Ryan Bell’s Year Without God is soon ending. Can Richard Carrier persuade Ryan to firmly stick with atheism? Don’t miss this exciting December discussion! For 19 years Ryan Bell was a pastor, most recently the senior pastor of the Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church. In 2013 he resigned due to theological and practical differences. In January 2014, Ryan began a yearlong journey, his Year Without God. Ryan has blogged about this journey all year at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/yearwithoutgod/. In December, as his year comes to a close, Ryan will look back on his experiment with atheism. Dr. Richard Carrier is moderating this thoughtful reflection on what Ryan’s year has meant to him, and what he has discovered about the limits of both theism and atheism. Join us to listen to Ryan’s extraordinary story, and ask him questions about separating from religion and living a nonreligious life. Perhaps the most vital questions will be, “Can Ryan continue on as a nonbeliever? and, What kind of nontheism might Ryan prefer?” Don’t miss his answers!
Learn how to most effectively dismantle Christian and other theistic apologetics in the public arena from Dr. Richard Carrier, a published historian and philosopher, during the month of November. Dr. Richard Carrier has a decade of experience in formal and informal debate, cross-media counter-apologetics, and the history and philosophy of religion and naturalism. You can ask all the questions you’ve ever wanted about this subject, and get answers from an experienced pro. You’ll also benefit from his instructive commentary on the required course text, which is the little known yet essential guide to the subject, Dr. Malcolm Murray’s The Atheist’s Primer (Broadview Press 2010). Students must purchase this book for the course (purchasing advice is below). Additional course readings will be provided for free, including special lectures on tactics of debate, cognitive science of persuasion, the goals and aims of counter-apologetics, and how to covertly deploy Bayesian counter-apologetics to confound and disturb the defenders of religion.
- Teacher: Richard Carrier
Loftus argues in The Outsider Test for Faith that given the nature and wide diversity of religious faith, the only way to know which religion is true, if there is one, is the test that he explains and defends in his new book. It has been described by James Lindsay as a “silver bullet argument,” and by Richard Carrier as “one of the most effective and powerful arguments for atheism there is.” This course is based on the book. Students will read through it and discussions will be based on it. Students will learn what the test is about, think through the wide variety of objections to the test, and be invited to consider its impact on all future religious debates.
- Teacher: John Loftus
A survey of contemporary moral theory and the scientific study of morality, with an aim to improving your own moral decision-making, and encouraging the same in others. Subjects covered include: what the words “morals” and “morality” can variously mean and how to make use of that knowledge in public discourse; what we must mean when we argue others should share or adopt or agree with a moral opinion and how we can more effectively argue they should; how we can use science and philosophy to determine what our moral values are or should be, and how to reason from values to best actions; and what brain science and sociology tell us about the cognitive errors that impair sound moral decision-making and how to overcome them or control or compensate for them. Unlike religious moral systems, atheist moral systems are evidence and science based, incorporate logic and reason in an informed way, and attend to the factual realities of human life and emotion. Completing this course will help improve your ability to become a better, more thoughtful and aware person, and provide you with information and techniques to help bring others to the same state of being.
- Teacher: Richard Carrier
There’s plenty of discussion within the Humanist movement about whether and how we should create Humanist communities. Some say that organizing monthly academic lectures is all that is needed. Others think that Humanism is most vibrantly expressed through volunteerism. Still others seek to create Humanist communities that mimic religious models of community. Regardless of what sort of community you may prefer, all successful communities have some common functions and features. In this advanced workshop, Humanist educators and organizational activists Jennifer Hancock and Ann Fuller will identify, clarify, and examine the core issues: The primary communal needs of all people; Finding community – Where to get started; Attracting the right sort of people; and How do we keep our community going?
Dr. Peter Boghossian’s recent book A Manual for Creating Atheists is a powerful guide for talking people out of their faith. Study and apply the tools that Peter personally developed and successfully used for more than twenty years as a philosopher and educator. Chapters reveal how to talk with religious people in ways that will help them value reason and rationality, cast doubt on their religious beliefs, mistrust their faith, abandon superstition and irrationality, and ultimately embrace reason. Your expert guide through this book’s topics for the whole month is Dr. Richard Carrier, and he will be joined by Peter for class discussions and student Q&A during the third and fourth weeks of September. BONUS just for September – Peter will bring to the class his in-development app that teaches users how to employ a step-by-step guide to reasoning people out of unreason. Perhaps you will make a contribution to the fine-tuning of Peter’s powerful new project!
