Giving the Devil his Due by Michael Shermer

The Big Idea: We must protect speech no matter how hateful it may seem.

The devil is anyone who disagrees with you. And what he is due is the right to speak his mind.

0. Introduction Who Is the Devil and What Is He Due?

Err on the side of freedom.

Let Truth and Falsehood grapple in a free and open encounter.

The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason.

The freedom of speech is meaningless unless it means the freedom of the person who thinks differently.

Don’t take refuge in the false security of consensus.

We must resist the urge to control what other people say and think.

Freedom of inquiry – a form of free thought and speech – is the basis for all human progress.

My freedom to speak and dissent is inextricably tied to your freedom to speak and dissent.

Even the Catholic Church employed an Advocatus Diaboli – a Devil’s Advocate – tasked with arguing “against the canonization (sainthood) of a candidate in order to uncover any character flaws or misrepresentation of the evidence favoring canonization.”

Hate speech is best countered with free speech, better speech, or no speech at all (just ignore them).

Chapter 1 Giving the Devil His Due

In America, the First Amendment protects the right of citizens to express their opinions on anything they like, no matter how extreme, evil, conniving, or crazy. Here you are free to doubt the Apollo moon landing, the JFK assassination single-bullet theory, the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus, the verisimilitude of the Quran, the prophetic nature of Moses or Muhammad, al Qaeda’s role in 9/11, and even the president’s birthplace.

That process of generating new ideas and introducing them to your peers and the public where they can be skeptically scrutinized in the bright light of other minds is the only way to find out if you’ve come up with something true and important or if you’ve been immersed in self-deception.

Elitist arrogance goes a long way to explaining the recent and disturbing trend on college campuses to censor unwanted speech and thought.

This is why the principle of free speech and the arguments in its favor apply to the political world as well as the scientific one, and why no Philosopher King or Benevolent Dictator can ever be allowed to rule.

Democratic elections are analogous to scientific experiments: every couple of years you carefully alter the variables with an election and observe the results.

The freedom of speech has been one of the driving forces behind moral progress through science and reason because it enables the search for truth.

Chapter 2 Banning Evil

The solution to hate speech is more speech.

The problem with banning the weapons of evil is that Australia and New Zealand are not comparable to America and other large and diverse nations.

Censorship is almost invariably the wrong response to evil actions.

There is no such thing as evil.

Nearly everyone who has ever committed what most of us would consider evil think that they did it for perfectly good reasons.

John Wayne Gacy explained, “I see myself more as a victim than as a perpetrator. I was cheated out of my childhood.”

Campaigns aimed at banning evil in its own (mythical) right almost always include efforts to ban evil speech.

It is my contention that we must protect speech no matter how hateful it may seem.

Chapter 3 Free Speech Even If It Hurts

Europeans have a different history and culture of free speech than we do in this country.

In England, libel law requires the defendant to prove that he or she did not libel the plaintiff, unlike US law that puts the onus on the plaintiff to prove damage.

David Irving’s three-year prison sentence for denying the Holocaust may please his detractors, but it is an assault on the civil liberties of us all.

Chapter 4 Free to Inquire

The Darwinian revolution was the greatest of all intellectual revolutions in the history of mankind.

Creationists have lost all major court cases of the past half-century.

You are free to doubt not just evolution, for example, but the Big Bang theory, vaccines, the germ theory of disease, and global warming.

Chapter 5 Ben Stein’s Blunder

The central premise of Expelled is that there is an academic conspiracy afoot among scientists and scholars to censor the speech of creationists and Intelligent Design advocates.

Even more disturbing than these distortions is the film’s other thesis that Darwinism inexorably leads to atheism, Communism, Fascism, and the Holocaust.

Intelligent Design creationists, by contrast, have no interest in doing science.

Chapter 6 What Went Wrong

2013 was a pivotal year as this is when the iGen (or Gen Z) generation of students born in 1995 or after began to enter college, and as Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt demonstrate in their 2018 book The Coddling of the American Mind.

Most notably in how they were raised (helicopter parenting) and what that means for how a “coddled” generation handles challenges.

As often happens in moral movements, a reasonable idea with some evidentiary backing gets carried to extremes by engaged moralists eager for attention, sympathy, and the social standing that being a victim or perpetrator-shamer brings.

The deeper problem with safe spaces, however, is that in addition to infantilizing adults, they often end up protecting students from opinions that they don’t happen to agree with or shielding them from ideas that challenge their beliefs.

