A degree in theology is about as useful as a license to hunt dragons while riding a unicorn

Now that I’ve got your attention, this post is about being well-informed versus having knowledge that amounts to bullshit.

The other day somebody complimented me, saying that I am well-informed. Maybe I am, but in my view we should all be. With more information than ever before only a Google search away, nobody has any excuse to be ignorant. Of course, there is plenty of misinformation online too, and it takes some common sense and critical thinking skills to recognize what information is good, and what should be ignored. Thus today I’d like to point out some of what should always be ignored.

But before I get to that, an anecdote from my bad old daze… I wasn’t always well-informed, and in fact what started me on the path to my current worldview was a need to believe in magic as we all do. It was a few years ago, around 2008 when my girlfriend and I were both heavily addicted to crystal meth, and she had a habit of becoming interested in all sorts of strange things: Wicca, white magic, black magic, healing crystals, tarot, and at one stage astrology. I won’t tell all the stories; there are too many.

My job in that part of the relationship was to support her. If I did not, she’d become angry, paranoid and mostly unpleasant to be around, so I had to do my part, which was to research whatever ticked her fancy, print out whatever I could find (which I did at work) and take it home. Most of the time, what I actually did was debunk whatever she was interested in, and she caught on eventually, but that’s not what I’m writing about today, not exactly.

I managed to get sucked in to astrology myself. For a while, I started to believe in it. That is, although I started out thinking it must be bullshit… “What influence could planetary alignments and so on possibly have on us when the gravity of each others’ bodies is surely more significant?” I asked, but when a friend gave us each a reading, the things he said seemed to fit. Then I printed out some reports from an astrology site that allowed inputting your name, date and time of birth, place of birth and so on, and it generated detailed Natal charts. There were several pages for each of us, each divided into sections with subheadings, and all of it seemed to fit. I was amazed and for a few minutes totally convinced that there really was something to astrology. (Edit: Holy shit… The one that I used is still the top search result.)

Then I came down. And I realized that in my methamphetamine stupor (Trust me, nobody is all that smart after being awake for several days) I had mixed up all our pages. So we each had the correct first page; then the rest were actually each others reports. So I swapped the pages back, then read mine again. Sure enough, it still “fit”. But I was beginning to see a pattern in the type of statements made in those reports. The following day (I didn’t have a computer at home then, not anymore – she sold it to buy drugs), I input random data, that is I made up a date of birth, name, place of birth and so on, then looked at the generated report. Sure enough, it still “fit” me perfectly!

I find it funny in retrospect. What I’d stumbled onto was the secret to making good predictions about anybody: Generic statements, statements that could apply to anybody; things that we want to believe about ourselves that don’t really say anything. For example, “You feel shy and nervous when meeting a person for the first time, but as you get to know them, you become more confident and are more outgoing.” That applies to just about everybody. Statements like those are called Barnum statements. And that’s what you get with all computer-generated astrology reports. The software has some rules, a database of information that can produce impressive jargon about where the planets were when you were born and so on, then generates Barnum statements.

Of course personal readings are different. There, a person prods you for information, and ends up doing what’s called a cold reading, or maybe even a warm reading. But it’s all bullshit. Whether they believe in it or not is irrelevant, because even those who are sincere end up learning cold reading skills, which they perform unconsciously.

I’ve learned a lot since then. Getting back to the point, there is a great deal of information as well as misinformation online. I learned most of what I know just by reading, but I did learn to ignore bullshit. So here is a list of some of the bullshit online that can safely be ignored:

  • All theology is bullshit. Experts in theology are experts in the innermost details of shit that people made up about gods. Everything they know is pointless and stupid.
  • Just about every person nowadays who fancies themself a philosopher, who writes about “consciousness”, is an idiot whose thoughts mean nothing.
  • There are no such things as psychics.
  • There are no ghosts, no spirits, there is no such things as a soul, and all sites spiritually related in any way at all are full of shit.
  • Anything “New Age” or “pagan” should be avoided. Especially if they mention vibrations or consciousness. This may overlap with the so-called philosophers.
  • If you find yourself on a page where somebody is explaining the difference between monism and dualism, it’s time to press the back button on the browser.
  • Did I mention consciousness? If anybody writes about consciousness and they mean it in any other context than being awake, stop reading their bullshit immediately. It’s normally the first hint of an argument for a spirit, for something other than a brain, or some difference between the brain and the mind.
  • “Alternative” is another name for bullshit. Alternative medicine including CAM is woo. Alternative history is generally white supremacist bullshit.
  • All conspiracy theories are bunk. If somebody writes something that seems rational but states that sometimes conspiracy theories are true, their following statements are guaranteed to be idiotic, and should not be read.
  • Anything about UFU’s that isn’t written by a skeptic or scientist (or science fiction writer) should not be read.
  • Know the difference between science and pseudoscience. Science never makes outlandish claims, such as proof of the existence of god. Scientists will never tell you that global warming isn’t real or that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, unless that have lost their minds.
  • On the other hand, real science is fascinating. Read it, learn and understand as much as possible. You can’t get enough real science.
  • Real skepticism is fascinating too, and often funny. The reason I call it real skepticism is that there are those who like to pass themselves off as skeptics, such as science deniers. Anybody who is skeptical of global warming or evolution is not a skeptic. They’re science deniers – actual skeptics never deny science.

I hope the above points can help somebody be less credulous and gullible, and learn something rather than furthering their knowledge of bullshit.

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About Jerome

I am a senior C# developer in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am also a recovering addict, who spent nearly eight years using methamphetamine. I write on my recovery blog about my lessons learned and sometimes give advice to others who have made similar mistakes, often from my viewpoint as an atheist, and I also write some C# programming articles on my programming blog.
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