A response from Shermer

Over at HuffPo (where else?) Michael Shermer responds not only to my critique of his Templeton piece on the morality of capitalism, but to those of you who chimed in with comments. Go have a look, as I’m too busy to deal with all the market stuff.

He defends his participation in the Templeton enterprise, pointing out that they impose no restrictions on what he writes (though they’re surely glad he claimed that capitalism produces morality!), and that an earlier piece took apart the woo of Deepak Chopra.  Indeed, Shermer’s piece on Chopra was good. It’s just a pity that it was written for Templeton.

What Shermer fails to understand is that what I object to most about his writing for Templeton is not the capitalism-friendly content, but simply that he’s writing for Templeton.  How can somebody who’s a big name in the skeptic movement take money from an organization devoted to blurring the boundaries between faith and science?  All it does is enable the Templeton folks to list him as one of the species in their petting zoo.  If he wants to attack Chopra at HuffPo, more power to him. But of course they pay much less than Templeton—if they pay at all.

As for the rest, he argues that he really meant that the promoter of morality was not capitalism, but free trade which, he claims, leads to a set of rules that promote morality by enforcing fairness.  (Shermer’s arguments for trade promoting morality resemble Robert Wright’s arguments that inter-societal interactions promote religious morality and a kinder picture of God).

103 Comments

  1. Posted September 1, 2010 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Shermer -

    I think I made a mistake in mentioning “capitalism” at the beginning of the column on markets and morality, because…that word seems to set some people off into MichaelMoorish-like paroxysms of rage, engaging the limbic system full throttle and governing back the prefrontal cortex, resulting in red-faced, spittle-spewing tirades about Gordon Gekko and Bernie Madoff.

    And yet, he is replying to a blog post and comments on the blog post – so he really can’t know that any of them were red-faced, spittle-spewing tirades.

    That’s a minor point, but I think it’s characteristic of his style. I prefer more precision.

    • MrsCobb
      Posted September 1, 2010 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      I was wondering how he knew. I didn’t even post a comment on that one.

    • MosesZD
      Posted September 1, 2010 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      Why does he start with a contrived insult? His column was the problem. Not Michael Moore who, like most Americans is in favor of capitalism. What he wants is regulated capitalism which works and works well. Not lazziez-faire, exploitation capitalism that crushes countries and people and is far more inefficient in the delivery of goods and services than regulated capitalism.

      Mexico is so monopolized now, the Mexicans pay, on average, a 40% premium on good and services due to the lack of competition. One man, his name escaping me right now, literally owns almost half of the economy there.

      People who understand capitalism, also understand it does have flaws, like all human constructs. And the biggest flaws are unregulated situations leading to hands-off policies with cartels (oligopoly), duopoly and monopoly situations.

      • Friend of Icelos
        Posted September 1, 2010 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

        I believe the name you’re looking for is Carlos Slim.

  2. Posted September 1, 2010 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Shermer’s questionable libertarianism is both well-known and disappointing. (Much like Hitchens’ neocon leanings) It’s probably better to ignore it.

    As to the issue of writing for Templeton… I’m torn. On the one hand, you make an excellent point, that there is a contradiction in a skeptic taking money from Templeton. On the other hand, a) one could make an argument that skeptical Templeton-funded writing has the potential to dilute the normal Templeton tripe; and b) money is money, and if Templeton offered me some money, you damn well better believe I’d take it in this economy (though I would hope Shermer is doing well?)

    • Posted September 1, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      Shermer’s questionable libertarianism is both well-known and disappointing. (Much like Hitchens’ neocon leanings) It’s probably better to ignore it.

      As is Coyne’s and P.Z. Myers’s questionable progressivism – well-known and disappointing. Ignoring it, for the most part, is probably the best option.

      • Utakata
        Posted September 1, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

        I prefer questionable progressivism over questionable libertarianism anyday. I rather live in a society where everyone needs are met even if it’s not perfect, then that of a world that only just 5% whose needs are really met and screw everyone else.

        This why also I think Shermer’s views that capitalism makes a moral person is as laughable as Young Earth Creationist claim our Earth is only 6,000 years old. If this where true of the invisbile hand of the market, then why don’t many of us really see and experience its benefits?

        • Posted September 2, 2010 at 7:14 am | Permalink

          I rather live in a society where everyone needs are met even if it’s not perfect, then that of a world that only just 5% whose needs are really met and screw everyone else.

          Funny, that’s precisely why I support market capitalism over progressivism, which is but a pale cousin of one of the world’s best known systems for producing poverty: socialism.

          • Batman's Cowl
            Posted September 2, 2010 at 7:38 am | Permalink

            Indeed. The rampant poverty of those Scandinavian countries dabbling in socialism is a ghastly thing to behold. One has to wonder how they compare on income inequality and social mobility. Oh, wait…

          • Per
            Posted September 2, 2010 at 9:03 am | Permalink

            Yes indeed, sweden (one of the more social democratic countries in the world) is so horrible. The poverty! hm.. I wounder how we compare to the USA on wealth, heatlth, education, equality? oh wait..

