Reason is Not the Sole Property of Skeptics

A few weeks ago Politico published an article by professional skeptic Michael Shermer—I think when you are the publisher of a magazine called Skeptic, you can be classified as a “professional skeptic,” right?—called “Why Politicians Need Science,” with the subtitle, “Remember: before the triumph of science, we burned witches at the stake and thought that kings ruled by divine right.” The headline betrays attitudes toward science and reason and an understanding of history that demonstrates why, whether or not politicians need science, skeptics need reason.

Shermer begins by accusing a senator of using bad science for a political end in the global warming/climate change debates, and he uses this example to argue that “we have forgotten how to discern what actually is true. We’ve forgotten how to use science and reason to solve problems and instead we’ve turned to moralizing about scientific issues.” Already the problems are evident.

The method for discerning what is true will depend upon the question at hand. Science answers questions about the physical nature and operations of the material universe; questions concerning such matters are indeed “scientific issues.” But while such scientific data and empirically derived conclusions can provide matter for our public policy or personal decision-making, they cannot tell us what ought to be done. The principles of practical reasoning are not scientific ones, but philosophical ones. Science may (or may not) be telling us that humanity is causing the Earth to warm, but science cannot tell us what we ought to do about it. It cannot tell us the goals we should seek or the values we should have. Here reason thanks science for its contributions and leaves it behind to do further work, as the architect thanks the surveyor for his measurements of the plot then decides how best to design the building to fit the client’s needs. The two are not coterminous.

Often in his article Shermer pairs the terms “science and reason” as essentially identifiable with one another. Reason, though, is a category that includes but is not exhausted by empirical science. If we define “reason” as something like “the exercise of the intellect in grasping the character and features of reality,” then we find that reason encompasses other modes of thought apart from empirical observation and verification. The various branches of philosophy employ reason: logic and metaphysics perhaps have a primary claim to being the main referent in the phrase “using your reason,” as they are the building blocks–apprehension, definition, judgment, the syllogism. Theology, too, uses the tools of reason in its approach to God, as any reader of Aquinas could tell you—it is, after all, the “sacred science.” Theology, however, takes some of its data from revelation, which, though it may use a different source than science for its data, nevertheless proceeds upon rational grounds. It is precisely rational reflection upon the matter of Scripture and Tradition that constitute this discipline. Reason, thus, is not to be confined to the domain of empirical science, but rather is used (and eminently) in many disciplines besides.

This conflation between science and reason would seem to set up in the mind of Shermer a false identification: anything rational is scientific. Thus, if we hold some position to be a rational one, be it a political policy or a moral imperative, that policy or imperative must be in some way scientifically demonstrable and derived.

Shermer makes this mistake in the following passage: “Enlightenment natural philosophers such as John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and Thomas Paine—America’s Founding Fathers—placed supreme value on reason and scientific inquiry, which in turn led them to prize human natural rights, equality, and freedom of thought and expression.”

(As an aside, it should be noted that Locke was more of a founding grandfather, having died 72 years before the Declaration of Independence was signed, but I quibble. As one further aside, I would question in what sense these men were “natural philosophers.” Some engaged in scientific pursuits, true, but how many actually pursued philosophical reflection on nature itself in the sense that Aristotle or St. Albert the Great did? I think Shermer has misused the term.)

As to the main point: What connection is there between scientific enquiry and concepts like natural rights or equality? Were these discovered in a lab or through a telescope? Shermer gives an example of his thinking when he asserts that “based on his medical training and the influence of many of the biggest scientists of his generation, Locke reasoned that all people should be treated equally under the law. He then sought to verify his theory empirically; and his theory has endured, as countries that practice it have flourished.”

Legal or moral equality of persons is not something that can be ascertained through empirical observation and analysis. If you determine that all humans are anatomically similar, that tells you nothing about their moral status … unless you hold prior to that the philosophical principle that all creatures that possess the same anatomy are the same species, and all of the same species have the same nature, by virtue of which they possess a dignity which entitles them to equal treatment under the law. In such a position, the scientific data does not lead to the philosophical legal and moral principle; rather, the principle already is in place, and the data tells us where it is to be applied. The two truths come from different spheres. This is demonstrated by the fact that there is many a person today who admit the scientific truth of human physical similarity but deny the moral truth of the equality of a certain class of humans: the unborn. If the two truths were indistinct, all who held the former would by that fact hold the latter. Would that were so.

