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Michael Shermer on Evolution, I.D. Theory, Consciousness, Morality, Gullibility, and Nothing (AMA # 7)

In this AMA Dr. Shermer answers questions from listeners about evolution and creationism, intelligent design theory, the hard problem of consciousness, the origins of morality, how science deals with anomalies, to what extent humans are naturally rational or irrational / skeptical or gullible, and why there is something rather than nothing.

Rick Leyland: I enjoyed your recent interview with Dr. Meyer regarding his book The God Hypothesis. In the interview both of you referred to ‘the Mind’. My question is whether a mind can exist without a brain? Does ‘the Mind’ require a physical structure (the brain) in order for thoughts, ideas, emotions etc. to be formed? Dr. Meyer in the later part of your interview stated: ‘Minds think ideas’. Isn’t it the physical structure of the brain that produces ideas? I find this nebulous word ‘mind’ to be similar as in stating we ‘feel in our heart’. Thanks again for your wonderful and thoughtful podcasts.

Joe Simonetta: If one believes there is “intelligent design” to life like your guest, Stephen Meyer, why would one refer to the “designer” as a “god?” Especially a god conceived in our own image. Quite an anthropocentric leap. One can understand that kind of thinking thousands of years ago, in the infancy of our intelligence, in the formative years of religions before the Scientific Revolution, Enlightenment, and Age of Reason. But today?! If some kind of “intelligent thing” created life so very long ago, that thing could just as well have been what we call a “computer” or something along those lines. Or by a computer created by a computer created by a computer ad infinitum in a limitless universe.

Rick Dixon: Vis-a-vis Shermer’s Last Law, what would be a reasonable estimate as to how advanced some ETIs would be, based on age of universe, star formation … 5 billion, 8 billion years in our technological future?

Wade in Cape Town, South Africa: In one of the Big Think videos you spoke about life after death and you asked how does anyone know the where they’ll go after death? Convince me that I can trust your word over God’s.

Dave Alit: I had a “born again” experience 7 years ago and I am 41 now, and I am coming to believe that it is possible that my brain manufactured it due to belief along with “coincidence”, and while I do not fully comprehend what “coincidence” means, I am fairly certain that it probably isn’t God now. So, that being said, could you please tell me what happened to you when you were “born again” when you were younger? What exactly happened to you that made you believe God had regenerated you and all that fluff?

Rick Leyland: If we cannot conclusively detect a “super-natural agent” using any of our senses, can we then concluded that the agent is non-existent? In other words, does undetectable equal non-existent? Or, if it is undetectable how do we know it exists? A related query, if the outcome of an event is the same whether a super-natural agent exists or does not exist, then is it valid to conclude the super-natural agent does not exist?

Raphael Pallais: Would you deny that the only possible rational hypothesis about “something” is that it came from “nothing”? Nothing is the absolute negativity. It reaches the point of denying itself — something (“being”) comes about. Thus, from that point on, the universe is the ever-developing conflict between nothingness and somethingness.

Randall Akers, Santa Clarita CA: Have you found any evidence to an evolutionary or societal benefit to believing that which is demonstrably false. In other words, are there situations where belief is superior to knowledge as a survival strategy? Not just in the theoretical ‘tiger in the tall grass’ scenario.

Paul Smith, Australia: You have mentioned in a few podcasts that when Mormon women are asked they frequently respond that they like being a ‘sister wife’. Your rejoinder to this is along the lines of ‘how could they know, they have been embedded in this way of life forever. They have no experience of monogamy to compare it with.’ My question, ‘Is the same not true in reverse?’ That is, how can people embedded in a monogamous environment for their entire lives know that their way is better?

Donald W. Salter, Coon Valley, WI: How can we get the majority of US citizens to be more scientifically literate so that we as a country can move forward easily? It seems to me that if we had a pool of scientists with varying expertises to freely advise our elected local, state and federal officials, then said officials would make intelligent statements regarding anything scientific. How can we do this?

Abel: My wife recently had a “reading” with a medium. She swears that she was told some things that she couldn’t know. My wife believes in this, how do I go about explaining to her that it’s not true? She’s thinks I’m just very negative.

Joan Rose: What compels a seemingly skeptical person who must apply reason and evidence in every aspect of their professional life order to execute their profession successfully (i.e., doctor, attorney, scientist, anthropologist, etc.) to suspend this very same skepticism and reason beyond all given evidence in order support religious doctrine (Abrahamic religions specifically) at all cost? I am perplexed.

Dan Belden: What would you suggest the secular humanist’s approach might be to counter the Right Wing Male (Females too) White Evangelicals interference that has turn the clock back on humanitarian progress (too many to name)?

Bill Stepp: Where do you go for your political news? So much of the media is biased one way or another. How can I do my own unbiased analysis of political issues? How do you do this?

Daniel Malkin: What proof of aliens would convince you? Aren’t you worried that you’re so convinced of their non-existence, that even if crisp images appear, you’ll say it’s CGI, and if an aliens addressed the nation on live tv, you’d say it’s an actor in a suit?

Dionisios Efkarpidis: What exactly is the process of evolution and natural selection, meaning, is it tied to a specific force of nature like electromagnetism or strong force? Or is it some invisible force without agency that operates? Same goes with emergence and even memes. What exactly is it, a force that affects, like gravity? I am confused as to what all of this means, especially emergence and memes. Are memes real things or just invisible terms we create to make sense of actions between objects that haven’t any physical representation? Is emergence a field energy between states we can’t measure? Seems like there’s a lot of invisible forces, or whatever they are at work.

Richard Audet: Currently anti-vaxxers are spreading astounding lies on social media about the COVID-19 vaccines. Their lies are persuading people to not get vaccinated and take on enormous risk. Many will get sick and some will die due to following anti-vaxxers advice. Is there any-way (in the U.S. context) of holding them liable for the harm they cause?

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This episode is sponsored by Wondrium

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This episode was released on August 18, 2021.

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