make decisions in, has an effect on my life (health, money, relationships) I have levels of confidence in.

Take for example aliens. Could they exist? Sure - we do. Could they be technologically advanced? Sure - we are. Could they be more advanced? Sure - we’re more technologically advanced than dogs. Could they communicate via telepathy? Well, maybe :thinking: I guess if they had the technology??? What if just one of the many “Channellers” out there was receiving telepathic communications from an alien species… DOES this line of “reasoning” make sense for there to literally be millions of people running around the internet claiming shit about what some channeller claimed? Should you listen to all the Channellers out there and believe them all in case you listen to the one that is right? How would YOU even know???

Any of the above - HOW do you determine it? How do you measure the “knowledge” needed to move to the next step???

No, not implying that.

What I am implying is that when a skeptic provides alternative explanations for a highly unusual event, some of those alternative explanations are very unlikely (but still not impossible though), and that according to Shermer is a “weird thing”.

So if a skeptic is providing “weird” aka highly unlikely alternative explanations, he’s a hypocrite too because he’s also giving a weird explanation to an already weird claim.

To be honest, I don’t even understand what the hell Shermer means.

Well - most likely it has taken a combination of unlikely events to occur to result in the unlikely claim.

So yes - weird (doesn’t equal “bad”) events led to this weird outcome.

How is that hypocritical?

Now it may appear from a distance that mountains float on land (perhaps they thought it should sink because the mountain would be heavy … think boat on water) who knows??? Were the roots mentioned?

That’s what I’m talking about. You’re provided an alternative explanation for a claim.

But your explanation is also highly unlikely, although not impossible or wrong. And since your explanation is highly unlikely, you believe, according to Shermer, in a “weird thing”. I mean, you believe that there is an alternative explanation instead of the “god did it” explanation for the floating mountains.

In simple words, any highly unlikely explanation makes one a weird person.

Nah - I’m a weird person because I am already an “unlikely” occurrence. Yet here I am.

How is that hypocritical?

Because the book seems to be categorizing the people who believe in weird things as non-scientific thinkers. He explains how people should use the scientific method to evaluate claims and stop believing in “weird things”.

He even has a separate book on it, “Why People Believe in Weird Things”.

Here’s an example: I believe that the likelihood of this world ending in the next 1 year is highly unlikely.

So, according to Shermer, I’m believing in a weird thing now. And, as a solution, I should use scientific method to evaluate the likeliness of the world ending the next 1 year. But I already did use the scientific method (in my mind, evaluated the possibilities of deadly war outbreaks, asteroids hitting, or something crazy happening that might end the world)

Yes. That OK.

Now ask yourself, do you have “confidence in the world ending in one year”?

Convince me with your best evidence that convinced you.

I wake up everyday and I mentally believe “today is the day I may die”. Weird thing. I dismiss it, but live the day like it was my last. The day may end with the world ending today! I could and do “believe” (make-believe) it in the back of my brain BUT I’m not necessarily convinced of the reality of it. I do have to drive to town today to get groceries (I’ve done it a bazillion times safely - well a year and a half ago, I caused a car accident but I lived)… I am confident that I will be successful today. HOWEVER :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: who knows bwahhhhaaahaaaa :smiling_imp:

OOPS bad me! I misread:

I thought you thought it would end. Both are weird. Hahahahaha. You know why??? One is way weirder than the other though…

Excellent choice.

Rather than saying maybe and suggest unknown technology, the enquiring/skeptical/rational/scientific/reductionistic mind would answer this with a series of counterquestions, for example:

  • What do you mean by telepathy? Define the terms and conditions, please.
  • Is telepathy (for the given definition) an empirically real, measurable, demonstrable and repeatable effect?
  • How can you distinguish telepathic transfer from aliens from pure imagination or bullshitting?
  • Does telepathy require devices or technology external to the human body?
  • Which physical interactions and processes are involved in the process of telepathy?
  • Which parts of the brain (and/or other body patrts) are involved in the process of telepathy?
  • Does telepathy work for everyone or just a select few, self-professed “telepaths”?
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It’s a long time ago now since I read it, but the title of the book is misleading (at least the edition I read). A better title would be “Weird things people believe”.