            Libertarian practices (laissez-faire capitalism) has time and time again led to increase in poverty.

            • Posted September 2, 2010 at 9:49 am | Permalink

              Which is why Hong Kong, a place consistently rated as one of the most economically free on earth, experiences Haiti-like poverty. Oh, wait…

              You guys do know that the Scandinavian countries are overwhelmingly capitalist, right?

            • SRC
              Posted September 2, 2010 at 10:32 am | Permalink

              Yes, but Scandanavian countries have a strongly regulated capitalism. The argument is that regulation of markets is a real world tested hypothesis that is shown to work at least for large parts of the western world. The u.s. is one of (perhaps the) most libertarian capitalist market, and decidedly does not have superior markers of social or individual health, income equality, poverty levels, disease, etc.

              It is easy to hold on a pedastal some hypothetical free market libertarian system as curing all that ails society, but where is the evidence that libertarian policies outperform social democracies (which are, yes, still capitalistic societies despite what some right wing politicians would have you believe)?

            • MosesZD
              Posted September 2, 2010 at 10:34 am | Permalink

              It’s freedom to be exploited, tool. Anyone who thinks otherwise just drinks the buzz-word koolaid and ignores all the problems of Hong Kong’s cartel economy.

            • Per
              Posted September 2, 2010 at 10:40 am | Permalink

              Yes I know Sweden is not a socialist country (far from it, do not know of a country that is truly socialist). That is why I said social democratic. That is a wellfare state, with a large public sector and safety net, public education & health care etc. But overall sweden is a capitalist economy very similar to all other western countries.

              My point is just to refute the notion that socialist thinking and polices is leading to poverty when it is clearly the other way around.

            • Posted September 2, 2010 at 10:58 am | Permalink

              @MosesZD – Very mature of you to start calling me names. FYI, that’s usually a sign that you’ve lost the argument and therefore the only thing you have left is ad hominems.

              @Per – I’m not sure how you can disagree socialism produces poverty. There are dozens of cases. North Korea and Cuba, being two contemporary ones.

            • Per
              Posted September 2, 2010 at 11:07 am | Permalink

              @Robert
              It is true that brutal dictatorships is always(?) tied to a impoverished populations.

              But in what sense can you call these two countries socialist? I mean just because there sole party is named “the socialist party” does not make their policies socialist. Since all dictatorships are mostly ruled by terror and propaganda it should not suprise you that a dictatorships official policy is far from actual policy (much can be said for the democratic parties in USA and europe though :) )

    • llewelly
      Posted September 1, 2010 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

      If anyone has a critique of Shermer’s libertarianism, of Myer’s liberalism, of Hitchens playing fellow traveler to Neocons, or Coyne’s progressivism, they should voice it – especially if it’s strongly founded on reason and empiricism. Ignoring it is just a way of censuring your own critical thinking. You’ll note the four of the criticism each other where they disagree. Would either skepticism or atheism be better off if they were faceless mirrors of each other? I don’t think so.

  3. Posted September 1, 2010 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    I will not create an account at Huffpo to leave a second comment to Shermer. I’ll do it here as I like the place and hopefully he will come read the comments here.
    About his “Deepak Chopra’s God 2.0″ paper I commented on the use from the Templeton of the very same king of quantum flapdoodle Chopra use, financed via a Templeton Prize (2009, Bernard d’Espagnat) and promoted, say, by Ken Miller.
    As I learned, the hard way, that I should not trust Templeton’s people (hello Gary Rosen), I e-mailed a copy to Shermer. And I received a reply, starting by: “Good point! I think I agree.“.
    No reaction in the comments of the BQO (and now they are disabled while they refine their policies, no kidding) . You don’t bite the hand that feeds you, do you?
    I didn’t ignored his first column, but I did ignored his second one and I think I may ignore Shermer in general.

    Working for the JTF isn’t what I would consider a credential for anyone, rather a smear. Shermer is trying hard to prove me right.

  4. Posted September 1, 2010 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    I’m not terribly impressed with the response. Apparently he said “capitalism” when he meant “trade”, and seems to think that that was mostly bad because of the “MichaelMoorish” reactions it ignited. Right.

    He also says:

    The evolved psychology behind trade does, in fact, makes us better people.

    Sure, our evolved psychology that allowed for cooperation makes us better people, and allows for trade as well. But this is nowhere near the same as saying that trade makes us better people, like he claimed before, and which he equivocates back to later in his latest article.

    He brings up the example of New Guinea:

    Initially, peace was imposed upon the native New Guineans by fiat from the Western colonial government that ruled over the territory, but officials then insured continued peace by providing goods that the people needed, as well as the technologies to enable them to continue producing more resources on their own. In less than one generation, New Guinean hunter-gatherers who were fighting each other with stone tools were suddenly New Guinean consumer-traders operating computers, flying planes, and running their own small businesses.

    But from this description, the succsess could just as easily be credited to strong government intervention as to free market forces. That Shermer sees this as an example of the success of the free market, and doesn’t require further justification, just shows that it’s Shermer who has an ideology to sell, not his “MichaelMoorish” detractors.

