Skeptic: Examining Extraordinary Claims and Promoting Science Skeptic: Examining Extraordinary Claims and Promoting Science

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for the Academic Discipline of:
sociology and/or anthropology

The Moral Arc of Science

This course was taught at Chapman University during the spring 2013 semester as an undergraduate course.

Excerpt from Syllabus

This course addresses the evolutionary origins of morality, the developmental psychology of moral emotions, the historical course of moral development throughout the history of civilization, and the forces that have bent the arc of the moral universe toward truth, justice, freedom, and prosperity.

Students will look at how the arc of the moral universe bends toward truth, justice, freedom, and prosperity thanks to science the type of thinking that involves reason, rationality, empiricism, and skepticism. The Scientific Revolution led by Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton was so world-changing that thinkers in other fields consciously aimed at revolutionizing the social, political, and economic worlds using the same methods of science. This led to the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment, which in turn created the modern secular world of democracies, rights, justice, and liberty.

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Popular Archeology: Myths & Mysteries

This course was taught at the University of Texas at El Paso during the spring 2013 semester.

Excerpt from Syllabus

This course is designed to introduce students to a variety of critical thinking skills and to encourage them to practice those skills in the context of evaluating popular claims, especially extraordinary claims about topics relevant to anthropology and archeology. It is intended for students who are attracted to the interesting topics identified with anthropology in the popular media, but the level of instruction assumes no prior experience in anthropology. Students will learn about the methods used to interpret the physical traces of behavior, and how to distinguish scientific arguments from pseudoscience and non-science. Lectures, readings and class exercises will examine a variety of non-scientific explanations for past and present events, such as UFOs and ancient astronauts, Bigfoot, pyramid power, Atlantis, creationism and intelligent design, the Book of Mormon, dowsing, climate change denial, and psychic archeology.

Does Bigfoot roam the mountains of Oregon, and do his cousins hang out in the Sacramento Mountains of southern New Mexico? Are they shape-shifters, or do they use wormholes to travel the time-space continuum? Are extraterrestrial aliens like the ones who crashed in Roswell, New Mexico silvers or greens? Is there really an exotic blood-sucking animal called chupacabra killing livestock in the southern U.S. and northern Mexico, or is it just a hairless raccoon? Should we believe Senator James Inhofe when he says that global climate change is a hoax? Is cell phone use harmful to your health? Do the Power Balance bracelets worn by Drew Brees and Kobe Bryant provide any real scientific advantage to athletes? Are modern humans related to ancient prehistoric peoples, or were we created in modern form? Is there reliable evidence to support the claims that psychics can reveal details about the past or make valid predictions about the future? Was planet earth really visited by ancient astronauts, and did they teach Egyptians how to build the pyramids? How can we know the answers to such questions? In fact, how can we know the truth about any claim? We are bombarded by information and claims all the time, and it is vitally important, now more than ever, that we be able to distinguish valid information and warranted conclusions from those that are not. How can we do this, especially when the claims involve events that occurred in the prehistoric past, were not witnessed by humans, or were not documented in written records?

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Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries:
Science & Pseudoscience in Archaeology

This book was required reading for Jeffrey Behm’s course, “Fantastic Archaeology” taught at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh during the fall 2010 semester.

Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology (book cover)

Committed to the scientific investigation of human antiquity, this indispensable supplementary text uses interesting archaeological hoaxes, myths, and mysteries to show how we can truly know things about the past through science.

Examples of fantastic findings support the carefully, logically, and entertainingly described flaws in the purported evidence. By placing wildly inaccurate claims within the context of the scientific method, Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries demonstrates how science approaches fascinating questions about human antiquity and, in so doing, shows where pseudoscience falls short. —Amazon

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Darwinian Arts & Notions of Beauty

The presentation explores the evolutionary basis for the creation and consumption of art in all forms. It discusses art’s adaptive function; as well as, its role in natural and sexual selection. The universality and evolutionary basis of aesthetic tastes in art is also discussed. This presentation was created by Amanda Limongi for Dr. Michael Shermer’s course, “Evolution, Economics & the Brain” taught at Claremont Graduate University during the spring 2012 semester.

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(6.6 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Paranormal Claims: A Critical Analysis

This book was required reading for Dr. Bryan Farha’s course, “Sociology of Belief” taught at Oklahoma City University during spring 2011.

