Alex’s Heresies – embracing a physical reality

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Course: GOD IN TODAY’S SOCIETY CAE Melbourne from 7 Aug

I’m running a new course at Centre for Adult Education, CBD Melbourne 7 Aug to 4 Sep 2012:

GOD IN TODAY’S SOCIETY

We discuss different concepts of God from the interventionist, personal God to the good spirit to nature. Bookings are coming in fast, so check and book at the CAE site:

http://www.cae.edu.au/web/?course=DNX100

Alex McCullie

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News: Seminar Feb 2011 Melbourne – alternatives to dogmatic atheism

Hegel Summer School 2011:

The New Atheism: Just another Dogma?

Saturday, February 12th 2011

Oases/Borderlands, 2 Minona Street, Hawthorn

10.00 – 5.00, followed by drinks
This year’s speakers and topics are:

Tamas Pataki: „The New Atheism: Just Another Dogma?“

Cameron Shingleton: „Overkill: Richard Dawkins and The Limits of Pop-Scientific Atheism“

Petra Brown: „Messianic Atheism: Giving the Golden Calf a Good Roasting“

Stephen Stuart: „Dangerous beliefs: Zealotry, Wisdom and Public Health“

The „new Atheists“, notably Christopher Hitchins and Richard Dawkins, have been getting a lot of media time, setting up a choice between narrow-minded and dogmatic atheism versus religious faith. This is a false dichotomy. Belief in God is consistent with a perfectly rational materialism, just as not believing in God does not necessarily imply a dogmatic assertion of the non-existence of God.

Our four speakers explore non-Deist alternatives to the dogmatic brand of Atheism now being promoted and expose the questionable foundations of the New Atheists. The need for a third way, over and above religious tolerance is important if a genuinely humanist way of life is to be possible in modern conditions.

For more detail and further program and abstract updates go to:

http://ethicalpolitics.org/seminars/hss2011.htm

The Hegel Summer School invites you to a day of fruitful philosophical discussion in a collegial environment. The cost will normally be AUD 30 but we can offer a concession rate of AUD 20. Lunch and tea/coffee included.
Please pay in cash on the day and RSVP (including your dietary requirements) by COB on Tuesday, 8th of February 2011 to Lea Campbell on Lea.Campbell@gmx.net

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News: Three new CAE courses Feb-Apr 2011 – Historical Jesus, Views of Morality, and World-views

I’m running three courses Feb to Apr this year at the Centre for Adult Education in Melbourne.

Centre for Adult Education: Melbourne
Content

MAKING SENSE OF THE WORLD – 4 World-views

What is Reality?
We shall examine two competing ways of understanding reality. Naturalism with its strictly physical world-view and traditional Christianity with a divine creator and organiser. Since the 18th Century Enlightenment, western society has moved away from traditional Christian understandings to a more naturalistic view of existence. We shall compare the two views.

What is Truth?
Modernism (there are universally reasoned truth) and Post-modernism (we can have personal truths only) also compete with different explanations on the status of knowledge and truth. This conflict lead to the (in) famous science and history wars of the late 20th century.

5 sessions:
Tuesdays 6.00PM-7.30PM: 19/04/11, 03/05/11 to 24/05/11

Venue: CAE Building B – 253 Flinders Ln, Melbourne

Click to book

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Centre for Adult Education, Melbourne

SEARCHING FOR THE HISTORICAL JESUS
Explore the historical Jesus, separate from the figure of devotion. In doing so, review the use of Christian and non-Christian sources and treatment of miracle claims, society, political and religion of early first century Israel and Middle East, analysing the primary source – the Gospels, review of research from the past 300 years, how Jesus, the man, is profiled by today’s scholars.

Class details
5 sessions:
Tuesdays 6.00PM-7.30PM: 22/02/11 to 22/03/11

Venue: CAE Building B – 253 Flinders Ln, Melbourne

Click to book
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Centre for Adult Education: Melbourne

BEING GOOD: 3 VIEWS OF MORALITY
We think about moral issues every day. Newspapers, television programs, and internet web-sites tell us what is immoral and moral.

Class details
5 sessions:
Tuesdays 7.30PM-9.00PM: 22/02/11 to 22/03/11

Venue: CAE Building B – 253 Flinders Ln, Melbourne

Content
We explore two traditional foundations of Western moral attitudes – traditional Religious beliefs and Philosophical thinking – with the more-recent and challenging research of Moral Psychology and ask the questions, does morality exist? Can there be universal moral rules? How do we know right from wrong? What is evil? How does culture influence morality?

Click to book

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Talk: Naturalism as a viable world-view (Part one)

pdf: text of Naturalism talk (right-click to save)

Introduction

Over the last three years, I have conducted courses on Atheism and Agnosticism at the Council of Adult Education in Melbourne within the Lifestyles department. Given the diversity of participants, we would spend the first night clarifying the usage of both terms, a controversial discussion even within Atheist communities.