    • Posted September 1, 2010 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      Can a strong market even exist without some sort of strong government? The state provides the infrastructure and stability that facilitates commerce and the creation of wealth.

      Look how poor the majority of people in failed states are.

      • Posted September 1, 2010 at 10:49 am | Permalink

        I would add “strong and fair” government, but yeah, I think a functioning government leads to good conditions for trade, not the other way around.

      • Michael Kingsford Gray
        Posted September 1, 2010 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

        Quite.
        Somalia is the Libertarians’ Paradise.
        Plenty of “trade”, but no government at all.
        I wager that Shermer will conveniently ignore this solid data-point.

      • SRC
        Posted September 2, 2010 at 10:40 am | Permalink

        This, I think, is too often overlooked in the arguments for (for example) progressive taxation and high taxes in general. The infrastructure (including roads, rules of engagement, security of liberty, security of wealth, security of health and property, sponsorship of science, rights of inheritance) provided by a strong government (not to mention tariffs and subsidies) are essential for the wealth generated by capitalism. Yet those same people who benefit from the security decry the taxes imposed on companies/the wealthy. As if their wealth would be greater if only the government/society did not set up all that physical and social infrastructure. As if decreasing poverty, increasing the middle class, eliminating the uncertainties of health care costs, do not in themselves benefit capitalism.

    • Posted September 1, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      But this is nowhere near the same as saying that trade makes us better people, like he claimed before, and which he equivocates back to later in his latest article.

      In his book on this topic, Shermer cites fMRI studies of what happens when strangers trade. “Dopamine…is released, which generates positive emotions and encourages repetition of the exchange behaviors.” (The specific study is “A Neural Basis for Social Cooperation,” by James Rilling et al in Neuron 35 (July 18, 2002): 395-404).

      But from this description, the succsess could just as easily be credited to strong government intervention as to free market forces.

      His point was about trade, not generally about free market forces. Shermer even states that right before the example. How’d you miss it?

      • Posted September 1, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

        “Dopamine…is released, which generates positive emotions and encourages repetition of the exchange behaviors.”

        I’m sure dopamine was released when the Wall Street bankers gambled with other people’s money and got rich of it. I’m sure it encouraged them to continue. What’s your point?

        His point was about trade, not generally about free market forces. Shermer even states that right before the example. How’d you miss it?

        Then why does he need to define not just trade, but also free trade, if it’s irrelevant to the argument? Yes, he’s pushing emphasizing “trade” now, but it was pretty obvious that his first article was meant as a defense of the free market system, and so is his book.

        • Posted September 2, 2010 at 7:24 am | Permalink

          I’m sure dopamine was released when the Wall Street bankers gambled with other people’s money and got rich of it.

          You’re sure, eh? So, then you’re a neural scientist who had hooked up the bankers to fMRI machines as they were “gambling”. Pretty impressive, I must say.

          Yes, he’s pushing emphasizing “trade” now, but it was pretty obvious that his first article was meant as a defense of the free market system, and so is his book.

          I happen to agree with you here. Shermer is equivocating, it seems to me, between simply trade and market capitalism. However, the former is the basis of the latter.

  5. Jounalmalist
    Posted September 1, 2010 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    If a notable skeptic puts his imprimatur of rationality on a woo-factory like Templeton in exchange for ka-ching, isn’t that evidence that money is a conduit for immorality?

    Also, “MichaelMoorish paroxyms of rage”? Does Shermer also get cash from Fox News? (As polemicists got, Moore is rather tame.)

    • Posted September 1, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      Er, money is a conduit of many things, as one might expect from a medium of exchange. Are you suggesting money is inherently immoral?

      Templeton could have conceivably paid Shermer in WEIT books. Would that have made WEIT inherently immoral?

      Goodness, some of the reasoning faculties on display here are not as solid as a fellow skeptic might hope.

      • MosesZD
        Posted September 1, 2010 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

        Well, as the biblical point out LOVE of money is the root of all evil. And while I don’t believe that truism in it’s entirety my twenty-plus years as a tax accountant, four years as a cop and two years as a federal agent have lead me to believe it’s damn big component.

  6. Posted September 1, 2010 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Oh, has anybody else wondered about this:

    By trade I just mean the exchange of ideas, products, or services between two or more people, and by free trade I just mean that people can engage in such exchanges without hindrance from third parties (thieves, thugs, highwaymen, bribe takers, tax collectors, and the like)– (emphasis mine)

    But isn’t bribery simply the free market of favors?

    • Josh Slocum
      Posted September 1, 2010 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      He really lumped in tax collectors with thugs, thieves, and bribe-takers? See, this is the kind of disproportionate lunacy that gives Libertarians a bad name.

      • Posted September 1, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

        Have you ever had to deal with the IRS?

        • Josh Slocum
          Posted September 1, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

          LOL!

        • MosesZD
          Posted September 1, 2010 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

          Over twenty years as a professional. The biggest problems in the taxpayer/IRS compliance field I’ve had have been with the clients, not the service.

