David Cole/Stein, Michael Shermer, Holocaust Denial, and Mystery Religions



…by Jonas E. Alexis


cole and shermer
Michael Shermer and David Cole/Stein

The Sexual allegations seemed to have been a devastating highlight in Michael Shermer’s career as a self-proclaimed skeptic, particularly when people like David Cole (now David Stein) were observing the passing scene.

Cole, who was a flaming Holocaust revisionist in the late 1980s and 1990s, disappeared for a while and renounced his Holocaust views due to death threats from Jewish organizations and groups like the Jewish Defense League, founded by Jewish terrorist Rabbi Meir Kahane.[1]

Kahane was replaced by Irv Rubin, who became the chairman of the organization. Rubin, like Kahane, had an appetite for terrorist activity and was quickly charged for getting involved in terrorist activities, including the killing of Alex Odeh, the local chairman of the pro-Palestinian American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and a decent man.[2] We are also told that

“On December 12, 2001, Irv Rubin, JDL Chairman, and Earl Krugel, a member of the organization, were charged with conspiracy to bomb private and government property.

“The two allegedly were caught in the act of planning bomb attacks against the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, California and on the office of U.S. Representative Darrell Issa, who is Arab-American.

“The two were arrested as part of a sting operation after an FBI informant named Danny Gillis delivered explosives to Krugel’s home in L.A.”

To make a long story short,

“In November 2002, while imprisoned at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles awaiting trial, Rubin slit his own throat and then tumbled off an 18- to 20-foot balcony. He had been threatening suicide in the days before.

“The injuries from the fall resulted in his death at Los Angeles County General Hospital several days later.”

Meir Kahane

In return for his life, Cole confessed his Holocaust sins to Rubin, wrote a letter of apology, and paid his dues. Shortly thereafter, the JDL posted Cole’s letter on their website, which read in part:

“This statement is given in an attempt to set the record straight about my current views regarding the Holocaust and Holocaust denial. As anyone who follows the subject of the Holocaust denial knows, from 1991 until 1994 I was well known in the movement as a Jewish Holocaust denier (a self-described ‘revisionist’).

“For the last three years I have no longer been associated with this movement, having realized that I was wrong and that the path I was taking with my life was self-destructive and hurtful to others.

“I have spent the last few years in silence on the subject of my time with the denial movement, a silence caused mainly by my shame at what I had done with my life and my desire to distance myself from that life…

“I would like to state for the record that there is no question in my mind that during the Holocaust of Europe’s Jews during World War Two, the Nazis employed gas chambers in an attempt to commit genocide against the Jews.

“At camps in both Eastern and Western Europe, Jews were murdered in gas chambers which employed such poison gases as Zyklon B and carbon monoxide (in the Auschwitz camp, for example, the gas chambers used Zyklon B). The evidence for this is overwhelming and unmistakable.

“The Nazis intended to kill all of the Jews of Europe, and the final death toll of this attempted genocide was six million. This atrocity, unique in its scope and breadth, must never be forgotten.

“During my four years as a denier, I was wracked with self-hate and loathing, a fact that many of my critics were quick to point out. Indeed, this self-hatred was obvious to most, but I was too blind to see it.

“The hate I had for myself I took out on my people. I was seduced by pseudo-historical nonsense and clever-sounding but empty ideas and catch-phrases.

“When my eyes were finally opened, thanks to several good, kind friends who refused to give up on me even at my worst, I was horrified by what I had done.

“My instinct was to flee and never look back, but I now understand that I owe it to the people I wronged to make a forceful repudiation of my earlier views.

“I also owe a very large apology, not only to the many people I enraged, and to the family and friends I hurt, but especially to the survivors of the Holocaust, who deserve only our respect and compassion, not re-victimization…

“And just as I must set the record straight concerning my views, it is also incumbent on me to set the record straight regarding the video “documentaries” and media appearances I did from 1991 to 1994.

“These ‘documentaries’ are merely videotaped garbage filled with self-hatred and pseudo-intellectual nonsense. My ‘media appearances’ were nothing but an embarrassment.

“My glazed look, specious reasoning, and talking-in-circles during my talk show appearances would have hopefully alerted any astute viewers that this was a man not in touch with reality.

“It has been brought to my attention that Bradley Smith is still using one of my videos in advertisements he is running on college campuses.

“Therefore, I would like to make these additional points: This video is being advertised without my consent, and I denounce this video as being without worth. Bradley Smith is no historian, and denial is no ‘historical field.’

“Students on college campuses should look elsewhere to find out about the Holocaust. To these students I would say, look to books like Hilberg’s ‘Destruction of the European Jews,’ Yahil’s ‘The Holocaust,’ and Dawidowicz’s ‘War Against the Jews’ for correct information.

“If your school library doesn’t stock these books, have them order copies. Do not pay any attention to any ‘David Cole’ videos, except to rightly denounce them as frauds.”

Rubin, finally, was relief and thought that he achieved victory. And for more than ten years, Cole was nowhere to be found in Holocaust revisionist circles. People were disappointed precisely because they looked up to him.

