The official site of bestselling author Michael Shermer The official site of bestselling author Michael Shermer

Scientific Naturalism: A Manifesto for Enlightenment Humanism

June 19, 2017

This article appeared in Theology and Science Vol. 15, No. 3 in June 2017.

A recording of this article can be listened to below, read by the author, with an introduction by David Smalley, thanks to our Patrons at Patreon.


The success of the Scientific Revolution led to the development of the worldview of scientific naturalism, or the belief that the world is governed by natural laws and forces that can be understood, and that all phenomena are part of nature and can be explained by natural causes, including human cognitive, moral and social phenomena. The application of scientific naturalism in the human realm led to the widespread adoption of Enlightenment humanism, a cosmopolitan worldview that places supreme value on science and reason, eschews the supernatural entirely and relies exclusively on nature and nature’s laws, including human nature. (continue reading…)

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It’s Complicated

June 5, 2017

Unraveling the Mystery of Why People Act as They Do

This review of Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert M. Sapolsky (Penguin Press, May 2018. ISBN 9780143110910) appeared in The American Scholar in June 2017.

Have you ever thought about killing someone? I have, and I confess that it brought me peculiar feelings of pleasure to fantasize about putting the hurt on someone who had wronged me. I am not alone. According to the evolutionary psychologist David Buss, who asked thousands of people this same question and reported the data in his 2005 book, The Murderer Next Door, 91 percent of men and 84 percent of women reported having had at least one vivid homicidal fantasy in their life. It turns out that nearly all murders (90 percent by some estimates) are moralistic in nature—not cold-blooded killing for money or assets, but hot-blooded homicide in which perpetrators believe that their victims deserve to die. The murderer is judge, jury, and executioner in a trial that can take only seconds to carry out. (continue reading…)

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Giving the Devil His Due

May 25, 2017

Why Freedom of Inquiry in Science and Politics is Inviolable

This article appeared in the Journal of Criminal Justice in May 2017.

In the 1990s I undertook an extensive analysis of the Holocaust and those who deny it that culminated in Denying History, a book I coauthored with Alex Grobman (Shermer & Grobman, 2000). Alex and I are both civil libertarians who believe strongly that the right to speak one’s mind is fundamental to a free society, so we were surprised to discover that Holocaust denial is primarily an American phenomenon for the simple reason that America is one of the few countries where it is legal to doubt the Holocaust. Legal? Where (and why) on Earth would it be illegal? In Canada, for starters, where there are “anti-hate” statutes and laws against spreading “false news” that have been applied to Holocaust deniers. In Austria it is a crime if a person “denies, grossly trivializes, approves or seeks to justify the national socialist genocide or other national socialist crimes against humanity.” In France it is illegal to challenge the existence of “crimes against humanity” as they were defined by the Military Tribunal at Nuremberg “or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.” The “Race Relations Act” in Great Britain forbids racially charged speech “not only when it is likely to lead to violence, but generally, on the grounds that members of minority races should be protected from racial insults.” Switzerland, Belgium, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, and Sweden have all passed similar laws (Douglas, 1996). In 1989 the New South Wales parliament in Australia passed the “Anti-Discrimination Act” that includes these chilling passages, Orwellian in their implications: (continue reading…)

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Science Makes America Great

April 21, 2017

Dear President Trump:

Fifty-five years ago this week President John F. Kennedy hosted a dinner honoring Nobel Prize laureate scientists, remarking:

I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.

In fact, Kennedy added, the author of the Declaration of Independence and 3rd President of the United States “could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, and dance the minuet.”

From the earliest days of our nation, science has been at the forefront of what makes America great. Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, John Adams and many of the other founding fathers were either practicing scientists or were trained in the sciences. They deliberately adapted the scientific method of gathering data, running experiments, and testing hypotheses to their construction of our nation. Their understanding of the provisional nature of findings led them to develop a political system in which doubt and disputation were the centerpieces of a functional polity.

(continue reading…)

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How Might a Scientist Think about the Resurrection?

April 14, 2017

IMAGE ABOVE: The Bruder Klaus Field Chapel, Mechernich, Germany (near Köln), built 2005–2007 following the plans of the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. Photograph by Michael Shermer

For the world’s two billion Christians, Easter marks the resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion death at the hands of the Romans. It is the resurrection that sets Christians apart from all other religions. In fact, as denoted in 1 Corinthians 15: 13–14: “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”

Did Jesus die and come back to life? In the parlance of current events, is this a fake news story, an alternative fact invented by the followers of Jesus, or did it really happen?

As a scientist who was once a born-again evangelical Christian I have given this question much thought. Although I am no longer a religious believer, I think there is reasonable evidence that a man named Jesus probably did exist, and that there are good reasons to believe he was crucified by the Romans, which was a common tool of capital punishment at the time, employed against even common thieves, such as the two men crucified on either side of Jesus. Whether or not Jesus “died for our sins” is a pure theological dogma untestable by science, but the matter of his resurrection is open to scrutiny. There are reasons to doubt the claim.

First, Jews and Muslims, along with the world’s other four billion religious people, do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. This is especially noteworthy in the other Abrahamic religions, given that Jews and Muslims worship the same God. And although the veracity of a truth claim is not determined by majority rule, if there were compelling evidence for this all-important event wouldn’t it at least convince some in a few other religions? That Jewish Rabbis and Muslim Clerics are so well educated and professionally trained in the art of evaluating arguments and evidence speaks volumes to their skepticism of the resurrection. (continue reading…)

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