          Simply put, in all my years of practice if I had the law and facts on my side, the service, with one rare exception, has always been a kitten. The one that wasn’t a kitten, well we got that resolved pretty damn fast when I called up the Branch Chief’s office and complained. She was fake nice and quite professional the rest of the audit.

          Anyway, the IRS has people. Some of them can be tetchy, as I related. But the experience I, and most CPAs I know that have heavy tax practices, had is that the clients are the vast bulk of the problem. They just cheat, refuse to comply with the law, comply with collections, then blame you for their cheating and whine like the little jerks they are when they have to pay the piper for their cheating/refusal to pay.

    • Posted September 1, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      I think more telling is the inclusion of tax collectors in the list of crooks. Someone who thinks “Atlas Shrugged” is a good model does not seem to appreciate the need for functioning government civilisation. Given the damage PFI and privatisation has done to social support services in Britain he merely re-inforces the image of Libertarians as those who believe in “devil take the hindmost”

      • Posted September 1, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

        I think more telling is the inclusion of tax collectors in the list of crooks.

        Tax collectors were included among a list of third-parties who hinder trade between individuals.

        Perhaps before jumping to conclusions you might read Shermer’s response.

        • Posted September 1, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

          Except that they don´t. They get much needed money to the government, which can then fund all the things that make trade possible. Like roads. Or property protection laws and the police force and courts to enforce them. You know, those sorts of trivialities.

          • Posted September 2, 2010 at 7:27 am | Permalink

            Er, sorry, yes they do. All things being equal, if you make something more expensive, there will be less of it.

        • Josh Slocum
          Posted September 1, 2010 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

          Robert, I think you’re being too generous to Shermer here. Given his widely known hard Libertarian background (he tells the story of having been a Rand acolyte in the past), his well-known Capital L Libertarian views, and the uncontroversial and widely known fact that many-and not a small minority- of Libertarians actually do think taxes are morally equivalent to theft. . .

          . . it’s a perfectly reasonable inference to draw from Shermer’s sentence.

          • MosesZD
            Posted September 1, 2010 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

            Many of them do call it theft. They’re quite clear that taxes are taken from them without permission. Ergo, theft.

            Not “like theft,” but theft.

      • MadScientist
        Posted September 1, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

        What are you talking about? Rand’s libertarianism is a philosophy of “devil take everyone else”.

    • Posted September 1, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      But isn’t bribery simply the free market of favors?

      Huh? According to several online legal dictionaries, bribery is “The offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of something of value for the purpose of influencing the action of an official in the discharge of his or her public or legal duties.”

      Yikes, is there any evil you won’t try to pin on the free market?

      • Posted September 1, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

        Is that so different from what I said? It’s a transaction. It’s trade – maybe not legal trade, but trade nonetheless. The action that is being paid for need not even be illegal (like granting a contract). Some people may even argue that a little grease here and there can make the government run more efficiently.

        The only reason bribery is illegal is because we have this silly notion that the government should serve everyone equally, instead of give preference to the highest bidder.

        • Microraptor
          Posted September 1, 2010 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

          Hmm, think I’ll have to go with the socialist option rather than libertarian one on that issue.

        • Posted September 2, 2010 at 7:34 am | Permalink

          I think you’re missing the part about bribery intended for “the purpose of influencing the action of an official in the discharge of his or her public or legal duties.”

          Sure, is bribery effectively “something for something”, i.e., trade? Yes. Is it a market transaction? No.

  7. Kevin
    Posted September 1, 2010 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    So, I hope someone has pointed out to Shermer that “trade” in the early days of the Colonies and the budding United States not only depended on slave labor, much of the trade WAS in slave labor.

    Moral, indeed.

    • Posted September 1, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      Irrelevant. It’s the act of trading that encourages the moral behavior, not what is traded.

      • Posted September 1, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

        No, it’s quite relevant. In the slavery example, immorality was amplified by the slave trade.

        • Posted September 1, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

          This appears to be the logic you’re defending. Correct me if I’m wrong.

          1) People trade things they shouldn’t.
          2) Such trade promotes (or amplifies) immorality.

          Therefore, trade is immoral.

          • ritebrother
            Posted September 1, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

            Fallacy of Composition. Problem with statement: Things that should not be traded do not comprise the whole set of what is traded.

          • Posted September 1, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

            You’re wrong. Trading that harms people does not create or encourage morality.

            You’re not very good at this, are you?

            • Marella
              Posted September 1, 2010 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

              Just because people trade things they shouldn’t doesn’t make trade evil. People farm things they shouldn’t, (marijuana, opium poppies) but that doesn’t make farming immoral.

            • Posted September 2, 2010 at 3:09 am | Permalink

              @Marella: we’re not saying trade is evil. We’re just saying trade doesn’t automatically lead to moral behavior, as this counterexample shows.

            • Posted September 2, 2010 at 8:18 am | Permalink

              Shermer’s contention is that trading encourages moral behavior. But the mere act of trading doesn’t answer what should or should not be traded. That is a seperate moral question.