Cole seems to compare his case with Galileo, whom he believed was forced to confess his astronomical sins[3]—a purely fictitious claim.[4]

RubinIn any event, Rubin died in 2002 in jail while “awaiting trial on charges of conspiracy to bomb private and government property.”

By 2013, Cole seemed to have realized that he was purged and cleansed from his Holocaust sins. “I haven’t changed my views,” he told the Guardian. “But I regret I didn’t have the facility with language that I have now. I was just a kid.” He continued,

“For 15 years I have been David Stein. Now the genie is out of the bottle. I’m done. I’m finished. I’m not going to try to remain as David Stein.”[5]

Cole, who is now 45, continued,

“My friends are horrified. They rang and emailed to ask if it really was me. The Hollywood types are the ones hurting the most right now because they could be harmed by this. I’m feeling a certain amount of guilt.”[6]

Cole had been working in Hollywood, and when some people in the industry realized that it was that Jewish boy who was causing trouble in the early years, they almost wet their pants. One entertainment industry declared,

“When people found out it was, ‘Oh my God, get the fu$k away from him.’ There was debate about whether everyone would look guilty by association. The reason we were all so pissed at him is it plays into every horrible stereotype about the right.”[7]

Cole came out with the publication of Republican Party Animal, in which he has a long chapter about his strange relationship with Michael Shermer.

davidShermer is trying his best to ban the book from circulation, which is quite strange for a person who superficially styles himself a skeptic. Cole says that that Shermer

“got his lawyers to serve my publisher with a demand to ‘refrain from publishing or distributing’ my book! This is a man who slams religious institutions for stifling free inquiry and suppressing facts. And he wants to ban a book.

“Oh, and one other thing…along with the “cease and desist” order the lawyers sent to my publisher, they sent me one as well, with a pre-written statement of recantation that I was supposed to read publicly on Youtube….

“Anyway, Mikey’s law firm was no match for me. In a matter of hours, they retreated like that mangy dog that got its ass kicked by a cat a few weeks ago.”

Shermer feels threatened for good reason because Cole, in the early days, recorded much of his conversation with Shermer, in which Shermer actually made some stunning admission about Holocaust revisionism.

But before we get into this, it must be pointed out in passing that last year Cole decided to contact Shermer about the rape accusations precisely because Shermer deliberately accused Cole of being a racist in order to literally destroy Cole’s revisionist ideas. Cole wrote to him saying,

“Hi Mike,

“It’s the guy you never get tired of attacking, David Cole. I’ve been keeping up with this whole rape accusation thing, and, of course, I have no special knowledge beyond what I’ve read. But, and here’s the reason I’m writing to you…

“Has this experience…made you any more sympathetic, or perhaps given you a bit more empathy, regarding the things you said about me? How you branded me a ‘racist’ (the modern equivalent of calling someone a ‘witch’). How you admitted you lied. And how you refused to retract your accusation even after admitting you lied.

“So I’m interested in asking you if your current dilemma has perhaps birthed in you some small regret for having lied about me. I have no knowledge of the truth or lack thereof regarding the accusations made against you. If they’re true, there is no punishment that is too harsh for you.

“But if they’re false, well…it kinda stinks having folks print lies about you, huh? Is this a ‘chickens coming home to roost’ moment for Dr. Michael Shermer?”

Shermer responded,

“Thank you for the frank and forthright letter. To cut to the chase and answer your question, yes the libelous and defamatory comments being made about me has [sic] made me more sympathetic and understanding to how I have interacted with creationists, Holocaust revisionists, New Age gurus like Deepak Chopra, and others…

“I don’t think you are a racist David, and I’m sorry for the things I said about you. So yea David, the chickens have come home to roost, so please accept my apology for some of the things I said about you.”[8]

Shermer has made thousands of dollars in books misrepresenting people, but in secret he is apologizing to his critics. Listen to what he says in Why People Believe Weird Things:

“Christian apologetics is filled with tautologies: Is there a God? Yes. How do you know? Because the Bible says so. How do you know the Bible is correct? Because it was inspired by God. In other words, God is because God is.”[9]

Sounds like Shermer has been reading comic books and using them as a basis for his source. He certainly did not cite any serious thinking Christian who believes this, and surely he would not even attempt to scholarly interact with people like Peter van Inwagen, Alvin Plintinga, William Lane Craig, Richard Swinburne, Robert Merrihew Adams, John C. Polkinghorne, Stephen M. Barr, Mortimer J. Adler, among others.

The easiest way to ridicule your opponent is to apply a cartoonish version to his position and go after it like a bull that sees a red handkerchief.

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Denying History was already a bad and silly book, and I simply was appalled to read some of the argumentations presented.[10]

What was so amazing was that some people took those arguments seriously, which showed that those people have never been exposed to serious argumentation.

But if Cole is right about Shermer, then Denying History is perhaps the greatest joke in the history of Holocaust studies—probably much worse than Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners and more recently The Devil That Never Dies.

