Tag Archive | "Michael Shermer"

FF Podcast (Audio): Michael Shermer (Conversations for a Cause)


Conversations for a Cause: Michael Shermer

Conversations for a Cause is a series of interviews with celebrity freethinkers, part of an online donation drive to support ongoing Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) relief and rehabilitation efforts.

This week, we talk with author and founder of The Skeptics Society, Michael Shermer. We discuss whether God is dying, atheism vs skepticism, and why smart people believe in strange things.

You may also download the podcast file here.




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Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

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A Conversation with Michael Shermer


Conversations for a Cause is a series of interviews with celebrity freethinkers, part of an online donation drive to support ongoing Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) relief and rehabilitation efforts.

This week, we talk with author and founder of The Skeptics Society, Michael Shermer. We discuss whether God is dying, atheism vs skepticism, and why smart people believe in strange things.

You may also download the video file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Media, Podcast, Religion, Science, VideoComments (0)

The Ethics of Secularism


One of the principles of secularism is doing good for goodness’ sake: “Whether there be other good or not, the good of the present life is good, and it is good to seek that good.” The English secularist George Jacob Holyoake, who coined the word “secularism” in the mid-19th century, asserted, “Individual good attained by methods conducive to the good of others, is the highest aim of man, whether regard be had to human welfare in this life or personal fitness for another. Precedence is therefore given to the duties of this life.

Since this utilitarian ethical principle is not grounded on the moral dictates of a transcendent being, i.e., God, it is not surprising that theists are quick to criticize it as lacking an ontological foundation, meaning there is no basis for conceptualizing such moral system in the first place. They then proceed to cite David Hume’s is-ought problem and G.E. Moore’s naturalistic fallacy, insisting that it is impossible to derive an “ought” from an “is” or to infer moral obligations from mere observations of nature, and that what is naturally pleasant or desired is not necessarily “good”.

While Hume wrote in A Treatise of Human Nature that it surprised him to find an ought instead of an is, there seems to be nothing in the book expressing the impossibility of bridging the is-ought gap. Hume only said that “’tis necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given; for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.

Moreover, the rules apply to both theists and nontheists, and if the requirements for bridging the gap are set to go beyond common sense and into ontological obsession, I doubt that even Divine Command Theory can bridge it. Someone claiming that God exists and has laid down certain rules (an is statement) is also expected to explain why we ought to act accordingly, and after all the rationalizations have been exposed and eliminated, it all boils down to one thing: we ought to obey and please God for the welfare of our souls.

While the secularist does not necessarily rule out the possibility of a life after death since it’s unprovable either way, he gives priority to his welfare in this life: “For a future state Secularism proposes the wise use of this, as he who fails in this “duty nearest hand” has no moral fitness for any other.” And since claims of divine revelation are all hearsay and our common sense dictates that the Bible is a dangerous guide to morality, secularism “offers the guidance of observation, investigation, and experience. Instead of taking authority for truth, it takes truth for authority.

The word ought was originally used to express duty or obligation (and this is probably how Hume intended to use it), but modern usage has expanded its meaning to also indicate advisability or desirability. Since the secularist believes in the improvement of this life by material means and that science is the available Providence of man, if he wants to be happy then he knows what he ought –  what he is well advised – to do, and that is to seek happiness in ways that are conducive to the happiness of others so as to encourage mutual effort in perpetuating everybody’s happiness.

As for the naturalistic fallacy, while it is true that “pleasant” is not necessarily tantamount to “good,” it seems that all of mankind’s conscious acts are ultimately motivated by pleasure. The blogger Philosophy Bro put it succinctly:

“People want to be happy; that seems pretty clear. What makes people happy? Why, pleasure makes people happy…Pleasure is the only thing people want for its own sake, as an end; everything else people do is to attain some final pleasure…For some reason dudes keep insisting that there’s more to life than pleasure. And to them I say, “Really? Like what?” When they start listing shit like literature and the arts and human excellence, I know they’re not paying attention because all of those things are pleasurable.”
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As for the theists who define “good” as something that God commands or desires, the is-ought problem is thrown back at them: why do we ought to do good and obey God? And if they are honest enough they will admit that it’s because they want to have a pleasant eternal life in Heaven and avoid perpetual torment in Hell.

