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Online Course on Naturalism in May

Back by popular demand, I am teaching my online course on naturalism as a philosophy and worldview this May (just a few weeks away). Learn about all aspects of naturalism as a philosophy of life, and how to use it in practical ways and improve on it. In the process you will learn many of the basics of college-level philosophy.

The course begins May 1 and ends May 31. You study and participate at your own pace, as much or as little as you like, and you get to ask me any questions you want about the course topics all month long, and read and participate in online discussions with me and other students. I will direct and comment on readings each week and give weekly course assignments which consist of answering questions about what you’ve learned and what you think about it. The course text you have to buy is Sense and Goodness without God. All other readings and media will be provided to students free of charge (all you have to provide is access to the internet).

Course Description: This one-month course builds the foundations for practical philosophy. Learn how to develop and defend your own naturalistic worldview from studying a model example, and how to employ it in your daily lives and your understanding of the world. Learn the basics of how to develop and test a philosophy of epistemology (theory of knowledge), metaphysics (theory of existence), ethics (theory of morality), aesthetics (theory of beauty), and politics (theory of government), using logical, evidence-based reasoning. Based on assigned readings, lectures, and weekly class discussion online with Dr. Carrier (Ph.D. in the history of philosophy).

Tuition: $59

Must register by April 30
. And the course could fill quickly so register sooner rather than later. It may be a year before I offer it again.

More details here.

This time I’ve signed up with a new educational project, SecularActivism.org. As a growing consortium of teachers and experts, we will be offering an increasing array of college-quality mini-courses in many diverse subjects for the benefit of the secularist, skeptic, humanist, and atheist communities. We aren’t offering this for college credit (so it’s not for pursuing a career). We are offering this for the mere benefit of making this kind of knowledge and learning accessible to more people, in an age when college is becoming prohibitively expensive and inaccessible to a hard working public, and yet precisely when sophisticated knowledge needs to be more widely available.

SecularActivism.org lists several other courses of interest taught by other experts this May (and soon for June and so on), and those offerings will increase in coming months. The site link also contains an option to join a dedicated mailing list that will notify you of new course offerings as they are announced. My own courses I will announce on my blog here.

Participating is not only a good way to add to your learning and exploration of philosophy (and naturalism in particular), it is also a way to help support my continued work in all fields. If we can keep this educational project successful, it may finally bring me some income security. And do our community some valuable good in the process, by making courses of all kinds available to more and more people who most want to keep learning, for their own good and the good of the world.


  1. Gary Slabaugh says

    Will your course address a core criticism of humanism, viz that it is irreconcilable with naturalism? One core criticism that strengthens the veracity of naturalism is “Darwin’s theory shows the truth of naturalism: we are animals like any other; our fate and that of the rest of life on Earth are the same. Yet, in an irony all the more exquisite because no one has noticed it, Darwinism is now the central prop of the humanists faith that we can transcend our animal natures and rule the Earth.”

    • says

      Yes. You could even ask that question specifically as it pertains to the subjects we address throughout the course (it will be organized by worldview facet: semantics & epistemology, metaphysics & ontology, ethics & aesthetics, and politics.

      Although that’s awfully easy to remove as an objection to anything. The fallacy is in the false dichotomy between animal and human nature. Human nature is animal nature. Asking how humans can transcend their animal natures to live cooperatively is rather like asking how fish can transcend their animal natures to breathe under water. The problem is not that we’re animals. The problem is that our technology (culture, tools, government, education etc.) is under-developed. We have only been a technology reliant animal for a blink of evolutionary time. So to compare our adaptive fitness with other species would require checking in on where we are a hundred thousand years from now. The arc of history suggests: vastly wiser and better off.

      The only question is how slowly we should be adapting, given that we don’t have to rely on blind randomness and brute selection anymore, because unlike other animals, we are intelligent enough to accelerate our adaptation. And to select a goal more desirable than merely consuming and propagating for no purpose. In other words, we are seeking to adapt ourselves to life satisfaction, not gene propagation. Indeed, within a thousand years, genetic selection will be completely irrelevant to humanity. And that is not in conflict with our animal nature. That is the inevitable end result of our animal nature, just as living in water is to fish.