              For example, should marijuana be tradable or not?

      • MosesZD
        Posted September 2, 2010 at 11:04 am | Permalink

        Since when is dopamine production is casually linked to morality? Seriously, psychopaths produce dopamine when they torture their victims. That’s hardly a moral thing to do…

        In fact, some psychologists at Vanderbilt, where my wife used to work, assert that excess dopamine production is a driver in some of the violence inherent in the illness — Joshua Buckholtz, who led the study said:

        “Psychopaths are often thought of as cold-blooded criminals who take what they want without thinking about consequences…We found that a hyper-reactive dopamine reward system may be the foundation for some of the most problematic behaviors associated with psychopathy, such as violent crime, recidivism and substance abuse…It may be that because of these exaggerated dopamine responses, once they focus on the chance to get a reward, psychopaths are unable to alter their attention until they get what they’re after.”

        So, if you’re going to claim dopamine creates morality, for which there is no casual link, then you’ve got to claim the rest, for which there is…

        And let’s not forget about cortisol production during trade. I notice neither you or Shermer talked about the psychological/emotional downsides of trade.

        Which is typical for kool-aid drinking libtards. Who, typically, only gin up the weakly related, highly-massaged positive, while they dismiss and hide the vastly larger, and better supported, negatives.

  8. Posted September 1, 2010 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    (Shermer’s arguments for trade promoting morality resemble Robert Wright’s arguments that inter-societal interactions promote religious morality and a kinder picture of God).

    It sounds more like he’s saying that being a trader makes you more moral in the same sense that being religious supposedly does. “If we’d just realize we are all God’s children/potential customers, we’d be more kind to one another”.

  9. Posted September 1, 2010 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Shermer: “that word seems to set some people off into MichaelMoorish-like paroxysms of rage, engaging the limbic system full throttle and governing back the prefrontal cortex, resulting in red-faced, spittle-spewing tirades about Gordon Gekko and Bernie Madoff.”

    Thanks for the strange insult, which describes no-one here nor Michael Moore very well.

    Shermer: “In fact, as I depict trade (especially in my book The Mind of the Market, which, curiously, few of my critics have actually read), it should be something embraced by all liberals because trade empowers individuals over corporate entities of all types (from governments and religions to actual corporations).”

    Yeah, like we’re going to bother reading it or any of your future ones now. Good job, dude — way to piss off your former fans.

    Would you care to buy your other books back from me? Or is it cavaet emptor, suckers?

    • MadScientist
      Posted September 1, 2010 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      I feel so empowered to fight Microsoft. Hooray for Trade! Is Shermer suggesting that some people have an option and may reject trade in whole? It’s true that some people have – we call them “hermits”. Some hermits still do some small amount of bartering with people though – so not all hermits avoid trade entirely.

      So trade has freed me from corporations, governments, and religions? That sounds crackpot to me.

      • llewelly
        Posted September 1, 2010 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

        MadScientist
        September 1, 2010 at 4:24 pm :

        I feel so empowered to fight Microsoft. Hooray for Trade!

        haha! In Mind of the Market, Microsoft is Shermer’s poster boy for how monopolies benefit consumers.

        • MosesZD
          Posted September 1, 2010 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

          Shermer really has drunk the koolaid. Freshman economics and the history of monopolies will tell you, quite clearly, that monopolies stifle innovation, degrade customer services and gouge customers.

          It’s the worst form of market structure which is why they have to be regulated. Maybe Shermer should have looked at ATT and wondered why we were significantly behind the Europeans and Japanese in Telecommunications from the 1960′s until the early 1990′s. It took 30 years to catch up to the world once the Justice Department started chipping away at ATT’s monopoly.

          Seriously, we were using rotary dial in our house until the mid-80′s, had to pay extra for touch-tone and my Uncle had a party line because he was rural small-town and ATT wouldn’t invest in the necessary upgrade.

          Once they broke ATT up, we got back on track. But until then, we were so not-first-world.

  10. Insightful Ape
    Posted September 1, 2010 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    I think PZ said it best once: Templeton is like a money laundering scam. While they do some legitimate and valuable work, most of what they do is mixing up religious doctrine and science, and trying to distort the debate by injecting huge volumes of cash. It almost feels like whatever legitimate work they do is just a front.
    Hence the metaphor.

    • Andy
      Posted September 1, 2010 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      Yes. In a very real sense, the legit work they do is, indeed, just a front. What they really want to do is cultivate the meme that religion and science are just “two different ways of knowing,” one not necessarily better than the other. The more people who come to believe this falsehood, the happier Templeton is. That’s why it’s so disappointing to see Shermer—a true warrior in defense of science—cashing their checks.

  11. Darrell E
    Posted September 1, 2010 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I don’t think that any rational person would disagree that trade, at least fair trade, generally promotes a better standard of living and can promote more peaceful relations between groups. Widening our “circle of inclusion” is certainly a very good thing for peaceful relations, and any kind of mutually beneficial interaction between groups seems to promote that.

