I love The Good Place. In addition to being a hilarious sitcom about the misadventures of flawed people in a morally dubious afterlife, it is also a clever reflection on moral philosophy. What is astonishing, though, is that the show has a better handle on understanding the limits of universalist moral philosophies than many of the secular humanists who have put forward claims for “scientific” morality.
Before I get to my main topic today, I’d like to address a couple of odds and ends. First, I am aware that the Daily Grail reported today that fringe archaeology writers Robert Schoch and Robert Bauval have published a new article on the Sphinx in a pay-for-play open access Chinese academic journal. I am reading the piece, but it’s going to take me another day or so to digest it and decide what I think. I hope to have some thoughts about it tomorrow.
Michael Shermer Publishes Journal Article Promoting "Enlightenment Humanism," But Overlooks Basic Philosophy 101 Concepts
This week, Skeptic magazine publisher Michael Shermer promoted an article he published in Theology and Science (full text here) which constitutes a “manifesto” for “Enlightenment humanism.” The article is an extension of Shermer’s ongoing quest to universalize his own preferences and to argue that the traditional (read: midcentury) American values of his childhood are somehow encoded into the fabric of the universe.
Remember how I said that so much “new” fringe history content is really reposted material from the last few years? The Express took the cake this weekend when they published an article on the Piri Reis Map that simply summarized Erich von Däniken’s chapter on it from Chariots of the Gods, complete with quotations from that volume. That book was published half a century ago. In what world is that news? To this, they added a video of Graham Hancock discussing the map, and that video was an excerpt from the 1996 NBC special The Mysterious Origins of Man, more than two decades ago!
Massimo Pigliucci Advocates for Virtue Epistemology in Skepticism, Seems to Accidentally Justify Using Ad Hominem Attacks
Since I discussed some of the articles on skepticism in the current issue of the Skeptical Inquirer yesterday, I thought it was worthwhile to mention one more, which I saved for a separate post because, while it is on a similar topic, its approach is very different. Philosopher Massimo Pigliucci has a piece on virtue ethics in skepticism and asks whether skeptics should be experts in the topics they discuss. It’s an interesting argument, and I think one that skeptics as a group need to come to terms with, but which Pigliucci fails to take to its logical conclusions in a couple of different directions.
"Skeptical Inquirer" Tries to Defend Scientific Skepticism, Slides into Secular Humanist and Atheist Political Advocacy
Over the years, I have been critical of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP) and its parent organization, the Center for Free Inquiry. As a result of the particular interests of its founding generation, notably philosopher Paul Kurtz, CSI has routinely conflated scientific skepticism with secular humanism, going so far as to ostracize those who aren’t atheists from the skeptical movement. This tendency will only grow worse now that CFI has officially merged with the Richard Dawkins Foundation, another group that is officially dedicated to science and reason but is informally an atheist advocacy group. I think that it is a mistake to claim skepticism as a cadet branch of atheism.
In the current edition of Skeptical Inquirer I was pleased to find that I received a mention from Robert Sheaffer in his regular UFO column, citing my discussion of the many failures of Jacques Vallée and Chris Aubeck’s Wonders in the Sky (2009) in advance of the new edition that the wealthy Vallée asked his readers to fund for him. The same edition (July/August 2016) also contains the results of a reader survey that the magazine sent out to a random selection of its readership. Skeptical Inquirer’s statement of ownership and circulation late last year listed a total circulation of 24,672. The magazine sent out 3,000 surveys and received 549 responses. There is, of course, a good chance that the survey over-represented older readers based on who took the time to fill out the lengthy 39-question survey, but the results seem to be generally in line with what I already knew about the audience for science-oriented material of any kind.
In the darkest days of the year (in the northern hemisphere, at least), when sunlight is at a premium, it can be easy to despair at the sad state of the world. Consider, for example, the fact that Paul Seaburn at Mysterious Universe got duped by a very obvious hoax and reported that a Sumerian cuneiform tablet shaped exactly like a decade-old cellphone had been found in Austria. This hoax has been circulating since at least 2012 (originating, apparently, on a now-defunct Facebook page), but Seaburn breathlessly reports on it as though it were (a) legitimate and (b) something that just happened, giving only lip service to the possibility of a hoax at the very end of his Weekly World News-style report. That’s par for the course with fringe folk, who don’t care about facts or details as long as a claim supports their fantasy.
Professor: Donald Trump Uses "Strategic" Misinformation That Funnels Conspiracies into the Mainstream
In an article in the Washington Post the other day, Paul Farhi explored how Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner for the party’s presidential nomination, is helping conspiracies theories and fringe ideas enter into the mainstream by engaging in uncritical repetition of bad ideas from unreliable internet sources. Prof. Jeffery Hemsley of Syracuse University told Farhi that Trump engages in “strategic” misinformation in order to reflect back to ignorant and biased voters the bad ideas they already believe (or are primed to believe) are true:
I know that I’ve been rather harsh on Micah Hanks’s articles whenever I’ve read them, but one of the reasons for this is that Hanks, the self-described “Mouth of the South” and host of the Graelian Report, consistently casts himself as a researcher of a much higher caliber than he has ever proved himself to be. He also fancies himself to be a much better writer than he has ever proved himself to be. (Disclosure: In April I agreed to his producer’s request for me to go on his radio show to “debate” skepticism and Fortean phenomena, but they never had me on.)
But I come here today to agree with Hanks, though not quite in the way he would like.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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