We typically would reduce atheism to the usual ‘disbelief or rejection of the god’ of society. In past times, that meant accusing Socrates of atheism for not believing in the gods of Athens and, even, early Christians for rejecting the gods of Rome. For us, it usually refers to the Christian god as the dominant form of worship. So atheism is a statement about our claims about reality or Metaphysics in philosophical terms.

Most saw agnosticism as a gentle form of atheism, the sort of atheism that can be declared in polite company. This is a far-cry from Thomas Huxley’s coining of the word in the 1860s to curtail any claims of certainty about rejecting god. ‘God is inherently un-knowable’ is closer to his conception of agnosticism. Again in philosophical terms, it is an epistemological claim, one about the nature of knowledge.

So, atheism and agnosticism are dealing with only limited aspects of our perspectives of the world. Therefore, neither of the concepts is an opposite of Christianity, which makes many more claims about the nature of reality and ourselves, and even on how we should behave. Enter Naturalism. Unlike atheism, Naturalism seeks to address a broader range of significant issues about life rather than be restricted to the existence or non-existence of god.

World-views

Before speaking specifically about Naturalism, let me introduce a useful way of discussing and comparing different perspectives, the world-view, a literal translation of the German Weltanshauung. Not surprisingly different writers interpret the concept in different ways. For me, world-view is an intellectual framing of our experiences, including our intuitions, perceptions, ideas, and beliefs about ourselves in the world. While acknowledging that deeply held emotions underlie our reactions to the world, I see that verbalising a perspective as a world-view makes it an intellectual process at rationalisation, similar to retelling of a dream. So a world-view provides a person and his or her community with a verbal tool set to describe, interpret, and explain experiences, emotions, and thoughts and in many cases to prescribe appropriate behaviours to be consistent with that world-view.

I would like to mention two risks when analysing world-views. I am drawing from ‘A New Science of Morality’, a talk[1] given by Jonathan Haidt, Professor of Psychology at University of Virginia, at a recent Edge seminar. Firstly, we need to be aware of being WEIRDs, people from Western, educated, industrialised, rich, and democratic societies. We are a minority in the world and need to be careful not to see ourselves as the norm. Secondly, we need to be aware that human reasoning evolved to win arguments and not to pursue the truth. Using reason to justify our actions and beliefs leads to the well-known confirmation bias.

An example of misunderstandings from seeing things as a WEIRD is our concept of self. We emphasise the individual – personal rights, personal goals, and personal ownership. When doing historical research or examining other societies, we bring an individualistic sense of self with us. However many communities interpret ‘self’ in a vastly different way, as a collective self of group identity. Jesus scholars regularly face this problem with their studies of first century Middle-Eastern societies. According to Bruce Malina[2], ‘Who do people [others] say that I am?‘ was and is a commonly thought of question, though rarely asked. In collectivist communities people see themselves as defined by the opinions of significant others.[3] This is something similar to the behaviourist quip: ‘You seem okay. How am I?’

I should mention that many writers even dispute the concept of world-view, as it implies some sort of consistency of our intuitions, beliefs, and ideas. It may be more accurate to characterise our verbalisations about life as trying to normalise a changing, contradictory, patchy, and often inaccessible ‘mishmash’ of emotions and thoughts. Simple honest reflections of our attitudes seem to confirm these concerns.

Despite this caveat, the concept of world-view provides a useful way of talking about fundamental perspectives and, particularly, for contrasting religious with non-religious ones. We need to remember that in reality a person’s perspective is based on deeply held beliefs or assumptions developed from his or her familial and cultural backgrounds. So someone growing up in an Islamic tradition, especially if educated in a Madrassa, will hold a perspective dominated by an Islamic world-view. He or she may later question aspects of that view although it is hard to imagine any fundamental change. Similarly, my view developed in a very secular household where religious practices were seen as cultural artefacts. Christian concepts like God, Christ, and The Trinity hold little real meaning for me and are empty of feelings. In summary, my approach is to see a world-view as an intellectual rationalisation of our attitudes and a way of enabling discussion and some possible change

Perhaps more controversially, each world-view is underpinned by foundational beliefs or truth claims that, I suggest, we are unable to prove or disprove. Within a world-view itself the language tool-sets are built from those very assumptions, which cannot be then used to verify them. Similarly, the tool-sets of other world-views are based on different sets of assumptions and are again problematic for challenging the assumptions of others, in any independent way. None of us have a god’s eye view. Or as Albert Einstein once put it, ‘Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.‘ So is the only alternative a Post-modernist ‘free-for-all’, where all world-views are of equal value? No, I believe there are ways of comparing the efficacy of world-views, but more on that later.