But the commonality between both Goldhagen and Shermer are quite striking: Goldhagen wanted to sue people like Ruth Bettina Birn for documenting that Goldhagen forged some of his sources, and Shermer wanted to sue Cole for largely recording Shermer’s own words and then reproducing them in his book.

michael-shermer1-271x320Shermer and Cole got in touch about Holocaust discussion in 1993, shortly after Cole’s appearance on the Motel Williams Show, during which both Cole and Mark Weber of the Institute of Historical Research defended a number of revisionist positions.

Cole wrote that Shermer “was impressed by my knowledge on the subject, and he wanted to dive head-first into the issue.” Shermer specifically got in touch with Cole because Shermer really thought that Holocaust revisionism would boost the readership of Skeptic magazine and move his career to a new height.Cole writes,

“After getting the chance to hear my views one-on-one, and after I shared some of my private documents, he was ecstatic.

“He felt that this topic, Holocaust revisionism, would be the golden goose with which Skeptic could lay eggs all over the humiliated face of the rival Skeptical Inquirer. From a letter dated December 28, 1993 [which is quoted in part here]:

“We are, by the way, planning a print run ten-times are [sic] normal size for this issue (from 6,000 to 60,000) because I believe the subject is timely enough to justify a broader marketing of Skeptic. Thus what we are doing takes on even more significance.

“Another disturbing fact I have encountered is the unwillingness of my fellow historians to debate you in the media. They do not wish to appear on television or on the radio in a ‘debate’ or ‘split-screen’ format because it might look like you have a legitimate position to debate.

“We do not feel this way at Skeptic and, in fact, it is our job to investigate extraordinary claims and confront them head-on in public debate. Thus, if you receive media calls in which they are looking for someone to debate you it would be acceptable if you gave them our number.”

Sure enough, Cole got Shermer got on the Phil Donahue Show, and things did not go well.

But weeks before the show, Cole told Shermer point-blank:

“But here’s my concern; you’ve only been studying this issue for, maybe, three months, at most. It’s been my entire life for five years. How exactly do you plan to debate me?”

Shermer responded, “I’m just going to have to cram a lot of reading into the next few weeks.” Cole:

“I have a better idea. Let me make a proposition. I will write out for you every single point I’ll bring up on the show. Basically, I’ll show you my hand. Now, you’ve got contacts who would never speak to me, never take my call. But they’ll talk to you.

“Especially if you tell them that you’re going up against Cole on national TV, and you need some ammo. So what do you say? I give you every point I’ll make on the show, and you take those points to every mainstream Holocaust historian, and you get the ammo to demolish me. Deal?”

“Deal,” was Shermer’s response. Here is Cole’s account of what happened next:

Holocaust-Denial- (2)“The next day, I faxed Shermer the points, which I had written as questions, to make them less threatening to the historians Shermer was going to contact. Anything I might talk about on the show would be from that list.

“Shermer was true to his word, not out of some innate sense of honesty, but because he didn’t want to look bad on TV by not having answers to my questions.

“He showed them to Michael Berenbaum (then-director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and its research institute), Sybil Milton (senior historian at the United States Holocaust Memeorial Museum) Henry Friedlander (a Holocaust survivor who, for a quarter of a century, taught history in the Department of Judaic Studies at the City University of New York), and Alex Grobman (founding editor-in-chief of the Simon Wiesenthal Annuel.

“NBC flew us to New York on the same plane, and we stayed at the same hotel….We had dinner together that night, to discuss the show. I asked him the results of his attempts to get Berenbaum, Milton, Friedlander, and Grobman to address my points.

“Michael told me, bluntly, that they were unable to address them all. In fact, he said, these foremost ‘experts’ seemed stymied by the issues I raised regarding Auschwitz and Majdanek.”

Shermer told Cole that he would tell the truth on the show, but things changed swiftly.

According to Cole, right before the show, Phil Donahue had a private meeting with Shermer and he soon realized that Shermer was not able to show that revisionism was just historical fiction.

Throughout the show, Shermer tried mightily to make a case, but even Donahue, who railed against Shermer prior to the show, was himself a little frustrated.

“I would hope that there would be some room for a full and enthusiastic response to these kinds of statements [revisionism] made by folks in the spirit of free speech,” he said.

“It seems to me that those who died in the hand of anti-Semites and dictators and fascists, the memory of those people would be honored by a vigorous rejoinder [and] inquiry. So that’s what confuses me about why we don’t have more informed people [and] tell the truth about this.”

Shermer mightily tried to regain ground with no success and then shifted the burden of proof.

“The burden of proof is not on us to prove the Holocaust happened,” Shermer declared. “That’s been happening for fifty years. We’ve established that. The burden of proof is on them to prove that it didn’t happen.”

How has the Holocaust been happening for fifty years? Well, Shermer tells us that Holocaust historians base their arguments on key foundations: a convergence of evidence made by eyewitnesses, documents, photographs, and physical evidence.[11]

Yet Shermer never tells his readers that there was a “convergence of evidence” showing that people were gassed at Belsen, Dachau, and other places; there was a “convergence of evidence” showing that the Nazis used Jewish fat to make soap. Alleged eyewitnesses were summoned, supposed documents were used, photographs were forged, and physical evidence was fabricated.

