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Fifty Popular Mistaken Beliefs

Book Review

Leo Igwe

Volume 23.4, Winter 2013–2014

50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True. By Guy Harrison. Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York, 2011. ISBN: 978-1616144951. 458 pp. Paperback, $18.


50 Popular Beliefs book cover

Many people entertain beliefs without question. These are beliefs handed down to them as traditions or doctrines purportedly revealed by God. They think these beliefs are true and are not ready to subject them to critical evaluation. In many societies, people lack the will to doubt or to raise objections to popular claims and notions partly because they think popularity implies veracity or that beliefs held by the majority invests validity in claims. Hence many popular misconceptions exist and persist. They continue to mar people’s lives in ways they do not realize and even if they do realize it, they find it difficult to acknowledge or accept. In his magnificent book, 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True, Guy Harrison, an award-winning journalist, draws attention to these popular misconceptions and their dark and destructive influence on the lives of individuals and the society at large. In a very simple, thoughtful, easy-to-read and entertaining style, the author exposes the faulty logic underlying these beliefs.

Harrison doesn’t use a condescending ap­proach, something skeptics are often accused of using in addressing irrational believers and in challenging and debunking paranormal claims. Instead Harrison humbly acknowledges the cultural universality of unreason: “We all believe silly things, what matters is how silly and how many.” He makes his objective clear: “I want readers to know my motivations for writing this book. I’m not scolding, lecturing, or preaching to make myself feel important. I am only trying to encourage and inspire critical thinking and spread the word that skepticism is important.” The author is not interested in telling people what to believe or not believe as such: “Truth is, I really couldn’t care less about what someone believes. It’s only when I see unproven beliefs diminishing someone’s life or causing harm to others that I feel obligated to speak up and offer a helping hand,” he asserts. Harrison has, in this book, offered a helping hand through a poignant analysis of these popular beliefs and how they are employed by charlatans to exploit and dupe gullible folks.

So, are you one of those who think belief in the paranormal and supernatural, near-death experiences, miracles, and reincarnation are true? Then, you need to pick up a copy of this book. Or if you are one of those who patronize psychics, faith healers, or alternative and homoeopathic “medical” practitioners, before your next visit, please go through some of the chapters.

You may be one of those who think, “You’re Either Born Smart or You’re Not,” or that “The Bible Code Reveals the Future,” or “UFOs Are Visitors from Other Worlds,” or perhaps “Angels Watch Over Me,” or even “I Am Going to Heaven When I Die.” If so, the author says you should think again. Harri­son makes a case for skepticism, not for its own sake but for the sake of humanity. He advocates a form of caring and constructive skepticism. The author describes promoting skeptical rationality as a moral duty. “The way I see it, promoting reason and skepticism is a moral issue. It’s about caring for your fellow humans.” This unique sense of rational care runs through its pages.

This book is a must-read for skeptics and non-skeptics alike. It will excite all critical thinkers and will get believers to reexamine many popular beliefs that they think are true. I recommend it to all who are concerned and deeply worried about the “gigantic cloud of danger” looming large over our world today due to popular dogmatic and irrational beliefs.

Leo Igwe

Leo Igwe is the founder of the Nigerian Humanist Movement and currently a research fellow at Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies, University of Bayreuth, Germany.