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book recommendations

Although the other resources in this Resource Center are free, we cannot make these books available at no cost. We recommend them to you based on the required readings for the many course syllabi professors have shared with us.

Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking

This book was required reading for Stephen Sekula, John Cotton, and Randall Scalise’s course, “The Scientific Method: Critical & Creative Thinking” taught at Southern Methodist University.

Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking (book cover)

Used in a variety of courses in various disciplines, Asking the Right Questions helps students bridge the gap between simply memorizing or blindly accepting information, and the greater challenge of critical analysis and synthesis. Specifically, this concise text teaches students to think critically by exploring the components of arguments–issues, conclusions, reasons, evidence, assumptions, language–and on how to spot fallacies and manipulations and obstacles to critical thinking in both written and visual communication. It teaches them to respond to alternative points of view and develop a solid foundation for making personal choices about what to accept and what to reject. —Publisher

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Fighting Words:
A Toolkit for Combating the Religious Right

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

Fighting Words: A Toolkit for Combating the Religious Right (book cover)

The religious right is gaining enormous power in the United States, thanks to a well-organized, media-savvy movement with powerful friends in high places. Yet many Americans — both observant and secular — are alarmed by this trend, especially by the religious right’s attempts to erase the boundary between church and state and re-make the U.S. into a Christian nation. But most Americans lack the tools for arguing with the religious right, especially when fundamentalist conservatives claim their tradition started with the Framers of The Constitution. Fighting Words is a a tool-kit for arguing, especially for those of us who haven’t read the founding documents of this nation since grade school. Robin Morgan has assembled a lively, accessible, eye-opening primer and reference tool, a “verbal karate” guide, revealing what the Framers and many other leading Americans really believed — in their own words — rescuing the Founders from images of dusty, pompous old men in powdered wigs, and resurrecting them as the revolutionaries they truly were: a hodgepodge of freethinkers, Deists, agnostics, Christians, atheists, and Freemasons — and they were radicals as well.—Amazon

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Attack of the Theocrats!

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

Attack of the Theocrats! How the Religious Right Harms Us All -- and What We Can Do About It (book cover)

While much of the public debate in the United States over church-state issues has focused on the construction of nativity scenes in town squares and the addition of “under God” to the Pledge, Faircloth, who served ten years in the Maine legislature and is now Director of Strategy & Policy for the U.S. Richard Dawkins Foundation, moves beyond the symbolism to explore the many ways federal and state legal codes privilege religion in law.

Faircloth speaks around the nation on the Constitution, separation of church and state, and secular strategy. Faircloth also served for a decade in the Maine legislature, successfully spearheading over thirty laws. In his last term in office, Faircloth was elected Majority Whip by his caucus colleagues. —Amazon

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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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Baloney Detection Kit

This book was required reading for the following course: “Critical Thinking: Reason & Evidence” taught by Pete Boghossian.

Baloney Detection Kit (book cover)

This 16-page booklet is designed to hone your critical thinking skills. It includes suggestions on what questions to ask, what traps to avoid, specific examples of how the scientific method is used to test pseudoscience and paranormal claims, and a how-to guide for developing a class in critical thinking.

Plus, you’ll also find: (1) Sagan’s Ten Tools for Baloney Detection and Shermer’s Ten Questions For Baloney Detection. (2) How Thinking Goes Wrong: The 25 Fallacies of Thinking Problems in Scientific Thinking. (3) Eight Sample Syllabi: How to Teach a Course in Science & Pseudoscience. (4) The Most Recommended Skeptical Books. (5) Science and Skepticism: Science, Scientific Method and Skepticism — How They Contribute to Rational and Critical Thinking. —Skeptic

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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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Critical Thinking in Psychology:
Separating Sense from Nonsense

This book was required reading for the following course: “The Psychology of Scientific Thinking” taught by Monica Greco.