Paranormal Claims (book cover)

Published in April of 2007, this academic text features articles regarding paranormal, extraordinary, or fringe-science claims. It logically examines the claims of astrology; psychic ability; alternative medicine and health claims; after-death communication; cryptozoology; and faith healing, all from a skeptical perspective. Paranormal Claims is a compilation of some of the most eye-opening articles about pseudoscience and extraordinary claims that often reveal logical, scientific explanations, or an outright scam. These articles, steeped in skepticism, teach critical thinking when approaching courses in psychology, sociology, philosophy, education, or science. —Amazon

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Why People Believe Weird Things:
Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions
of Our Time

This book was required reading for the following courses: (1) “Skepticism 101: How to Think Like a Scientist Without Being a Geek” taught by Michael Shermer, (2) “Weird Science” taught by John Donovan, and (3) “Skepticism, Science, & the Paranormal” taught by Martin Bridgstock.

Why People Believe Weird Things (book cover)

In this age of scientific enlightenment, many people still believe in mind reading, past-life regression theory, New Age hokum, and alien abduction. A no-holds-barred assault on popular superstitions and prejudices, Why People Believe Weird Things debunks these nonsensical claims and explores the very human reasons people find otherworldly phenomena, conspiracy theories, and cults so appealing. Michael Shermer takes on science luminaries like physicist Frank Tippler and others, who hide their spiritual beliefs behind the trappings of science.

Shermer, science historian and true crusader, also reveals the more dangerous side of such illogical thinking, including Holocaust denial, the recovered-memory movement, the satanic ritual abuse scare, and other modern crazes. Why People Believe Weird Things is an eye-opening resource for the most gullible among us and those who want to protect them.

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Roots of Liberty: Enlightenment Humanism and American Secular Heritage

This PowerPoint is part of a course titled, “Perspectives on Atheism.”

This presentation introduces the “Social Perspectives” segment of the course. JFK’s remarks on the separation of Church and State to the Houston Ministerial Association in 1960 are addressed in the context of Rick Santorum’s criticism. Sean Faircloth’s book, Attack of the Theocrats, is previewed. The question “Is America a Christian Nation?” is addressed before examining the phenomenon of Christian Nationalism. The American Constitution as a document expressing Enlightenment principles is examined. Recent rulings of the Texas School Board are used to illustrate the political effects of Christian Nationalism. The presentation concludes with the lawsuit brought on behalf of Jessica Ahlquist as an inspiring illustration of defending secularism.

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(99 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Evolution, Economics & the Brain

This course was taught at Claremont Graduate University during the spring 2012 semester.

Excerpt from Syllabus

Evolution, Economics, and the Brain is a doctoral-level Transdisciplinary Course designed to address large issues in which students employ knowledge and research protocols from many different disciplines to shed new light on specific problems. One of the books assigned—Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature—integrates evolution, history, anthropology, sociology, psychology, economics, and political science to explain a single phenomenon: the decline of violence. It is a model work in transdisciplinary integration.

A transdisciplinary and integrative overview of evolutionary theory, evolutionary economics, and neuroscience (“Evolution, Economics, and the Brain”) that includes a brief history and science of evolutionary theory, along with the evolution-creationism controversy and how it evolved in the context of American history and culture. As well, the application of evolutionary theory will be considered in its integration into psychology, anthropology, ethics, and economics. The course also includes an introduction to behavioral neuroscience and will focus on teaching students how new findings in the brain sciences can inform their work in the social sciences and humanities. For example: How reward acquisition is affected by risk; Why humans are typically risk-averse and when they are not; Hyperbolic discounting of future rewards; How interpersonal trust is built and maintained; How “rational” vs. “irrational” decisions are made; The basis for cooperation and aggression; The reason people punish others; The role of hormones in decisions; The basis for social norms or ethics; The sense of justice; The basis for love and hate and how these effect decisions; War and peace; Human nature; The decline of violence; The humanitarian and rights movements; and more.

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Rejecting Conformity to Religious Belief

This PowerPoint is part of a course titled, “Perspectives on Atheism“.

This presentation introduces the “Personal Perspectives” segment of the course. It covers the typologies of apostasy based on the work of Sociology Professor Phil Zuckerman, before introducing “The Clergy Project.” The personal experiences of Dan Barker are discussed. Various psychological factors underlying conformity to religious belief are examined, including obedience to authority, social proof, and groupthink.

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(77 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Parenting Beyond Belief: Raising Freethinkers

This PowerPoint is part of a course titled, “Perspectives on Atheism“.

This presentation draws on the work of Dale McGowan, and addresses the following topics: (1) Prevalent cultural attitudes towards atheists; (2) Our evolved tendency towards moral behavior; (3) The campaign against labeling children; (4) McGowan’s “Seven Secular Values”; (5) The Purpose Driven Life; (6) Addressing Death with Children; (7) Creative Secular Rituals; and (8) McGowan’s “Best Practices” for raising freethinkers.

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(101 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

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