What are those fundamental questions? We even have to be careful about what questions we pose, as questions themselves include and exclude issues. Framing the question controls the nature of the dialogue.[4]

So, not surprisingly, Evangelical Christian world-views always include questions about a personal-style god, which would be meaningless to those from many Eastern religions without personal gods. So here are some questions:

  1. What is our reality and what does our ‘world’ consist of? (Metaphysics)
    Possibly where has it come from and where is it going to?
    What am I and what is my position in the world?
  2. How do I know? How can I know truth? What is knowledge and truth? (Epistemology)
  3. Why do I behave as I do? How should I behave? (Ethics)
  4. And, possibly more specific questions like: what is the nature of history? (events linked for causes and effects only or linked by some grand narrative – reoccurring cycles, pre-Christian or linear progress to a greater goal, Christian)?

Unfortunately the term world-view has been usurped by Christian writers. Just check the Internet or books at the Amazon site. So these writers’ categorise world-views in Christian’s terms with the underlying questions being Christian questions, such as ‘Is there a personal God?’ Then the assessments are from an Evangelical Christian perspective. For example, The Universe Next Door[5] by James W. Sire presents a catalogue such as Naturalism, Christianity, Existentialism, Nihilism, Post-modernism, and so on with the Christian world-view being shown to be more comprehensive and fulfilling. No surprises there.

Previously I mentioned a possibility of comparing world-views, even though we are inevitably within our own view. We can consider three aspects:

  • Coherence or internal consistency (internal conflicts of explanation?) Are there some parts of the world-view that is inconsistent with other aspects? Often these differences are rejected by supporters or patched over by apologetic arguments.
    Note: internal consistency is often an adequate measure of truth for post-modernists.
  • Correspondence to experience (explanatory powerful?) How well does the world-view account for the range of our experiences? Of course, the confirmation bias haunts any analysis about explanatory power. Does a materialist view of the human being provide explanations that meet our needs? Does a loving, all-powerful God reconcile with the death of a young baby?
  • Comprehensiveness (any gaps?). Here atheism or theism falls short of a comprehensive world-view. Science may similarly do so.

Every world-view has short-comings. For example, the ‘Problem of evil’ – presence of gratuitous suffering with an all-powerful, all-loving god – presents an Achilles’ heel for an Evangelical Christian world-view. Reconciling our inner-world of consciousness with a strictly materialistic view of the world is perhaps another one.


[1]    URL: http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/morality10/morality10_index.html

[2]    Bruce Malina, “Understanding New Testament Persons”, ed. Richard L. Rohrbaugh, The Social Sciences and New Testament Interpretation (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003), 44.

[3]    Malina emphasises that (1) self was interpreted by a group understanding; (2) there was little sense of self-reflection, no associated concept of internal psychological processing; (3) complete separation of sexes with vastly different roles and responsibilities; (4) personality characteristics were seen as expressed behavioural terms only e.g. knowing a women is have had sexual intercourse with her; (5) physical characteristics and deformities were signs of permanent personal qualities.

[4]    Susan Johnston audio lecture Religion, Myth & Magic http://www.audible.com/pd?asin=B0031UCWWA
…religion is a system of beliefs and behaviors that formulates and answers questions that are important, recurrent, and must be answered.      (Page 8 for accompanying guide)

[5]    Sire James M., The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 5th Edn. (Nottingham: Intervarsity Press, 2009)

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Course: Historical Jesus – 6 night Course May 2010

I shall be running a six night course, late May 2010, at the Council of Adult Education in Melbourne, Australia, on searching for the historical jesus, looking at the historical figure behind the religion – what do we know?

Course: searching for the historical jesus

Explore the historical Jesus, separate from the figure of devotion. In doing so, review the use of Christian and non-Christian sources and treatment of miracle claims, society, political and regions of early first century Israel and Middle East, analysing the primary source – the Gospels, review of research from the past 300 years, how Jesus, the man, is profiled by today’s scholars and future direction of research.
Class details
6 sessions:
Tuesdays 6.00PM-7.30PM: 25/05/10 to 29/06/10
Venue: 253 Flinders Ln, Melbourne
Session 1:
Review of research over the last 300 years with particular emphasis since Albert Schweiter’s book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906).
Session 2:
Nature of historical research, including use of Christian and non-Christian sources and treatment of miracle claims with a close look at the Resurrection story.
Session 3:
Society, politics and religions of early first century Israel and Middle East.
Session 4:
Analysing the primary source – the Gospels.
Session 5:
How Jesus the man is profiled by today’s scholars – disagreement and consensus.
Session 6:
Future direction of the Jesus research

Link to CAE details and bookings

Alex McCullie

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News: my CAE Courses Melbourne 2010 (so far)

Atheism & Agnosticism:rejecting the god delusion: Tuesday 6.00-7.30pm: 16 March to 13 April 2010 (5 nights)http://www.cae.edu.au/?course=DNT800

Searching for the historical Jesus – what do we know?: Tuesday 6-7.30pm 25 May to 29 June 2010 (6 nights)

Naturalism – a complete world-view without god: Tuesday July 6-7:30pm 6 July to 20 July 2010 (3 nights)

Alex McCullie

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Course: New course next year – Historical Jesus

It looks likely that I shall be running a new course in Melbourne – Seeking the Historical Jesus – What do we know? in the first-half of next year at CAE.

