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Scientific Perspective: Why We Believe

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

This presentation begins by correlating high levels of religious belief with high levels of scientific illiteracy in the United States. Based largely on J. Anderson Thomson’s book, Why We Believe in Gods, this presentation looks at the ways in which religious belief piggybacks on cognitive functions evolved for satisfying other purposes (social cognition) using examples from Thomson’s book.

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(85 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Inter-Faith Dialogue

This PowerPoint presentation emphasizes the need to counteract false stereotypes about atheists and provides reasons why atheists and liberal religious persons should work together for the common-good. It contains demographics of religion and unbelief in America and encourages religious persons to reevaluate how they understand atheism. This PowerPoint was used for an in-class presentation (in TEDTalk format) to promote inter-faith and atheist dialogue. This presentation was created by Kile Jones for Dr. Michael Shermer’s course, “Evolution, Economics & the Brain” taught at Claremont Graduate University during the spring 2012 semester.

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(1.8 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

How We Believe

In this lecture, arguably his most controversial subject that is based on his highly-acclaimed book, “How We Believe”, Dr. Shermer addresses a very old question in religion with the newest data from science, namely: why do people believe in God?

As Dr. Shermer attempts to answer the question using the best theories and data from anthropology, psychology, sociology, and evolutionary biology, Dr. Shermer also addresses the important role of religion in society, the historical roots of religion and why it arose around 5000 years ago as a co-equal partner to governments and states, the origin of myths and the importance of myth-making in human cultures, and what belief in God means for individuals and society. In his always conciliatory and friendly approach to deep and controversial subjects, Dr. Shermer nevertheless is not afraid to face head-on, and courageously confront our most meaningful questions that we all have about God, the universe, and the meaning of life.

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(28 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Fantastic Archaeology

This course was taught at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh during the fall 2010 semester.

Excerpt from Syllabus

In its broadest sense, Fantastic Archaeology describes those claims and interpretations about the archaeological record that are outside the orthodox mainstream of the scholarly and professional world of archaeology. This can range from new, as yet untested hypotheses that may become the orthodox interpretations to the outrageous claims that can be easily refuted. Students will examine this entire range of competing, non-orthodox interpretations of the archaeological record.

This course has a much broader subject area than students are likely to encounter in other courses–even in an eclectic field like Anthropology. Students have the opportunity to bring knowledge and expertise acquired in other courses, or their general life experience, to the discussions.

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(630 kb PDF)

Sociology of Belief

This course was taught at Oklahoma City University during the spring 2011 semester.

Excerpt from Syllabus

This critical thinking course interprets extraordinary claims using reason, logic, and skeptical analysis in drawing conclusions. Fringe science, pseudoscientific, and bogus health claims will be evaluated based on available evidence. Health claims, fortune- telling (astrology, psychic predictions, palm reading), alternative medicine, sensory illusions such as magic, faith healing, clairvoyance, telepathy, the lunar effect, and psycho-kinesis will be some of the topics likely covered. The role of the media in covering and reporting such claims will be explored. The course will focus on drawing plausible and logical conclusions based on evaluation of existing evidence. Assignments will include weekly quizzes, class discussions, and a formal project/presentation.

Learning Goals
  1. Have a basic knowledge of critical thinking, skeptical thought, and the scientific method.
  2. Discriminate between sound vs. faulty logic in descriptions and observations of pseudoscientific claims.
  3. Demonstrate how to conduct research and/or investigate anomalistic phenomena via a positive working relationship with a team of students.
  4. Evaluate skeptical knowledge of unexplained phenomena, its claim(s), or a central skeptical figure.

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(194 kb PDF)

What is a Cult?

What is a cult? What is the difference between a cult and a religion? Who joins cults and why? What are the social, cultural, and psychological reasons that people join cults? In this lecture Dr. Shermer presents research from sociologists and psychologists to attempt to answer these questions, while examining several examples of cults from recent history and when and why they can be dangerous.

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(105 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

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)

Why People Believe in God

In this lecture, arguably his most controversial subject that is based on his highly-acclaimed book, How We Believe, Dr. Shermer addresses a very old question in religion with the newest data from science, namely: why do people believe in God? As he attempts to answer the question using the best theories and data from anthropology, psychology, sociology, and evolutionary biology, Dr. Shermer also addresses the important role of religion in society, the historical roots of religion and why it arose around 5000 years ago as a co-equal partner to governments and states, the origin of myths and the importance of myth-making in human cultures, and what belief in God means for individuals and society. In his always conciliatory and friendly approach to deep and controversial subjects, Dr. Shermer nevertheless is not afraid to face head-on, and courageously confront our most meaningful questions that we all have about God, the universe, and the meaning of life.

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(217 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)

Paranormal Beliefs & Education

Does higher education systemically reduce belief? What do we know about this so far? This PowerPoint was used for an in-class presentation (in TEDTalk format) to discuss the correlation between higher education and belief in the paranormal. The presentation was created by Anondah Saide for Dr. Michael Shermer’s course, “Evolution, Economics & the Brain” taught at Claremont Graduate University during the spring 2011 semester.

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(30 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

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