Shermer cites other examples trying to prove his point, all the while repeating his error. Thomas Hobbes applied his atomic theory to government, thus proposing his Leviathan—his theory is wrong and his policy is terrifying, but this does not concern Shermer. He says Montesquieu applied deductive reasoning to determine what sort of laws are fitting for humanity. “‘Laws in their most general signification, are the necessary relations derived from the nature of things,’ he wrote.” Deducing conclusion from first principles, from the nature of things? This is philosophy, not empirical science.

Shermer then asks:

So you see, for nearly three centuries, we have been using science to determine such moral values as the best way to structure a polity, an economy, a legal system and a civil society, in the same way that physicians have developed improved medical science and epidemiologists have worked to build better public health science in order attenuate plagues, disease and other scourges of humanity. Are we supposed to just give up on that now?

Nowhere does he say how science helped to determine moral values, and he could not, for it is not within the scope of science to do so. The moral values themselves were not determined by science, but by previously held first principles.

Some of Shermer’s worst errors of this kind come in his list of some of the historical achievements of science:

Science and reason have debunked a number of such myths, such as that gods need animal and human sacrifices, that demons possess people, that Jews cause plagues and poison wells, that some races are inferior to other races, that women are too weak to run countries or corporations, that animals are automata and feel no pain, that kings rule by divine right, and many other beliefs no rational scientifically literate person today would hold.

What does scientific literacy have to do with such ideas? How and when did science disprove any of these? Certainly most of these are no longer held by most people (except for the question of demonic possession), but can Shermer tell us what scientific study proved that women were capable of running corporations? Or the journal article that describes the experiment by which the moral equality of races was proved? He cannot, because none such exist, because these are not matters that are within the purview of science. The needs (or existence) of gods, the operation (or existence) of demons, the activities of Jews, the moral status of races, the capabilities of women, the root of the legitimacy of political power—none of these is subject to empirical observation and verification. Even the question of animal pain requires definitions of both pain and “feeling” that themselves cannot be determined by science.

Through all this Shermer argues that Enlightenment thinkers led the way toward democracy, while the “backward” notions he listed were all antithetical to it. And at the root of Shermer’s position is one of the most basic logical fallacies: post hoc ergo propter hoc, or “after this therefore because of this.” Shermer believes that because democracies flourished in Europe chronologically posterior to the nascence of the scientific revolution, such scientific ideas must have been the cause of such a political sea-change. His attempts to cite examples fall flat, and indeed his thesis proves too much, for the very phenomena he cites in his subtitle, the burning of witches and the political theory of the divine right of kings, both had their zenith in the time chronologically posterior to the day of Bacon, Descartes, and Galileo. And the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century produced some fantastic scientific advances, from Nazi rocketry to the Soviet space program. Science and democracy are hardly a package deal.

We must give Shermer this much: politicians do indeed need science, as society needs data about the world to inform the decisions it makes. But the decisions themselves, the principles that help us to determine what we ought to do, cannot be derived from science, but must be brought in to make use of this data, either from natural reason or supernatural revelation. A nation that rejects such reason will only be ruled by the will of the strong, still with their science in hand. Shermer may think he is avoiding Christendom, but he is pushing toward North Korea.

Nicholas Senz

By

Nicholas Senz is Director of Faith Formation at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Arlington, Texas and a Master Catechist. A native of Verboort, Oregon, Nicholas holds master's degrees in philosophy and theology from the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, CA. He is on Twitter @nicksenz and his own blog, Two Old Books.

  • Scott W.

    Through all this Shermer argues that Enlightenment thinkers led the way toward democracy, while the “backward” notions he listed were all antithetical to it.

    In other words, another dime-a-dozen Whig being smug.