Kile and Ryan will apply their experiences of working with Christians to describe methods, pedagogies, and projects that can build coalitions between atheists and Christians. Part 1 will examine the ‘dialogical strategies’ one can use to talk with Christians, and religious people generally. Part 2 will examine the texts, authors, and philosophies one can use to think with Christians about important social and political issues. Part 3 will cover some of the work atheists and Christians can do together: separation of Church and State, inter-faith dialogue, civil rights (including race, gender, and LGBT rights), volunteering, building coalitions, and other forms of social advocacy.
Mike Werner’s book Regaining Balance: The Evolution of the UUA is not an obituary for Unitarianism, but a prescription for recovery. A recovery is urgently needed. Once one of America’s most influential Protestant denominations, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has imploded over the past 40 years, shrinking to 0.05% of the population. Why? Former American Humanist Association president Michael Werner has assembled the reasons, from a fuzzy obsession with pluralism to a disdain for the Humanist values that drove the UUA’s rise to prominence in the first place. “Follow the money,” Werner urges, as he analyzes one policy failure after another. The UUA is a proud institution that retains valuable human assets, carefully catalogued by Werner, that can seize the opportunity presented by today’s sea change in religious attitudes if it will get back to its Humanist roots. The evolution of the UUA from a focus on reason in religion to one of radical tolerance is a primary topic for discussion. Postmodernism, process theology, second wave feminism, value theory, new age, theological education, the “religious redefinition” game, population dynamics, and the age of narcissism in religion are implicated for taking the UUA to ideological extremes of indiscriminate pluralism. Mike Werner is eager to share his many insights and his proposed secular and humanist revolution for Unitarianism before it is too late.
- Teacher: Mike Werner
This course discusses the best arguments for and against the historical existence of Jesus (as the putative founder of Christianity), and we will proceed step-by-step through ways to approach them and evaluate them. Working from the first peer reviewed academic book arguing Jesus might not have existed, taught by the author himself, you will learn how to distinguish good arguments from bad, and about the background and context of the origins of Christianity as a whole. This is the best opportunity to ask Dr. Carrier, who holds a PhD in ancient history from Columbia University, all your questions about his controversial research and the historical(?) figure of Jesus. Main issues to cover: understanding the complex background to the origins of Christianity (unit 1, OHJ chs. 4, 5, & 7); comparing the competing theories of how and why Christianity began (unit 2, OHJ chs. 1, 2, & 3); understanding the Gospels and Acts as mythology and whether historical facts about Jesus can be extracted from them (unit 3, OHJ chs. 6, 9, & 10); and exploring the arguments for and against evidence for a historical Jesus in the authentic Epistles of Paul and literature outside the New Testament (unit 4, OHJ chs. 8, 11, & 12).
- Teacher: Richard Carrier
Learn how to become a paid professional Humanist celebrant and officiant in your region. The demand for nonreligious and Humanist ceremonies is growing every year and there is a shortage of trained professionals to meet that need. This introductory course alone will not ‘certify’ you or guarantee that you can declare a marriage legally binding, so we’ll make sure you understand your state’s laws. You will acquire core skills and knowledge to start practicing and taking bookings immediately. You will learn how to find clients, and get known in your area for being the officiant to choose. Learn the basics about assembling wedding ceremonies and memorials, helping people unfamiliar with humanism be proud of their choice. I can’t ‘walk’ you through an actual ceremony online, but I can help connect you with those who can lend some practical experience. In my online class, you will be introduced to professional standards for both being a celebrant and a person earning good money. Learn how to network with other professionals in your region to build your business using online and offline strategies. Understand the legal and professional requirements you need to officiate and take your business to the highest level. Take advantage of this growing opportunity to practice professional humanism in service to your community, and make a very real income along the way. This course will give you all you need to begin and succeed!