Those claims were made by a wide range of Jewish organizations, including Simon Wiesenthal. These stories, particularly the soap story, spread like wildfire in Poland, Slovakia, and even Germany.

This was so popular that “by July 1942 rumours were rife all over Eastern Europe that Jews were killed in great numbers and ‘boiled into soap.’”[12]

Now no serious Holocaust historian believes those stories. They were first challenged by people labeled “deniers,” some of whom were persecuted for challenging accepted dogma.

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Alex Odeh
Alex Odeh

To make a long story short, Shermer and his co-author wrote Denying History, but behind closed doors, Shermer was apologizing to Cole and others about what he wrote.

On the Phil Donahue Show, Shermer declared that Holocaust historians were trying to answer Cole’s questions, but in private Shermer admitted point-blank that those “experts” were remarkably “ignorant” about those issues.

“After having learned that neither Sybil Milton, Henry Friedlander, Michael Berenbaum, or Alex Grobman could address any of my points regarding the gas chambers, Sherm got even worse news post-Donahue when he interviewed Raul Hilberg and berenbaum at length, on tape (he supplied me with the transcripts).

“Hilberg flat-out stated that British-obtained ‘confession’ of Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Hoess was written by the Brits in English, with absolutely no input from Hoess, who was tortured into signing a document he was completely unfamiliar with, and which he could not read. ‘He didn’t even know what was in it,’ Hilberg admitted, ‘but he signed it. They forced him to sign it anyway.’

“And Berenbaum? He admitted that he hadn’t examined, not once, the ‘gas chamber’ evidence in his own museum.”[13]

Yet in books and articles published by Skeptic, Shermer tells a completely different story about Holocaust revisionism. Once again, Cole confronted Shermer on this very issue and recorded the conversation.

Cole: “That part [in Shermer’s article] where you claim I was in the wooden not the brick building during my investigation, makes me look stupid, like I didn’t know wood from brick.”

Shermer: “Well, It sorta came down to, that was the final segment of the article that needed to be done, and, uh, uh, with, with like, one night to go, uh, and, and that was, the best I could do.”

Cole: “What do you mean, the best you could do?”

Shermer: “That was the best I could do to answer your questions. Either that or leave them out entirely, which I didn’t want to do.”

Cole: “But you realize though, at this point, that that wasn’t the wooden barrack that I was in. You realize that we’re talking about the brick building and not the wooden barrack.”

Shermer: “Yeah.”

Cole: “And you know that I could have told you that, if you’d just asked me.”

Shermer: “Right. Well, I didn’t.”

Cole: “[laughs] So if you were going to mention my work, you had to put something in there…”

Shermer: “Yes…”

Cole: “as a kind of an answer…”

Shermer: “Yes…”

Cole: “…even if you yourself don’t really think it’s a legitimate answer.”

Shermer: “At the time I wrote it, that’s what I was thinking.”

Cole: “Just so we’re clear, because we have talked about these things before, you do realize that that really isn’t an answer to my question.”

Shermer: “Right.”

Cole: “Well, isn’t there anything better you could have done?”

Shermer: “Well, I couldn’t get any other answers, from anybody. On those questions.”

Cole: “Well, couldn’t you have said, ‘Cole’s questions, while not necessarily leading to the conclusion Cole has made, are still as of yet unanswered?”

Shermer: “Well, you should say that.”

Cole: “But I’m askin’, maybe you could have said that.”

Shermer: “Yeah, yeah I could have.”

Cole: “You say [in the article], ‘revisionists like Weber, Zundel, Irving, Cole, and Smith have tried to convince me they are not racists and have no political agendas, but they have been contradicted from within their own ranks.’ But then you don’t go on to explain anything, any kind of ‘contradiction,’ about me, even though you just included me in that grouping.”

Shermer: “Yeah, I was sorta lumping everyone I had covered in the article…”

Cole: “but that’s not fair to me.”

Shermer: “Yeah, that’s true. That’s right.”

Cole: I mean, you don’t think I’m racist…”

Shermer: “No, I don’t.”

Cole: “But, you do understand that that might give the impression I am, for people who read it who don’t know me…”

Shermer: Yeah, yeah…it would.”

Cole: “I mean, honestly, that’s not really fair to me, is it?”

Shermer: “I would agree.”

Cole: “You yourself didn’t find some kidn of solution to my question about the small levels of Zyklon B traces in the ‘homicidal’ gas chambers as opposed to the [high levels of traces in] the delousing ones.”

Shermer: “Not really, no.”

Cole: “So you still couldn’t really find any answers for that.”

Shermer: “Right.”

Cole: “But you didn’t pass that on to your readers.”

Shermer: “Well, again, David, it wsa not my goal to make you look good.”

Cole: “At the very least, you can say that my questions about the [gas chambers] forensic issue have not really been answered yet.”

Shermer: “I would say that’s true. I don’t know that there aren’t answers, I just know that I haven’t been able to get them.”

Cole: “From any of the people you’ve asked.”

Shermer: “Right.”

Cole: Maybe they have them [answers], and just chose not to tell you.”