    Really, I just watched a YouTube clip of Brideshead Revisited where it is discovered that Rex Mottram cannot validly marry Julia because of an existing marriage. The poster of the clip titled it “Catholicism (religion) ruins another happy occasion” Imagine that! Julia not being able to marry the dreadful Rex (who will spend the rest of the book proving that dreadfulness) is a spoiled happy occasion in the atheist mind.

    I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me. Atheist obtuseness like Shermer’s reminds me a lot of Rex who was “just a few faculties of a man, highly developed” to the excusion of everything else. But instead of a highly developed drive for power and wealth, it’s an overdeveloped “because-SCIENCE!” ” …something absolutely modern and up-to-date that only this ghastly age could produce.”

    • JayRobThom

      I assume the clip was from the film, which indeed portrayed the faith as a horrible thing crippling Sebastian, implying he’d be perfectly happy as a sodomite, rather than the miniseries, which was a way- station to the Church for many of my generation.

      • Scott W.

        Actually, the clip was from the miniseries, lifted entirely out of context. Par for the New Atheist course. I haven’t and likely will never watch the film version.

  • JP

    “So you see, for nearly three centuries, we have been using science to
    determine such moral values as the best way to structure a polity, an
    economy, a legal system and a civil society …”

    Shermer reminds me of the Logical Positivists of a century ago. Max Weber had this to say about them:

    “Finally, although a naive optimism may have celebrated Science, that is, a technique for a mastery of life founded on science – as a path which would lead to happiness,I believe I can leave this entire question aside in light of the annihilating critique Nietzsche has made of the ” last men who discovered happiness”. Who, then still believes in this, with the exception of a few babies in university chairs and editorial offices.”

    Shermer, it seems, has missed out on the last 120 years of intellectual life. The Irrational and not Reason, was where it was at. And the period that so marked the Post Modern Age, was a time where Reason was made the Enemy of the Good. Thinkers from Nietzsche to Heidegger, Satre and Foucault celebrated the Irrational. According to them there is no Rational Transcendental that unites all of Mankind. And only a few big babies still believe that Reason can create morals (or as we now say “values”).

    Progressives today want it both ways. On the one hand, the pride themselves on their belief in Reason; but, on the other hand they drink deeply from the dark waters of Nietzsche and Heidegger. They, in fact, cannot have it both ways. I think Weber was right – the Left are in fact Big Babies.

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      The history of science cetainly bears out Foucault’s assertion that “The objective features of a phenomenon so little constrain the ways it is classified and theorized that these features can be disregarded in trying to understand why a particular classification system or scientific theory has been adopted.”

    • Michael s.

      “So you see, for nearly three centuries, we have been using science to
      determine such moral values as the best way to structure a polity, an
      economy, a legal system and a civil society”

      WE WHOLE HEARTILY AGREE!
      Sincerely,
      Stalin(scientific Socialism), Hitler, Mao, Imperial Japan, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Min etc…….

  • I for one am skeptical of the skepticism of any man who uses the words scientific and consensus in the same sentence.

    • St JD George

      It fundamentally flies in the face of the scientific method to mock peers who offer credible challenges to theories. There is so much uncertainty over the gross data manipulation, the cherry picking of data to throw out that doesn’t fit the narrative, so much that’s still unknown about earth’s natural carbon sequestration processes, and the immaturity of the compute modeling whose predictions have been flat out wrong. When I hear pseudo scientists and agenda driven politicians stand up and mock others as “flat earther’s” and “crazy denier’s” it makes the hair stand up on the back of my head. That’s not to say it’s not something we shouldn’t discuss, but it ought naught to be elevated to status of state religion. It’s painful to watch these so called men of the mind practice their pagan worship. They worship a rock, just not the one that held the cross. If it weren’t so sad it would be funny. Thankfully more are shining a light turning the tables on this faux science.

      http://www.breitbart.com/london/2015/04/26/hoax-slayers-top-scientists-to-scrutinise-dodgy-global-warming-data/

    • St JD George

      by JAMES DELINGPOLE 27 Apr 20155

      ROME, Italy – Contrary to what a worryingly large proportion of His churches believe, God isn’t a climate charge alarmist. If you’re in any doubt, I’d recommend you read this superbly erudite open letter to Pope Francis which has been put together by the Cornwall Alliance laying out the theological arguments against global warming catastrophism – and, more pertinently, lamenting the massive damage it’s doing to the well being of the people both the Old and New Testaments enjoin us to protect: the world’s poor.

