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Michael Shermer on Why Even Scientists, Transhumanists, and Atheists Want To Believe in Heaven: Podcast

One of the world's top skeptics of religion casts a cold eye on secular attempts to create utopia and immortality.

In Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia, Michael Shermer seeks to explain why so many of us are deeply invested in the idea of a world beyond the one we're already living in. Shermer isn't just talking about religious believers. He also chronicles the ways socialists and others have tried to create paradise now, and the obsessions of transhumanists trying to create a secular version of immortality.

One of the world's best-known "skeptics," Shermer teaches at Chapman University, is the publisher of Skeptic magazine, writes a column for Scientific American, and has penned a shelf of best-selling books on such subjects as evolution, the brain, and the morality of capitalism.

In a wide-ranging conversation taped at FreedomFest, the annual gathering of libertarians held in Las Vegas each July, I asked Shermer about his long association with libertarian ideas, including his involvement with Andrew Galambos, an idiosyncratic self-help guru whose ideas about intellectual property were famously parodied in Jerome Tuccille's underground classic, It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand. We also discussed the welcome return and explicit defense of Enlightenment values of rationality, evidence, disinterestedness, and progress—in his work, and in the work of such figures as Matt Ridley, Deirdre McCloskey, and Steven Pinker.

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Audio production by Ian Keyser.

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  • $park¥ The Misanthrope||

    We also discussed

    You sure about that? From what I hear I'm more likely to believe that you talked and he managed to get a few words in here and there.

  • Sevo||

    Didn't look first; was this the jacket?
    Yep, looked. Black jacket, big, unstoppable mouth.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    I think you had Tomy at big, black, and unstoppable

  • Brett Bellmore||

    "and the obsessions of transhumanists trying to create a secular version of immortality."

    How hard is that to explain? Death sucks. What really needs explaining is why anybody, not believing in a religious version of immortality, wouldn't want to create a secular version.

    I think Alan Harrington did a good job of explaining it, actually.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Exactly. It's just survival instinct.

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    "Immortality" of course is, and always will be, impossible to create.

    The proper word to use is "longevity".

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    I want a cycle of twelve regenerations. Like that time traveler, Jesus Christ.

  • BYODB||

    Even Lazarus Long eventually wanted to die. Also, if your life is infinite yet your memory is not...and no external memory could be...than...

  • JFree||

    John Gray (an atheist) did a good job of explaining it too 15 years ago - The Myth of Secularism

    liberal humanism is itself very obviously a religion - a shoddy derivative of Christian faith notably more irrational than the original article, and in recent times more harmful. If this is not recognised, it is because religion has been repressed from consciousness in the way that sexuality was repressed in Victorian times. Now as then, the result is not that the need disappears, but rather that it returns in bizarre and perverse forms. Secular societies may imagine they are post-religious, but actually they are ruled by repressed religion...

  • BYODB||

    The only reason man would want to kill a god is become one himself, I feel.

  • JFree||

    Gray uses the example of Auguste Comte (founder of sociology) and his overt Religion of Humanity in that article. Nietzsche also fits I guess (idk)

  • BYODB||

    Nietzsche doesn't really fit anywhere unless you're, say, a nihilist or something. And, to be clear, a nihilist is the most honest form of atheist in my view. I am quite sure many would disagree with me there, but I imagine a nihilist couldn't be bothered to care.

  • JoeBlow123||

    Neitzsche preached the gospel of man killing God to become one himself. I think he fits.

  • Sevo||

    JFree|8.3.18 @ 5:27PM|#
    "John Gray (an atheist) did a good job of explaining it too 15 years ago - The Myth of Secularism

    liberal humanism is itself very obviously a religion - a shoddy derivative of Christian faith notably more irrational than the original article, and in recent times more harmful."

    That is nothing like an "explanation" of anything at all; it's an assertion by someone calling themselves 'an atheist' and proving otherwise.
    The same pathetic whine heard from every bleever always.

  • JFree||

    it's an assertion by someone calling themselves 'an atheist' and proving otherwise.

    Hahaha. John Gray is a pessimist who thinks humans (incl atheists) are essentially both toxic and deluded (and most of his best books are about the evidence for that). Even if he did believe in a God (and everything he's ever written is at odds with that very notion - including his most recent book - Seven Types of Atheism), he would have a serious intellectual problem with why God then chose to make his presence known thru humans unless God is basically a suicidal psychopath looking to destroy his own creation and thus himself.