Edit: Darn, messed up a sentence. Fixed now.

Well - @Seek3R you are well on your way to critical thinking skills!. I appreciate some of Shermer, as I do “the Amazing Randy” as I do Hitchens as I do… and some I do not :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes: (with each of the aforementioned).

@Whitefire13. Well, I am desperately trying.

I just hate when I get so confused and then I’m completely lost about what the person means.

Lol! We all do. Meaning, context… it can get lost (or misread as in my case!).

Personally, I’ve never really used “weird” to describe an unconventional “belief” - conspiraturd YES (a mixture of conspiracy which can and has and does exist with shit) - to “woo” (fantasy magical thinking).

Myself, weird description does not equal wrong. It’s usage is almost derogatory (you’re weird for thinking that!) and childish. I accept my own “weirdness” - but when people call you weird it’s usually with malice, and dismissive. It can also be a tool to say “hey, I don’t want to be weird I want to be normal” (whatever the fuck normal is!) :woozy_face:

@Whitefire13, well maybe it’s a bit different for me. I just don’t want to be different from the popular critical thinkers. Like, I don’t want to have different beliefs.

I become worried. Shermer says people who believe in highly unlikely claims are believing in weird things and that should not happen. What if I’m doing something that Shermer says skeptics should not do? Does it mean I’m not a skeptic anymore? etc. etc… crazy brain of mine

I don’t believe in weird things anymore, I hope so, but I do sometimes give weird explanations for otherwise supernatural claims. I just like to think about all the possibilities. But sometimes those alternative explanations I give are highly unlikely to happen, but still they’re a possibility. So I got confused that I’m a weird guy in Shermer’s eyes.

I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with me. I get anxious and depressed very quickly

I think margin of error always comes into play and sometimes the feeling of wanting an absolute.

Yes, I’m going there…because it is having a real world effect

The claim of fraud in the tRump Biden election.

I heard this claim with interest. I do know that fraud can and has taken place in elections in various countries. I was curious if they could back this claim. My standard for evidence, especially with this type of claim is high (court) so I followed the court cases, to weigh what would be presented and the arguments.

The claims made to the judges were NOT the same as ones being made on the news. Hmmm :thinking:

It’s called a fair election for a reason. There are margins of error. Can a dead guy vote? Yes, he can vote, then die before the count. Can someone else fraudulently cast a vote - sure, and they get caught. There are margins used to account for these types of things.

Then there are those that want an “absolute” and argue :roll_eyes: from that position… Arizona
“Let me ask you a question,” Fann later said to CNN’s Lah. “Are you 100 percent confident that every vote that came in in Arizona or any other state, are you — can you say emphatically, 100 percent that no dead people voted, that ballots weren’t filled out by other people, that the chain of custody from the minute people voted their ballots, that the chain of custody was accurate and on target the entire time? Can you tell me that?”

SO now they have ninjas 🥷 inexperienced volunteers doing recounts. Quality down the toilet :toilet:. Dead burnt chickens that ate the evidence - bamboo forensic searches - Cheeto marks and folding ballot professions :roll_eyes:

Who made Shermer the skeptic king :crown: or authority of who is a skeptic? There are all sorts of levels of skepticism.

You’ll find your place. You’ll find your level. You’ll find more of “yourself”.

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Hey @Whitefire13 ,

Thank you so much for your replies, it’s really helping me understand the futility behind my anxiety.

So, just to confirm something.

This is what Shermer said:

" 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."

And here is an alternative explanation you provided for the floating mountains claim:

“Now it may appear from a distance that mountains float on land (perhaps they thought it should sink because the mountain would be heavy … think boat on water) who knows??? Were the roots mentioned?”

Does your explanation belong to that group of “weird things” or any of the definitions Shermer has provided? Why or why not?

I’m just trying very hard to understand what Shermer meant. He cannot be wrong in what he said, that’s very unlikely. I’m more likely to be wrong than him. So I need to understand what he said or I will remain restless.

Sorry, I know this is a truly stupid question but when I’m anxious, my brain stops working and it remains stopped unless someone unties the knots of confusion.