on August 4, 1997
MAYBE YES, MAYBE NO by Dan Barker. This is definitely a kid's only book, with annoying little characters drawn in "see it go, see it go up" style, with a dog and a few other cuddly critters as well. But, it's good stuff on how and why a skeptic thinks as he/she does that prods a kid to question in ways I never experienced growing up, at least not till I was, oh, maybe 32. (Of course I'm kidding.) Barker provides simple illustrations of what is proof, why it's unwise to believe everything you hear, how to listen carefully, ask questions, seek clear answers, display curiousity andlook for better explanations--all illustrated in an unfolding story about kids looking for ghosts. The reasoning processes that apply in the search for ghosts also are shown to apply to a skeptic look at claims for UFOs, ESP, telepathy, telekinesis, prophesy, out of body experience, dowsing, levitation, astrology, horoscopes and faith healing. The refrain throughout to the young reader is, "What do you think?" For a taste of the writing style, sample this: "Some religions teach that there is an invisible world with strange creatures like angels, demons, ghosts and dead people. Some religions teach that storms are caused by gods or devils. Or that gods or devils cause sickness, fires, earthquakes, floods, plant growth and animal growth. But skeptics try to explain these things without ignoring the rules of nature."
The rules of science are explained, including different ways to check things out, tools for these purposes, the importance of being able to repeat a test, as in, "If someone says they predicted the future, ask them to do it again. If someone says they healed a sickness with magic or a prayer, ask them to do it again. If something is really true, you should be able to repeat it again and again."
The bottom line, prudent response for a skeptical kid and grown ups too, according to Barker's wise little book, seems to be this when confronted for a claim of one kind or another: "Maybe yes, maybe no." Check it out--and the book, too. It's quite good.