13 Reasons to Doubt (Onus Books, 2014) includes essays by a number of writers of the Skeptic Ink Network (skepticink.com). The book consists of a total of thirteen essays and one additional appendix. Contributers include: Russel Blackford, Edward K. Clint, Peter Ferguson, John W. Loftus, Staks Rosch, and Jonathan M.S. Pearce, among several others.
The book was very nicely edited by Clint, Pearce, and Beth Ann Erickson. Each of the essays were well-written, concise, well-sourced, and, quite frankly, were damn good essays on issues of skepticism. It was a pleasure to read each essay, and each of them caused me to pause for self-reflection and to recall my own journey with skepticism.
The Introduction is written by Edward K. Clint. It serves as not only an introduction to the book and the broad themes the reader will encounter, but also as an introduction to the Skeptic Ink Network itself. SIN is a relative newcomer to the skeptical blogosphere but the cadre of authors have largely proven themselves to be staunch defenders of science and critical thinking.
The first chapter is written by Peter Ferguson and is titled “A Brief History of Doubt: Great Skeptics from Antiquity to the Renaissance.” This chapter provides a concise and informative history of the European men (and women!) who had the greatest impact upon society as critical thinkers and critics of the religious and scientific thought of their time. Included are brief discussions about the views of such luminaries as Epicurus, Democritus, Lucretius, and Hypatia.
The second chapter is written by Russel Blackford. It is titled “Skepticism in an Age of Ideology.” This is a good essay about conspiracy theories, ideology, and the value of skepticism in modern culture. Throughout the essay Blackford provides ideas about how one can become more skeptical in the face of the large amounts of propaganda and ideologically-driven beliefs in our modern age.
The third chapter is written by Maria Maltseva and it is titled “Are You A Skeptic?” It is a brief essay outlining her views about what skepticism is. She concludes that, ultimately, “skepticism is just a reminder to think critically and independently, reach decisions based on the evidence, and recognize our own fallibility.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
The fourth chapter is written by Caleb W. Lack. It is titled “Why You Can’t Trust Your Brain.” This chapter deals with the numerous cognitive biases that effect the human brain and can often cause errors in judgment and belief. This is a very good chapter. Lack writes that while “there is not a way to completely rid yourself of cognitive biases, there are a number of tools and methods you can use to mitigate their effects on your everyday decision making.” He continues to briefly discuss some of these methods that, while not fool proof, will greatly aid in diminishing the effect of these biases upon your ability to think critically.
The fifth chapter is written by Jacques Rousseau. It is titled “Being Suspicious of Ourselves: Groupthink’s Threat to Skepticism.” In this essay Rousseau reminds readers to be cautious and not allow our tribal tendencies to overtake us, particularly in relation to the current brouhaha in the atheist/skeptical community surrounding the issues of feminism within the atheist movement.
The sixth chapter is written by Kevin McCarthy. It is titled “Science: A Mechanism of Doubting; a Source of Reliability.” This chapter is about the usefulness of science in aiding us in sorting fact and fiction, and applying this method to our daily lives. McCarthy briefly addresses such things as Biblical claims, the effectiveness of prayer, revelation, and notes ways that the scientific process functions. He then shows how scientific methodology has been proven reliable over long stretches of time, and compares this success with the failure of religious claims.
The seventh chapter is written by John W. Lotfus. It is titled “Science is Predicated on the Non-Magical Natural World Order.” This chapter is about why the scientific method must remain completely natural, with no man behind the curtain; no gods toggling the switches of nature. Science works best when practiced in this manner, Loftus writes, because without this regularity of nature in the first place science would not be possible, and human beings would be unable to determine the outcomes of events, nor learn much of anything about the world. He also addresses some counter-claims of Christians and demonstrates their fatal flaws.
The eighth chapter is written by Zachary Sloss and it is titled “The Power of Hume’s On Miracles.” This is a brief and interesting chapter outlining David Hume’s Of Miracles. Sloss proceeds to explain in easy to understand terms Hume’s oft misunderstood argument and shows how it makes miracles highly doubtful.
The ninth chapter is written by Jonathan M.S. Pearce. It is titled “On Doubting the Existence of Free Will, and How It Can Make the World a Better Place.” This is a very good, and thought-provoking piece. Pearce lays out his case for the lack of free will in this world relying on both sound philosophical argument and scientific evidence. Next, he outlines what this lack of free will means for society, with a focus on morality and what this means for our current system of retributive justice. Pearce explains these complex issues with skill and makes it easily digestible.
The tenth chapter is written by Rebecca Bradley. The chapter is titled “Pseudoarcheology: Seven Tips.” This is a relatively brief chapter about what she calls pseudoarcheology, or “alternative archeology.” Ancient aliens, New Age hocus pocus and other highly speculative claims are addressed. If you are relatively inexperienced in the subject you just may fall victim to the sometimes convicting sounding arguments, but Bradley provides advice on how to spot good science from bad. Very helpful chapter about a subject I have not seen addressed too often in the skeptical literature. Bradley’s chapter serves as a nice addition.
The eleventh chapter is written by Staks Roach. His chapter is titled “The New World Order Is Coming for You!” This was an entertaining essay about common a conspiracy theory dealing with the New World Order and wealthy bankers and other shadowy figures who are often said to pull the strings of governments and who control the world. Mr. Roach employs penetrating logic to poke holes in many of the beliefs held by these conspiracy theorists.
The twelfth chapter is written by David Osorio and it is titled “Why Beliefs Matter.” As the title implies, the author’s goal is to convince the reader that beliefs do in fact matter and surely impact the way people view the world. Even more grim is the fact that should someone hold an irrational view, the person will most likely act on that belief, affecting those around him, possibly for the worst. True, blunt skepticism is the only way to combat irrationality and if more people did that, the world would be a better place, writes the author.
The thirteenth and final chapter is by Edward K. Clint. It is titled “Science Denialism at a Skeptic Conference: A Cautionary Tale.” This is probably the longest chapter in the book, and it is worth the wait. This was easily one of my favorite chapters, as I enjoy reading essays that utterly deconstruct another’s viewpoint with undeniable facts and logic.
Clint, who holds a BS is Psychology, heavily researches the subject of evolutionary psychology and has written a thorough, fair, yet, scathing rebuttal to a fifty-minute talk about evolutionary psychology called “How Girls Evolved to Shop and other ways to insult women with ‘science’” by famed Skepchick blogger Rebecca Watson at the November 2012 Skepticon event.
Essentially, Clint goes through the entire talk and corrects numerous misquotes, exposes many instances of cherry picking of data, sloppy research, and many contradictions. Well-researched and extensively sourced, this essay effectively corrects most of the errors made my Watson in her talk and vindicates the science of evolutionary psychology.
The final Appendix includes 90 separate quotes lifted directly from Watson’s talk and breaks down the problems with what she says.
This book would serve as a very good primer to those new to atheism and the skeptical movement in general as it provides much food for thought on a diverse series of topics.