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To the memory of Carl Sagan, 1934-1996, colleague and inspiration, whose lecture on "The Burden of Skepticism" ten years ago gave me a beacon when I was intellectually and professionally adrift, and ultimately inspired the birth of the Skeptics Society, Skeptic magazine, and this book, as well as my commitment to skepticism and the liberating possibilities of science

It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas. If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. You never learn anything new. You become a crotchety old person convinced that nonsense is ruling the world. (There is, of course, much data to support you.)

On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of sceptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish useful ideas from the worthless ones. If all ideas have equal validity then you are lost, because then, it seems to me, no ideas have any validity at all.

—Carl Sagan, "The Burden of Skepticism," Pasadena lecture, 1987

contents

FOREWORD The Positive Power of Skepticism ix by Stephen Jay Gould

* INTRODUCTION TO THE PAPERBACK EDITION xiii

Magical Mystery Tour The Whys and Wherefores of Weird Things

Prologue Next on Oprah 1

PART 1 : SCIENCE AND SKEPTICISM 11

1. I Am Therefore I Think 13

A Skeptic's Manifesto

2. The Most Precious Thing We Have 24

The Difference Between Science and Pseudoscience

3. How Thinking Goes Wrong 44

Twenty-five Fallacies That Lead Us to Believe Weird Things

PART 2: PSEUDOSCIENCE AND SUPERSTITION 63

4. Deviations 65

The Normal, the Paranormal, and Edgar Cayce

5. Through the Invisible 73

Near-Death Experiences and the Quest for Immortality

6. Abducted! 88

Encounters with Aliens

7. Epidemics of Accusations 99

Medieval and Modern Witch Crazes

8. The Unlikeliest Cult 114

Ayn Rand, Objectivism, and the Cult of Personality

PART 3: EVOLUTION AND CREATIONISM 125

9. In the Beginning 127

An Evening with Duane T. Gish

10. CONFRONTING CREATIONISTS 137

Twenty-five Creationist Arguments, Twenty-five Evolutionist Answers

11. Science Defended, Science Defined 154

Evolution and Creationism at the Supreme Court

PART4: HISTORY AND PSEUDOHISTORY 173

12. Doing Donahue 175

History, Censorship, and Free Speech

13. Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened, and Why Do They Say It? 188

An Overview of a Movement

14. How We Know the Holocaust Happened 211

Debunking the Deniers

15. Pigeonholes and Continuums 242

An African-Greek-German-American Looks at Race

PART5: HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL 253

16. Dr. Tipler Meets Dr. Pangloss 255

Can Science Find the Best of All Possible Worlds?

17. Why Do People Believe Weird Things? 273

18. Why Smart People Believe Weird Things 279

Bibliography Index

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