What Will Ryan Bell Decide? Join Our Exciting New Online Course in December

Ryan Bell shall soon be ending his Year Without God. And in a special one month online course, he and I will be debating where he should now go from here: Remain an atheist, or a theist? Join the atheist community and help us move the cause forward, or not? (He may have criticisms of the atheism movement worth your being challenged by.) He will be making the best case he thinks possible for belief in God; and I, the contrary. You can join us to watch how the arguments between us go, and even join in the discussion, and attempt to persuade him, yea or nay. Register now. And buy the two recommended course texts as soon as possible, if you want to see where we will be coming from (see below).

We have structured the course to run two arguments in parallel:

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Take My October Class: Moral Reasoning from Theory to Practice (Applying Science and Philosophy in Everyday Life)

This will be a survey of contemporary moral theory and the scientific study of morality, with an aim to improving your own moral decision-making, and encouraging the same in others. Register now. It’s a one-month, online, do-at-your-own-pace course in which you can participate as much or as little as you want. Lots of people just lurk, do the readings, and read the ensuing discussions, and that’s totally fine. But there will also be challenging assignment questions each week that will help you grasp and benefit from the readings and discussions, for anyone who wants to take that additional step.

Subjects covered in this course will include:

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Take My Course on Boghossian’s Making Atheists!

Photo of Peter Boghossian in casual professorial suit attire, gesturing and speaking on philosophy.

I will be co-teaching a class with Peter Boghossian on his book A Manual for Creating Atheists. It starts in a week (September 1), lasts a month, and uses his book as a course text. So if you want to take that class and use the print edition, buy it now! The kindle edition you can buy anytime. Details and registration here. Anyone interested in philosophy, or arguing one-on-one with believers, or creating more atheists or rational people in the world, will benefit from this course.

Indeed, the value of this course is threefold…

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Offering Classes on Historical Method and the Historicity of Jesus

I am still teaching the science and philosophy of free will this June (that class starts next week; you can register here). But now my courses for July and August are also open for early registration (and there is a limit on how many students I take on per class, so they might fill up; I will offer them again next year).

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For July (and this in preparation for August) I will be teaching a course on historical methods: Thinking Like a Historian: Historical Methods, Practice and Theory (details and registration here). Description:

Cover of Richard Carrier's book Proving History. Illuminated stained glass Jesus in darkened room as peered at through a cross cut-out in an iron cathedral door. Title and author name below.Learn how to question and investigate claims about history. Study not only the logic of historical reasoning and argument, but also a lot of the practical tips and tricks real historians employ to test and check claims. Learn the particular skills of skeptical and critical thinking about history. Primary topics: Best practices among historians; historical methods as modes of reasoning (both criteria-based and Bayesian); examples of flawed reasoning and bad arguments in peer reviewed history journals and monographs (and how to spot them as a layperson); and what to do to critically examine a claim using both immediate heuristics and procedures for more labor-intensive inquiry.

The required course text we will be working through chapter by chapter is Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus, but I will be providing additional readings and discussion across several fields and subjects in history (the focus won’t be wholly or even mostly on Jesus; that will just be a working example).

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For August (and this will benefit from having taken the preceding course in July) I will be teaching a course on the historicity of Jesus: Questioning or Defending the Historicity of Jesus (details and registration here). Description:

Cover of Richard Carrier's book On the Historicity of Jesus. Medieval icon image of Jesus holding a codex, on a plain brown background, title above in white text, author below in white text.This course discusses the best arguments for and against the historical existence of Jesus (as the putative founder of Christianity), and we will proceed step-by-step through ways to approach them and evaluate them. Working from the first peer reviewed academic book arguing Jesus might not have existed, taught by the author himself, you will learn how to distinguish good arguments from bad, and about the background and context of the origins of Christianity as a whole. This is the best opportunity to ask Dr. Carrier, who holds a PhD in ancient history from Columbia University, all your questions about his controversial research and the historical(?) figure of Jesus. Main issues to cover: understanding the complex background to the origins of Christianity (unit 1, OHJ chs. 4, 5, & 7); comparing the competing theories of how and why Christianity began (unit 2, OHJ chs. 1, 2, & 3); understanding the Gospels and Acts as mythology and whether historical facts about Jesus can be extracted from them (unit 3, OHJ chs. 6, 9, & 10); and exploring the arguments for and against evidence for a historical Jesus in the authentic Epistles of Paul and literature outside the New Testament (unit 4, OHJ chs. 8, 11, & 12).