    But, though I may not completely understand what Shermer is trying to say, it seems to me that he might be mixing up cause and effect with his “trade makes us more moral” arguments. And it would help if he more clearly defined some of his terms.

    “Capitalism promotes morality” and “trade promotes morality” don’t really seem all that different in the context of his arguments. It seems to me that you have to attach several conditionals onto either one for them to be at all accurate. What exactly does he mean by morality in this context? Is looking out for your own interests whether it is detrimental to others or not moral? Is abiding by only those rules that are typically enforced, but not the others if you can gain from it, moral? Does trade promote morality, or does morality promote trade? Is there a more complex relationship?

    In any case the claim that the characteristics that enable us to engage in trade are evolved, which seems to be one of his main points, is trivially true. But, determining just what those characteristics are and how they evolved is decidedly non trivial. In fact the conclusions that Shermer states regarding the studies he cites (in his first article) seem like the “just so” stories that Dennet warns about that are common in evolutionary psychology. For each one I could think of several plausible sounding alternative explanations, and he doesn’t say why his, or the researchers, explanation is any more likely to be true.

    • MadScientist
      Posted September 1, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

      It’s not just a matter of cause and effect – Shermer doesn’t seem to understand what “Free Trade” means. The wikipedia article isn’t worder very well in my opinion but it should give people an idea of what free trade is all about. At the core,free trade is about the minimization (I don’t know anyone who believes in ‘elimination’) of state policies which skew the markets. For example, high tariffs on imported goods for the protection of the local producers. Shermer seems to use Free Trade to mean whatever he wants it to – neither more nor less.

      • MosesZD
        Posted September 1, 2010 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

        I’ve noticed that lots of people don’t understand the differences between capitalism or free trade. People that should know better seeing as they make government policy or are held out as experts.

  12. Diane G.
    Posted September 1, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    How can somebody who’s a big name in the skeptic movement take money from an organization devoted to blurring the boundaries between faith and science?

    Because he can be bought.

    Which tells you all you need to know about morality’s relation to capitalism.

    • Posted September 1, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      LOL…talk about a non sequitar.

      • ritebrother
        Posted September 1, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

        Sequitur

  13. justsearching
    Posted September 1, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    I think some of the species at the Templeton Petting Zoo would make great fossils. You know, the sort of creatures that are fascinating and bizarre, but are ones that you’d rather not have in your own day and age.

    • MadScientist
      Posted September 1, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

      I wonder if the Mooney exhibit is right next to the Shermer exhibit …

      • Josh Slocum
        Posted September 1, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

        It is, and it’s flanked on the other side by a nearly perfectly preserved shale impression of Matt Nisbet’s hair.

  14. flea
    Posted September 1, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    “How can somebody who’s a big name in the skeptic movement take money from an organization devoted to blurring the boundaries between faith and science?”
    1. Because principles are cheap.MISERY
    2. Because you never have enough money.GREED
    3. Because it reinforces your belief that you are a better skeptic than anybody else. VANITY
    4. Because you have never played Monopoly. IGNORANCE

  15. Jonn Mero
    Posted September 1, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Huh.
    A prostitute is a prostitute is a prostitute.
    Rich clients?
    Still a prostitute!

    • Posted September 1, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      Nah! for rich clients, really rich ones, you don’t say prostitute.

      Call Sceptic may do, what do you think?

  16. NewEnglandBob
    Posted September 1, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    I never cared for his writings and will ignore them in the future.

  17. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted September 1, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Shermer is on record with this: “Rational atheism values the truths of science and the power of reason, but the principle of freedom stands above both science and religion.
    (Scientific American, September 2007.)

    No thanks, I do not want scientific truth to be subservient to any ideology, even one I agree with.

    • Posted September 1, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      How is freedom an ideology? I always figured it was a value.

      • Badger3k
        Posted September 1, 2010 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

        I think in Shermer’s case he is going towards the “freedom = Libert(arian)y” bit.

        • Posted September 2, 2010 at 8:20 am | Permalink

          Ok, then. What is your definition of freedom?

  18. gillt
    Posted September 1, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Meh, Shermer’s only making a case for primitive forms of commerce and trade (bartering, farmers markets, etc.) That’s the real reason why he had to take back the capitalism remark.

    • Notagod
      Posted September 2, 2010 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

      Ah, he totally miss his chance to make a word ctradelism.

      • Notagod
        Posted September 2, 2010 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

        More accurately would maybe be:

        cFree tradelism

  19. MadScientist
    Posted September 1, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Free trade promotes morality? Goddamn – I must have interpreted the evidence incorrectly. Here I was thinking that Free Trade was an economic issue independent of morality . On top of that, free trade also allowed for the import of poor quality or even dangerous products and moral outrage from consumers (among other things) drives further regulation in the trade of some goods. Nor was free trade essential for that; even in the bad old days with substantial trade restrictions even between states, consumer protection groups came about largely because of the lack of morality.

    I suspect Shermer really meant “capitalism” when he wrote it and not “free trade” as he now claims. If he genuinely means “free trade” then he seems to be using a definition which differs from an economist’s definition.

