Interviews of Prominent People
DOTT POLITICAL TALK
Meet the People You Admire the Most,
AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
DR. MICHAEL SHERMER
Director of Skeptic
Author, Publisher, Columnist, TV producer
Dott Clarke Koch: In your opinion, Dr. Shermer, does God, as the Christian usually portrays such an entity, exist? I am talking about a father, a man in a white sheet, a man with long hair, or an internal conscience emanating with guilt.
Dr. Michael Shermer: No. Although I cannot prove such a deity does not exist (one cannot prove a negative), at this point I would be shocked beyond belief if it turned out there was such a God. On the other hand, there is overwhelming evidence that gods and religions are human constructions, socially embedded in their epoch and civilization, bound to the generations in which they are found. The number one predictor of religious beliefs of an individual is that of the parents and culture of an individual. In the last ten thousand years of human history there have been over 10,000 different religions and 10,000 different gods. If it turned out that one of those ten thousand religions (Christianity) just happened to be the one true religion and all others false religions, I would be equally shocked beyond belief. A much more likely scenario is that they are all human constructions.
Koch: Is it possible that this entity called God, down through the ages, is a figment of the imagination of man used as a control mechanism to gain power over segments of the population? If true, why have individuals felt the need to enslave groups in this manner? Is this human characteristic a genetic trait that has continued to flow downward?
Shermer: The enslavement of people, like other abuses of civil liberties, is not restricted to religion; states are equally guilty. But worst of all is when religion is wedded to the power of the state to enforce its particular prejudices. The problem is not religion per se; the problem is extremism of any kind. While there are some examples of secular extremism of enormous proportion (Marxist ideologies found in China and the former Soviet Union), most are of the minor sort found in cults in various kinds. Much more destructive historically, however, are religious extremist. Nothing drives people to commit more extreme acts than religion.
Koch: Do you see the use of and belief in God in our society as a drawback to progress in the modern world?
Shermer: In some ways, yes, in other ways, no. Religion does many fine things, such as helping the poor and needy and acting as a safety net for people who cannot, for whatever reason, quite make it on their own. In this regard, religion is far better than government, whose welfare programs have been nothing short of disastrous the past century. On the other hand, religion is holding us back from fully embracing the Enlightenment values upon which this country was founded, in which it is held that certain values are to be applied and respected regardless of what god one believes in or what religion one adheres to, or even if one does not believe in any god or adheres to any religion. The values stand in and of themselves by virtue of a social contract.
Koch: Does the future hold a more secular, rational view of the world and less belief in superstition and things unseen? Is it possible in our lifetime for society to remove itself from the fantasy world of make-believe gods and devils and embrace science, releasing mass energy that promotes an enlightening period of development?
Shermer: The long-term future is moving in this direction, particularly in the industrial west where liberal democracy and free markets are applied; unfortunately, far too many places in the world are still practicing theocracies, and it is here where we continue to find extreme abuses of civil liberties, slavery, the (mis)treatment of women and children as little more than chattel, civil wars, revolutions, and social upheaval, lack of education, destruction of the environment, etc. In the long run the world would be a much better place if church and state were wholly divorced and the wall separating them made of bulletproof steel. Wedding church and state is bad for the church and bad for the state. The future survival of the species, and all species, will depend on giving people the freedom to worship as they please, and to not worship at all if they also so please.
|This article was first