My thinking is for six nights. The course would a survey of the efforts to date to understanding the historical person of Jesus, separate from the figure of devotion. Such as course could cover:

(1) Review of research over the last 300 years with particular emphasis on last 100 years since Albert Schweiter’s book ‘The Quest of the Historical Jesus’ (1906).
(2) Nature of historical research, including use of Christian and non-Christian sources and treatment of miracle claims with a close look at the Resurrection story.
(3) Society, politics, and religions of early first century Palestine and Middle East.
(4) How Jesus, the man, is profiled by today’s scholars – disagreements and consensus.
(5) Criticisms and future directions of the Jesus research

Alex McCullie

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News: The Teaching Company – Free Offering

I’ve purchased many lecture series from the Teaching Company to listen in the car or during train trips. The courses cover many academic subjects by high qualified US professors. I’ve worked through Bart Erhman’s courses on Lost Christianities, New Testament and After the New Testament. They are very professionally produced recordings with accompanying notes. Initially their courses appear expensive. However the prices are regularly reduced so check the On sale link on their web site for very affordable pricing.

Here’s a link to a free course from the Teaching Company on Martin Luther King. Have a taste of something pretty impressive.

Alex McCullie

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News: My Next Atheism Course at CAE

I’m running another public course on ATHEISM, AGNOSTICISM & UNBELIEF in Melbourne, Australia during February and March this year. Again this will be part of CAE’s Lifestyle – Philosophy program. The details are:

Topic: ATHEISM, AGNOSTICISM & UNBELIEF

Sessions: 6.00PM-7.30PM: 24/02/09 to 24/03/09

Overview: Discuss the opinions of key intellectuals, activists and critics from Ancient Greece, the Enlightenment and 19th century free thinkers to today. What of naturalism, morality, spiritualism, nationalism, religious activism and secular society?

Link: CAE course details and booking

Alex McCullie

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Course: Atheism (at CAE) – July 2008 Melbourne, Australia

On Monday 28 July I’ll be running a 5 night public course – introduction to Atheism & Agnosticism – as part of the lifestyles department at Council of Adult Education, Melbourne, Victoria.

Enter the world of atheism and agnosticism with related ideas of secularism, theism, materialism – old and new. How atheism relates to morality, meaning of life, happiness, science, spirituality and death. Each week bring a specific profile of atheist thinkers.

Enrol by phone

Telephone enrolments can only be accepted if you have one of the following credit cards:

  • Mastercard
  • Visa

Phone 9652 0611

8.30am to 6pm Monday to Thursday
8.30am to 5pm Friday

Please have your credit card number, card holder’s name and expiry date ready. It will also assist us if you have your student number ready – if you have participated in a previous course, you will find your student number on your class receipt.

Class details

5 sessions:
Mondays 6.00PM-7.30PM: 28/07/08 to 25/08/08

Venue: CAE Building B – 253 Flinders Ln, Melbourne

Fee: $139.00 - Code: DNS22801

Content

Session 1

What is atheism? Starting with a broad introduction to atheism and agnosticism, including historical perspectives, we also look at related concepts of theism, religion, faith, secularism and materialism. The first profile is ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus (341-270 BCE), one of atomists who believed that the universe consisted on an infinite number of atoms forming matter without any supernatural intervention.

Session 2

Does science and, in particular, evolutionary theory support today’s atheism? How was our world view changed with the publishing of Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species in 1859? Tonight’s profile is Baron d’Holbach (1723-1789), friend of Denis Diderot and David Hume, who was an atheist writer and philosopher during the French Enlightenment.

Session 3

How do atheists see the world without gods? We examine two world views – naturalism and secular humanism. The profile is atheist Robert Ingersoll, a famous and popular orator in the late 19th century US.

Session 4

Can there be a Godless morality? We look at morality, death and personal meaning in a world without God. Simone de Beauvoir, wife of Jean-Paul Sartre, was a highly influential 20th Century writer and philosopher as well as the intellectual precursor to the feminist movement.

Session 5

Where is atheism today? We look at population distributions. Do the successful publications of atheist books mean an increase in acceptance? Or, are there other more serious challenges? What does future hold? Richard Dawkins, British biologist, recently authored God Delusion, a best seller in many countries. He is an outspoken and controversial atheist who regularly attacks religious belief. Dawkins is our final profile.

Alex McCullie

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