Shermer: “No, I mean, Grobman sent ‘em off, I sent ‘em off, I haven’t heard anything back in writing. When I had talked to Sybil Milton, she was very short, uh, with me, very busy, same as Henry [Friedlander]. Now Berenbaum, I think doesn’t, I’m sure he doesn’t know. I think his knowledge is limited, from what Grobman has told me about Berenbaum, he’s kind of on the weak end of the top scholars…I don’t want you to get made, because you are, but…”

The conversation went on and on, but you get the point. Cole has also put some of the recording conversations online, during which Shermer admits that he deliberately misled his readers into thinking that Cole was a racist.[14]

Shermer continues to propound the same old game even in his new book The Believing Brain. He writes that David Irving had a slogan which basically says, “no holes, no Holocaust.” Shermer showed no citation and no source.

When I contacted Irving and pointed this to him, he wrote back and said he never said it. Irving said in reply:

“He is confusing me with Robert Faurisson. He says that. That is his catch phrase. I will defend or comment on what I say in talks, I don’t have to defend others.”

michael_shermer_menuI contacted Shermer to find out where he got the citation, but he said it probably came during one of Irving’s talks. I also pointed out to him what Irving said, but that did not stop him from repeating the same straw man in TheBelieving Brain.

So here is how Shermer reasons against some of his opponents: put a dumb label on them and then attack that label accordingly.

Shermer knows very well that he would immediately fail a logic class if he even dares to use that kind of argumentation. But that does not stop him from misleading his readers. Why?

Well, that’s how you make money and become famous these days. Listen to what he said about Irving:

“David Irving, for example, claims that there are no holes in the roof of the gas chamber at Krema 2 at Aschwitz-Birkenau. So what? So plenty, he says.

“No holes in the roof of the gas chamber at Krema 2 means that the eyewitness account of SS guards climbing up on the roof and pouring Zyklon-B gas pellets through the holes and into the gas chamber below is wrong, which means that no one was gassed in Krema 2, which means that no one was gassed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, which means that no one was gassed at any prison camp, which means that no Jews anywhere were systematically exterminated by the Nazis.”[15]

The astonishing fact is that Shermer has cited many of Irving’s books, which means that he is at least familiar with the citations and the claims made in those books! Irving admits that many Jews died in Nazi Germany, and the six-million figure is a completely different issue.

In short, Shermer deliberately put words into Irving’s mouth and then attack them. Can a serious person take Shermer seriously here?

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Christopher Hitchens

If Shermer has problems with the claims that no one has yet to prove that Jews were gassed, he should have also attacked the late Christopher Hitchens.

Chitchens made it clear in the L.A. Times that “there were no gas chambers or extermination camps on German soil, in other words, at Belsen or Dachau or Buchenwald.” Even Raul Hilberg told Hitchens,

“Look, David irving has made me go back and look at things again. David Irving has made me reexamine things I thought I knew for sure. David Irving has made me go over some ground, ask me how I know things, and I welcome this kind of challenge.”

Hitchens continued,

“I also became aware, through conversations with Deborah Lipstadt, Christopher Browning and other ‘mainstream’ writers on the subject, that there was a ‘grey area’ of what might be called Holocaust mythology: an area where it had to be admitted that certain long-held beliefs were in error.”[16]

Yet in published books, those authors and so-called experts never mention those “grey area.”

For example, in published works, Browning maintains that the Nazis wanted to exterminate “every Jew of Europe,” and this policy was “initiated by Adolf Hitler in the summer of 1941 in the euphoria of his greatest successes and his seemingly imminent victory over the Soviet Union…”[17]

The evidence? Browning simply leaves his readers completely adrift. As we have seen in previous articles, it is crazy to postulate that Hitler wanted to exterminate every Jew in Europe; there were thousands upon thousands of Jews in Nazi Germany.

Furthermore, I wonder if Shermer is willing to call Hitchens a Holocaust denier, an anti-Semite, or even a crook for saying the following:

“The Holocaust has become a secular religion, with state support in the form of a national museum.”[18]

Hitchens went so far as to say that David Irving

“is in fact not a ‘denier,’ but a revisionist, and much-hated by the full-dress ‘denial’ faction. The pages of Goebbels, as in his books on Dresden, Churchill and Hitler, contain some highly important and damning findings from his work in the archives of the Third Reich.”[19]

It seems that saying things like these would invoke cries of anti-Semitism, but Hitchens moves on to say that his mother’s family was of German and Polish Jewish descent and his wife’s family produced an Auschwitz survivor.

Foreseeing that this preface would ease his statements, Hitchens further declared, “I look forward to a time when I won’t feel any need to mention this.”[20]

Hitchens continued, implying that it was “revisionists” who first made it clear that 1) there were no gas chambers at Belsen or Dachau or Buchenwald; 2) the Nazis did not turn Jews into soap; and 3) Rudolf Hoess’ “confession” “was extracted by force.”

If a person wants to remain a serious historian, he has to abide by these historical facts now recognized by World War II historians.

If Shermer is not willing to call Hitchens a denier, why in the world is he labeling Irving a denier for saying the same thing that Hitchens is saying?

