Michael Shermer discusses skepticism at Hunter Chair


Dr. Michael Shermer, this year’s featured author for The Hunter Chair, addresses attendees at the March 20 event, during which he spoke about skepticism and beliefs that people commonly have.

Lavon Davis, Staff Writer

Promoting awareness in reading, the English Department hosted The Hunter Chair in English Literature on Tuesday, March 20, at 7:30 p.m. in the Lowrimore Auditorium of the Cauthen Educational Media Center.

Dr. Shawn Smolen-Morton, assistant professor of English, expressed pleasure in this year’s presenter.

“Dr. (Michael) Shermer is a nationally known figure, and he often appears on television to debate extra-ordinary claims like alien abduction, miracles, and conspiracy theories about the Sept. 11 attacks,” Smolen-Morton said.  “So, like many professors at FMU, I was geeked.  Also, Dr. Shermer’s presentations have a reputation for excellent delivery and meaty content.  He delivered on both counts.”

Shermer was this year’s featured author for The Hunter Chair in English Literature, also known as the Hunter Lecture Series.  Noted as a “skeptic and distinguished scholar,” Shermer currently teaches as an adjunct professor at Clairemont University, which is also where he received his Ph.D. in the History of Science.

Shermer is an author of many books that focus on proof, rather than assumption. His topics center mainly on skepticism, which deals with the scientific study of the human brain and how it works. Shermer approached the question “Why People Believe Weird Things” as the foundation for his lecture, which is also the title of one of his books.

Jesus Cruz, a junior accounting major, voiced his interest in the lecture.

“I thought it was really interesting to find out the how the brain works when making decisions,” Cruz said.  “It was fascinating to find out that our brains already determine what we’re going to do before we even do it.”

Shermer discussed the brain and how instrumental it is in the process of determining skepticism.  He tested his theory on the audience by allowing them to understand how the brain codes and stores information.

Dr. Shermer’s work has also been used in literature classes at FMU.  Professor Natalie Mahaffey, instructor of English, used his book in her class.

“I chose Michael Shermer’s book ‘Why People Believe Weird Things’ because his subject matter was something I thought would interest my students,” Mahaffey said. “Overall, I’d say the book offered a rare opportunity in my composition classes.  It gave me material that interested my students while also providing topics of research and argument.”

The Hunter Lecture Series was created to give authors an opportunity to present in an academic setting about their research and works.

“The Hunter Chair in English Literature was established in 1991 by three sisters, Dorothy Hunter Thames Ellis, Adelle Hunter West and Hattie Costa Hunter King, as a memorial to their parents, Jones Thomas and Carolyn Stroman Hunter,” Smolen-Morton said. “Due to the efforts of the sisters, FMU can offer the Hunter Lecture Series to students, faculty, and staff.”

The Hunter Chair in English Literature series is hosted annually by the English Department.