Believing Bullshit

Stephen Law has an excellent (and entertaining) new book, Believing Bullshit. It discusses eight “intellectual black holes” that can yank people into various delusional convictions. He names them “Playing the Mystery Card,” “‘But It Fits!’ and The Blunderbuss,” “Going Nuclear,” “Moving the Semantic Goalposts,” “I Just Know!,” “Pseudoprofundity,” “Piling Up the Anecdotes,” and “Pressing Your Buttons.”

They’re all good, but I think my favorite was “Pseudoprofundity,” maybe because it reminded me of my old Guide to Rhetoric, which alas disappeared in the transition from the old B&W to the new one. The subheads are very reminiscent: State the obvious; Contradict yourself; Deepities; Trite-nalogies; Use jargon; Postmodern pseudoprofundity.

He’s good on Karen Armstrong (in the “Moving the Semantic Goalposts” chapter). He points out that she deals with the problem of evil by saying God isn’t that kind of god.

“God,” says Armstrong, “is merely a symbol of indescribable transcendence,” which points “beyond itself to an ineffable reality.” [p 117]

No room for an evil god there, of course; a symbol can’t be evil; what a silly idea.

However, reading through Armstrong’s book, it becomes apparent her God is not quite so mysterious and ineffable after all. Indeed, Armstrong says that “God” is a symbol of “absolute goodness, beauty, order, peace, truthfulness, justice.” Not only does Armstrong appear here to be effing the ineffable, it seems she also thinks she knows things about this indescribable transcendence of which God is the name. [p 118]

Exactly. It’s a popular move though, so the many faith-huggers clutch it to their bosom while only the few faith-teasers notice that it’s a case of having it both ways.

And that’s how to believe in bullshit.

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