“The Moral Arc – How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice and Freedom” by Michael Shermer.

Shermer discusses and autographs copies of “The Moral Arc” at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 21 at Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande NW.

By David Steinberg

Michael Shermer:

The basic idea of Michael Shermer’s new book “The Moral Arc” is that science and reason are making the world a better place.

This better place isn’t a utopia, a place where all are happy. Shermer rejects utopia as a false theory of human nature.

He embraces futurist Kevin Kelly’s notion of protopia. Protopia is, Shermer writes, “a place where progress is steadfast and measured.” In other words, yearly moral progress that is incremental.

Shermer argues that this moral progress has been building for the last 500 years and especially so since the Enlightenment set out scientific methods for observing and interpreting phenomena.

He cites examples from our own time of that slow but steady progress – civil rights, gay rights, animal rights.

“There is a second burst (in gay rights) with same-sex marriage. We can see how it happens. It starts with a handful of an oppressed minority who won’t put up with laws that block them. Gay activism began in 1969, he noted, at the Stonewall  Inn,  a gay bar in New York City.

When a person knows somebody in an oppressed minority, “you are more tolerant of their differences and it expands the moral sphere and you treat them with respect,” Shermer, a historian and psychologist, said in a phone interview.

He acknowledged the exceptions in the world, “Islamic nationalism, medieval theocracy led by a handful of people at the top. Some African nations are run by corrupt politicians.”

But, he said, quoting the Gates Foundation, poverty is predicted to be eliminated in 15 years.

Shermer also rejects religion as the driving force behind moral progress. He enumerates reasons for his rejection. He also cites humanity’s significant missteps.

He references the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the start of the book, showing the inspiration for the book’s title.

It quotes from King’s 1965 speech in Mongtomery, Ala., at the conclusion of the infamous Selma march, “…the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Shermer’s book expands that notion. The moral arc, he declares, also bends towards truth and freedom. The bending of all three results largely from secular forms of governance.

Shermer sets out to explain why science and reason are – and have been – the necessary paths to that goal.

“This is my grand statement of my lifelong research,” Shermer said.

The book has received widespread praise. One is comes from Pulitzer Prize winning author Jared Diamond: “In the process of reading it, you’ll learn about wrenching moral dilemmas such as pitying ransoms to Somali pirates, maintaining nuclear weapons as deterrents, good people becoming Nazis, and the immorality of the Bible…”

Henry Holt is the publisher of the book “The Moral Arc.” An audio recording of “The Moral Arc,” which was made at John Wagner Recording Studios in Albuquerque, is available through audible.com and iTunes. Shermer and Albuquerque’s Melody Zownir, are the readers.

Shermer has plans to make a documentary film from the book.