Dr. Laura vs. the Skeptic
Michael Shermer's excellent magazine has a fairly diverse group on its Editorial Board. Educators, scientists (Jared Diamond, John Gribbin, Stephen Jay Gould among others), psychology professors, historians, the late Steve Allen, longtime debunker of the paranormal (and former magician) James Randieven Penn Jillette and his "silent" partner Teller, who has contributed an essay or two in the past (each are listed as "Magician, Author, Comedian," though they prefer the term ripoff artiste). One person who was on the board that people are usually surprised to find out about was Dr. Laura Schlessinger.
She was invited to be on the board back in 1994 (the magazine debuted in 1992) due to her "skeptical stance about the recovered-memory movement and other 'victimization' groups." She was even asked to lecture for the Skeptics Society and did so for three hourswithout notesmanaging to both educate and entertain. The reason she was appreciated was that she promotes "critical thinking, independence of thought, self-reliance, and other attributes certainly admired by most free thinkers, humanists, and skeptics."
Later on, she began to discuss and promote her growing religious beliefs through her media outlets, eventually converting to Orthodox Judaism. While this brought some letters and responses critical of her and her place on the board, the magazine defended her on the basis of its policy not to discriminate against a person or organization because of religious beliefs.
The magazine has no trouble with religious belief, per se, since it deals with unprovable things based on faith. It is when there are claims that these beliefs can be "proven" with "evidence" that the inquiry and investigation begin. As stated in each magazine, "The Skeptics Society and Skeptic magazine investigate claims by scientists, historians, and controversial figures in a wide variety of theories and conjectures" (followed by examples). Any claim open to scientific investigation is fair play.
In fact, there are believers involved with the magazine. A supporter, Martin Gardner (known for his involvement with CSICOP and the Skeptical Inquirer) is a fideisthe believes that "God" cannot be known through science, logic, or reason, only through faith and emotive reasoning. Other boards member are, as well. Steve Allen was a believer. Richard Abanes, the magazine's cult specialist and director of the Religious Information Center, is a former minister, has written for Christian magazines, and even recorded Christian music (apparently he went to the Catholic high school in my hometown). There may be others, but as Shermer puts it: "I don't know. I have never asked." And, of course, there was Dr. Laura.
In 1997, the magazine published a theme issue on "The God Question." In it, there were a number of articles from both sides (both being familiar for Shermer, who spent some time as an evangelical in college). It was this that caused the split. After reading the issue (how much she actually read is unknown), Schlessinger faxed the offices:
Please remove my name from your Editorial Board list published in your Skeptic magazine issues immediately. Science can only describe what; guess at why; but cannot offer ultimate meaning. When man's limited intellect has the arrogance to pretend to analyze God, it's time for me to get off that train.
It was followed by a voicemail
that reiterated her request and reinforced her statement.
Shermer phoned her at home and had a long conversation on the request and the subject of religion. He writes:
She made it clear and in no uncertain terms...that she was "offended" by our issue and that God was off limits to human reason and inquiry. There is a God. Period. End of discussion. I pointed out that we had gone out of our way not to offend, and that, in fact, the arguments and critiques that we presented come from some of the greatest theologians and philosophers over the past two thousand years. Arrogant all, she responded. God is not open for analysis. But which God, I inquired? There is only one God, she explainedthe God of Abraham (she clarified this to mean monotheismChristianity and Islam includednot just Judaism).
She explained how she had been an atheist
in her twenties, and though it didn't cause unhappiness, it was unfulfilling
. She said that with her current faith and beliefs, she had found both.
Shermer courteously carried out her request, though as a skeptic and person interested in the pursuit of knowledge, it left him puzzled. Why someone would not only dislike discussion on the topic but state absolutely that this part of the human experience is completely unacceptable as a path of inquiry seems against everything the magazine stands forits motto is Sum Ergo CogitoI Am Therefore I Think. He later went on to examine such ideas and the subject of belief in his book How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science.
As for the issue, it was well done so as not to offend the average person. And, as I noted, contained arguments from both sides (though there was a slight lean toward the agnostic/atheist end of the scaleShermer prefers the term "nontheist" for himself). The magazine also makes it quite clear about its aims and method as can be found in part of its statement included in each issue:
With regards to statements, hypotheses, theories, and ideologies examined by the Skeptics Society, the organization adopts the view of the 17th-century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza:
"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them."
With regard to its procedure of examination of all claims, the Skeptics Society uses the scientific method first developed in the 16th and 17th centuries. While it recognizes the limitations and socio-cultural influences on science, it adopts the philosophy of Albert Einstein:
"All of our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlikeand yet it is the most precious thing we have."
It's been there in every single issue. If it was a problem, it could have been taken care of much sooner, as all Schlessinger had to do was glance at the page opposite the one her name was listed on.
(Sources: Michael Shermer How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science, 2000, quotes pertaining to Dr. Laura are from there; numerous issues of the Skeptic)