      It has been released to coincide with the Vatican’s conference this week on climate change which, unfortunately for anyone who believes in the scientific method or sound economic and social policy has been hijacked by the alarmist camp.

      I think it somewhat unlikely the Pope Francis will ever get round to reading this letter. But I wish he would.

      Here are some samples

      The Imago Dei and Man’s Dominion

      Severe poverty, widespread hunger, rampant disease, and short life spans were the ordinary condition of humankind until the last two-and-a-half centuries. These tragedies are normal when—as much of the environmental movement prefers—human beings, bearing the imago Dei, live, and are treated, as if they were mere animals, which need to submit to nature rather than exercising the dominium God gave them in the beginning (Genesis 1:28). Such dominion should express not the abusive rule of a tyrant but the loving and purposeful rule of our Heavenly King. It should thus express itself by enhancing the fruitfulness, beauty, and safety of the earth, to the glory of God and the benefit of our neighbors.

      How Societies Overcome Poverty

      What has delivered much of humanity from absolute material poverty is a combination of moral, social, political, scientific, and technological institutions. These include science and technology grounded on a view of the physical world as an ordered cosmos that rational creatures can understand and harness for human betterment; private property rights, entrepreneurship, and widespread trade, protected by the rule of law enforced by limited and responsive governments; and abundant, affordable, reliable energy generated from high-density, portable, constantly accessible fossil and nuclear fuels. By replacing animal and human muscle and low-density energy sources like wood, dung, and other biofuels, and low-density, intermittent wind and solar, fossil and nuclear fuels have freed people from the basic tasks of survival to devote time and bodily energy to other occupations.

      Read the whole thing. Even if you’re not yourself religious, it’s worth acquainting yourself with the rebuttals to arguments often advanced by believers that the modern environmental creed (sustainability, social justice, the war on “carbon”, renewables and so forth) is in perfect accordance with Christian teaching. (Quakers are the most dogmatic, in my experience. In fact, it’s one of those rare areas where they can come across as decidedly unpeaceful).

      In any case, as the delegation from the Heartland Institute has been saying in Rome today, it really isn’t the job of the Pope to pronounce on science.

      And though the Catholic church has a patchy record in this respect – the persecution of Galileo, the immolation of Giordano Bruno for the crime of suggesting that there might be life on other planets – at least of Pope Francis’s predecessors have understood this.

      Pope Benedict, for example, said on the subject “It is important for assessments to be carried out in dialogue with experts and people of wisdom uninhibited by ideology and not to draw hasty conclusions.” (Though there were other occasions, admittedly, where he sounded like much more of a true climate change believer).

      Pope John Paul II too was circumspect on the subject: having experienced for himself in his early years in Poland the appalling consequences of Communist centralised planning – he was never going to be unduly enthusiastic about advocating similar methods to be used by the United Nations.

      The main difficulty with Pope Francis, as some of the Heartland delegates have privately been noting, is that he is an enthusiastic subscriber to the quasi-Marxist doctrine of “liberation theology”. So a lot of the arguments advanced by environmentalists to promote the climate change scare – such as the opportunities it creates for wealth redistribution and “trade justice” – are, in this Pope’s case, likely to fall on fertile ground. The challenge then is to persuade Pope Francis that even if you believe, as he does, in narrowing the gap between rich and poor, that the measures currently being advanced by the environmental movement are guaranteed to do the exact opposite.

      • Countryman
      • Anthony Zarrella

        Of course, the other key point to keep in mind is that not only is it not the Pope’s job to decree scientific or policy orthodoxy, but also not within his authority to do so.

        If Pope Francis releases an encyclical reminding us of our responsibilities to be good stewards of God’s Creation, then I, like all good Catholics, will nod and say, “Yes, of course, this is the truth the Church teaches, and I believe it.”