No reasonable and thinking person should take Shermer seriously. And I have no intention to plunk down the money and buy his next book because they are largely worthless when it comes to intellectual honesty and serious scholarship.

Perhaps it is time for him to grow up, leave the show business behind, and get serious about doing solid research. His Believing Brain “synthesizes thirty years of research to answer the question of how and why we believe what we do in all aspects of our lives.”[21]

Yet after thirty years of research, Shermer could not even produce a coherent argument in his book. Perhaps he was right to warn that “Beliefs come first, explanations for beliefs follow.”[22]

Throughout his book, Shermer put a heavy emphasis on evolutionary psychology, which he believes has uncontestable evidence. But evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne is not impressed. Some of the arguments propounded in evolutionary psychology, Coyne tells us, are “not science, but advocacy.”

Those evolutionary psychologists, he continued, “are guilty of indifference to scientific standards. They buttress strong claims with weak reasoning, weak data, and finagled statistics…[and] choose ideology over knowledge.” Coyne moves on to say,

“Freud’s views lost credibility when people realized that they were not based on science, but were actual ideological edifice, a myth about human life, that was utterly resistant to scientific refutation…Evolutionary psychologists are now building a similar edifice. They, too, deal in dogmas rather than propositions of science.”[23]

Other atheist scientists such as Massimo Pigliucci and Dan Agin have the similar problems with many of the theories in evolutionary psychology.[24]

Shermer, who pretends to approach any issue with a skeptical doubt (except his own cherished belief), declared,

“For a materialist such as myself, there is no such thing as ‘mind.’ It ultimately reduces down to neurons firing and neurochemical transmitter substances flowing across synaptic gaps between neurons, combining in complex patterns to produce something we call mind but is actually just brain.”[25]

When you ask Shermer the evidence for this, we hear things like, “That’s the principle of reductionism that is such an integral part of science.”[26]

The scientific evidence is unavailable, but Shermer believes this axiomatic premise anyway—and that is science! Let it be noted in passing that a number of scientists and philosophers have abandoned that dogma because it lacks coherency and logical consistency.[27]

In a nutshell, Shermer’s brain is doing his thinking. His brain is actually the hero of the plot. If it tells him to proposition a woman while his husband is elsewhere in the same room, Shermer cannot resist that lustful temptation. For him, it seems that chasing after women’s skirts is much more alluring than controlling his sexual appetite and erotic calculus.

the_selfish_geneFurthermore, the argumentation as proposed by Shermer and others here is a complete mess. Dawkins for example emphatically declares in his popular book The Selfish Genes:

“We are survival machines, robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.”[28]

Yet we are told that in the same book that

“We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth and, if necessary, the selfish memes of our indoctrination…

“We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.”[29]

We? Can robots defy the selfish gens of their birth?

This materialist ideology simply does not work, most specifically when it is applied to other areas such as music, literature and art—both ancient and modern.[30]

Finally, Shermer brings an issue in The Believing Brain that merits a response, since this has sprung up in a number of internet websites. He writes,

“Virgin birth myths likewise spring up throughout time and geography. Among those alleged to have been conceived without the usual assistance from a male were Dionysus, Perseus, Buddha, Attis, Krishna, Horus, Mercury, Romulus, and, of course, Jesus.

“Consider the parallels between Dionysus, the ancient Greek god of wine, and Jesus of Nazareth. Both were said to have been born from a virgin mother, who was a mortal woman, but were fathered by the king of heaven; both allegedly returned from the dead, transformed the idea of eating and drinking the flesh and blood of the creator, and both were said to have been liberator of mankind.

“Resurrection myths are no less culturally constructed. Osiris is the Egyptian god of life, death, and fertility, and is one of the oldest gods for whom records have survived…

“Widely worshiped until the compulsory repression of pagan religions in the early Christian era, Osiris was not only the redeemer and merciful judge of the dead in the afterlife, he was also linked to fertility and, most notably, the flooding of the Nile and growth of crops.”[31]

How interesting that Shermer did not cite the primary sources for these fraudulent assertions. The impression he seems to give here and elsewhere in the book is that Christianity seems to have borrowed much of its ideas from mystery religions.

cultThese ideas have been made popular in a slightly different tone on the internet, specifically with the movie called Zeitgeist. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Osiris for example was the son of Nut, the sky-goddess, and Geb, the earth-god. Nut was an adulterer and was formerly the wife of the Sun. While Osiris was inside Nut’s womb, he fell in love with his sister Isis, with whom he had sexual intercourse and produced a child named Horus.

Nut also had other offspring, whose names were Nephthys, Set, etc. After their birth, Osiris again had sexual intercourse with Nephthys, the wife of his brother, Set. Filled with anger and rage, Set ended up drowning Osiris in the Nile River and cutting him into 14 pieces.

Isis found the pieces but could not find the last one, Osiris’s sexual organ. As a result, she reconstructed it with pieces of wood and began to have sexual intercourse with him. The mythological story goes on and on.

