Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Michael Shermer, New Atheism and Hypocrisy

[I admit I am late to this topic. I am a busy person with little time to read People magazine. But I am addressing now only having recently found out about the indecent behavior of one of New Atheism’s ‘saints,’ Michael Shermer.]

If there is one thing you can count on people to be, it’s a hypocrite. It doesn’t matter if a person is Black, White, Asian, American, European, theist, agnostic or atheist. At some point, people turn their back on what they say they believe and demonstrate what they really think. Case in point: Noted author and founder of Skeptic magazine, Michael Shermer.

Although Michael Shermer is not one of the Four Horsemen of atheism, he is nonetheless highly respected among (most) New Atheists for his contributions to rational thought. But as any of us know who have ever had more alcohol to drink than we probably should have, rational thought and alcohol do not mix. Since mid-2008, Michael Shermer has been on the receiving end of numerous allegations of sexual misconduct (to put it politely) at several conventions across the U.S. While there is no hard evidence to hold Shermer legally accountable – no pun intended – there is enough testimony from several sources considered reliable to indicate that Michael Shermer has a problem with his libido. Along with the evidence, what is also missing is the outrage from the atheist community.

A timeline of Shermer’s misconduct can be found here on freethoughtblog.com. Note that in September 2008, another well-respect atheist DJ Grothe intervenes to stop Shermer from fondling a woman’s breasts. He had (apparently) recanted this sordid story many times before denying it in 2014. Why? Perhaps he is trying to protect a friend from allegations that didn’t go so far as to be out of hand, in Grothe’s estimation. But then note what the highly respected James Randi said about Shermer in late 2014: Shermer has been a bad boy on occasion — I do know that[.] I have told him that if I get many more complaints from people I have reason to believe, that I am going to have to limit his attendance at the conference. His reply, […] is he had a bit too much to drink and he doesn’t remember. I don’t know — I’ve never been drunk in my life. It’s an unfortunate thing … I haven’t seen him doing that. But I get the word from people in the organization that he has to be under better control. If he had gotten violent, I’d have him out of there immediately. I’ve just heard that he misbehaved himself with the women, which I guess is what men do when they are drunk.

There is something very strange about Randi’s statement and I don’t mean that it sounds untruthful; Randi recognizes that there is some kind of problem with Shermer at conferences but fails to ascent to the requisite outrage. Ah, but so does the New Atheist community who for so long has claimed the moral high ground over theistic institutions such as the Catholic Church that has for decades covered up sexual abuse by priests. I’m not drawing an analogy here, I’m making a direct comparison. Why is Shermer getting a pass, because he is ‘one of our own’ to atheists? That’s not rational and it is exactly the kind of behavior atheists have long rebuked the Catholic Church for. In other words, atheists that defend Shermer while believing in any kind of moral objectivity – as many New Atheists do – are hypocrites.

While Shermer has written about the evolutionary roots of our morality, I can’t be in Shermer’s head to know exactly his thoughts on morality. I do highly doubt he believes in moral objectivity himself. If he did, he must acknowledge that this morality becomes faulty in the presence of alcohol or is otherwise somehow able to conveniently justify his behavior. But what’s worse is that the rest of the New Atheist community ignores Shermer’s behavior as well and it’s not hard to tell why; if they do acknowledge Shermer’s conduct, then the argument from atheists about how terribly theists behave is weakened. If the New Atheist community really wants to be the paradigm of virtue and morality for the future, they need to have the strength of their alleged convictions. Shermer’s behavior is not okay. But it’s worse to ignore it altogether.

[Adam Lee wrote about The Wall of Silence Around Michael Shermer quite eloquently. Here is a link to that patheos.com article.]


LewLorton said...

In this sentence "He had (apparently) recanted this sordid story many times before denying it in 2014." you use the word recant which means 'ean to withdraw one's word or professed belief. abjure implies a firm rejecting or abandoning often made under oath' when you probably mean 'recounted'

theoryparker said...

Correction noted. Thank you.