Jerry Coyne on Michael Shermer

The Templeton Foundation has two major goals, promoting capitalism and blurring the line between science and faith. So it’s hardly surprising that their Big Questions online magazine would publish an article claiming that capitalism is an important source of human morality.  And it’s not thatsurprising that they’d also claim an evolutionary basis for this wonderfully fortuitous and Gekko-ish conjunction of greed and ethics.

What is surprising is that the argument is made by Michael Shermer.

Shermer is a well known—and well respected (including by me)—skeptic, author of several good books (Why Darwin Matters, Why People Believe Weird Things), columnist for Scientific American, and publisher of Skeptic magazine.  So it’s really, really sad to see him pushing the Templeton Thesis on the Templeton website.  Templeton is, after all, devoted to effacing the demarcation between science and woo, a demarcation that Shermer has vigorously defended for years.  And it’s disturbing to see him once again in the pay of the Templeton machine, making an argument that, while supporting their mission, seems pretty thin.

It’s really annoying to hear a scientist I respect paint another skeptic with such a broad brush over his economic viewpoint.

Michael Shermer is every bit as open about his libertarianism as he is about his skepticism. So I could understand liberal skeptics getting a little defensive when they see his economic musings in a Templeton publication. But it seems Jerry Coyne here is stopping short of calling Shermer a sell-out, based on that one article alone… while completely ignoring Shermer’s first article for Big Questions, which was highly critical of religion in science and the new-agey woo woo peddled by the likes of Deepak Chopra.

Shermer hasn’t sold out. He just has a different perspective of the market. One that, in my opinion, is a lot less naive and wasteful than the standard liberal view, but still. If skeptics on either side of the political spectrum start ostracizing other skeptics just because of their personal politics (which have no scientific justification), what hope is there of successfully spreading skepticism?

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