First in the Family Scholarship Fund

Last year I blogged about the amazing First in the Family Humanist Scholarship Initiative launched by Black Skeptics of LA to help send minority atheists to college. If you missed that (or need to refresh your memory), check out my article on that, Help Minority Atheists to College. To learn more about the evolution of the initiative, and to donate for the fund this year, see their new IndieGogo page. I really hope you donate, because it will make up for my not being able to this year. We are saving money to survive sending Jen back to school for a career change, so the belt is going to be tight for us for a while and we need every penny to get by. So I’m saddened I can’t help this cause this year. But maybe I can inspire enough people to!

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.

Learn Philosophy from a Philosopher / Then Cure Cancer

Two big things going on this week:

(1) Learn philosophy from a philosopher. Our own emeritus adjunct professor of philosophy, Daniel Fincke (Ph.D.), is offering courses online in philosophy to anyone who is keen. Details here. You can even make requests to him of what course subjects you’d pay to be taught in. His rate is $16/hour for a 40 hour commitment, and you’ll be part of an interactive online class, taught by an expert professional.

You can still get in on his ongoing evening Ethics course (he is doing a catch-up session for new enrollees tomorrow), or get in on a new run of that course in October or December (mornings, all Eastern Time), or catch his Nietzsche course which starts this Thursday (a must do if you want to know the real deal about Nietzsche, from an actual expert on Nietzsche, instead of naively all the pop nonsense claimed about him), or this Friday start his course on Philosophy for Atheists (that’s right!). He also will offer a history of philosophy course (Enlightenment to Present) in October. For a testimonial to how useful and rewarding these courses are, and for more complete course descriptions and how to sign up, see the latter half of Fincke’s blog post here.

(2) Then go help us cure blood cancers. And make weird things happen. FreethoughtBlogs has a Light the Night Team affiliated with the Foundation Beyond Belief and we’re aiming to raise ten thousand dollars for blood cancer research. We’re in friendly competition with Skepchicks, who are doing the same. I blogged about this charity effort before (see here, here, and here), it’s becoming a major vehicle for getting attention to the fact that atheists actually support secular charities that make a difference. You can donate to the FtB team here.

Our own Greta Christina is an honored hero this year (surviving cancer and working to garner support for research) and she’s submitted to some forfeits and dares if you donate to the FtB team under her name (see My Light the Night Walk Forfeits and Dares for all the details). Our own PZ Myers, Ed Brayton, and Avicenna have done the same (check out those links), but Greta’s are the most amusing.

For more details see: Skepchick Forms “Light the Night Walk” Online Team — The Race Is On!

Help a Library in Pakistan

This is an opportunity to do something cool. I was contacted recently by a library in a predominately Hindu region of Pakistan, asking if I’d be so kind as to send them some free copies of my books (which they even knew and requested by name). My books. Books with titles like Sense and Goodness without God and Why I Am Not a Christian. They had no problem with receiving atheist literature, and even wanted some. I asked them about their safety in receiving it, and they reported that they are in a more liberal district, largely Hindu, and were quite happy to receive literature from all points of view.

I researched them and found several others had obliged and were glad of the results, including Naomi Wolf and Tony Buzan (follow both links to learn more about the library and its aims and goals and tribulations). They are driving a literacy program in the region and undertaking other educational initiatives. Though they are Hindu, they are clearly ecumenical in the kind of literature they are willing to make available. So I sent them some of my books. And asked if they’d like me to ask my readers for more. They said yes.

This is their original letter to me, similar to what they sent a lot of other authors and organizations, seeking what they can (I’m sure they expected a lot of these requests to be a long shot):

With profound regards we humbly request you that we are a voluntary organization which sets up work in Indus Valley Sindh, the southern part of Pakistan our project is to help and facilitate a libraries program in Sindh, with the name of “Mother of Civilization Library” … [And need books] due to lack of resources and fundamental facilities of libraries, and … [a] big catastrophe of supper flood which hit the large part of population of this province in which all educational institutions and libraries infrastructure has been destroyed.

Your donations of books can do much to stimulate and encourage the growth of learning, especially among the young generation of Sindh about it. Therefore we appeal your great institution to make a little contribution of … books on compassionate and humanitarian ground; the result would be the placement of new books (or equivalent educational materials) into the library for needy and destitute students.

Hope you will consider our humble supplication with the glance of appreciation and make small numbers of books donation for this libraries program. In case, you wish to know more about our libraries program and various facets associated with it, please free to contact our office on all the days.

Thanking you.

Yours Sincerely

Rashid Anees Magsi

Project Manager

This is the letter of response I included with my shipment:

Mother of Civilization Library

Sobho Khan Magsi

Radhan Station, Dadu

Sindh Province, 76310

Pakistan

Phone: 009-2300-360-9982

 

Greetings! I Enclosed are one or more copies of my books Why I Am Not a Christian, Not the Impossible Faith, Proving History, and Sense and Goodness without God, plus one copy of The End of Christianity, which has many valuable chapters, some by me. I no longer have any copies of its prequel, The Christian Delusion, but hopefully someday you can acquire a copy to add to your collection.

I think you are doing a brave and valuable thing, and I am happy to help you promote knowledge and learning, religious freedom, and the exchange of information and ideas.

I wish all good fortune to your library project and for your own safety and success as well as that of everyone involved.

Be well and enlighten many!

