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Michael Shermer (1954-present).

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"When we say we are 'skeptical,' we mean that we must see compelling evidence before we believe. It prevents us from believing in illusions and spares us a lot of sorrow"

--Michael Shermer

Michael Shermer, executive director of the Skeptics Society and Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, was born on September 8, 1954, in Glendale, California. During high school he converted to Christianity and originally attended the Church of Christ-affiliated Pepperdine University in order to vigorously study religious doctrine and become a theologian. However, he quickly became dissatisfied with what he described as the "rhetoric and disputation of theology" and switched his focus to science.

After earning his BA in psychology and MA in experimental psychology, Shermer began his lengthy academic career teaching evolution, history, and psychology at Glendale College. During the 1980s he became an assistant professor and taught for over twenty years at a number of California institutions. It was also during this time that he competed professionally in cycling competitions, including the annual Race Across America (known then as the Great American Bike Race), a 3,000-mile, transcontinental endurance event that he helped pioneer.

In an attempt to increase his cycling prowess, Shermer experimented with a variety of vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other (supposed) performance-enhancing techniques. Yet despite his high expectations, he realized, while pedaling up a mountian climb, that none of the supplements proved effective. "I actually wondered if all the claims which were made on the bottles really could stand scientific scrutiny," he recalled in a 2009 interview. "That's the moment I decided to go back to my scientific roots."

It was this experience that sparked his interest in scientific skepticism, a field he would come to emblemize. In 1992, the year after he received his PhD in the history of science, Shermer was instrumental in founding the Skeptics Society, an organization dedicated to investigating extraordinary and paranormal claims using logic and reason. Since then he's written a variety of books and articles on topics ranging from irrationality and economics to the evolutionary origins of belief. He has also frequently appeared as a guest expert on television talk shows and documentaries debunking psychics and promoting a skeptical stance towards supernatural phenomena.

Although he generally prefers to avoid labels, Shermer accepted the Carl Sagan Award from the American Humanist Association in 2000, is a signatory to the third Humanist Manifesto, and identifies as a nontheist. A proponent of the separation of church and state, he often cites paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould's model that religion and politics should be seen as "non-overlapping magisteria;" that is, that religion should be confined to the private sphere and politics to the public sphere. In his 2004 book, The Science of Good and Evil, Shermer discusses the foundations of ethics in humans and other mammals. He argues that moral characteristics such as altruism naturally evolved, thus eliminating the need for religious dogma to ensure good behavior. Instead, Shermer personally advocates for a type of ethical thinking based on the intrinsic value of humanity: "In America, we are supposed to be good and do the right thing, not because it will make us rich, get us saved, or reward us in the next life, but because people have value in and of themselves, and because it will make us all better off, individually and collectively."

HUMANISM is a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility. Free of theism and other supernatural beliefs, humanism thus derives the goals of life from human need and interest rather than from theological or ideological abstractions, and asserts that humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny.
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Title Annotation:Humanist Profile
Publication:The Humanist
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2010
Words:625
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