Subject: Critical Thinking

Religious Book Burning

Destruction of books by fire has been used through the ages as a means to eradicate ideas considered blasphemous, heretical or against the prevailing religion of a certain country. This lecture will focus on only one element of book burning, the religious one. There are other types of book burning, including books considered seditious or subversive and books considered to be obscene or immoral, but they are beyond the scope of this study, as is the topic of the destruction of entire libraries. (Please see the bibliography below for book titles about the burning of libraries.) I am gratefully indebted to Haig Bosmajian’s 2006 volume, Burning Books, for both many references and historical facts. I would like to glance at the history of the physical book before delving into the story of religious book burning because it helps illuminate some of the reasons why books were considered so powerful. It

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Miracles Debunked

My lecture is gratefully dependent on the research and writing of Joe Edward Barnhart, David Corner and Joe Nickell, as well as other scholars. References to their work are listed below in the bibliography. I would like to begin my discussion of miracles with a definition of the word, “miracle.” This is not as simple as it might first appear, as there is theological and philosophical controversy over what the proper conception of a miracle might be. The word derives from the Latin, “miraculum,” coming from the verb, “mirari,” to wonder. An event that provokes our human amazement might sometimes be termed a miracle. But most thinkers make the assumption that a miracle must also be extraordinary, unusual or contrary to human expectation in a very high degree. St. Augustine, the 4th century Church theologian, stated that a miracle need not be contrary to nature, but rather contrary to our

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Buddhism: An Atheist Perspective

Buddhism’s proponents have managed to create a highly mistaken impression that Buddhism is compatible with atheism, that many types of Buddhism are, in fact, atheist.  Strictly speaking, since most Buddhist belief systems eschew credence in a god, one might say they are atheism of a sort.  They do not have a belief in the sort of god embraced by Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. However, as we shall see during this lecture, Buddhism is very remote from naturalistic, materialistic modern atheism. This lecture will provide a brief overview of Buddhism and its beliefs.  Then we shall look at the Buddhist lynchpins of reincarnation and karma.  I have discussed the topic in an earlier lecture, The Illusion of Immortality, Part 2.  So those listeners and readers who are familiar with that lecture may want to skip ahead to the last topic we shall be discussing.  The final topic will be Zen Buddhism’s

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Ghosts and Immortality

The belief in ghosts remains widespread, even in the present day, when science has provided people with evidence of secular miracles and secular knowledge. The answer for such persistently unreasonable belief is likely to be that it allows people to give credence to the notion of an afterlife. We humans let go of life reluctantly, and to believe in ghosts means that we can continue to hope that our spirits will survive beyond the grave. Aside from the human wish to remain perpetually alive somewhere in and some fashion, one may perceive how difficult it would have been for early people to separate the world of dreams from the world of reality. The dead people they had loved and those they had feared would appear to them in dreams. Such appearances would give rise to the belief that the departed had a continuing existence in a world contiguous with the

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The Illusion of Immortality, Part 2

I would like to begin this lecture with a quote from Susan Ertz, a writer from the nineteenth century: “Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.” In Part Two of the Illusion of Immortality, we shall be concentrating on near-death experiences and reincarnation, with a look at the putative “proof” of reincarnation, past life memories.  Then we shall quickly glance at the secular hopes for staying alive as long as one can, attaining immortality through legacy and then finish with several strategies that might help us live happily and successfully without the illusion of an afterlife. The final three sections will be of the most interest to atheists as they discuss solutions that do away with a transcendent view of survival beyond bodily death.  Full disclosure, however- I consider many of the staying alive methods, such as supplements, cryonics and

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The Illusion of Immortality, Part I

This is a two-part lecture. The first lecture deals with the question of immortality and emphasizes the notion of the immortal soul with respect to Christianity in general. The Christian resurrection of the soul and the body at The Last Judgment will be discussed, along with a brief mention of orthodox Jewish and Islamic beliefs.  The second lecture will glance at the notions of near-death experiences, past life memories, reincarnation, and staying alive as long as possible with computer and medical science. At the end, we shall return to reality with a few ideas about living productively and meaningfully in the shadow of the death that awaits all of us. Carl Zimmer, a well-respected and popular science writer, wrote a volume in 2005 titled: The Soul Made Flesh, about Thomas Willis.  Thomas Willis (1621-1675) was the first scientist to actually map the human brain, to see how its different parts worked

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Irrational Medicine: Faith Healing, Intercessory Prayer, Religion in Medicine, and Belief in Alternative Medicine

Let me preface my talk with a quote from the 20th Century writer and atheist, H.L. Mencken, who said: “Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.” And that is precisely what I will be talking about in my lecture. This lecture will begin with the history of faith healing in the Christian bible, particularly the New Testament, and glance at the purported healing activities of Jesus. While the story of faith healing goes back beyond the Greeks and Romans, my talk will begin with the bible. I shall be covering primarily Christian and New Age healing. We shall look very briefly at some of the historical examples of faith healing in Europe, and then at some of the purveyors of faith healing in the United States. We shall only be dealing with the Christian tradition, as well as some religions and belief

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Introduction to Critical Thinking

This lecture broadly defines critical thinking as the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it.[1] Critical thinking has a long tradition, with Socrates, the 5th century Greek philosopher, being an exemplar of the method.[2]  Critical thinking should be deployed in evaluating arguments, lectures, written work (texts) and articles, editorials, speeches, media stories, religious statements and our own viewpoints. Why do atheists and secular thinkers need critical thinking skills?  They are certainly already critical thinkers, having thought their way out of some of the most convoluted, exigent, and pervasive belief systems in The United States and the rest of the world.  They have discarded belief in a supernatural creator, an immortal soul, and the concepts of heaven and hell.  Atheists have thought beyond a metaphysical system to a naturalistic stance; they have often been unsupported by prevailing attitudes in their countries, their families, social groups, and workplaces.  Their

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