 

Richard Carrier

California

United States of America

If you are able and interested in sending them some books, use their address above in my letter of reply.

I asked what they were looking for in general, and it’s the same as you can imagine any library wants: stuff on science, philosophy, history, how-to books. Presumably some educational children’s books. They didn’t mention fiction, and I imagine fiction might be problematic, for various reasons. But if you stick to good educational materials you can’t go wrong. Obviously used books in good condition will be fine.

Just think, you can get rid of some books in your home library that you like but don’t need anymore, or ship things to them direct from Amazon (presumably; I haven’t checked if Amazon can do that). Just don’t send them stuff you think sucks. You’ll want to send them the best, most readable, informative works on various subjects, or any good book or textbook on a subject. It costs a significant bit of money to ship to Pakistan, and it takes time out of your day to pack books and go to the post office to have them sent. But it was doable. There are places in the world I often assume just aren’t getting things like this, and I could afford the money and time to remedy that in at least this one case. Maybe you can, too. If so, go for it!

P.S. If anyone has a spare copy of The Christian Delusion to send them, I’d appreciate that. Then they’d have the complete set.

 

You Should Join the SSA (At the Very Least!)

The Secular Student Alliance is one of the most important organizations atheists have in their corner. It’s doing some of the most important work there is, answering Campus Crusade for Christ (and its various incarnations and emanations) by establishing and supporting (in many brilliant and valuable ways) secular student clubs on college campuses and American high schools.

They provide money, resources, training, how-to kits, legal and organizational advice, and more, to existing clubs, and actively work to create new clubs, and (most of all) keep them going (since continuity is a major difficulty as student club leaders graduate and leave). They are creating opportunities and maintaining a visible presence for atheists, actual and potential, to plug themselves into a valuable information and social support network, which increases the amount of atheist activists and supporters not only in schools, but then beyond.

Being an annual supporting member of the SSA does give you some voting power, but it mostly just keeps their coffer filled. It’s very affordable to sign up for an automatically-renewing annual membership ($10 for cash-strapped students, $35 for anyone else, or more if you want) and I can’t think of any reason an atheist in the U.S. shouldn’t sign up for this, and give SSA more numbers and more dollars, at very little cost to yourself. They are doing great work. And valuable work.

I blogged about this last year, and you can read that for more backstory if you want (The SSA Is Our Future). But you can also just go to the SSA Supporters Page and sign up for an annual membership. Now is also a good time to send them a special bonus donation: as they have a matching offer in play once again this year, until May 6: all donations (and memberships) clocked before then will be doubled! For details (and how to give a special one-time donation to grab more of those matching funds) see SSA Week 2013.

 

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.

The SSA Is Our Future

The Secular Student Alliance has become the most superb institution for promoting and supporting young atheists, at both the college and now high school level. This is more than just a campus group. The future of atheism rests in their hands, and they are doing more than any other organization on earth to actually increase the number of atheists who are out, active, and organized, while providing them with the informational and logistical support to be out, get organized, and spread the word. They are the money driving the best meme machine in town. I want you to support them. With money. Whether it’s just $10 (you can spot a tenner, surely) or $100. Or $500. Or $50,000 (yes, a single donor has ponied up fifty grand this very day). Oh, and yes, they are a 501(c)(3) charity.

If you aren’t already clicking here to donate and need some persuading (“Why the hell should I give money to the SSA? Who the frack are they?”), please give me a chance to convince you. Here’s why you should do it… [Read more…]

Support Camp Quest West!

Camp Quest West is pretty cool (as all Camp Quests around the country are). I’ve seen it first hand. And it’s precisely the kind of socializing event the atheist movement needs more of, to replace the few remotely useful things religion attempts to do, and build community with new upcoming kids and teens in the movement. I’ve run educational (skeptical!) games and seminars at Camp Quest West a few times in the past (in the mountains north of Sacramento, California), and my brother-in-law often works as a counselor there. I’ve seen kids of all ages come and go and enjoy the hell out of it. It’s all just like Christian summer camp: life in cabins and mess halls, walks in the forest, playing in a lake, archery, stargazing, arts and crafts, classes on neat stuff (like science and history), except CQ maintains a consistent theme of teaching skepticism, humanism, critical thinking, and knowledge of science and history as well as diverse religions and philosophies, all in a fun way.

It’s expensive to run a camp. You need safety personnel, responsible guides and counselors, food and supplies, insurance and grounds fees, vehicles, and what have you. But all of that makes for a great experience, safe and educational, and a retreat from urban and suburban zones to get some experience with the natural wilderness, which is often underappreciated, and underexperienced, especially by today’s youth. Many parents can afford to cover the cost. But many can’t, and CQW has a fund to help some parents cover that cost so they can send their kids to a summer camp that isn’t all religiony.

If you can help them hit their goal, or even exceed it, even if just donating $50 or something, please check out their special donation page (in my honor, as a CQ alum who has helped support them in the past), which tells you more about what Camp Quest West does, and how to donate (the link at top will show you even more). Every $585 they receive will fund one child (ages 8-17, and 15-17 year olds now get special training and responsibilities as cabin leaders, which looks good on resumes and college aps, and is valuable experience in its own right). They are a 501(c)(3) organization, so your donation is not only supporting the future of freethought but it may be tax-deductible, same as any charitable donation. I don’t get any kickback or anything. Just the glory, if I bring a lot of donations in. (Or the embarrassment if I don’t!) So give a little for our future atheists!