- Teacher: Han Hills
This class introduces the key concepts and theories as they pertain to the hypothesized Technological Singularity, or Intelligence Explosion. We will survey the history of the idea, the state of artificial intelligence today, and the theoretical underpinnings that give rise to the prospect of greater-than-human machine intelligence. Topics to be discussed will include the brain-as-computer analog, Accelerating Change, brain mapping initiatives, whole brain emulations versus rules-based AI, the various definitions of the Singularity, and Friendly. Along the way we will discuss the benefits and risks posed by machine superintelligence, and the ethical considerations involved.
- Teacher: George Dvorsky
Thinking Like a Historian: Historical Methods, Practice and Theory” during the month of July.
Learn how to question and investigate claims about history. Study not only the logic of historical reasoning and argument, but also a lot of the practical tips and tricks real historians employ to test and check claims. Learn the particular skills of skeptical and critical thinking about history. Primary topics: Best practices among historians; historical methods as modes of reasoning (both criteria-based and Bayesian); examples of flawed reasoning and bad arguments in peer reviewed history journals and monographs (and how to spot them as a layperson); and what to do to critically examine a claim using both immediate heuristics and procedures for more labor-intensive inquiry.
- Teacher: Richard Carrier
We will study the intersection between science and philosophy in defining and understanding free will, with the aim of learning the latest science on the nature and existence of free will and how to critically approach philosophical uses of it. Students will not only learn about the relevant elements of brain science, but also how to identify common philosophical fallacies in reasoning about free will, and the real-world application of the analysis of free will in diverse fields, from law to medical ethics. Course topics: The varieties of free will and the differences among them; identifying causes and the role of personal identity in making decisions (and what the latest brain science has to say about both); the nature and purpose of assigning responsibility to personal agents (in law, ethics, and daily life); the difference between determinism and fatalism, and the importance of addressing both personal and genetic-environmental causes of decisions when thinking about social, political, legal, and moral systems.
- Teacher: Richard Carrier
“Gender”, and what it means to be feminine or masculine, is a cultural creation that has taken on an entrenched “sacred” quality. What is socially constructed has come to be seen as biologically given, “natural”, and therefore “right”. When these ideas are challenged, either through the expression of LGBTQ identities, or in the form of explicit resistance and activism, the dominant Christian culture takes a morally charged, and culturally powerful stance against these communities. These definitions of reality are so deeply entrenched in American culture that they come to shape even the most critical and progressive individuals’ perceptions of normality. What’s more, it’s a problem endemic in secular and atheist communities, which if not directly problematized, will continue to shape perceptions of gender and sexuality within the atheist community. For these reasons and many others, sexuality and gender diversity are key issues in atheist and secular communities. This terrain is difficult to navigate and this course represents a comprehensive and simple ‘beginners guide to gender and sexual diversity’, where students will be offered insights into how certain people and groups have come to have the privilege of being considered “normal”. We will also discuss practical ways to recognize and resist how our own identities might be privileged.
Want to stand up against the Religious Right? Need solid results for protecting the secular side of society? That’s what Sean Faircloth knows about. Join this class during June to review strategies for success with a leader having impressive direct experience and a track record of getting results. Yes, for academics, Sean Faircloth graduated cum laude with a degree in Government and International Relations from the University of Notre Dame, and he has a law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. He is an author as well, publishing Attack of the Theocrats! How the Religious Right Harms Us All & What We Can Do About It in 2012. This book is based on his pragmatic experience as a ten-year state legislator and four years as a lobbyist at state and federal levels, busily advocating civic priorities and church-state separation. This course focuses on these priorities today: What it’s like in the trenches competing with the Religious Right; The First Amendment and how the Religious Right endangers it; Messaging: changing the silent secular majority into the winning secular majority; and Logistics: practical strategies for protecting separation of Church and State.