The required course text we will be working through chapter by chapter is On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt, although I will be providing additional readings (such as from defenders of historicity). That is expected to be available by the end of June, and you might want to order it as soon as that, so as to be assured of having it in time for the course (I will announce on this blog as soon as the book can be ordered or pre-ordered). Unfortunately there will not be an electronic copy in time for August, but I have an option for the visually impaired (so if you can’t read a print book, just write to me once you register, to inquire about an alternative).

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I should note that technically mine is not “the first peer reviewed academic book arguing Jesus might not have existed” if you include Thomas Brodie’s recent book from the same press, Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery, although that is actually a memoir of how he came to that conclusion, and not an organized argument for it (e.g. he does little to address defenses of historicity or offer an alternative theory of the origin of Christianity). See my review.

 

Join My June Course! On the Science and Philosophy of Free Will

This June begins my online course on the science and philosophy of free will, from a naturalist (atheist) and secular perspective. Please spread the word and let people know, anyone you think might be interested. It will be useful to anyone wanting to understand the concept and science better, and even more so anyone who has use for more understanding of free will as a real-world applied concept in legal practice, medical ethics, the penal system, political policy, personal relations, and beyond. And especially if you want to know what’s wrong with common treatments of the subject (as for example by Sam Harris, whose book on it will be the course text, mostly to analyze its mistakes, as a useful way of understanding the subject better).

You can learn all about the course and register here. But this is the gist:

Description: We will study the intersection between science and philosophy in defining and understanding free will, with the aim of learning the latest science on the nature and existence of free will and how to critically approach philosophical uses of it. Students will not only learn about the relevant elements of brain science, but also how to identify common philosophical fallacies in reasoning about free will, and the real-world application of the analysis of free will in diverse fields, from law to medical ethics.

Course topics: The varieties of free will and the differences among them; identifying causes and the role of personal identity in making decisions (and what the latest brain science has to say about both); the nature and purpose of assigning responsibility to personal agents (in law, ethics, and daily life); the difference between determinism and fatalism, and the importance of addressing both personal and genetic-environmental causes of decisions when thinking about social, political, legal, and moral systems.

Schedule: June 1 to June 30 (2014). Specific reading and discussion goals are set for every week, completing four units in four weeks, but within that framework you can participate in every element on your own time. There are no live events to be missed. One book by Sam Harris is required reading (see below). Everything else about the course is provided inside the classroom website. Course lectures, academic papers, links to websites, and forums for discussions with the instructor and students are included in the Moodle website classroom. Visit the class anytime to contribute your posts and receive [my] replies in discussion forums. There is nothing “live” you can miss – log in and participate anytime day or night, 24/7, throughout the month.

Required Course Text: Sam Harris, Free Will (2012). Students must purchase their own copy (print or electronic) before course begins. Additional readings will be provided electronically at no cost to students.

There are also a bunch of other courses offered by other experts you may have interest in June. Check out the current list here. And this will continue, month by month. So I recommend everyone who might ever be interested, should any future course cover a topic you are keen to learn more about, to follow PSA (Partners for Secular Activism) on twitter and facebook.

Secular Organizations Can Get Free Course Admission

Are you part of a secular, atheist, humanist, or other organization? Or know someone who is? Let that org’s leadership know that before this July they can get a deal for access to any course this year we are gradually building to teach online at SecularActivism.org. “An organization, large or small, gets a certificate for one of its leaders to take a free course during 2014, if 30 members join the email list before July 1st. Just mention the organization name when asked how you heard about us.” They just need to contact John Shook to inquire.