        If Pope Francis releases an encyclical declaring that Anthropogenic Global Warming is incontrovertible truth and that Catholics have an obligation to support Cap and Trade regimes, then I, still being a good Catholic, will say, “With deepest respect, Holy Father, I think you are mistaken, and on this topic you have no more infallibility or authority than any other reasonably-educated man, so I will be opposing Cap and Trade and denying AGW until and unless I am convinced of it by my own reason.”

        • St JD George

          Agreed. I read this today and got discouraged. Reminds me of Alinksy tactics – shut up honest debate and dissent.

          by JAMES DELINGPOLE28 Apr 2015397

          VATICAN CITY – Papal heavies shut down an awkward question at a Vatican press conference today when a journalist asked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon his views on climate sceptics.

          Marc Morano, covering the Vatican climate conference for Climate Depot, asked Ban Ki-Moon whether he had a message for the Heartland Institute delegation of scientists who have flown to Rome to urge the Pope to reconsider his ill-advised position climate change.

          But before he could finish the conference hosts interrupted to ask which organisation he worked for, then directed the microphone to a more tame questioner, while a security guard came over to mutter in Morano’s ear “You have to control yourself or you will be escorted out of here.”

          Morano, together with Christopher Monckton (one of the Heartland delegation) and your correspondent, only narrowly made it into the carefully stage-managed conference where – as known climate sceptics – they were apparently not welcome.

          “Ah. So you made it in here?” said a somewhat surprised looking member of the Vatican press team to Morano, when he realised that he had bypassed the Vatican’s security and infiltrated the press pack who had come to cover the conference.

          As luck would have it, a heaven-sent shower of torrential rain had created such chaos that security wasn’t as tight as it might have been.

          However, the three sceptics (Morano, Monckton, Delingpole) were watched very carefully throughout the proceedings lest they attempt to ruffle the feathers of key speakers Ban Ki-Moon, left-wing economist Jeffrey Sachs and Cardinal Turkson, the Ghanaian priest who has been co-ordinating the Vatican’s position on “climate change.”

          In the end, Secretary-General Ban did answer a similar question, albeit one expressed more delicately by a journalist from the Catholic media, when he was asked what his views were on those members of the Catholic community who had reservations about the Pope’s position on climate change.

          Perhaps this was a response to Ban’s rather bold and very moot declaration that “Religion and science are united on the need for action on climate.”

          “I don’t think faith leaders should be scientists,” said Ban, in reply to the question. “I’m not a scientist. What I want is their moral authority. Business leaders and all civil society is on board [with the mission to combat climate change]. Now we want faith leaders. Then we can make it happen.”

          Secretary-General Ban clearly didn’t need the help from the papal security. As he smoothly demonstrated – as later when he deftly swerved a question about “overpopulation” and whether his previously expressed views that Africa should keep its population down clashed with the Catholic doctrine on contraception – he’s more than capable of squishing inconvenient truths himself.

    • St JD George

      by JAMES DELINGPOLE27 Apr 2015172

      Should the Pope stick to God or is it about time he embraced the fashionable cause of Gaia-worship?

      This is going to be the big question in Rome over the next couple of days as two rival groups – one comprising green activists, lefty economists and world government apparatchiks, the other containing one or two actual climate scientists – battle for the environmental soul of the Vatican.

      On one side is a delegation led by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and economist Jeffrey Sachs, a warmist so fanatically unrestrained that last year he decided it wasn’t at all beneath his dignity to tweet “Climate liars like Rupert Murdoch & Koch Brothers have more & more blood on their hands as climate disasters claim lives across the world.”

      These will be speaking at an official Vatican event staged on Tuesday by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences called Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity.

      On the other is a small group of scientists including a meteorologist, a physicist and member of the NASA team which put man on the moon who hope to warn the Pope that while his intentions may be good, the very last thing he should be doing if he means to help the world’s poor is to join the vainglorious mission to “combat climate change.”

