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morality

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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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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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)

Knowledge, Value and Rationality

This course was taught at Portland State University.

Excerpt from Syllabus

The fundamental learning objectives of this course are threefold: 1) to empower students to be trustful of reason and to give them hope that they can make better communities and live better lives, 2) to demonstrate that there are better and worse ways of reasoning morally, and that the process one uses to make moral decisions can either contribute to, or alleviate, real life suffering and misery, 3) to teach student not to withhold moral judgment, but how to make better, more discerning moral judgments.

This class has the potential to disabuse students of ideologies and specious reasoning processes that bring students’ beliefs out of lawful alignment with reality. Specifically, it is meant to be both an antidote and a prophylactic to pedagogical constructivism, cultural relativism, radical epistemological subjectivism and faith-based belief systems. As such, this course should be viewed more as a moral and cognitive intervention than as a cannon of information that needs to be disseminated, assimilated and then assessed.

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(231 kb PDF)

Social Singularity

From bands and tribes to chiefdoms and states, to become a Type 2.0 global civilization our polity and economy must evolve along with our science and technology. Politics, economics, and religion have been identified as a major cause of strife and conflict between nations. That’s too easy. The problem is not religion X or political party Y or economic ideology Z. The problem is tribalism. We are a social primate species, and as such we are exceptionally tribal.

Group identity is essential to our sense of self. Religious tribalism, political tribalism and economic tribalism have plagued our species since the birth of Civilization 1.0 starting 10,000 years ago. We need new science and technologies to reach Civilization 2.0, but without evolved political and economic systems, we will not make it. In this powerpoint, evidence will be presented in support of the observation of the 19th century social reformer and slave abolitionist Theodore Parker: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

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(82 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Perspectives on Atheism

This course was taught at St. Edwards University in spring 2012.

Excerpt from Syllabus

American mythology claims the United States is a Christian nation, increasingly accepting of all denominations and faiths. What about non-belief? Should atheism be written into, and become part of the American story? Has it already? From a rhetorical perspective this course will address a variety of related questions:

  • What are the narratives of atheism? Whose voices tell the stories and what are their interests?
  • What are the arguments for atheism?
  • How is atheism framed, both positively and negatively?
  • Why has “New Atheism” appeared recently as a social movement? What are the aspirations of the movement, the strategies used for altering perspectives, and who are their audiences?

This course will examine four different perspectives from which to view these issues:

  1. The personal perspective of “Letting Go of God”
  2. The critical perspective taking religion as its object
  3. The social perspective examining secularism in a free society
  4. The ethical perspective addressing the tenets of secular humanism.

There is an alternative American myth claiming the United States is a beacon of Liberty, carrying the torch of progressive values, scientific endeavor, and human rights ignited by the Enlightenment. Which American myth appeals to us? This overarching question will guide our journey.

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(420 kb PDF)

The Mind of the Market

In this lecture Shermer addresses three aspects of evolution and economics: (1) How the market has a mind of its own—that is, how economies evolved from hunter-gathering to consumer-trading. (2) How minds operate in markets—that is, how the human brain evolved to operate in a hunter-gatherer economy but must function in a consumer-trader economy. (3) How minds and markets are moral—that is, how moral emotions evolved to enable us to cooperate and how this capacity facilitates fair and free trade.

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(58 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

The Science of Good & Evil

The Origins of Morality and How to be Good Without God

In The Science of Good and Evil, a lecture based on the third volume in his trilogy on the power of belief, Dr. Shermer tackles two of the deepest and most challenging problems of our age: (1) The origins of morality and (2) the foundations of ethics. Does evil exist, and if so, what is the nature of evil? Is it in our nature to be moral, immoral, or amoral? If we evolved by natural forces then what was the natural purpose of morality? If we live in a determined universe, then how can we make free moral choices? Why do bad things happen to good people? Is there justice in the world beyond the social order? If there is no outside source to validate moral principles, does anything go? Can we be good without God? In this stunning conclusion to an intellectual journey into the mind and soul of humanity, Dr. Shermer peels back the inner layers covering our core being to reveal a complexity of human motives—selfish and selfless, cooperative and competitive, virtue and vice, good and evil, moral and immoral—and how these motives came into being as a product of both our evolutionary heritage and cultural history, and how we can construct an ethical system that generates a morality that is neither dogmatically absolute nor irrationally relative, a rational morality for an age of science.

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(69 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

The Psychology of Political Beliefs

Taken from the chapter in his book The Believing Brain on the psychology of political beliefs, Dr. Shermer considers how belief systems operate in the realm of politics, economics, and ideologies. He reviews the research on why people vote Republican or Democrat, why we are so predictable in our political beliefs that if you know where someone stands on, say, abortion, you can predict where they stand on a number of other political issues, and what these political beliefs say about the nature of human nature.

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(34 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Rise Above: How the World Works…or Should Work

In this lecture, Dr. Shermer integrates several strands of thought on the evolution of morality, ethics, the history of civilization, and how to be good without god by creating a society that accentuates the positive aspects of human nature while attenuating the negative aspects. He shows how and why both liberal democracy and free trade lead to better societies and that we can “rise above” our inner demons by bringing out the better angels of our nature.

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(87 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

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