Baloney Detection For Humanists

Reason Coffee Cup

Adapted from The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan.   

Confirm “facts.” Ask the proponents if any reputable independent source has confirmed the “facts” they’re using.

Debate the evidence. You could contact several knowledgeable proponents who have an opinion on the subject and request them to debate the evidence that’s been offered.

“Authorities.” Be aware that arguments from “authorities” don’t amount to much. They are often wrong. In science, there are no authorities. Sometimes there are experts.

Test it. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways it could be explained. Then think of tests you could use to disprove each of the alternatives. That alternative which best resists disproof has a much better chance of being the right answer. Probably much better than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.


Be careful when YOU propose an idea or make a claim                

Your idea. Try not to get too attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare this idea of yours with the alternatives. Then see if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others probably will.

Quantify your idea. If the idea you’re explaining or putting forth has some numbers or some quantity attached to it, you will be in a better position to persuade others that your idea has merit.

All must work.  If  there’s a chain of arguments in your premise, every link in that chain must work, not just most of them.

Keep it simple.  If you’re faced with two hypotheses and both explain the situation equally well, choose the one that’s simpler.

Is it testable? Propositions that are not capable of being tested are not worth much. You must be able to check out assertions. Skeptics must be given the opportunity to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result you got.


From  “The Assault on Reason”  by Al Gore

Why do reason, logic and truth seem to play such a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions?

Why has America’s public discourse become less focused and clear, less reasoned?

But for all of America’s shortcomings in the past, we usually strive to honor truth and reason.

Reason–cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason–must furnish all materials for our future support and defense.

We must insist on an end to the cynical use of pseudo studies known to be false, for the purpose of intentionally clouding the public’s ability to discern the truth.

The enemies of reason…fear, superstition, ideology, deception, intolerance and obsessive secrecy.

Fear is the most powerful enemy of reason.

Fear frequently shuts down reason.

Fear can trigger the temptation to surrender freedom to a demagogue promising strength and security in return.

When fear displaces reason, the result is often irrational hatred and division.

Justice Louis Brandeis wrote,”Men feared witches and burnt women.”

Fear has always been an enemy of reason.

Thomas Jefferson:  “Man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous.”

In an atmosphere of constant fear, the public is more likely to discard reason and turn to leaders who demonstrate demagogic faith.

The relationship between faith, reason and fear sometimes resembles the children’s game of rock, paper and scissors. Fear displaces reason, reason challenges faith, faith overcomes fear.

John Donne wrote in the beginning of the seventeenth century: “Reason is our soul’s left hand. Faith her right.”

If dogma and blind faith rush in to fill the vacuum left by reason’s departure……

Dr. Samuel Johnson wrote in the 1750s, “Reason has power to warn us against evil. “

The role of reason is the true sovereign in the American system.

Throughout history, those bent on domination have always seen reason as their enemy.


Explaining Humanism 101

Some excerpts from the ebook “Humanism: The Ten Most-Asked  Questions”

What are the most important values to humanists?

Try not to do harm, tell the truth, help the less fortunate, and seek justice in all its forms. Be generous with your resources, have courage, be fair. Try to achieve dignity.

Use your power of reasoning. Be aware that earth is our only home; preserve and protect it. Be inclusive, not exclusive in matters of race, minorities, women, sexual preference, religion, financial status, and nationality.

Do humanists believe that a god is necessary to create values?

No. Humans are quite capable of developing values that lead to a happy life.

Are values timeless? Can they and should they change?

Values do change. For example slavery, now unacceptable everywhere, was once justified by many religious people, including Christians.