      They will be speaking at unofficial rival events today and tomorrow, where they’ll be presenting the facts that the Pope’s expert advisers might prefer him not to know. Awkward, inconvenient stuff like the fact there’s been no “global warming” for the last 220 months; that CO2 is greening the planet not killing it; and that the surest way to help the needy poor in the developing world is not to inflict on them renewable energy they can’t afford but let them benefit from cheap, effective, reliable fossil fuels.

      Up until the weekend, I wouldn’t have fancied their chances: a gaggle of scientists, sponsored by the (relatively small, modestly funded) Heartland Institute versus the combined might of the UN, the Catholic Church (which like the C of E bought into the global warming agenda long ago) and the vast green crony capitalist lobby machine.

      But then, very generously, over the weekend the Guardian gave the Heartland team a massive fillip by invoking the name of the Koch Brothers, who are the liberal left’s answer to the Anti-Christ. Had the greenies asked my advice I would have told them the best thing they could do would be to ignore the Heartland delegation completely. Unfortunately, the damage has been done and the enviro loons have been writhing and shrieking like Damien in the Omen when his parents try to take him into a church.

      Some sample comments from the Guardian to give you a flavour:

      The Koch Brothers will be dead in 20 years, can’t we get rid of them sooner? They are just bad people.

      Arrogant little bastards those repubs. Heartland Institute – what a misnomer – absolutely no heart and they only see the land fit to rape and pillage.

      When palm trees are growing at the South Pole, the ‘climate change deniers’ would still be denying the obvious.

      Anyway, the Guardian’s generous plug should ensure a lively turn out of reporters keen to see for themselves the hand-stitched Brioni suits and Lamborghinis with personalised number plates which the Koch Brothers have provided for the Heartland delegation.

      On those particular details they may be disappointed. But what they will hear – I think we can guarantee with at least 97 per cent certainty – is a lot more sense than anything coming from the lips of Ban Ki-Moon or Sachs over the road.

      I’ll let you know how it goes because I’m here in Rome too. Don’t be too jealous. It’s true that the city is looking particularly lovely at this time of year, but the forecast for the next couple of days is torrential rain.

      Or, as Jeffrey Sachs will no doubt choose to spin it in his speech, “incontrovertible evidence of Koch-Brothers-funded, Murdoch-sponsored global weirding extreme weather events.”

  • Vinny

    Science is God except when it isn’t. As in when a new human is created or that the purpose and function of certain parts of the body are not for sodomy.

    • St JD George

      Or fly around the world on a private jet to a resort to join others in protest of others footprint. Or to take a ship out to sea to protest whale fishermen and then come home to cheer on clubbing a baby human … rhetorically.

  • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

    As Emo Phillips the comedian said, “I was thinking the other day how the brain is the most important organ in the body but then I started thinking, ‘Hey! Who’s telling me this!'”

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    That the physical sciences cannot provide us with a comprehensive description of reality is apparent from the fact that scientists present their findings in words (or other symbols)

    Certainly, words are configurations of material objects, ink marks on a page, sound waves in succession &c

    But words have meaning; they can represent material facts (or possible facts or states of affairs).

    The relationship between a word and the fact &c that it represents – its meaning – is not a material fact or relationship.

    Semantics is not one of the physical sciences; neither is logic; neither is ethics.

    • Philip Lishman

      Words could be considered to be the ‘bodies’ of ideas.

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        Ah! But that raises the question of Wittgenstein’s thought-experiment: “Say a sentence and think it; say it with understanding – Now, do not say it, just do what you accompanied it with, when you said it with understanding!”

        He must be right, when he insists that “Thinking is not an incorporeal process which lends life and sense to speaking, and which it would be possible to detach from speaking, rather as the Devil took the shadow of Schlemihl from the ground…”

        • Philip Lishman

          Corporeal or incorporeal – both are real. As Mr. Spock observed (correctly, in my experience) – “Nothing unreal exists”. Thoughts are real, even though they are subjective. All subjective phenomena – that is, things experienced privately by the individual – are real. Modern psychology does not recognize this. The ancients (again, in my experience) knew more about mental illness than today’s secular professors of the subject.

