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atheism and agnosticism

Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became
One of America’s Leading Atheists

This book was required reading for Dr. Innes Mitchell’s course, “Perspectives on Atheism” taught at St. Edwards University during spring 2012.

Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists (book cover)

Conversions on the road to Damascus are for those who hear voices and fall prey to delusions and who would be better off seeking professional help. Much more valuable in the human story are the reflections of intelligent and ethical people who listen to the voice of reason and who allow it to vanquish bigotry and superstition. This book is a classic example of the latter. —Christopher Hitchens

My kids are in the process of learning about literature, and a rule of thumb they’ve picked up concerns how to recognize the protagonist of a Story: it’s the character who undergoes the greatest transformation. This makes sense, because one of the hardest things we confront is the need to change. By this criterion, in the enormous story of what we all do with our lives, Dan Barker is one of the most interesting and brave protagonists I know. Godless is a fascinating memoir, a tour of one distressing extreme of religiosity, a handbook for debunking theism. But most of all, it is a moving testimonial to one man’s emotional and intellectual rigor in acclaiming critical thinking.—Robert Sapolsky

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50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God

This book was required reading for the following course: “Atheism” taught by Pete Boghossian.

50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God (book cover)

Many books that challenge religious belief from a sceptical point of view take a combative tone that is almost guaranteed to alienate believers or they present complex philosophical or scientific arguments that fail to reach the average reader. Journalist Guy P Harrison argues that this is an ineffective way of encouraging people to develop critical thinking about religion. In this unique approach to scepticism regarding God, Harrison concisely presents fifty commonly heard reasons people often give for believing in a God and then he raises legitimate questions regarding these reasons, showing in each case that there is much room for doubt.Whether you’re a believer, a complete sceptic, or somewhere in between, you’ll find Harrison’s review of traditional and more recent arguments for the existence of God refreshing, approachable, and enlightening.

From religion as the foundation of morality to the authority of sacred books, the compelling religious testimony of influential people, near-death experiences, arguments from “Intelligent Design”, and much more, Harrison respectfully describes each rationale for belief and then politely shows the deficiencies that any good sceptic would point out.As a journalist who has travelled widely and interviewed many highly accomplished people, quite a number of whom are believers, Harrison appreciates the variety of belief and the ways in which people seek to make religion compatible with scientific thought. Nonetheless, he shows that, despite the prevalence of belief in God or religious belief in intelligent people, in the end there are no unassailable reasons for believing in a God. For sceptics looking for appealing ways to approach their believing friends or believers who are not afraid to consider a sceptical challenge, Harrison’s book makes for very stimulating reading.—Amazon

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Philosophers without Gods: Meditations on
Atheism and the Secular Life

This book was required reading for the following course: “Atheism” taught by Pete Boghossian.

Philosophers without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life (book cover)

Atheists are frequently demonized as arrogant intellectuals, antagonistic to religion, devoid of moral sentiments, advocates of an “anything goes” lifestyle. Now, in this revealing volume, nineteen leading philosophers open a window on the inner life of atheism, shattering these common stereotypes as they reveal how they came to turn away from religious belief.

These highly engaging personal essays capture the marvelous diversity to be found among atheists, providing a portrait that will surprise most readers. Many of the authors, for example, express great affection for particular religious traditions, even as they explain why they cannot, in good conscience, embrace them. None of the contributors dismiss religious belief as stupid or primitive, and several even express regret that they cannot, or can no longer, believe. Perhaps more important, in these reflective pieces, they offer fresh insight into some of the oldest and most difficult problems facing the human mind and spirit. For instance, if God is dead, is everything permitted? Philosophers Without Gods demonstrates convincingly, with arguments that date back to Plato, that morality is independent of the existence of God. Indeed, every writer in this volume adamantly affirms the objectivity of right and wrong. Moreover, they contend that secular life can provide rewards as great and as rich as religious life. A naturalistic understanding of the human condition presents a set of challenges–to pursue our goals without illusions, to act morally without hope of reward–challenges that can impart a lasting value to finite and fragile human lives.

Collectively, these essays highlight the richness of atheistic belief–not only as a valid alternative to religion, but as a profoundly fulfilling and moral way of life. —Amazon

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Meditations for the Humanist: Ethics for a Secular Age

This book was required reading for Dr. Innes Mitchell’s course, “Perspectives on Atheism” taught at St. Edwards University during spring 2012.

Meditations for the Humanist (book cover)

“Magnanimity is in short supply,” writes A. C. Grayling is this wonderfully incisive book, “but it is the main ingredient in everything that makes the world a better place” And indeed Meditations for the Humanist: Ethics for a Secular Age is itself a generous, insightful, wide-ranging, magnanimous inquiry into the philosophical and ethical questions that bear most strongly on the human condition.

Containing nearly fifty linked commentaries on topics ranging from love, lying, perseverance, revenge, racism, religion, history, loyalty, health, and leisure, Meditations for the Humanist does not offer definitive statements but rather prompts to reflection. These brief essays serve as springboards to the kind of thoughtful examination without which, as Socrates famously claimed, life is not worth living. As Graying notes in his introduction, “It is not necessary to arrive at polished theories on all these subjects, but it is necessary to give them at least a modicum of thought if one’s life is to have some degree of shape and direction.” The book is divided into three sections-Virtues and Attributes, Foes and Fallacies, and Amenities and Goods-and within these sections essays are grouped into related clusters. But each piece can be read alone and each is characterized by brevity, wit, and a liveliness of mind that recalls the best of Montaigne and Samuel Johnson. Grayling’s own perspective on these subjects is broadened and deepened by liberal quotations from Sophocles and Shakespeare to Byron, Twain, Proust, Simone de Beauvoir, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others.

For those wishing to explore ethical issues outside the framework of organized religious belief, Meditations for the Humanist offers an inviting map to the country of philosophical reflection.—Amazon

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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)

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)

African American Secular Humanism

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

This presentation introduces the “Ethical Perspectives” segment of the course. Based largely on the work of Sikivu Hutchinson, the following topics are addressed: (1) Racism in America using high profile contemporary examples; (2) Black religiosity; (3) The Black Church as a historically important safe harbor from racism; (4) Gender Politics—why African-American women are disproportionately religious; and (5) A brief historical overview of Black Freethought and Secular Humanism.

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(110 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Refuting God

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

This presentation introduces the “Critical Perspectives” segment of the course. Basic standards for objectively evaluating evidence are discussed, before introducing the Baylor Four-God typology based on US regional differences. The work of Karen Armstrong is used to discuss how concepts of God evolved into patriarchal monotheisms, marginalizing female divinities. Dan Dennett’s concept of “Belief in Belief” is introduced before addressing Richard Carrier’s four proofs justifying why he is not a Christian. The presentation concludes with the Epicurean refutation of God and a refutation of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

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(77 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

New Atheism: Genesis of a Social Movement

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

This presentation provides contemporary historical background on Atheism as a social movement. A brief synopsis of the life of Madalyn Murray O’Hair and her American Atheists organization, representing “Old Atheism,” is followed by an overview of the New Atheist movement, from the publication of Sam Harris’ The End of Faith to present.

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(142 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

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