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Skeptic Presents: Get Your Guru Going

In this video — the fifth in our series of videos that promote science and critical thinking through the use of humor, wit, and satire — we present a Con Academy mini course in the techniques of New Age Spiritual Gurutry.

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If you would like to show your support for these videos, please make a tax-deductible donation to the Skeptics Society. With your support, we hope to produce these instructional, educational, and entertaining videos regularly throughout the year for free viewing and use by everyone everywhere to spread the message of the power of science and skepticism to make the world a saner, safer place.

CREDITS: Special thanks to David Cowan, Daniel Mendez, and Jim Robinson for their support in launching this new series of Skeptic videos.

Written and Produced by: Brian Keith Dalton, Michael Shermer, Pat Linse. Directed, lensed, and edited by: Brian Keith Dalton. Based on an idea by Jennifer Graf.Executive Producers: David Cowan, Daniel Mendez, Jim Robinson. Starring: Michael Shermer, Brian Keith Dalton. Music by: Videoblocks.com and Final Cut Pro. Additional Video from: Videoblocks.com. Shot on: a Canon C100.

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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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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Why We Believe in God(s):
A Concise Guide to the Science of Faith

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

Why We Believe in God (book cover)

In this groundbreaking work, J. Anderson Thomson, Jr., with Clare Aukofer, offers a succinct yet comprehensive study of how and why the human mind generates religious belief. Dr. Thomson, a highly regarded psychiatrist known for his studies of suicide terrorism, investigates the components and causes of religious belief in the same way any scientist would investigate the movement of astronomical bodies or the evolution of life over time, that is, as a purely natural phenomenon. Providing compelling evidence from cognitive psychology and the neurosciences, he presents an easily accessible and exceptionally convincing case that god(s) were created by man, not vice versa. With this volume, Dr. Thomson establishes himself as a must-read thinker and leading voice on the primacy of reason and science over superstition and religion.—Amazon

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The Demon-Haunted World:
Science as a Candle in the Dark

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, (3) “The Scientific Method: Critical & Creative Thinking” taught by Stephen Sekula et al., and (4) “Studies in Behavior: Critical Thinking” taught by Evelyn Buday.

The Demon-Haunted World (book cover)

“The great astronomer and science writer challenges New Agers and explains social phenomena like UFOs, alien abductions, recovered memories, satanic cults, witch crazes, hallucinations, and how to detect baloney. This is Sagan’s most popular book among skeptics, filled with quotable maxims, popular among college professors as a supplemental text for students, but a classic for everyone who cares about living in a sane and safe world without superstition.” —Skeptic

“Eminent Cornell astronomer and bestselling author Sagan debunks the paranormal and the unexplained in a study that will reassure hardcore skeptics but may leave others unsatisfied. To him, purported UFO encounters and alien abductions are products of gullibility, hallucination, misidentification, hoax and therapists’ pressure; some alleged encounters, he suggests, may screen memories of sexual abuse. He labels as hoaxes the crop circles, complex pictograms that appear in southern England’s wheat and barley fields, and he dismisses as a natural formation the Sphinx-like humanoid face incised on a mesa on Mars, first photographed by a Viking orbiter spacecraft in 1976 and considered by some scientists to be the engineered artifact of an alien civilization. In a passionate plea for scientific literacy, Sagan deftly debunks the myth of Atlantis, Filipino psychic surgeons and mediums such as J.Z. Knight, who claims to be in touch with a 35,000-year-old entity called Ramtha. He also brands as superstition ghosts, angels, fairies, demons, astrology, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster and religious apparitions. (Feb.)” —Publishers Weekly

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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)

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)

The Catholic Church

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

This presentation opens with criticism of the Catholic Church in popular narratives, before a discussion of the televised IQ2 Debate—“Motion: The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world.” Based largely on the work of English Historian, David Ranan, three historical landmarks of Church power are examined, including (1) The Trial of Galileo (Inquisition); (2) The Holocaust (Anti-Semitism); and (3) The Child Abuse Scandal. The presentation concludes by addressing the recent political activism of the Catholic Church opposing same-sex marriage and contraception.

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(143 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Historical Perspective: Did Jesus Exist?