Likewise, Dionysus was the Greek god of wine and revelry, madness, and ecstasy, which also encompasses religious dance and, according to Herodotus, demon possession.[32]

Dionysus, according to mythology, also had a sexual relationship with Zeus and eventually died. Zeus was a masturbator and ended up spilling his seed on the side of a mountain, which became a pomegranate tree, and which gave birth to Attis.

Nearly all the gods had some form of sexual infatuation, including Buddha’s mother, Horus, Jupiter, Mercury, and even Krishna.

Silvia for example was raped by Mars, and Attis’ mother got pregnant by a dismembered penis of Adgistis.[33] Attis was sexually promiscuous and unfaithful to his lover, who eventually drove him completely insane. In the process, he castrated himself and bled to death.

Here’s what the Apostle Paul says,

“But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils, Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and the table of devils. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” (1 Corinthians 10:20-22).

Moreover, when Paul was on top of Mars’ Hill, when he mentioned the resurrection to the pagan philosophers, “some mocked, and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter” (Acts 17:32).

As one writer has pointed out, they could have just said something like, “This sounds like the stuff we have read from Homer and others. No difference.”

Christians, from the first century and all the way to the fourth century, were killed, tortured, decapitated, thrown to the lions, for believing in monotheism and were even called “atheists” for rejecting the very essence of the Osiris-Dionysus-Bacchus and pagan worship, and now we are being told that they got their ideas from mystery religions!

Ancient historian Manfred Clauss of the Free University of Berlin argues that it does not make any sense to interpret the mystery religions “as a forerunner to Christianity.” He adds, “Mithraism was an independent creation with its own unique value within a given historical, specifically Roman, context.”[34]

Likewise, scholar of antiquity Edwin M. Yamauchi argues that Mithraism could not have influenced Christianity in any theological or historical context for the very reason that Christianity is older than Mithraism and the texts for Mithraism are dated after A.D. 140.

Moreover, what is made available to scholars is only dated from the second, third, and fourth centuries A.D. In a similar vein, other scholars and archeologists such as Richard Gordon declare that the story of Mithraism was not popular until the reign of Hadrian! In other words, the historical evidence for mystery religions in first-century Palestine is non-existent.

In addition, mystery religions were secret cults and operated within two basic principles: “The injunction to silence, intended to prohibit ritual details from reaching the outside world; and the promise of salvation to the initiates.”[35]

In other words, they were forerunners of Freemasonry. Yet both Jesus and many of his diciples, when they were on trial, declared that they did nothing in secret (John 18:20; Matthew 10:26-27; Acts 26:26). In the words of Oxford scholar E. J. Yarnold,

“The fervor with which historians used to detect wholesale Christian borrowings from the Mithraic and other mysteries has now died down.”

In a similar vein, Oxford historian Robin Lane Fox denounced those who draw parallels between Christianity and pagan religions as irresponsible.[36] Others scholars such as L. Patterson and Gary Lease have made similar remarks.

Interestingly enough, the idea that Christianity borrowed from pagan religions was started by none other than Richard Reitzenstein (1861-1931), a German Jewish classical philologist who started the History of Religions School in Germany.

Then the idea began to mutate in the minds of other Jewish scholars such as Hugh J. Schonfield who wrote Those Incredible Christians. Then it progressively migrated into a book that is known only to scholars named The Golden Bough, by James Frazer (1854-1941).[37]

Then popular authors began to adopt the idea and spread it into the cultural landscape. Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy’s The Jesus Mysteries and Tom Harpur’s The Pagan Christ are classic examples.

Yet the story became even problematic for those mythicists when their theories are confronted with a core historical claim. Noted historian of antiquity T. N. D. Mettinger, responding to these allegations, declared,

“There is, as far as I am aware, no prima facie evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct, drawing on the myths and rites of the dying and rising gods of the surrounding world.”

Moreover, the mythicists’ comparison between Christianity with Mithraism is a terrible non-sequitor.

For example, Jesus was born of a virgin, but Mithras was born out of a rock! And all through the early centuries, the early church fathers pinned Mithraism as a satanic cult.

All through the New Testament, Christians are told to “keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). In Athens, Paul’s “spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry” (Acts 17:16).

Yet now we are being told that the early Christians borrowed from those cults. It simply boils down to fanciful speculations, some of which are summoned deliberately. As scholar Ronald H. Nash pointed out,

“The uncompromising monotheism and the exclusiveness that the early church preached and practiced make the possibility of any pagan inroads…unlikely, if not impossible.”

There is still time for Shermer to grow up. But until then, we should never pay attention to many of his bold claims and comfortable hoaxes.

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[1] See for example Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (Berkley: University of California Press, 2003), 54-55.

[2] See Ed Pilkington, “Renewed Push to Investigate Alex Odeh Murder Begins 28 Years After Bombing,” Guardian, October 15, 2013.


[4] For historical studies on this vitally important issue, see for example Ronald L. Numbers, ed., Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Modern Myths (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009); Edward Grant, Science and Religion,400 B.C. to A.D. 1550: From Aristotle to Copernicus (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004); Gary Ferngren, ed., Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002); John Hedley Brooke, Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspective (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998); David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers, God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounters between Christianity and Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986); When Science and Christianity Meet (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).