          • Michael Paterson-Seymour

            But that is not as straightforward as it seems

            Wittgenstein again, “Am I acquainted with incorporeal processes, only thinking is not one of them? No; I called the expression ‘an incorporeal process’ to my aid in my embarrassment when I was trying to explain the meaning of the word ‘thinking’ in a primitive way. One might say, ‘thinking is an incorporeal process’, however, if one were using this to distinguish the grammar of the word ‘think’ from, say, that of the word ‘eat,’ only that makes the difference between the two meanings look too slight. It is like saying, ‘numerals are actual, and numbers are non-actual, objects.’ An unsuitable type of expression is a sure means of remaining in a state of confusion. It, as it were, bars the way out.”

            As Miss Anscombe remarked, “although the concept of ‘thought’ is one that we all possess, it is difficult to give a satisfactory account of it and no one as yet has, although not for lack of trying.”

            • Philip Lishman

              Yes. My attempt is based on the difference between hardware and software: Humans have memories, which means that we are stateful – which implies we have a programmable, software component.

              Christian religious observance recognizes that the hardware is defective, and concentrates on the use of – what may be considered – software routines to work around the bugs inherent in our hardware – bugs that prevent it from fulfilling its natural purpose, the service of God.

              Just how far one can take this analogy, I’m not sure. It might be stretching things a bit to suggest a direct comparison, such as that thinking is equivalent to the switching processes in a CPU which occur in response to software held in the computer’s memory.

              Such an approach is not without precedent though – during the latter part of the steam age, it was common to consider the human mind using words drawn from steam engine technology – ‘sublimation’ etc. I don’t know if that got us any closer to understanding thought than what I’m offering here, but essentially the power of any hypothesis is in its ability to make the processes they purport to describe more predictable than they were before.

              That’s the best I’ve got!

  • fredx2

    Many times you will find that at least some atheists are former Fundamentalist Christians. As I understand it, this is the path that Schermer took. It seems that after having been involved with a nonsensical theological position (Fundamentalism) they revolt and flip all the way to the other side.

    • St JD George

      How perfectly binary. I was curious so read a little more about him. Looks like he had no religious upbringing, rough early family life, became devout (his words) and born again in HS through a friend, and then lost his faith in grad school … I guess when the peer pressure got to be too much he wilted. I particularly enjoyed this reference “He married Jennifer Graf on June 25, 2014. The ceremony was performed by Shermer’s sister, Tina, who was ordained online for the occasion.” I didn’t know you could become ordained online. I think his was just another tragic case of running with the wrong crowd – he went off to “the university” in SoCal and to get along and “be somebody” he had to lose his Christian credentials or not get invited to the parties he wanted to attend. Ambition will do that to you.

    • Rob B.

      Actually, some of the most intense atheists I know are former Catholics.

  • Shermer is the perfect example of “scientism”.

    • St JD George

      How about … scientasmicism. Kind of a mix between real science, with a dash of over inflated sense of self importance, and easily thrilled like the feeling Chris Mathew’s gets in his leg sometimes – or Pavlov’s subjects. Like I said below, I think he just ran into a herd of under developed like thinkers at the university and when he hit the old saw mill it trimmed off his outer veneer of faith to expose the naked ambition pulp core.

      • Its not my neologism. Hayek, among others used the term for when people either misapply science or apply a specious veneer of science to claim a certain authority.

        • St JD George

          I know, it was just my feeble attempt at humor.

  • athanasius777

    Remember: before the triumph of science, we burned witches at the stake and thought that kings ruled by divine right.
    — Michael Shermer

    I guess nobody told Shermer about the scientific racism and eugenics that led to the slaughter of millions by the Nazis.

  • Johnny Rango

    The people of North Korea didn’t vote for the system they live under. Neither did those living in any other totalitarian regime. On the contrary, these systems are a result of a power grab by those in control. Science and reason have nothing whatever to do with being a prisoner in a totalitarian regime. Therefore, it’s a silly notion that science would somehow impel civilization to a totalitarian system like NK.

    As for how democracy really came about, I invite the author (or anyone else) to make a case that the Catholic Church was the true Father of Democracy.

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