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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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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)

Jesus, the Easter Bunny, and Other Delusions:
Just Say No!

In this talk, Dr. Peter Boghossian argues that faith-based processes are unreliable and unlikely to lead one to the truth. Since our goal as knowers is to have more true beliefs than false ones, faith, as a process for getting to the truth, should be abandoned in favor of other, more reliable processes. The talk was followed by a question and answer session from the audience. This presentation, sponsored by the Freethinkers of Portland State University and published by philosophynews.com, was given by Dr. Peter Boghossian of Portland State University on January 27, 2012.

The Believing Brain

Synthesizing thirty years of research, Michael Shermer upends traditional thinking about how humans form beliefs about the world. Simply put, beliefs come first, and explanations for beliefs follow. The brain, Shermer argues, is a belief engine. Using sensory data that flow in through the senses, the brain naturally looks for and finds patterns—and then infuses those patterns with meaning, forming beliefs. Once beliefs are formed, our brains subconsciously seek out confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, accelerating the process of reinforcing them. Shermer provides countless real-world examples of how this process operates, from politics, economics, and religion to conspiracy theories, the supernatural, and the paranormal.

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(285 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

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)

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)

Shermer’s Last Law

Any Sufficiently Advanced Extraterrestrial Intelligence is Indistinguishable from God

In this brief lecture, Dr. Shermer demonstrates why the Intelligent Design creationists’ and theologians’ search for a designer god can only result in the discovery of an extraterrestrial intelligence; one with such power that it can create life, planets, stars, and even universes. As Dr. Shermer states, “Any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God.” In this lecture Dr. Shermer also discusses the potential trajectory of our own technological advancements.

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(18 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

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