What may have started out as well – intentioned actions at curbing prejudices and attenuating bigotry, with the goal of making people more tolerant, has now metamorphosed into thought police attempting to impose totalitarian measures that result in silencing dissent of any kind.

Most of the big moral movements have been fought and won, leaving today’s students with comparatively smaller causes to promote and evils to protest.

In this victimhood culture, the primary way to gain status is to either be a victim or to condemn alleged perpetrators against victims, leading to an accelerating search for both.

Today’s college students have brittle bones and thin skins.

Social movements tend to turn on themselves in puritanical purging of anyone who falls short of moral perfection, leading to preemptive denunciations of others before one is so denounced.

Virtue signaling, in which members of a movement compete to signal who is the most righteous by (a) recounting all the moral acts one has performed and (b) identifying all the immoral acts others have committed.

A deeper reason behind the campus problem is a lack of diversity. Not ethnic, race, or gender diversity, but viewpoint diversity, specifically, political viewpoint.

Solutions are likely to be incremental and gradual.

Chapter 7 E Pluribus Unum for All Faiths and for None

Foreigners could be forgiven for thinking that America is fast becoming a theocracy.

At most, Christians comprise 60 – 76 percent of all Americans.

Chapter 8 Atheism and Liberty

USA scores the highest in religiosity and the highest (by far) in homicides, STDs, abortions, and teen pregnancies.

Religious conservatives donate 30 percent more money than liberals (even when controlled for income), give more blood, and log more volunteer hours.

If we do not want theists to prejudge atheists in a negative light, then atheists must not do unto theists the same.

Chapter 9 The Curious Case of Scientology

Chapter 10 Does the Universe Have a Purpose

Life began with the most basic purpose of all: survival and reproduction.

Evolution created in us a basic drive of purpose, but higher moral purposes are learned.

Chapter 11 Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing

The questions are answerable through science, through natural and testable hypotheses and theories, without resort to supernatural intercession.

Science does not yet have a definitive explanatory theory accepted by most scientists, it means that one is not forthcoming.

Chapter 12 Another Dream Deferred

Hans Rosling’s Factfulness, Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now and The Better Angels of Our Nature, Greg Easterbrook’s It’s Better Than it Looks, Norberg’s Progress, my own The Moral Arc , and Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist.

The past decade has witnessed what appears to be a reversal of Dr. King’s dream in the form of identity politics.

Identity politics are said to be pulling us into another civil war.

Chapter 13 Healing the Bonds of Affection

The Case for Classical Liberalism

I came to believe was the right balance between Left and Right, between liberalism and conservatism. I believe I may have found it in classical liberalism.

Classical liberalism – and its values form the basis of most modern Western societies. Its founders are a veritable Who’s Who of political and economic thought admired by liberals and conservatives alike: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith, David Hume, Thomas Paine, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Alexis de Tocqueville.

So it is not only moral to help those who cannot help themselves, it pays fiscal dividends to have a strong social safety net within the umbrella of a competitive free market economy.

Chapter 14 Governing Mars

Elon Musk, for example, thinks Mars should be governed by a direct democracy. Well, in theory this sounds good, but in practice such a system can easily slide into a tyranny of the majority – aka mob rule – which is why they are historically rare. Switzerland is an exception, although it is a hybrid, or semidirect democracy, with federalism – like vertical separation of powers mixed in.

If he were to recommend to the first Mars colonists what documents they should take with them to help design their new society, Cockell unhesitatingly offered, “The US Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence.

Being stranded in a remote place is one such natural experiment, and, believe it or not, there’s a database of such forbidden experiments in the form of shipwrecks with survivors.

“The groups that typically fared best were those that had good leadership in the form of mild hierarchy (without any brutality), friendships among the survivors, and evidence of cooperation and altruism.

Chapter 15 The Sandy Hook Effect

They are what are known as Black Swan events, but, in this context, I shall refer to them as Sandy Hook Events – high-profile, improbable, rare, and unpredictable mass murders. We cannot and never will be able to predict Sandy Hook Events.

There really is a difference between a gun and a knife, and in this case that difference is measurable in the number of survivors.

The problem is murder, not mass murder; individual homicides, not Sandy Hook Events.

If we cannot predict or prevent Sandy Hook Events, what can we do.

Run, Hide, or Fight.