And so it seems that for the theist and nontheist alike, morality, or at least the standard by which a person judges actions with either approval or disapproval, is ultimately rooted in the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. In Of Vice and Virtue, Hume wrote, “For granting that morality had no foundation in nature, it must still be allowed, that vice and virtue, either from self-interest or the prejudices of education, produce in us a real pain and pleasure.” An article in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy paraphrases Hume: “[I]t is because we are the kinds of creatures we are, with the dispositions we have for pain and pleasure, the kinds of familial and friendly interdependence that make up our life together, and our approvals and disapprovals of these, that we are bound by moral requirements at all.”

And while the secularist does not concern himself with ultimate or eternal scenarios of pleasure and pain as much as the immediate and foreseeable consequences of his actions, it does not mean that his morality is inferior. In The Science of Good and Evil, Michael Shermer explained that “like everyone else, I face judges that are in their own ways transcendent and powerful: family and friends, colleagues and peers, mentors and teachers, and society at large. My judges may be lowercased and occasionally deceivable, but they are transcendent of me as an individual, even if they are not transcendent of nature…real people whose lives are directly affected by my actions, and whose actions directly affect my life.”

The secularist’s judges may not be as fearsome as a deity capable of sentencing people to eternal torture, but he nevertheless respects them deeply and holds himself accountable to them. That’s because in this life, which is the only life we really know exists, these human judges influence our welfare and happiness in ways that we can clearly see and foresee. As such, we are accountable to them because we are ultimately accountable to ourselves.

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Can you scare a Skeptic into believing?


One of the tactics proselytizers use to try to convert nonbelievers is the appeal to fear. What if you’re wrong? What if it turns out there really is a god and you’ve lived your life on the assumption that there isn’t? They invoke Pascal’s Wager in an attempt to scare people into believing. And this reminds me of my favorite skeptic Michael Shermer’s delightful appearance on Mr. Deity.

In that episode, Shermer has died and it turned out there was a god after all being referred to as Mr. Deity. Denied entry at the Pearly Gates, Shermer pleads his case before Mr. Deity:

Mr. Deity: The bottom line is you didn’t believe in the boy here (referring to Jesus).

Michael Shermer: Well, look, you gave me this brain to think critically. I read the Gospel stories…what about all those inconsistencies? They’re inconsistent about where he was born, who was there when he died…you know, come on.

Mr. Deity: Well maybe you were supposed to learn to walk by faith. Ever think of that, genius? Huh?

Michael Shermer: Uhm, well, sir, you remember, you created us in your image and you don’t walk by faith, do you? You walk by sound knowledge, and science is based on sound knowledge so I was trying to be more, you know, deity-like.

Mr. Deity: Yeah, but-

Michael Shermer: Plus if I said I really believed and I didn’t, you being all knowing would know that I’m lying and lying is a sin, right?

Now let’s take a look at the following definitions of believe:

1. To accept as true or real: Do you believe the news stories?

2. To credit with veracity: I believe you.

3. To expect or suppose; think: I believe they will arrive shortly.

Based on the above, it appears that belief doesn’t imply a conscious choice but rather something people arrive at as a result of some other mental process. To some people the mental process can be as simple as memorizing what an authority figure says while others use a more elaborate method of counter checking for fallacy.

While skeptics like Michael Shermer choose to scrutinize truth claims with no less than the scientific method, can the all-knowing, all-reasonable God blame them for arriving at a position of non-belief even though they did not actively choose non-belief itself? I suggest you watch the video so you’ll have an idea what to do in case you died and came face to face with God, and he isn’t happy.

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