Scientific journalist Michael Shermer tried to convince the audience at the Erasmus Paviljoen on Wednesday that science leads humanity not only to technical progress, but also to a moral one. Unexpectedly, the member of the American Skeptic Society was welcomed with some equal European skepticism.

The slavery and torture should be abolished, while the women’s and gays’ rights shall be supported. Those are the statements that hardly ever trigger discussion today. But why is it as natural now to have Mr. Obama as a president as it was natural before to have separate benches for blacks and whites in the public transport? Advocating for the existence of free will and giving examples from politics, philosophy and neuroscience, Michael Shermer argued that science increased our understanding of the issues that called for attention. According to the scientific journalist, the reason streamlined the everlasting human struggle to reconcile the good and the bad to an if-ought formula: if we want to change, we ought to act.

The perks of being pragmatic

While sounding fairly logical, a member of the American Skeptic Society was welcomed with a pinch of European intellectual salt by the moderator Wiep van Bunge and audience. They had a rationale for it too. While the American guest discussed moral progress, the facts speak for themselves. It is in the USA that torture still goes under the label of ‘enhanced interrogation’, while civil citizens are quite regularly shot with the freely sold guns. Meanwhile, the Netherlands are ‘way ahead on the gay’s rights’, as Mr. Shermer admitted, with some less appeal to the higher virtues. Same goes for lofty religious tolerance, which looks interesting with the ‘’In God is our trust’’ in the American anthem. In Europe, the pope Francis benevolently assured atheists that they ‘’don’t have to believe in God to go to heaven’’.

The power of idealized image

No matter how critical and rational, we still want to listen to the fairytale and believe in the ideal. “I am really impressed and I agree on most of the points he made”, said Vigil Yu (23), a TU student, who came all the way from Delft to attend the talk. An EUR Philosophy student, Lucas Gransier (24), was also content, “He is a really good speaker. I enjoyed how he used the images and videos from real scientific experiments. It was entertaining and made the lecture fun.” Other guests, lined up for book-signing afterwards, seemed to agree. KS