[5] Quoted in Rory Carroll, “Hollywood conservative unmasked as notorious Holocaust revisionist,” Guardian, May 3, 2013.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] David Cole, Republican Party Animal: The “Bad Boy of Holocaust History” Blows the Lid Off Hollywood’s Secret Right-Wing Underground (Port Townsend, WA: Feral House, 2014), chapter 6.

[9] Michael Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudo-Science, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997 and 2002), 57.

[10] We have already looked at some of those arguments in previous articles.

[11] Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things, 214.

[12] Walter Laqueur, The Terrible Secret: Suppression of the Truth about Hitler’s “Final Solution” (New York: Henry Holt, 1998), 145.

[13] emphasis in original.


[15] Michael Shermer, The Believing Brain: How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths (New York: Times Books, 2012), 251.

[16] All citations are from Cole’s book.

[17] Christopher R. Browning, “‘Final Solution,’” Israel Gutman, ed., The Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Vol. II(New York: Macmillan, 1990), 488-489.

[18] Christopher Hitchens, “The Strange Case of David Irving,” LA Times, May 20, 2001.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Shermer, The Believing Brain, 6.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Quoted in Joan Roughgarden, Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People (Berkley: University of California Press, 2004), 174.

[24]Massimo Pigliucci, Nonsense on Stilts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 2010), 304; Dan Agin, More Than Genes (New York: Oxford University Press: 2010), 303.

[25] Shermer, The Believing Brain, 27.

[26] Ibid.

[27] See for example Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); Robert C. Koons and George Bealer, ed., The Waning of Materialism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); Edward Kelly and Emily Williams Kelly, ed., Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010); David J. Chalmers, The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); John Foster, The Immaterial Self: A Defense of the Cartesian Dualist Conception of the Mind (New York: Routledge, 1991).

[28] Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1976), 215.

[29] Ibid., preface.

[30] For a similar study on this, see for example Aniruddh D. Patel, Music, Language, and the Brain (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Isabelle Peretz and Robert J. Zatorre, eds., The Cognitive Neuroscience of Music (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2003); Gilbert Rouget, Music and Trance: A Theory of the Relations Between Music and Possession (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985); Peter Wilson, eds., Music and the Muses: The Culture of “Mousike” in the Classical Athenian City (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); Frances S. Connelly, The Sleep of Reason: Primitivism in Modern European Art and Aesthetics, 1725-1907 (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995); Bram Dijkstra, Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Sicle Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986); Carl Roebuck, ed. The Muses at Work: Arts, Crafts, and Professions in Ancient Greece and Rome (Boston: MIT Press, 1969); Steven H. Lonsdale, Dance and Ritual Play in Greek Religion (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UniversityPress, 1993); Efrossini Spentzou and Don Fowler, eds., Cultivating the Muse: Struggles for Power and Inspiration in Classical Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkley: University of California Press, 1951); Rosamond E. M. Harding, An Anatomy of Inspiration and an Assay of the Creative Mood (New York: W. Heffer & Sons, 1948); John Bartholomew O’Connor, Chapters in the History of Actors and Acting in Ancient Greece (New York: Haskell House, 1966); Lillian Feder, Madness in Literature (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1980).

[31] Ibid., 205.

[32] See E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951), chapter 3. This was one reason why Nietzsche favored Dionysus over the Christian God because Dionysus, according to Nietzsche, would bring about the transvaluation of all values, including sexual values. Nietzsche introduced the idea in The Birth of Tragedy, first published in 1871 (the year in which Darwin published The Descent of Man), and moved on to expand on it in nearly all his other writings. For scholarly accounts on Nietzsche and the Greek god Dionysus, see Charles Segal, Dionysiac Poetic and Euripides’ Bacchae (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982); John Burt Foster, Heirs to Dionysus; A Nietzschean Current in Literary Modernism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981); Martin Persson Nilsson, The Dionysiac Mysteries of the Hellenistic and Roman Age (New York: Arno Press, 1979); Ismene Lada-Richards, Initiating Dionysus: Ritual and Theater in Aristophanes’s Frogs (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

[33] For studies on all these issues, see Richard S. Caldwell, The Origin of the Gods (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989); William Hansen, Classical Mythology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004);Carl Olson, Original Buddhist Sources (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2005); Robert E. Bell, Women of Classical Mythology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Anna Libera Dallapiccola, Hindu Myths (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003); Dimitri Meeks and Christine Favard-Meeks, Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods (New York: Cornell University Press, 1996); Carole Newlands, Playing with Time: Ovid and the Fasti (New York: Cornell University Press:,1995); Helen Morales, Classical Mythology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

[34] Manfred Clauss, The Roman Cult of Mithras: The God and His Mysteries (New York: Routledge, 2001), 7.

[35]Ibid., 14.

[36] See his long treatise on the history of Christianity and paganism in Pagans and Christians (New York: Penguin, 1986).

[37] For a sociological and historical critique of Frazer’s work, see Rodney Stark, Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief (New York: HarperOne, 2007).

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