The movie God’s Not Dead, released March 2014, goes like this: “Present-day college freshman and devout Christian, Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), finds his faith challenged on his first day of Philosophy class by the dogmatic and argumentative Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo)…” The full synopsis is here and you can watch the trailer. Atheists promptly noticed how this movie suggests that atheists typically hate God and live in denial, among other caricatures drawn about nonbelievers. The arguments against God rarely get center stage and never get full consideration. Dan has blogged about this movie (you can catch up here) but this June course is Dan’s one-month intense philosophy class about why God Is Dead. Dare you join and take a seat? Unlike Kevin Sorbo’s scripted character, Dan is a real philosophy professor. In his class, there’s no poignant script, no cute quips – just serious analysis of the case for and against the existence of God. Are you a nonbeliever? Hone your understanding of the best arguments for the existence of God and the philosophical reasons that they fail. When you encounter apologists like the one in God’s Not Dead (or when you encounter the movie’s fans) you can both help them improve their own arguments — and then refute them. Are you a believer? Dan dares you to see how your faith withstands a real philosophy professor’s challenges with no movie script to protect you. Does that seem like a rigged fight? Dan’s goal is not to do what Professor Radisson does in the film — present just the atheist side of the story and demand you to deny your conscience. Instead Dan is going to teach you how to use the theist side’s best arguments, so that you will be equipped with the best strategies that he knows of for trying to counter his own arguments. And anyone who has seen Dan in action knows how he is a gentle ‘soul’ and a respectful teacher, so don’t come for a fight, but come for the conversation and education. Lights, camera, action!
Does America’s political system have a secular or religious basis? Is the United States a Christian nation, or at least one founded on theism? The course will examine these questions, along with issues of religious toleration and free conscience. We will read Jefferson, Madison, Paine, Tocqueville, and several other founders. Sean Faircloth, former executive director of the Secular Coalition for America, will join the class for a week during June. We will ponder several related issues. What does the “separation” between church and state mean and on what grounds can it be justified? How are we to interpret the religious symbols and heritage found on buildings, currency, in public practices and events, such as sermons, prayers, proclamations, and fastings? What appeals were made to religion in the struggle for American independence? How did the Founders consider religion to be an illegitimate interference with the liberty of the individual? This course will explain the religious freedoms protected under the Free Exercise and Establishment clauses of the first and sixth amendments of the Constitution. One does not have to be Christian nor religious in order to be American. This class examines the facts about the true roles that both religious and secular thinking has played in the founding of America.
Liberty University professor David Baggett and University at Buffalo professor John Shook compare their answers to the question, “Does morality need God?” during the month of June. We have publicly debated morality and God, and discussed religion and morality on vidcast shows, such as Humanist Matters. Our best arguments and counter-arguments, and enjoyment with directly engaging each other, are just too good not to share! Beyond just blunt “Oh, Yes” and “Heck, No” answers, we will explore some deeper questions that must be addressed by both sides to fully explain their positions. In four weeks we will cover four main topics: Where do moral obligations come from? What makes something morally good? Could God command an evil? Are morality and rationality actually compatible? Join us for the respectful debating, and for opportunities to jump into the energetic conversations. We hope that lots of believers and nonbelievers can join us on this thoughtful exploration.
This course introduces the philosophy and socio-cultural movement that is transhumanism. We will survey its core ideas, history, technological requirements, potential manifestations, and ethical implications. Topics to be discussed will include the various ways humans have tried to enhance themselves throughout history, the political and social aspects of transhumanism, the technologies required to enhance humans (including cybernetics, pharmaceuticals, genetics, and nanotechnology), and the various ways humans may choose to use these technologies to modify and augment their capacities (including radical life extension, intelligence augmentation, and mind uploading). Along the way we will discuss social and ethical problems that might be posed by human enhancement.
- Teacher: George Dvorsky
This one-month course builds the foundations for practical philosophy. Learn how to develop and defend your own naturalistic worldview from studying a model example, and how to employ it in your daily lives and your understanding of the world. Learn the basics of how to develop and test a philosophy of epistemology (theory of knowledge), metaphysics (theory of existence), ethics (theory of morality), aesthetics (theory of beauty), and politics (theory of government), using logical, evidence-based reasoning.
- Teacher: Richard Carrier
Ever wonder why we can never seem to stop fighting about settled scientific issues like climate change, evolution, and the safety of vaccines? Or simply why you can never seem to change a science denier’s mind? Renowned science journalist Chris Mooney has been reporting and writing on this subject for the past three years, and in this course, he walks you through a growing body of research on the psychology and emotions behind science denial. Topics covered include motivated reasoning, conspiratorial beliefs, and the psychology of political ideology and of religion. At the end of this month long course, not only will you understand what you’re actually up against when dealing with science deniers — you’ll know how to make headway against them.
- Teacher: Chris Mooney