    Or alternatively (my notion):
    If humans are created in the image of God, then God ain't worth believing in. If there is a God worth believing in, then he's more likely acting through bonobos or goldfish or barley or rocks - and so we humans couldn't possibly have a clue about God so no point trying.

    There's a big difference between believing in God v finding his fellow atheists to be particularly toxic and deluded.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    I find most Keile have no solid definition of this God they won't believe In. Think about that.

  • JFree||

    They don't need to have a definition of God. If they have an Enlightenment view of humanity or the secular or any scientific optimism about human potential (or from the article itself the welcome return and explicit defense of Enlightenment values of rationality, evidence, disinterestedness, and progress) - while denying its origins/scope/meaning/context; then they are expressing a repressed shoddy derivative of Christian faith

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    "They don't need to have a definition of God"

    How do you actively disbelieve in something you don't even define? That is illogical.

  • Jerryskids||

    Human beings are rational, reasoning creatures. Life and the universe itself is irrational, there's no reason for somethingness rather than nothingness. But humans can't accept that existence exists for no reason, there must be some reason, if not some purpose at least some explanation, for everything being here. "It's magic!" works as well as "God has His reasons" or "Science is working on answering that question" for things that just don't seem to make any sense. We know the problem is that we just don't understand (yet) why things are the way they are, it couldn't possibly be that things that don't seem to make sense don't seem to make sense simply because they don't make sense. There's no particular reason the universe has to make sense.

    See? Here I am giving a reason for why people act and think the way they do, there must be some explanation to what appears to be irrational behavior. It can't just be that human beings are controlled by random impulses and there's no meaning in their actions, there must be a reason for what they do.

  • $park¥ The Misanthrope||

    You just gave Camus a hard on.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Camus is the name of my penis.

  • $park¥ The Misanthrope||

    I'm not surprised, I'm sure it's quite absurd.

  • Juice||

    Pronounced came-uss.

  • IceTrey||

    I kept thinking to myself,
    "Why does the existential dilemma
    have to be so damn bleak ?"
    Yes, we're alone in the universe.
    Yes, life is meaningless,
    death is inevitable.
    But is that necessarily
    so depressing?

  • lafe.long||

    After seeing Shermer's disappointing performance on Joe Rogan with Graham Hancock and Randall Carlson (JRE #961), I seriously question his credibility as a skeptic.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Count me as being skeptical about you being skeptical about his credibility as a skeptic... WHAT are your hidden skeptical and cynical motives?!?!

    Inquiring minds want to KNOW!!!!

  • The Last American Hero||

    He is a devout believer in CAGW destroying humanity in a few decades, thus he is a skeptic.

  • BigT||

    Thus, he is religious.

    FTFY

  • Tony||

    Getting old and/or dying may suck hard, but being dead is fine, assuming we don't end up conscience in some place for a trillion trillion years multiplied by infinity. That sounds horrific, no matter how nice it may be at first.

    I don't think religionists ever really thought through the afterlife concept.

  • $park¥ The Misanthrope||

    The theory is, as I understand it, once you die you lose all concept of time. Things just happen as they happen and you won't know if 10 seconds or a million years have passed.

  • Tony||

    All I can say is I hope there is no such thing as chafing in heaven.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    I hope there is no such thing as a Tony in Heaven. Your kind shouldn't make it there anyway.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Without time, there is no experience. So that version is no better than death.

  • $park¥ The Misanthrope||

    Bologna. Alternatively, baloney.

  • JoeBlow123||

    And you know this because...?

    People make a lot of assertions based on scant info. We already know there could be something like 10 dimensions if not more and you are making pronouncements based on your particular point of reference in the universe, a very small one too?

  • Rockabilly||

    Heaven is a place where nothing happens and there are no bad women and no weed and LSD.

    Who wants to live there?

    Not me man, not me...

  • SQRLSY One||

    In Heaven, there ain't no beer,
    That's why we drink it here!

    (Hear, hear!)

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Unless it's like they depict it on 'Supernatural'. Lots of beer in Heaven there.

  • GamerFromJump||

    But God's gone, the angels are evil racists, and Lucifer is in charge. I don't think it's worth it.

  • SIV||

  • SQRLSY One||

    I thought that Madeline Murray O'Hair was the expert here; WHO is this Michael Shermer upstart young punk?!?!