Critical Thinking in Psychology: Separating Sense from Nonsense (book cover)

Do your students have the tools to distinguish between the true science of human thought and behavior from pop psychology? John Ruscio’s book provides a tangible and compelling framework for making that distinction. Because we are inundated with “scientific” claims, the author does not merely differentiate science and pseudoscience, but goes further to teach the fundamentals of scientific reasoning on which students can base their evaluation of information. John Ruscio is Associate Professor of Psychology at Elizabethtown College, where he teaches courses in Research Methods and Statistics, and Research Methods in Social Psychology. His research interests include decision-making, classification and diagnosis and taxometric methods. —Amazon

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The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods
to Politics and Conspiracies

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 during the fall 2011 and (2) “Evolution, Economics, and the Brain” taught by Michael Shermer during the spring 2012.

The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies -- How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths (book cover)

In this, his magnum opus, Dr. Michael Shermer presents his comprehensive theory on how beliefs are born, formed, nourished, reinforced, challenged, changed, and extinguished. This book synthesizes Dr. Shermer’s 30 years of research to answer the questions of how and why we believe what we do in all aspects of our lives, from our suspicions and superstitions to our politics, economics, and social beliefs. In this book Dr. Shermer is interested in more than just why people believe weird things, or why people believe this or that claim, but in why people believe anything at all. His thesis is straightforward:

“We form our beliefs for a variety of subjective, personal, emotional, and psychological reasons in the context of environments created by family, friends, colleagues, culture, and society at large; after forming our beliefs we then defend, justify, and rationalize them with a host of intellectual reasons, cogent arguments, and rational explanations. Beliefs come first, explanations for beliefs follow.”

Dr. Shermer also provides the neuroscience behind our beliefs. The brain is a belief engine. From sensory data flowing in through the senses the brain naturally begins to look for and find patterns, and then infuses those patterns with meaning. The first process Dr. Shermer calls patternicity: the tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless data. The second process he calls agenticity: the tendency to infuse patterns with meaning, intention, and agency.

We can’t help believing. Our brains evolved to connect the dots of our world into meaningful patterns that explain why things happen. These meaningful patterns become beliefs. Once beliefs are formed the brain begins to look for and find confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, which adds an emotional boost of further confidence in the beliefs and thereby accelerates the process of reinforcing them, and round and round the process goes in a positive feedback loop of belief confirmation. Dr. Shermer outlines the numerous cognitive tools our brains engage to reinforce our beliefs as truths and to insure that we are always right.

Interlaced with his theory of belief, Dr. Shermer provides real-world examples of belief from all realms of life, and in the end he demonstrates why science is the best tool ever devised to determine whether or not a belief matches reality. —Shop Skeptic

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Michael Shermer gave a lecture on this book at the California Institute of Technology.
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The Better Angels of our Nature:
Why Violence has Declined

This book was required reading for the following course: “Evolution, Economics, and the Brain” taught by Michael Shermer during the spring 2011 and 2012 semesters.

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (book cover)

Faced with the ceaseless stream of news about war, crime, and terrorism, one could easily think we live in the most violent age ever seen. Yet as New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker shows in this startling and engaging new work, just the opposite is true: violence has been diminishing for millennia and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species’s existence. For most of history, war, slavery, infanticide, child abuse, assassinations, pogroms, gruesome punishments, deadly quarrels, and genocide were ordinary features of life. But today, Pinker shows (with the help of more than a hundred graphs and maps) all these forms of violence have dwindled and are widely condemned. How has this happened?

This groundbreaking book continues Pinker’s exploration of the essence of human nature, mixing psychology and history to provide a remarkable picture of an increasingly nonviolent world. The key, he explains, is to understand our intrinsic motives- the inner demons that incline us toward violence and the better angels that steer us away-and how changing circumstances have allowed our better angels to prevail. Exploding fatalist myths about humankind’s inherent violence and the curse of modernity, this ambitious and provocative book is sure to be hotly debated in living rooms and the Pentagon alike, and will challenge and change the way we think about our society. —Amazon

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