Science Salon is a series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, scholars, and thinkers, about the most important issues of our time.
Ben Shapiro — The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great
In this wide ranging conversation, the noted conservative political commentator and public intellectual Ben Shapiro makes the case that what makes the West great is its foundation in Judeo-Christian values. We can thank these values, Shapiro argues, “for the birth of science, the dream of progress, human rights, prosperity, peace, and artistic beauty.” Shapiro says “Jerusalem and Athens built America, ended slavery, defeated the Nazis and the Communists, lifted billions from poverty and gave billions spiritual purpose. Jerusalem and Athens were the foundations of the Magna Carta and the Treaty of Westphalia; they were the foundations of the Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.” As you might expect, Dr. Shermer disagrees on the source of these values, attributing them instead to the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment and the secular thinkers who used reason and evidence to make the case for human rights and progress. For example: people are never to be treated as a means to an end but as an end in themselves (Kant) people have an inalienable right to life, liberty & happiness (Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence) people have an inherent right to privacy, speech, thought, and action (U.S. Constitution) governments may not infringe on such rights (John Stuart Mill) people should be treated equally under the law (John Locke) punishments should fit the crime and society should be based on the greatest good for the greatest number (Jeremy Bentham). These are all purely secular moral values derived from Enlightenment science and reason. Shermer also asks Shapiro how he derives “all men are created equal” from “we were created in God’s image”. Shapiro has a very reasonable answer, to which Shermer read from Thomas Jefferson’s own explanation for the origin of that phrase. In a letter to Henry Lee in 1825, Jefferson wrote: Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c. Shapiro responded to Shermer’s counter-examples to his thesis, namely successful civilizations that arose before Judaism and Christianity, such as Sumeria, Babylonia, Akkadia, Assyria, Egypt, and Greece, and Christian civilizations that did not flourish, such as the Catholic countries of South America, or historically all the Christian nations in the Middle Ages that never produced anything like a democracy or capitalism. As two members of the Intellectual Dark Web, Shapiro and Shermer show how people can disagree even on fundamental principles and still have a civil conversation, and along the way find agreement and common cause. Other topics that came up: free will and determinism human nature and sexuality why rates of abortion are higher in the U.S. than other Western countries the increase in rates of suicide and depression in the U.S. unionizing the Intellectual Dark Web and striking for higher wages and redistribution of resources… Listen to Science Salon via iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and Soundcloud. This Science Salon was recorded on February 27, 2019. You play a vital part in our commitment to promote science and reason. If you enjoy the Science Salon Podcast, please show your support by making a donation, or by becoming a patron.
Dr. Frans de Waal — Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves
Based on his latest book — Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves — the legendary biologist and primatologist Frans de Waal continues his empirical and theoretical work on animal societies, politics, intelligence, sentience, consciousness and, now, feelings and emotions. In this conversation Dr. de Waal and Dr. Shermer discuss: the difference between feelings and emotions the problem of “other minds” (how do we know what other people, much less animals, are thinking and feeling?) why it took a century since Darwin’s book on the evolution of animal and human emotions before scientists took up the mantle the push back from social scientists that Paul Ekman and other scientists, including de Waal, got for suggesting emotions evolved A.I. and emotions (can we program feelings into robots?) the six different emotions and why there are very probably more the nature/nurture debate in the study of emotions primate politics in U.S. elections: a biologist analyzes the Trump-Clinton debate #2 is Trump an alpha male or a bully? the difference between sentience and consciousness animal rights and the future of factory farming. Listen to Science Salon via iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and Soundcloud. This Science Salon was recorded on February 12, 2019. You play a vital part in our commitment to promote science and reason. If you enjoy the Science Salon Podcast, please show your support by making a donation, or by becoming a patron.
Dr. Tyler Cowen —How an Economist Views the World
In this wide ranging dialogue Dr. Shermer speaks with the famed economist Dr. Tyler Cowen, whose new book, Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals, is “a vision for a society of free, prosperous, and responsible individuals.” Dr. Cowen makes the case that… “Growth is good. Through history, economic growth, in particular, has alleviated human misery, improved human happiness and opportunity, and lengthened human lives. Wealthier societies are more stable, offer better living standards, produce better medicines, and ensure greater autonomy, greater fulfillment, and more sources of fun. If we want to continue on our trends of growth, and the overwhelmingly positive outcomes for societies that come with it, every individual must become more concerned with the welfare of those around us and in the world at large and most of all our descendants in the future. So, how do we proceed?” Dr. Tyler Cowen is an economics professor at George Mason University where he holds the Holbert C. Harris chair in the economics department. He hosts the economics blog marginal Revolution, together with co-author Alex Tabarrok. He writes the “Economic Scene” column for the New York Times, and now contributes a regular opinion column at Bloomberg View. He has written for the New Republic, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Newsweek and the Wilson Quarterly. Dr. Shermer and Dr. Cowen also discuss… what it means to be “on the margin,” “marginal utility,” and his blog “Marginal Revolution” trade wars and tariffs and what they really mean for consumers, companies, and countries (China, NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), etc.) unemployment is now under 4%, the lowest in decades. Is Trump a savvy economist? why capitalism is a moral system as well as an economic system income inequality universal basic income regulating financial markets immigration: how does an economist think about borders and walls? why incentives matter libertarian paternalism and nudging people to do the right thing social media companies and governmental regulation Jordan Peterson and the power of narrative governing Mars: what political and economic systems should we take with us to the Red Planet, and which should we leave behind. Listen to Science Salon via iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and Soundcloud. This Science Salon was recorded on January 15, 2019. You play a vital part in our commitment to promote science and reason. If you enjoy the Science Salon Podcast, please show your support by making a donation, or by becoming a patron.
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