    But I do have to confess that I am a very confussled person...

    I used to wonder a lot, but I had my agnostic friends convince me that God, if He does exist, does NOT want us to worship Him, because He does not believe in Himself (He needs self-esteem counseling, I was told). If God doesn't believe in Himself, then we obviously shouldn't, either. I was left to wonder, well then, WHO in the Hell is qualified to give self-esteem counseling to God Himself?!?! Never got an answer…

  • SQRLSY One||

    Then my devout atheist friends convinced me, that to get to Athiest Heaven, one had to NOT believe in God, and do that non-believing thing in JUST the EXACT right way… As for example, they'd say, "See, Madeline Murray O'Hair, SHE is the ONLY one who REALLY quite properly, understood EXACTLY how God does NOT believe in Himself, and only SHE in Her Divine (Anti-Divine?) Perfect Understanding, was fit to be "Ruptured" through the space-time vortex portal, straight to the Athiest Heaven that She deserved, and all the rest of us… Even the less-than-perfect atheists… Are "Left Behind" after the "Great Rupture". And since Madeline Murray's body was never found, I had to accept their argument, She was the PERFECT atheist, and only SHE, in Her Perfect Disbelief, had been Ruptured… Her and Her alone… to be continued…

  • SQRLSY One||

    …BUT THEN THEY FOUND HER DEAD BODY!!! The arguments of my atheist friends were utterly crushed! I had just BARELY started to think that maybe they were correct! Now, I just dunno WHAT in blue blazes to think any more!!! What do y'all say, especially you atheists? PWEASE advise me, ah ams ignernt…

    (Some have suggested to me that her "dead body" was a high-tech bio-simulation left here by ??? space aliens to deceive us, it wasn't the real thing... but I haven't seen or heard any proof of that).

  • creech||

    Alex, I'll take "Meaningless Word Salads" for $1,200.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Gozer the Traveller! He will come in one of the pre-chosen forms. During the rectification of the Vuldronaii, the Traveller came as a large and moving Torb! Then, during the third reconciliation of the last of the Meketrex Supplicants they chose a new form for him--that of a Giant Sloar! Many Shubs and Zulls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Sloar that day, I can tell you.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Could make for a good prequel.......

  • Cyto||

    Shermer was one of the first Skeptic voices I became familiar with. So I had high regard for him. I looked forward to his column in Scientific American each month. For a while....

    Then he took Scientific American into partisan politics. Hard-core, strictly partisan politics. For years... sometimes only publishing partisan polemics instead of the content I was paying for. It seemed like he dragged the magazine in that direction, but maybe they were headed there anyway. Either way, it ruined what was a scientific publication.

    So I dropped Scientific American and quit reading Shermer.

  • Cyto||

    I had always assumed that Skeptic and Libertarian were two labels that go together. Kind of like two sides of the same coin.

    But most of the public voices of skepticism seem to be of the progressive left.

    It is nice to hear that Shermer is pulling out his libertarian leanings. Trump seems to have pushed most of the rest of the movement in the opposite direction - bringing out their inner progressive.

  • The Last American Hero||

    It's a natural fit. Skeptics believe that there isn't a problem that Top Men can't fix. It's the same Sam Harris bullshit - everyone else is nutty, but I approach all things with calm, detached, rationality - thus only my solutions are correct.

    I'll take my chances with Commie Pope over Schermer or Harris. Commie Pope won't point a gun at me.

  • John||

    You may be an ambassador to England or France
    You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
    You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
    You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls
    But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes
    Indeed you're gonna have to serve somebody
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you're gonna have to serve somebody
    You might be a rock 'n' roll addict prancing on the stage
    You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage
    You may be a business man or some high-degree thief
    They may call you doctor or they may call you chief
    But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes you are
    You're gonna have to serve somebody
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you're gonna have to serve somebody

  • John||

    You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk
    You may be the head of some big TV network
    You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
    You may be living in another country under another name
    But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes you are
    You're gonna have to serve somebody
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you're gonna have to serve somebody
    You may be a construction worker working on a home
    You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
    You might own guns and you might even own tanks
    You might be somebody's landlord, you might even own banks
    But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes
    You're gonna have to serve somebody
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you're gonna have to serve somebody
    You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
    You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
    You may be workin' in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
    You may be somebody's mistress, may be somebody's heir
    But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes
    You're gonna have to serve somebody
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you're gonna have to serve somebody
    Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk

  • John||

    Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk
    You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread
    You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed
    But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes
    Indeed you're gonna have to serve somebody
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you're gonna have to serve somebody
    You may call me Terry, you may call me Timmy
    You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy
    You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray
    You may call me anything but no matter what you say
    Still, you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes
    You're gonna have to serve somebody
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you're gonna have to serve somebody

  • Tony||

    Is everybody drunk today? Am I missing a party?

