New Book: Science Education in the Early Roman Empire

Cover of Richard Carrier's book Science Education in the Early Roman Empire, color scheme dark blues and greys, showing a 19th century print of the star field with labeled constellations featuring drawings of the mythical beings matching them, and an edge of a diagram of the planetary spheres.My new book is now available for pre-order! Science Education in the Early Roman Empire will hit the presses in October. But you can already order the print edition in advance on Amazon. Electronic editions will be available (probably before the end of the year). And an audio edition is contracted (I just don’t know yet when it will be completed).

The gorgeous cover art is thanks to Alex Gabriel.

This represents the first of two books that will be generated from my Columbia University dissertation in 2008. The official description says it all:

How much science were ancient Romans taught? What about math? What kind of math or science, and at which levels of education? How were scientists themselves educated? And what other avenues were there for the public, even the illiterate public, to learn scientific knowledge? How much science entered pop culture? Cities had public speeches and lectures, libraries, and teachers and professors in the sciences and the humanities, some even subsidized by the state. There even existed something equivalent to universities, and medical and engineering schools. What were they like? What did they teach? Who got to attend them? In the first treatment of this subject ever published, Dr. Richard Carrier answers all these questions and more, describing the entire education system of the early Roman Empire, with a unique emphasis on the quality and quantity of its science content. He also compares pagan attitudes toward their system of education with the very different attitudes of ancient Jews and Christians, finding stark contrasts between them that would set the stage for the coming dark ages.

My next book of this pair with be on The Scientist in the Early Roman Empire, and it will defer to this book on all questions regarding the education of scientists and the public dissemination of scientific knowledge. So the two will go together.

This one is relatively short, affordable, and interesting on many levels. It has relevance to combating Christian apologetics; to understanding ancient culture and civilization; to the history of science (as it compares medieval and modern periods on the same question); and the whole notion of education and what we think it’s for and whether and how we support it. I also discuss the roles of classism, sexism, and slavery in the equation. And more.

Tai Solarin: The Greatest Nigerian Atheist & Humanist

Cover of Babalola's book on Tai Solarin, with the title, subtitle, and author in black on white background, with a photograph of a young Tai Solarin in black and white against the background.Do you want to cuddle in with an interesting biography on a subject you probably never imagined reading about? Then I have a book recommendation for you. It’s a little personal. And a lot about humanism as a movement today, and its global importance, not just local.

In 1995 I wrote an essay on Tai Solarin for my African History course, just a year after his death. Which I soon after published on the Secular Web (“Tai Solarin: His Life, Ideas, and Accomplishments“). Because I thought this guy needed way more press. I often did this in my history courses: ask the prof who the most famous atheist was in the culture we were studying, and research and write about them. Because famous atheists in other cultures? Not usually much talked about. In my Ancient China course, this would be Wang Ch’ung, for whose discovery I am forever grateful (thank you, Professor David Keightley!). In my African History course, it was Tai Solarin (thank you, Dr. Ola Washington!).

If you want a quick introduction to the man and his importance to the history of Nigeria, and Africa, and atheism and humanism therein, definitely read or skim my article. There is now of course a Wikipedia entry on him. Which relies a lot on my essay and its research, but adds even more. And now also a website dedicated to his memory and biography.

I researched my article largely through reading archived African newspapers at UCLA. As well as Norm Allen’s interview of him in Free Inquiry. And the few books there were by and about him. And ever since I posted it online, I’ve had a lot of people express their gratitude for publishing it. Both people who knew him or of him, and his work, in particular his co-founding (with his wife Sheila) and running of the most famous secular humanist school in the country…or possibly anywhere (the Mayflower School); and people who had never heard of him and were so pleased to have had the opportunity to.

Now, of course, his memory is everywhere on the internet.

But a new development of note has transpired:

Dr. Dele Babalola (M.D.), though himself a Christian, has written the most admiring and comprehensive and personal biography of Tai Solarin and his school. By a mile. Babalola was a student at Mayflower when Solarin was still teaching there. He has numerous personal memories and recollections of him and his friends and family, and of the school and what it was like, and some of his fellow students there and what became of them. As a historian, I value works like this. This is memory that would have been lost had it not been written down and made available to the world. And that material only enhances Babalola’s general biographical treatment, which is also well-researched and well-informed. He consulted historians and leading lights in African and African-American humanism, as well as all manner of sources besides. Babalola covers Solarin’s whole life, including his path from Christianity to Secular Humanism, and the political and social context of his goals and accomplishments.

This is a great read for anyone curious to get a look into the memory of someone who was there and knew the man, and who gathers the facts well beyond, of a great humanist, atheist, and champion of education, and his creation of a secular humanist academy where one might least expect. Tai Solarin was the most famous atheist and humanist not just in Nigeria, but all of Africa. His fame and influence there can be equated with that of Dawkins or Harris in America or the UK. Though unlike them he co-founded and ran a school that taught humanism and its values. A school that still operates today, teaching some 6000 pupils a year.

Definitely get a look at this book. Get a peak at what’s going on and has gone on in the rest of the world, through the lens of the life and achievements of a great humanist and educationalist: Tai Solarin: Africa’s Greatest Educationist and Humanist by Dele Babalola. Available in print and kindle, hard cover and soft.

-:-

Dear readers: I’d love it if you could show your appreciation or support my work with a one time donation through PayPal or become a regular Patron for even just a dollar a post. Simple information posts like this I don’t count for that. But I write on all manner of other subjects, from history and philosophy, and socio-political concerns, to traditional counter-apologetics. For more options, including buying my books in any format, visit my Support page. You can also follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

Please Donate to the Southwest Secular Student Conference!