    I wonder if he’s addressed the issue that many have brought up about selecting information to boost his argument and conveniently ignoring the far greater pool of information which does not agree with him. Somehow I doubt it.

    I guess to Shermer all money is the same color. I’m sure that somehow, writing for Templeton increases morality.

    • MadScientist
      Posted September 1, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      I forgot to write that I think Shermer’s argument that Capitalism (or Free Trade – whichever one he wishes to use at his convenience) promotes morality is akin to claiming that exposing a person to diseases promotes a healthier body.

      • Michael Kingsford Gray
        Posted September 1, 2010 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

        Vaccinations are one example of such a thing.

        • Notagod
          Posted September 2, 2010 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

          Which work because the effect is regulated.

    • Posted September 2, 2010 at 8:33 am | Permalink

      Free trade promotes morality? Goddamn – I must have interpreted the evidence incorrectly.

      What evidence were you looking it?

      Shermer’s contention is that when people trade, chemicals are released in the brain which encourage cooperative behavior, feelings of trust, and reduction of the incidence of aggressive behavior. A battery of studies not just on humans support this claim.

      Here I was thinking that Free Trade was an economic issue independent of morality.

      Well, you thought wrong.

      On top of that, free trade also allowed for the import of poor quality or even dangerous products and moral outrage from consumers (among other things) drives further regulation in the trade of some goods.

      What is traded is a different question than the effects of trade itself. You’re falsely conflating the two.

      If he genuinely means “free trade” then he seems to be using a definition which differs from an economist’s definition.

      What is the economist’s definition as you understand it?

      • Notagod
        Posted September 2, 2010 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

        How do you read this from MadScientist:

        On top of that, free trade also allowed for the import of poor quality or even dangerous products and moral outrage from consumers (among other things) drives further regulation in the trade of some goods.

        And propose this as a meaningful response:

        What is traded is a different question than the effects of trade itself. You’re falsely conflating the two.

        ??

        And of course, the morality caused by chemicals was demolished by MosesZD at the end? of 7 above.

        • Posted September 3, 2010 at 7:48 am | Permalink

          @Notagod

          Say you’re the seller of a product most, but not all, people find morally repugnant. I, however, don’t find the product morally repugnant, and so I purchase it from you. Our exchange fosters a host of moral virtues, e.g., trust.

          Nonetheless, our fellow citizens outlaw the product in question, perhaps because they feel it has too many negative externalities.

          The point is, the trade between us produces a specific result quite apart from the impact of the trade on others our on our environment.

          And of course, the morality caused by chemicals was demolished by MosesZD at the end? of 7 above.

          MosesZD’s argument, was, frankly, laughably ignorant. It was a reductionist strawman that completely failed to understand the claim. Feel free to read my post in 4. above.

          • Notagod
            Posted September 3, 2010 at 8:31 am | Permalink

            Yes, you have already established your ability to string a set of words (re: Sarah Palin). I was questioning the relevance.

            • Posted September 3, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

              It appeared to me you were disatisfied with my response to MadScientist, suggesting it was meaningless.

              I’m sorry you didn’t find my clarification any better, but is that any reason to launch a personal attack? It’s an unfortunate tendency I’m finding all-too-common among the visitors to this blog.

  20. David Leech
    Posted September 1, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    This is great isn’t it. When the forces of religion, irrationality and ideology stalk the world like a..well erm giant stalking thing. We argue amongst are selves as in who is a Judas, traitor and sell out. Far be it from me to point out that atheists, anti-theist, free thinkers, scientist and humanist might actually have opinions that differ from one another. When religion actually collapses from it’s own stupidity I’m sure it will give us another reason to fight amongst ourselves just to take the credit for it’s marginalisation in society. Luckily our only weapons are words and the only hurt we do is to feeling. So it’s all good in the end.

    When we stand on mount victory then the tar and feather brigade can point the finger at who ever they want, though they will get no traction from me. My dislike of the Templeton and the Huffpost is equal to anyone with a brain but there’s a difference between writing articles that square science and faith and showing the woo merchants up

    • MadScientist
      Posted September 1, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      Religion does not collapse under its own stupidity, as over 2000 years of history attest. As I see it, Jerry’s only saying people shouldn’t associate themselves with Templeton because their game all along is to attract people who may be viewed as skeptic/scientist/godless to use them as puppets to prop up their claims about the compatibility of science and religion. They’re nothing but the Alveda King in the Glenn Beck rally – only there to show “some of my best friends are black/skeptic/scientist/godless”.

      • David Leech
        Posted September 1, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

        Religion does not collapse under its own stupidity, as over 2000 years of history attest.

        Though that is 2000 years before the internet and global knowledge existed. I do believe things are different now even if I’m speaking from a Western perspective.

        As I see it, Jerry’s only saying people shouldn’t associate themselves with Templeton because their game all along is to attract people who may be viewed as skeptic/scientist/godless to use them as puppets to prop up their claims about the compatibility of science and religion.

        Up to a point I agree with that principle but the vitriol thrown at people who don’t adhere to my/your principle is a bit disconcerting.