  • SQRLSY One||

    There's a party going on everywhere except for Heaven...

    In Heaven, there ain't no beer,
    That's why we drink it here!

    (Hear, hear!)

    And presumably also not in Hell. Purgatory? Not so sure...

    But we're on EARTH, man, so PARTY DOWN!!!!

  • John||

    In heaven, there is whatever is better than heroin that God kept for himself.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Everyone tells me I need a job
    So I decided to be a congressional slob
    But what I really want is a place to sit
    Like the face of the waitress
    The one with big tits
    But you can't ask Mom
    No you can't ask Mom
    Mom is dead

  • BYODB||

    Because Atheists, Scientists, and Transhumanists are all operating from the same flawed ass reasoning that all of humanity operates with. Of course, for the transhumanists this is deeply ironic and should cause their heads to explode as they try to use human reasoning to surpass human reasoning.

  • John||

    The transhumanists amuse me more than the atheists. They have a creation story (Darwin), a means to salvation (technology) and a heaven (the singularity). But they all assure you that they are hyper-rational and in no way religious.

    How can you have that much cognitive dissonance and not notice?

  • BYODB||

    Indeed, they're a nutty bunch. I mean, some of their idea's are interesting and aren't bad things to investigate in terms of technology which is essentially the exact same thing I'd say about religion in terms of morality.

    The fact that Jesus talked a lot about balance is...very interesting. I'd give an arm and a leg to have heard him speak instead of having it filtered by 2000+ years of history and the mouths of a thousand other men.

  • John||

    I don't think the bible was filtered. It is too strange for that. There are too many parts of it that don't fit and are problematic for it to have been filtered. If it was filtered, it would be a neat and comprehensible story. What is the point of filtering it if not to make it neat and comprehensible?

    I think the strangeness and mysterious nature of the New Testament is by far the most compelling evidence of its truth. Truth and reality are always mysterious and problematic. It is our imaginations that are clear; not reality. If Christianity were some made up story, it would be a hundred times more comprehensible and consistent than it is.

  • BYODB||


    I don't think the bible was filtered.

    I mean, we know it was without any shred of a doubt. Even the baptists need to resort of some kind of divine intervention on behalf of the people doing the filtering to reach their literal interpretation.

  • BYODB||

    Note I'm not saying it's entirely made up, but neither would I believe it's a verbatim transcript of what was ever said or done. Just reading Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John make this readily and obviously apparent before you even get into the history.

  • IceTrey||

    Christianity is just Romanized Mithraism. I mean the whole thing is based on a human blood sacrifice. That's sick. In Mithraism they just used a bull.

  • Eddy||

    Can we say with absolute assurance which one preceded the other and, whichever came first, that it influenced the other?

    Mithraism was big in the military, Christianity had a foothold among slaves and women (not exclusively, mind you, but enough to get noticed by critics).

  • Vaelyn||

    The Bible is strange and disjointed because it isn't one book. It's dozens of books, all written centuries apart.

  • John||

    One of my favorite things to do with atheists is to ask them what part of morality do they not like. They always illicits a puzzled response. Atheists are nothing if not earnest and they alwyas claim to be moral and love morality. They also claim that morality is something independent of them and some kind natural law. Okay, if their morality isn't something they made up and not just their preferences, then why isn't there a part they don't like? I don't like a lot of natural laws. It would be great if it were possible to travel faster than the speed of light for example. If I were makikng up the natural laws, a few things would be different. But I didn't, so not all of them are to my liking. So, if athiests are not just making up their morality and it exists independent from them, why is it that it perfectly matches their preferences? They never have a good answer to that.

  • lap83||

    That's a good argument. They also never seem to consider the fact that some really horrible people have based their morality on their own preferences. Oh right, those were just "psychopaths" or have some affliction that makes them sub-human. How convenient.

  • IceTrey||

    Are you talking about objective or subjective morality?