      To understand what I mean or inquire further how that works, you’ll have to take the course.

    • Gary Slabaugh says

      Human behavior needs to focus on surviving the probability of near term extinction. Facts are that we are in a geological mass extinction event caused by anthropogenic climate disruption. I would further suggest that psychopathic conceit, epistemic hubris and Promethean madness have conspired to cause us to believe that human progressive cultural evolution has made us immune to extinction. This belief is of course antithetical to naturalism. The cultural evolution of our cognitive and philosophical tools, science/technology and economics to name a couple, have not guaranteed our immortality within this ELE.

      “Accelerating our adaptation” simply seems to be another way of saying that human cultural evolution is progressive. I am extremely skeptical of the teleological claim that any part of naturalistic evolution is progressive. I do not see the knowledge that human life is not fundamentally different from the life of a slime mold problematic. Neither do I see the fact that humans are not immune to fate and contingency problematic. What I see as humorous is the philosophical attempt to see humans as fundamentally different from all other animals.

      Jacques Monod, one of the founders of molecular biology, was pretty correct when he wrote “All religions, nearly all philosophies, and even a part of science testify to the unwearying, heroic effort of mankind desperately denying its contingency.” This is not fatalism. Fate, contingency and lucky throws of the cosmic dice.

    • says

      Cultural evolution is obviously progressive. Because unlike genomics, it’s a product of intelligent design. Read Better Angels of Our Nature. I was pointing these facts out myself nearly a decade ago, and with broader examples (Sense and Goodness without God V.1.2, pp. 302-11).

      Fears of our extermination are massively unrealistic and are generally based on science illiteracy. I already covered this in Are We Doomed? Naturalism is based on science as it actually is, not uninformed paranoid fantasies. Nor would our future extinction have any bearing whatever on the truth of naturalism, or its utility for our present lives. So that is a giant red herring. Even if humans won’t exist a thousand years from now, we still have to sort our lives out here and now.

      And it’s silly to say self-consciousness is not a fundamental difference from other animals. It put men on the moon and now tracks asteroid threats to the earth. Monkeys can’t do either.

    • Gary Slabaugh says

      You need a pretty convincing and solid argument (more than anecdotal evidence) that the cognitive tools which drive cultural evolution trump the natural laws and forces that drive biological evolution – if that is indeed the case you are trying to make. Intelligent design has a lot less experience than the millions of years of natural selection out of which a complex brain emerged. The thought that wise, intelligent and conscious acceleration of adaptability has made the human animal immune to contingency and fate smacks more of metaphysical trans-naturalism than naturalism. Your suggestion that the arc of history bends toward wisdom and well-being is a faith based statement, not a scientific one. Maybe in our enlightened instead of benighted day and age, the human animal IS trans-natural. :-0

      Repressing the fear of death and the yielding to the denial of death are both very real. You don’t deny the denial of death do you? The threat of extinction is hardly based on scientific illiteracy. Minimizing the threat, ignoring it, denying it, being distracted is habitual. Check out “What SHOULD We Be Worried About: Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night” by John Brockman, publisher of Edge.org before you bandy about the term “scientific illiteracy.” For shame.

      After reading Pinker’s “Better Angels” I thought Herman and Peterson’s critique ” Reality Denial: Steven Pinker’s Apologetics For Western-Imperial Violence” more based in empiricism. For humans to think that cultural evolution will forestall our own extinction as we carry on business as usual with our current political/economic/social habits is denying reality too. It’s to synthesize an ancient myth with a modern illusion that humans are – because of our big brains, the ability to accumulate knowledge through writing, and our adaptive cognitive tools – Historic animals with a rationality (transcendent Logos out of the gospel of John) that increases over time. Faith based myth making.