A National Mental-Health Hotline.

Gun Control. This is the most talked about option for preventing Sandy Hook Events, but it’s a complicated route with numerous permutations.

Chapter 16 On Guns and Tyranny

Chapter 17 Debating Guns

The debate is not really about guns or gun controls. It is about something much more fundamental, and therefore the topic carries much greater emotional salience.

This is rational gun control that even the NRA can get behind.

Conservatives employ a “Strict Father” family model, while liberals embrace a “Nurturant Parent” family model.

Chapter 18 Another Fatal Conceit

The Lesson from Evolutionary Economics Is Bottom-Up Self-Organization , Not Top-Down Government Design

Species are analogous to companies and corporations.

Schumpeter’s descriptor for this process in an economy was “creative destruction”.

Taxing the rich will do next to nothing for our debt crisis.

Taxing the rich won’t make the poor any happier.

Positional ranking exists for a range of traits, not just for wealth.

Do we really need a defense budget that currently accounts for 43 percent of all military spending in the entire world.

A century ago Americans somehow survived and thrived with a government that consumed only 8 percent of our GDP; today it is over 40 percent and climbing.

What will happen when servicing the debt exceeds 50 percent of GDP?

This is the consequence of the fatal conceit that we can design a society from the top down.

Chapter 19 Scientific Naturalism: A Manifesto for Enlightenment Humanism

Scientific naturalism is the principle that the world is governed by natural laws and forces that can be understood and that all phenomena are part of nature and can be explained by natural causes, including human cognitive, moral, and social phenomena.

Widespread adoption of Enlightenment humanism, a cosmopolitan worldview that places supreme value on science and reason, eschews the supernatural entirely, and relies exclusively on nature and nature’s laws – including human nature and the laws and forces that govern us and our societies – for a complete understanding of the cosmos and everything in it, from particles to people.

Scientific naturalism and Enlightenment humanism made the modern world. Many of the founding fathers of the United States, for example, such as Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and John Adams, were either practicing scientists or were trained in the sciences.

They argued, in essence, that no one knows how to govern a nation, so we have to set up a system that allows for experimentation. Try this. Try that. Check the results. That is the heart of science.

Chapter 20 Mr. Hume: Tear. Down. This. Wall.

Chapter 21 Kardashev’s Types and Sparks’ Law

We have a natural aversion to Others, and we show a remarkable ability to sort people into in-group / out-group categories.

To move beyond this political tribalism, I suggest we adopt the approach that considers liberals and conservatives as emphasizing different moral values, rather than one being right and the other wrong.

One long-term solution is to shift from the zero-sum tribal world of our past to a non zero-sum global world of our future.

Globalism, or Civilization 1.0, includes worldwide wireless Internet access, with all knowledge digitized and available to everyone. A completely global economy with free markets in which anyone can trade with anyone else without interference from states or governments. A planet where all states are democracies in which everyone has the franchise.

Well established democracies do not make war on and rarely commit lesser violence against each other.

Conclusion: Power kills, democracy saves. Solution: Spread democracy.

Trade leads to peace and prosperity. Therefore: Spread trade.

Sparks’ Law: Innovations are best generated when people are free to try their ideas in a competitive and voluntary market.

Chapter 22 How Lives Turn Out

Our inner demons overwhelm our better angels just often enough that I’ve come to believe that in the same manner that sports need rules, markets need regulations, and societies need fair and just laws.

I no longer think that private charity alone can do the job of shoring up a social safety net for the unlucky.

Conservatives, for example, tend to embrace a Just World Theory.

Liberals tend to hold an Unjust World Theory.

We cannot simply employ the hindsight bias by taking only successful people and looking to see what they did to become successful and then back-engineer those traits.

Chapter 23 Transcendent Man

An Elegiac Essay to Paul Kurtz – A Skeptic’s Skeptic

Paul Kurtz, one of the central figures in the birth of the modern skeptical and humanist movements.

Chapter 24 The Real Hitch

Did Christopher Hitchens Really Keep Two Sets of Books About His Beliefs?

Chapter 25 The Skeptic’s Chaplain

Chapter 26 Have Archetype – Will Travel

The Jordan Peterson Phenomenon

I recommend Jocko Willink’s 2017 book Discipline Equals Freedom and Amy Alkon’s 2018 book Unfuckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence.

Chapter 27 Romancing the Past

Graham Hancock and the Quest for a Lost Civilization