  • Sevo||

    John|8.3.18 @ 5:18PM|#
    "One of my favorite things to do with atheists is to ask them what part of morality do they not like."

    One of my favorite arguments with bleevers is why they are stupid enough to presume morality comes from a superstition.
    OK, John, please tell us how your superstition is somehow connected in any way to "morality".

  • Tony||

    But if you spent much time talking to intelligent people, there might be evidence some of it rubbed off on you.

    Only a child could possibly think that morality, a set of social rules specific to the human species, exists in nature prior to the human species. We make rules that, on a good day, help us get along with each other. If the only reason you're a good person is because an invisible friend talks to you through magic books, that's another way of saying you're a psychopath with a coping mechanism.

  • Azathoth!!||

    'Natural Laws'!!

    Oh, that's funny.

    You look at the 'universe'(another great human word) through a pinhole and think that your limited perceptions define limits to reality.

    'speed' of light indeed.

    .

  • Azathoth!!||

    Well, you'll all be glad to know that there is no afterlife.

    Because there is no after life.

    Well, there's no 'after' might be the best way to say it.........

  • BYODB||

    But my carbon, man, it lives on!

  • Azathoth!!||

    Carbon?

    I don't think you understand.

    There is no after. There is no 'live on'.

    There is only.....now.....?

    No. That's not right.

    There IS only. Not 'now', just 'IS'

    'Time' is a tool that is perceived in anything with more than 2 dimensions as duration. 'Beginnings' and 'endings' are things that happen when this tool is used.

    There really aren't words for this, but it's okay. You already know what I'm saying, you're actually going to come across it durationally--just not yet.

  • rferris||

    It is hard too respect anything Shermer says. He claims to be a skeptic (publishes skeptic magazine) but once he realized that it would hurt him financially to speak the truth about Climate, he promptly sold out his integrity to be a poster boy for "deniers" who have finally seen the light.
    He repeats every discredited left wing climate meme as though he thought they were true, alas he knows better but is not honest enough to take the brave position.
    He is also an anti religious zealot, so take what he says with multiple grains of salt.

  • Jerryskids||

    How come everybody wonders what's going to happen after they're dead and nobody wonders what happened before they were alive? I figure the billions of years after I'm dead are going to be just like the billions of years before I was born.

  • IceTrey||

    Lots of people wonder what happened before they were born it's called history.

  • Sevo||

    "How come everybody wonders what's going to happen after they're dead and nobody wonders what happened before they were alive?"

    Well, there are those dimbulb Hollywood types who are 'reincarnated', but always from royalty, never from the serfs, so some folks fantasize about that.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Well, there are those dimbulb Hollywood types who are 'reincarnated', but always from royalty, never from the serfs

    There's actually a reason for this--demonstrable in actual real life.

    Do you know how intense experiences burn themselves into your memory--your first kiss, sex, best Christmas present, fight, experience of death--things like that?

    Well, it works that way with lives, too. Intense lives stand out.

  • IceTrey||

    What we call the human spirit or soul is actually a small piece of a greater cosmic consciousness. We devolve and incarnate on this planet as a game the purpose of which is to evolve back to cosmic consciousness through a series of lifetimes.

  • Sevo||

    Bullshit or sarc.

  • Sevo||

    (details withheld for reasons of privacy):
    Had a discussion with Shermer, say 8 years ago, when he admitted he had to tow the lion regarding a certain issue. I asked whether he had any hope that it would have an actual effect; he admitted that he had none. Michael, if you hoped I would have forgotten, you hoped wrong. That's the time the contribution took a nose dive.
    He still gets a couple of bucks now and then, but you have to keep after him for the tax statement; pretty sloppy admin.
    He remains far better than The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (used to be CSICOP). They went from a mimeographed pulp mailer to a four-color glossy, with Kurtz then whining about how the corporate media was keeping independent views from the public!
    His skepticism knew many bounds; that contribution went to zero.

  • Eddy||

    I'm hungry now, but that hunger is probably a social construct based on wishful thinking that something called "food" exists.

  • BigT||

    Gillespie and Shermer discuss things of which they are grossly uneducated.

  • Hank Phillips||

    The real problem is that mystical bigots believe in Satan, and brand with the geuzenaam "atheist" all who prefer reason, freedom and science to faith, coercion and superstition.

  • GamerFromJump||

    There's probably no god, so someone's gotta be him.

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