      Metaphysical naturalism and neo-Darwinism have demonstrated conclusively that humans are just animals – not all that unique. From an anti-humanist author “Human uniqueness is a myth inherited from religion, which humanists have recycled into science.” Show me the science that any animal is proof against contingency and fate! Because human cultural evolution is progressive, does that progress make the human animal immune to the laws and forces of nature which govern the universe? You can conjecture and hypothesize about myths all you want, but don’t confuse that with scientific theory. Darwin, Dawkins (“The Selfish Gene”), Dennett, et al show that a species is only a collection of genes interacting within its genotype/phenotype and against a changing environment. People who think that higher concentrations of greenhouse gases, disrupted natural cycles, collapsing ecosystems, and rising baseline dry bulb temps are not selective pressures on a species at the top of the food chain are the ones living in a fantasy. These disruptions pose a real threat (not imaginary, not mythical) to the human animal and constitute a changing environment. To think otherwise is to deny reality.

      Extinction is hardly uninformed paranoid unscientific fantasy. To speak about extinction is hardly fear mongering. E.O. Wilson coined the word Eremozoic for the next geological era. Was he being unscientific? Are you a scientist of higher repute than Wilson? Death is as natural as sex as the driver of evolution. Natural history and modern evolutionary synthesis show quite matter-of-factly that extinction is the rule. Human survival of climate disruption is hardly a foregone conclusion. I might read “Are We Doomed?” but the answer is clearly yes. The human species will go extinct, sooner or later. Those who think that it is hundreds of millions of years into the future could very well have bought into a secularized heroic cosmic immortality identity project.

      I realize that you are a philosopher and an historian, not an evolutionary biologist and not a climate scientist and not an investigative journalist. I realize also that you are rooted and grounded in the humanist faith. I am extremely skeptical of that faith. From Wikipedia: Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over established doctrine or faith (fideism)… [ETA: three of the articles of faith in humanism seems to be that (1) humans are unique (inherently different) from animals, (2) that those inherent differences ought to be maximized in terms of propaganda and (3) the philosophical and ethical stance affirms meliorism. Cont quote] Generally, however, humanism refers to a perspective that affirms some notion of a “human nature” (sometimes contrasted with anti-humanism – also from Wikipedia – In social theory and philosophy, anti-humanism is a theory that is critical of traditional humanism and traditional ideas about humanity and the human condition. Central to anti-humanism is the view that concepts of “human nature”, “man”, or “humanity”, should be rejected as historically relative or metaphysical.” Between humanism and anti-humanism I wonder which one is more in harmony with naturalism. Hmmm.

      I am reminded of a conversation I had with a psychologist about the denial of death and repressed fears about the annihilation of the mental ego. When I brought up the five previous mass extinctions in geological history, that we are in the sixth (with the rate of extinction higher than the previous five and accelerating) she replied, “Oh, I don’t believe in those things.” Denial of science comes in many shapes and sizes. The fact that it is human behavior that is driving a geological mass extinction event makes the philosophy of humanism all the more repugnant.

      I would agree that there are some fundamental differences between our species and our closest primate relatives. That 4% DNA difference packs quite a wallop. The cognitive tools make it a grand slam. But the anecdotal evidence of what we can do with our tools compared to other animals does not take away from the anthropocentrism inherent in the anti-naturalist humanist faith.

    • says

      You need a pretty convincing and solid argument (more than anecdotal evidence) that the cognitive tools which drive cultural evolution trump the natural laws and forces that drive biological evolution.

      If science and democracy and industrial technology were biological, we would have had them a hundred thousand years ago. So, clearly, they are not. If you think our biology wholly trumps science and democracy and industrial technology, you are a very poor student of history.

      humans are just animals – not all that unique.

      When a monkey cures polio, then you can make this point.

      But that hasn’t happened, so you can’t.

      Extinction is hardly uninformed paranoid unscientific fantasy.

      Yes, it is. Read the article I wrote about it.

      Even a full scale nuclear war, detonating every nuke that exists on the planet, would not extinguish the human race. It would just set us back a few centuries.

      Anyone who thinks otherwise, doesn’t know how the inverse square law affects blast radius, and hasn’t noticed that life has thrived without cessation at Chernobyl, and that there are people who were in Hiroshima when it was bombed who not only survived, but are still alive today.

      Ditto any other manmade scenario you can conceive. And that’s with current tech. Every decade our resilience increases as the technical means to survive harm increases.