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

This presentation introduces students to three schools of thought in the “Historical Jesus Debate”: (1) Christ-Myth Theory (Mythicists); (2) Criteria of Double Dissimilarity (Historicists); and (3) Christian Apologetics. The Gospel and Pauline accounts of Jesus are compared and contrasted, and the theory of Jesus as a character-type based on precursor dying-and-rising gods is addressed. The presentation concludes by examining implications of the Historical Jesus Debate.

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(87 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)

Religious America, Secular Europe

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

This presentation examines four interrelated topics: (1) The Secularization Thesis; (2) Religious decline in the United Kingdom; (3) The American anomaly (why the United States is anomalously religious compared to other western countries); and (4) Religious decline in the US.

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(147 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

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)

Atheism: Understanding Secular Arguments

This course was taught at Portland State University.

Excerpt from Syllabus

This course is a systematic examination and analysis of atheism. It is primarily focused upon understanding contemporary secular arguments regarding religion and faith-based belief systems. It is secondarily focused upon exploring what secularism means for metaphysics, epistemology, morality, politics, aesthetics, etc.

Learning Goals

After successfully completing this course students should be able to:

  • Use critical thinking skills to analyze arguments for God’s existence
  • Examine and evaluate counterarguments
  • Understand secular responses to faith-based morality, epistemology and metaphysics
  • Investigate the role evidence ought to play in belief formation
  • Examine basic logical fallacies and their application
  • Explore writings and lectures of contemporary atheist thinkers
  • Research 1) A specific argument for God’s existence, and 2) The counter to that argument
  • Evaluate, Present and Defend findings to the class
  • Address questions of textual exegesis and interpretation and their relevance to religious doctrine and belief
  • Explore the controversy surrounding “the new atheists”
  • Engage debates from leading religious and secular thinkers regarding God’s existence
  • Explore different faith traditions by visiting local religious services and then sharing your experiences with classmates
  • Examine Christian epistemology and warrant through writings of Christian thinkers
  • Reflect on learning experience and articulate those experiences to peers
  • Develop teamwork skills by working with fellow classmates to analyze complicated epistemological problems
  • Engage controversial ideas and attempt to come to a consensus
  • Empower themselves with the tools to navigate questions about faith, God and the meaning of life

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(252 kb PDF)

Science versus Pseudoscience

This course was taught at Portland State University.

Excerpt from Syllabus

“What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite.” —Bertrand Russell

“That which can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.” —Christopher Hitchens

“Feeling better is not actually being better. Heroin also makes people feel better, but I wouldn’t recommend using heroin.” —James Randi

This course examines basic issues in philosophy of science through an analysis of creation “science,” faith healing, UFO abduction stories, and other pseudoscience. Some of the questions addressed: What distinguishes science from pseudoscience? Why does evidence matter? Must we invoke the supernatural to explain certain aspects of reality?

Learning Goals

By the end of this course, students should have:

  • Developed a healthy skepticism.
  • Formulated beliefs on the basis of reason and evidence.
  • Improved their critical thinking skills.
  • Designed experiments to test (pseudoscientific) claims.
  • Developed tools to discern reality from “makebelieveland”.

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(165 kb PDF)

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)

God and the Letters

This is a student-made video created for Dr. Michael Shermer’s course, Skepticism 101: How to Think Like a Scientist (Without Being a Geek) at Chapman University during the fall 2011 semester. In the style of Brian Dalton’s Mr. Deity, students show the audience the types of difficulties God may experience in answering his mail.

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)

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Detecting Baloney

Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic) by Deanna and Skylar (High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA)

The Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic)

For a class project, a pair of 11th grade physics students created the infographic shown below, inspired by Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: a 16-page booklet designed to hone your critical thinking skills.

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Wisdom of Harriet Hall

Top 10 Things to Know About Alternative Medicine

Harriet Hall M.D. discusses: alternative versus conventional medicine, flu fear mongering, chiropractic, vaccines and autism, placebo effect, diet, homeopathy, acupuncture, “natural remedies,” and detoxification.

FREE Video Series

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods.

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The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

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Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and can you tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

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The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Mind altering experiences are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

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Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

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Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

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