Go to SecularActivism.org to see the current course offerings. Many more will be developed and taught before the end of the year (possibly dozens). For example, besides my Naturalism 101 course that I’m teaching now, I will also be teaching courses this year on the science and philosophy of free will, on historical methods (theory and practice), on the historicity of Jesus, and more (I’m considering offering courses on ancient science, economics, and technology, on Bayes’ Theorem and counter-apologetics, and others; feel free to make requests in comments here for courses you’d take if I taught them). And I am not the only instructor on board. We are contracting more and more teachers of skill or renown, to teach far more diverse offerings.

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.

May Online Course on Free Will

I will be teaching an online course on the science and philosophy of free will for the Center for Inquiry Institute this May. Anyone can register. Fee varies (from $30 to $70 depending on your status). Details on the course and registration options are provided at the CFI Website. It is one month only, four modules, with readings and discussions. Learn at your own pace. My co-instructor will be the philosopher John Shook, but I will be fielding most of the work. This is one of many courses offered by the CFI Institute throughout the year. I have taught several myself (on the philosophy of naturalism and the origins of Christianity and the historicity of Jesus).

As CFI explains:

There is no specific time that you must be online. There is no “live” part to these courses, and you cannot miss anything even if you can only get online at 6am or 11pm — you can log in and participate anytime, day or night, 24/7. A certificate of course completion is available to students who do participate online (as opposed to only lurking and reading, which is also an unobjectionable option for some students). Completion of eight courses at the Expertise 200-level is rewarded with the Institute’s Certificate of Expertise.

As to the content of this new course specifically:

This four-module short course discusses the intersection between science and philosophy in defining and understanding free will, with the aim of learning the latest science on the nature and existence of free will and how to critically approach philosophical uses of it. Students will not only learn about the relevant elements of brain science, but also how to identify common philosophical fallacies in reasoning about free will.

To that end, course topics will include:

The varieties of free will and the differences among them; identifying causes and the role of personal identity in making decisions (and what the latest brain science has to say about both); the nature and purpose of assigning responsibility to personal agents (in law and daily life); the difference between determinism and fatalism, and the importance of addressing both personal and genetic-environmental causes of decisions when thinking about social, political, and moral systems.

So if you are interested, check out the details at CFII and consider taking the course (even if only to lurk, and just read what gets discussed and not participate, which is fine). The course begins on May 1 (which is next Wednesday).

 

Historicity Course This July

Want to study the best case for and against the historicity of Jesus? Want to pick my brain about that for a whole month? CFI has asked me to teach another online course on that very subject this July (that’s right, just three weeks from now) entitled Did Jesus Exist? Navigating the Debate. You can read about and register for this course at the CFI Institute website. Tuition varies from $30 to $70 depending on your status. You will also need a copy of my book Proving History (so if you don’t already have one you should buy one now or as soon as you register, since Amazon shipping can take a week, unless you pay more for faster delivery). Unfortunately Prometheus still hasn’t come out with any electronic versions of the book yet (that’s still in production apparently). But Amazon is selling the hard cover at a cut rate price (I still get the same royalty so it doesn’t affect me).

In this one-month online course I will help you examine the methods of historians, their relationship to the leading theories about the historical Jesus, and the available evidence both for and against his existence, and teach you how best to evaluate arguments on either side (including how to check facts, spot fallacies, and avoid bad arguments).

Week 1: The methods of historians and how to tell good history from bad.

Week 2: The evidence for the historicity of Jesus and its context and value.

Week 3: The most credible theories of the evidence (supporting historicity and not).

Week 4: The best criticisms and responses to those theories.

I have taught online courses for the CFI Institute before, on Naturalism and the Origins of Christianity. The process is basically this: on your own time you complete the assigned readings each week (which will include not just assignments from the course text but also special materials, such as articles, lectures or videos, provided for free through the online course interface), answer each week’s assignment question in an online forum, and ask any questions you want in that forum by starting new threads there, then we move on to the next week’s topic. Everyone’s behavior is expected to be professional and in the service of learning.

Obviously with only one month, and one week per topic, we won’t be able to get into thorough detail on everything, but you can get a lot of questions answered and learn a lot about how to approach this debate more informedly afterward. I will also be providing students a short precis of the argument I will make in my next book On the Historicity of Jesus Christ (in the third week of the course), which we can discuss the merits of over the last two weeks of the course.