      It’s really weird that you think this makes us identical to dinosaurs…who didn’t even have nukes, much less the tech to survive a nuclear winter (which is the only reason they didn’t). If dinosaurs had space stations, geothermal power plants, electric lamps, and hydroponics, they would not have gone extinct. So using them as an analogy to us is precisely that bad science I was talking about.

      You also aren’t very good at math concepts, either. A 4% difference in where a bullet hits you makes the difference between living or dying. Which are radically, fundamentally different states to be in. So 4% doesn’t mean anything out of context. By the same reasoning, you cannot argue from the mere fact that we are 4% different in DNA coding from other primates that we are only 4% phenotypally different from them. A small genetic variation can entail a huge phenotypal one. That difference is measured in space stations, power plants, electric lamps, and agriculture. Which is way the hell more than a 4% difference from chimpanzees and their termite sticks.

      You need to be a better thinker than this.

  2. Paul Harridge says

    Hi FTB, I’d like to do Richards course but I’m having trouble paying on my card is there a problem at your end . Thanks Paul .

    • says

      I’m not sure what you mean. Ehrman means the Christians after the death of Jesus concluded he was an angel. That does not contradict his previous views terribly much. The mythicist view is that the Christians always regarded Jesus as an angel.

      But you may be right. His views in his new book bring him yet even closer to mine. I don’t think he realizes that yet.

  3. me says

    I have a slight different view than You.

    I think that story written in the gospels (and in new testament) is just unbelievable.

    How come a religion started by some poor fishermen was spreading so fast, that in couple decades some rich, well educated (extremely well for that time) folks wrote gospels about it?

    How come none of the NT is written in Aramaic? And if it was how come it was translated so fast? Another thing is that how come a poor people movement changed to rich people moment. One more thing is that when you read the gospels You can think that, there mus have been an a big organised religion to produce those 3 synoptic gospels. It must have been big enough to have several sub groups capable to support their different (3 gospels are made clearly by different groups not by the same authors or groups of authors) views…

    And Paul writes that there were some scripture at the time he wrote his stuff…
    That makes it just more improbable, cause there was just less time for the religion to grow.

    For me its just nonsense, that the whole movement started in 33 AD. For sure the religion started much, much earlier. And the whole process was much, much slower. For me the whole story about the first events of this religion was just made up.
    If It was really such a miraculously fast growing movement, we would have many historic document about it from the years 30AD – 60AD.

  4. Charles Braddock says

    I’ve been reading and about your opinion of atheism + and your “us vs. them”. Go ahead and delete this comment. You’re still a piece of shit!

    • says

      [Note to my readers: I didn't delete the above comment because it is another example of the kind of ignorant idiocy we are dealing with. His behavior and attitude is only making our point for us.]

  5. Greg_Y says

    Aside from the obvious advantages of Q&A and interaction, how much will the course offer those who have already read and thought carefully about Sense and Goodness without God?

    • says

      That’s up to you. If you have a lot of questions you’d like to ask, then the course is for you (and you have a leg up for having done most of the class reading already). If you don’t have any questions about the text, then it won’t likely gain enough for you to be worth registering. There may be some other readings outside SGG, but not that many.

  6. Paul Harridge says

    Hi Richard,looking forward to the first lesson, I liked sense & good ness without god I agreed with all your ideas & loved your vision for future government . Apart for your book how do you see Metaphysical naturalism (MN) entering main stream life as a moment . I think a catcher shorter name is needed and a list of tenants Or manifesto out lining the moments aims and objectives maybe ten lol to pass on to people who are not as committed or don’t have the time or have no idea what MN is .what would you say to people ,what would be the single point of your vision that you would explain to them.Im down under in Sydney and just signed up what time are the live lessons.thanks Paul. Ps found bay’s theorem hard to get my head round in regards the maths but got the gist of it I think ,it would be handy for when I play poker to be con portent in it.

    • says

      No one has conceived an adequate name. We are basically stuck with naturalism. One can try philosophical naturalism or ontological naturalism. But they aren’t much of an improvement. We just have to deal with a clunky name for it. Sadly.

      As to the short manifesto idea, I have ideas about doing that in future. But I have too many projects already in the queue first.

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