Snapshot of the front website page for the conference, showing Heina Dadabhoy, who will be speaking at the event, along with many others.This September the SSA is putting on a conference for students across the U.S. at the Claremont Colleges. They need financial support to pull it off. They will announce a full lineup of speakers and workshops soon, but they already have Heina Dadabhoy, Greta Christina, and Sikivu Hutchinson on deck, and more to come. I’ve been to several. These conferences are generally pretty awesome. So please donate today!

I’ve explained before why the SSA deserves your financial support in general (so if you don’t know, definitely see what I’ve already said about that). Conferences like this are needed to grow the size and number, and improve the effectiveness, of campus groups throughout the Western states (the SSA helps fly student leaders in from campuses all over the West to get trained and motivated at these conferences), to spread reason, secularism, and liberation from religion. And to college students, the future of our country. This is especially needed to combat Campus Crusade for Christ and similar organizations pushing religion onto students.

My readers might like to know in particular that Claremont Colleges is where the innovative New Testament critic Dennis MacDonald holds a professorship, and where Dr. Phil Zuckerman has launched the first college major in Secular Studies in America (and he might be a featured speaker as well). So this is a great rallying point for an SSA conference. Indeed, if you can attend, you might want to! Especially if you want to get more involved in community activism, as a lot of what these conferences cover is how to kick ass at that.

But above all, help spread godless freethought across the colleges of the Southwest by helping support this conference financially. Anything you donate will be useful.

Help Win Secular Students Week; Play a Board Game with Richard Carrier

Photo of a game in play of Star Trek Catan, which Richard Carrier took while playing with his family.Okay, so. The Secular Student Alliance, one of the best run and most important atheist community organizations we have, is running a fundraiser this week. They want to reach 500 new donors by June 17th. I asked them what minimum donation would count and they said $5. And I said “phhhhllllt!” to that. For my haughty self will only count donors who give at least $35, the minimum to become a supporting member for a year. Because, hey, You Should Join the SSA (At the Very Least!). I mean, if you want to cultivate the best future for atheism, or do not want to live in a world where Campus Crusade for Christ outspends us tenfold on winning over college students. So I’ll ask the SSA after the 17th if they got at least 500 donations of at least $35. And if they do, this is what I’ll do…

I will play a board game with the top five donors who want the pleasure of my gaming company. In person. (Or via live feed if they prefer.) That is, the five who (1) gave the biggest donations and (2) want in on my offer. If you score (1) and (2) on that (and ties will be won by chronological order of donation: s/he who donates first, gets the prize!), then you will get to choose one of the following two options:

  • We can schedule a live feed game anytime that suits us both (I can do Skype, Google Hangout, and Facetime), and you can invite as many other players as you want to join in on your end. This option presents some technical challenges we’d work out in advance (possibly requiring you to also invite one non-player attendee to be my physical proxy for holding cards and moving pieces and whatnot).
  • Every time I will be in your city for any other reason (and you might be able to cajole some local organization(s) to create that reason) I’ll check ahead of time with you if we can arrange a game date, with you and again as many others as you want to invite, until it happens.

The upside of the first option is that it can happen as soon as we have a mutually open schedule. Because the downside of the second option is that it may be a very long time before I pass through your town. The offer is good until fulfilled, though. It is also good for encounters in other cities, but you’d have to let me know about that well enough in advance to see if we can make that work (e.g. if you’ll be attending a conference I’ll also be at, and you bring the game you want to play, etc.).

What board games? Pretty much any tabletop game you have and can teach me to play. Including most card games. I’m already well familiar with various sets of Catan, for example. Depicted above is a photo I took of the state of play of a fun game of Star Trek Catan I enjoyed with my parents and sister recently. I also like some really obscure and complicated things you’ve probably never heard of, like Iron Dragon, Titan, Merchant of Venus (original set; never buy the new one, which they dumbed down to stupidville). Talisman of course. Love Shogun (now known by the stupid name Samurai Swords because a certain novelist was a dick). Oh, hey, and, you know, the game I invented when I was a teenager. Back then I actually used to play Squad Leader a lot, too (and still have an old ASL set). I own some version of Axis and Allies and Conquest of the Empire (sort of a Roman Empire version of Axis and Allies). Various other stuff. Yes, I know how to play Cards against Humanity. And poker. And Scrabble. And traditional Mah Jong. Etcetera Etcetera. But you can teach me stuff, too! Someone recently taught me the delightful game Gloom. So, you know, it can be almost anything you want. (But no Role Playing Games. I’m reserving that get for a special future fundraiser. For this get, it’s board games only, or any card games that aren’t collection based, e.g. I won’t play Magic: The Gathering).

Even if you aren’t into gaming. Help the SSA out and make me proud. To hit their target of 500 donors, and my dream of 500 donors at $35 level or more, tell lots of people about this post, spread the word, especially to any friends you know are into tabletop gaming. And donate yourself. And if you want to try for winning a game meet with me, try to donate a lot!

If you want to know more, the SSA this week is collecting a number of special guest blogs and interviews of am.azing students they’ve helped who have inspiring or fascinating stories about it. Check those out.

* Plus, be aware! If the SSA meets their goal of 500 new donors, they unlock a $20,000 challenge grant! So you have even more incentive to give just something. Even just five dollars! *

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).