        They’re nothing but the Alveda King in the Glenn Beck rally – only there to show “some of my best friends are black/skeptic/scientist/godless”.

        I had to google Alveda King but the mention of Glen Beck I sort of knew it what was coming. Lets face it MLK’s opponents could have thrown the bible right back at him, not only for civil rights but justified slavery itself. He was playing bluff poker with his opponents ignorance of the bible and he won. His niece is obviously an idiot. To compare her with Michael Stermer is to say the least disingenuous.

        It’s not as thought I’m agreeing with Stermer’s article I’m not though trade in the olden days would of meant meeting face to face and if you value your trade it would have made sense to learn all about your customer/supplier. Which would have made for better understanding between nations, I’m a lefty myself and the word capitalist gets my heckles up but when I see comments like I’m never going to read anything by him again, well that’s just stupid and self defeating.

        • llewelly
          Posted September 2, 2010 at 7:54 am | Permalink

          Lets face it MLK’s opponents could have thrown the bible right back at him, not only for civil rights but justified slavery itself.

          And in fact they did. Not only that, if one granted them the assumption that the bible was the Word of God, many of their arguments were better reasoned than MLK’s. But MLK and his allies had more persistence, and more rhetorical skill. And they dragged Christianity (half of it kicking and screaming) farther and farther away from its biblical roots.

  21. Agustin
    Posted September 1, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    $hermer’s prolific bibliographical production:

    2002: “The borderlands of science: where science meets nonsense”
    2005: “Science friction: where the known meets the unknown”
    2010: “The Templeton Foundation: where ignorance meets money”

  22. llewelly
    Posted September 1, 2010 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    Although I disagree with about half of Shermer’s views, and I can’t recommend Mind of the Market, it differs from Shermer’s earlier writing on capitalism in two crucial ways: (a) It argues in favor of more kinds of restrictions on trade, and (b) it cites peer-reviewed evidence that goes some way (but not very far) toward supporting his positions. It continues Shermer’s slow (20 year) trend away from Objectivism, through large (L) Libertarianism and on to small (l) libertarianism.
    I don’t think Shermer’s actual views on capitalism hold up very well. Mind of the Market, despite advocating some important restrictions on businesses, still argues that monopolies are often good for consumers, and in favor of some of the financial structures that contributed to the recent economic meltdown. But some of his critics are as guilty of burning strawmen as he is.
    (Furthermore, despite their advocacy of her writing, Ayn Rand attacked Libertarians as rabidly as Fred Phelps attacks liberal Christians. And she would probably have hated Pam Geller, even though they have some things in common.)
    (None of the foregoing as anything to do with whether a skeptic ought to write for the Templeton foundation; an organization that works to make faith appear compatible with science remains inherently hostile to skepticism whether Shermer is a big (L) Libertarian or a small (l) libertarian.)

  23. JBlilie
    Posted September 2, 2010 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    He’s been following Matt Ridley a bit too slavishly.

  24. Hitch
    Posted September 2, 2010 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    I think Shermer yelling at Kroto pretty much gives a window into the psychology of “no influence” on the topic of Templeton.

    There are two factors.

    One is selection bias. Templeton simply needs to favor funding people who they know have a track record doing the kind of stuff they like.

    The other is that money does have influence, even if not overt or expressed.

    Here is how to show this scientifically. Look at all funding given by Templeton and compare it to the outcome. Also compare it to the likelihood of the people funded speaking against criticism of religion, specifically by gnu atheists.

    Just casual observation gives a good indication of what the outcome will be, but it should be done in earnest, so there is no question that there is bias, even if individuals don’t perceive it. That, after all is actual skepticism.

  25. Posted September 8, 2010 at 3:30 am | Permalink

    Shermer reposted this same response on skepticblog. There is no indication he is aware that this post and this thread exists. Either that, or he’s ignoring it. There’s quite a few comments here that he could have used to clarify his opinion further.

    • Beelzebud
      Posted September 8, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      His preferred mode of communication seems to be the monologue. He’s posted at skepticblog for years, and I don’t remember one time he ever replied to any comments on his posts.

      He lost me completely in 2008 when he penned the article called “Regulation Schmegulation” at skepticblog, where he declared that the economic collapse was because we hadn’t de-regulated the market enough. It was then that I knew he wasn’t any sort of skeptic, or critical thinker at all. If you want to see how bad he truly is, give it a read:

      http://skepticblog.org/2008/12/09/regulation-schmegulation/

  26. Posted September 19, 2010 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    “Singing Hymns to Gravity”

    Stephen Hawking has been talking,
    Hawking Faith in what’s unseen;
    Rub the lamp and there you have it!
    We can see just what he means!

    Yep, no Deity is needed,
    Nope, now God need not apply.
    Church of Po-Mo Speculation:
    “Just So” stories in the sky.

    Humanism’s same ol’ same ol’,
    Trace it back to Babel’s Tow’r….
    Scientism’s Holy Temple,
    Deconstruction’s finest hour.

    continued….http://www.tomgraffagnino.com/singing-hymns-to-gravity/


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