Renowned Skeptic Michael Shermer: Deist or Just Disingenuous?

Has the once-luminary champion of skepticism, and self-proclaimed atheist, recast his lot with religion and thereby reclaimed his erstwhile lost Ichthys?

As an independent scholar, skeptic and atheist, I have followed Dr. Michael Shermer for some years, read all but one of his books, and attended a number of his public lectures, such as TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design.) Shermer is a dynamic, engaging speaker, talented author, and is prolific in his knowledge of science; however, at times, he can be frustratingly ambiguous, even cleverly evasive. While a vigorous defender of Darwin and evolution—the book, “Why Darwin matters: the case against intelligent design” is one of the best arguments against I.D. and a fervent exponent for evolution—Shermer seems to be uncertain as to whether he is an atheist, an agnostic, a deist, or a pantheist. Often, in many of his articles and refutations, such as, “Why I Am An Atheist,” [1] he proclaims loudly to be an atheist, yet he bewilderingly has begun a malleable pandering to moderates of religion and awkwardly tries to marry science into the nuptials of religion.

In a recent CNN article, “Religion, evolution can live side by side,” [2] Shermer attempts to reconcile religion and science and place them on equal ground with equal importance. After ostensibly being pilloried, most presumably from fellow atheists, skeptics and also contemporaries, namely, Richard Dawkins, and in particular Jerry Coyne, for taking such an acquiescing tone, he penned a rejoinder follow up in The Huffington Post, “Theism v. Atheism: I'm A Realist, Not An ‘Accommodationist’” [3], attempting to defend and then later, clarify his position. Unfortunately, the reply in The Huffington Post—a mercurial juxtaposition of a mea culpa and a thick varnish of defense, did little to alleviate the seemingly “accommodationist” paradigm of capitulation.

Additionally, Shermer further muddies the morass he has made for himself among other evolutionary scientists, academia in general, and the freethinking, non-theistic community, proclaiming,

"Likewise, it should not matter how God created life, whether it was through a miraculous spoken word or through the natural forces of the universe that He created. The grandeur of God's works commands awe regardless of what processes He used."

Usually, a robust defender of reason and science—and vociferous critic of untested truth-claims—Shermer has drawn the ire of colleagues and admirers alike with his quixotic missive of mollification to moderates of religion. Call me conspiratorial, but it rightly looks as if the good doctor of skepticism wishes to have his cake and eat it too, whereby holding faith in one hand, facts and science in the other, while in a stentorian voice, singing a kindred “Kumbaya!”

Michael Shermer continues to be a leading voice for reason and science, but his latest act of cognitive dissonance, and mental gymnastics of apologia for tepid religionists—an imprudent prostration that kowtows to religion, perhaps suggests his Christian Pepperdine University instruction is clouding his otherwise erudite and exceptional scholarship in the fields of science, reason and skepticism. In all, Shermer’s skepticism—normally his greatest strength—may, in fact, be the very Achilles’ heal that has conspicuously lead him into a transparent, circumscribing pattern of setting up straw men, only to knock them down and set them back up again.

However, this time, in the aforementioned CNN article, Shermer may have finally set off a red herring thereby tipping his appeasement hat too far. In doing so, Shermer glibly, and unfortunately, leaves room for God and I.D. to elbow in along side Darwin's evolution, and silently declaring, at minimum, his pantheism, perhaps even his deism or outright theism.

Dr. Shermer, as a contrarian writer and fellow skeptic, I therefore wonder if this fawning for the faithful has not vaunted you further into the light of reason, but instead, left you looking rather sallow in the hallowed halls of science.





— About the Author —

Frank J. Ranelli is an independent scholar, skeptic and critic, author and essayist. His erudite and iconoclastic style of provocative writing has been extensively published in a variety of news outlets and across the Internet.

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Comment by Howard S. Dunn on December 3, 2009 at 10:03am
I see the motives. Faith is a stubborn mule and childlike in that respect. Perhaps he feels that, since you can't reason with it you have to lie to it.

However, it is a setback. It may even been an unecessary one. I think we overestimate the strength of the mainstream's faith. We cannot overestimate the political strength of the whack job religious right. But the apathy of the majority (hate to sound like Nixon) may be more easily swayed simply by taking tactics that don't attack them as idiots but address this as a new paradigm whose time has come.



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