The Amaz!ng Meeting 2003

Electric Monk - Saturday - The Main Events


After all the fun that I'd been having, I considered that I had already gotten my money's worth by now, and the primary day of the conference had only just started.

Saturday morning in the hallway
Linda Shallenberger Closes a Sale While Hal Bidlack Uses a Chair to Beat an Unidentified Volunteer Unconscious

Apparently, I came down a little too late to get one of the chocolate or jelly doughnuts, but I made do with plain doughnuts and fruit, and began browsing for books I wanted to read (that I did not already have). Then, and over the next two days, I bought four books, an A!M t-shirt, and a Pigusus pin.

James Randi
Randi Officially Opens The Amaz!ng Meeting

The morning session began with James Randi officially opening the Amaz!ng Meeting, making some announcements, and introducing the first speaker, Dr. Michael Shermer.

Michael Shermer
Michael Shermer Describes 'Provisional Ethics'

Michael Shermer is the Director of the Skeptic Society in Pasadena, California, about 60 miles from where I live, so I had previously been to one of his lectures. From meeting him, and having seen many of his appearances on TV, I was really looking forward to his talk on secular morality. This was especially so, because I had recently begun trying to structure my thoughts on the subject, and wanted to hear from someone who had done a lot more research.

Michael Shermer
Shermer Proposes an Evolutionary and Social Basis for Our Moral Intuition

Shermer's thesis is that our sense of morality evolved along with both our genes, and later with our society. In this he agrees with the Evolutionary Psychologists. He calls reciprocity the "First Moral Principle", and compares our feelings of the morality/immorality of some action to the feeling of hunger or lust. Consistent deception is eventually detected, with social consequences, and is therefore selected against genetically, as well as socially. This is the value of gossip, and it works up to group sizes of about 150 persons. Beyond this group size, he argues, at around 1 to 10 thousand persons living closely together, organized religion developed, and provided the same functions as gossip does in smaller groups. Shemer then went on to discuss how game theory and a sense of degrees of relatedness provide descriptions of and rational bases for understanding human moral behavior.

Shermer proposed the concept of "Provisional Morality" in which he likened moral choices to scientific facts. That is, a course of action should be viewed as provisionally moral or immoral based on the available evidence, and that there are degrees of confirmation/certainty about the morality of an action, and degrees of morality of the act itself.

Shermer and Randi
Shermer Receives His Plaque from Randi

In response to Michael Novak's review of Shermer's How We Believe, in which Novak accused Shermer of being a "Free Rider" since he eschews the work of the long line of religious thought on morality, and because he perceives no ultimate moral judge, Shermer explained that he is free only of the constraints of one way of looking at morality, and is still beholden to the judgement of his fellow human beings. People may be imperfect judges, but they are real, here and now, and their morality or immorality have real effects on others.



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