Dr. Michael Shermer's Commencement Speech

The Meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything. He also received an honorary doctorate...

by Professor Teresa LeVelle

Dr. Michael Shermer, you are one of America’s leading champions of science and a dedicated debunker of pseudo-scientific and supernatural claims. By questioning your own religious tenets as a graduate student in experimental psychology, your beliefs were dramatically shifted and your life was transformed. You show us – scientists and non-scientists alike – why the principles of science and scientific inquiry are important to everyone. You are the author of numerous articles, including a monthly column in Scientific American magazine. And you’ve penned ten captivating books, including the bestseller, Why People Believe Weird Things, in which you show the kinds of errors in thinking that lead even intelligent and well-meaning people to believe unsubstantiated claims. Of your most recent book, The Mind of the Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics, one prominent reviewer said, “Roving over the entire sweep of history, and drawing on the best of modern science, Shermer attempts a grand synthesis of research from psychology and the neurosciences to demonstrate that markets are moral and that free trade meshes well with human nature. [He] entertains as well as informs.”

As a prolific author and journalist, you are one of today’s strongest provocateurs, challenging us all to consider some of humanity’s most important and compelling questions. At our College, we prepare graduates who — like you — conduct systematic research, synthesize complex information, and present cogent arguments.

As the founder of one of this country’s leading skeptics’ organizations, you are a celebrated promoter of “critical thinking and lifelong inquisitiveness.” You have been the voice of reason on many television programs and documentaries including the Oprah Winfry Show, Larry King Live and the Colbert Report. At Whittier College, we nurture these same habits of mind in our students.

As a courageous questioner, you examine the often convoluted borders among science, religion, culture, and politics, and you do it with civility, a sense of humor and a sincere interest in understanding the perspectives of others. This approach, too, we nurtured in the graduates before you today.

In addition to being an accomplished scientist, historian, and journalist, you are a dedicated father and husband. You have tested the scientific limits of human endurance by walking on hot coals barefoot, completing the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon and as a world- record-setting ultra-marathon cyclist, racing multiple times across the United States (including an amazing 83 hour ride from the Santa Monica Pier to Lincoln, Nebraska without stopping for sleep). Described as “a powerful activist and essayist in the service of… reason,” your life and your work are emblematic of many of the values we hold dear at Whittier College. For these reasons, Madam President, I am honored to present my friend Dr. Michael Brant Shermer for the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.