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What is scientism? 
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Post What is scientism?
Michael Shermer: Scientism is a scientific worldview that encompasses natural explanations for all phenomena, eschews supernatural and paranormal speculations, and embraces empiricism and reason as the twin pillars of a philosophy of life appropriate for an Age of Science.

http://www.michaelshermer.com/2002/06/s ... scientism/

Robert Wright, in his book The Evolution of God:

"I guess materialist is a not-very-misleading term for me. In fact, in this book I talk about the history of religion, and its future, from a materialist standpoint. I think the origin and development of religion can be explained by reference to concrete, observable things—human nature, political and economic factors, technological change, and so on."

Is there a distinction between scientism and materialism?

I asked this question in another thread. Humans are limited beings with limited sensory capability and limited imaginations. It seems preposterous to think that we could know everything. What other avenues besides science can we, as limited beings, use to pursue knowledge?


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Tue Apr 17, 2012 11:32 am
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Post Re: What is scientism?
Nobel Prize winner Sir Peter Medawar, whom Richard Dawkins called, "The wittiest of all scientific writers", said in his book, "Advice to a Young Scientist"

...
Quote:
there is no quicker way for a scientist to bring discredit on himself and his profession particularly when no declaration is called for, than to declare that science knows or will know the answers to all questions worth asking.


Medawar added that questions that do not admit a scientific answer should not be assumed to be non-questions.
Quote:
"We must turn to imaginative literature and religion for suitable answers!"


Scientism is hubris.


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Tue Apr 17, 2012 1:32 pm
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Post Re: What is scientism?
ant wrote:
Nobel Prize winner Sir Peter Medawar, whom Richard Dawkins called, "The wittiest of all scientific writers", said in his book, "Advice to a Young Scientist"

...
Quote:
there is no quicker way for a scientist to bring discredit on himself and his profession particularly when no declaration is called for, than to declare that science knows or will know the answers to all questions worth asking.


Medawar added that questions that do not admit a scientific answer should not be assumed to be non-questions.
Quote:
"We must turn to imaginative literature and religion for suitable answers!"


Scientism is hubris.


I think semantically we are world's apart, and we should spend some time clarifying definitions to make sure we're talking about the same thing.

I had never heard of the term "scientism" until you brought it up, ant. It's a remarkably awkward word. I prefer naturalism or materialism which I think means the same thing. But based on Shermer's definition, I am a scientistist. Just because someone chooses to look for naturalistic explanations first (remember Hume's "apportion belief to the evidence") doesn't mean they are against artistic expression or understand the power of the imagination. Is that what you're suggesting? This seems another attempt to broadly label and categorize people based on a solitary data point—lack of religious belief. Now that's hubris.

Science is merely a tool with which we can objectively study the physical world whereas religion is a means of personal spiritual exploration. Those who claim that religion or the Bible yields scientific answers are delusional. For example, Young Earth Creationists reject evolution because it conflicts with a literal interpretation of the Bible. But reasonable believers don't need to disparage science to make their religion more credible. They understand that the two pertain to completely separate domains.

Your Medawar quote is interesting. Again, it seems bizarre to me that anyone would suggest science knows or will know the answers to all questions worth asking. I'm always suspicious when I see it phrased like that. Neither Dawkins nor Shermer nor Hitchens has ever said such a thing.

By the way, I teach college-level literature. Shakespeare explores this theme of rationality versus the power of imagination in A Midsummer Night's Dream.


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Tue Apr 17, 2012 3:09 pm
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Post Re: What is scientism?
Quote:
Scientism is a belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientism

Quote:
I had never heard of the term "scientism" until you brought it up, ant. It's a remarkably awkward word. I prefer naturalism or materialism which I think means the same thing. But based on Shermer's definition, I am a scientistist.


Science is your preference when attempting to explain/make sense of the natural world. But, if I understand you correctly, you also acknowledge that human beings can not possibly hope to understand everything because their (our) intelligence has its limits. That is NOT the definition of scientism. IMO, your definition is not hubristic.

Shermer is attempting to redefine the word, no doubt.

Quote:
For example, Young Earth Creationists reject evolution because it conflicts with a literal interpretation of the Bible. But reasonable believers don't need to disparage science to make their religion more credible. They understand that the two pertain to completely separate domains.


I agree 250% with the above.


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“So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind!” (Ecclesiastes 2:17)


“For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin to and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the universe. And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant” (Metaphysics, 350 BC)


Last edited by ant on Tue Apr 17, 2012 3:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Tue Apr 17, 2012 3:17 pm
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Post Re: What is scientism?
Quote:
By the way, I teach college-level literature. Shakespeare explores this theme of rationality versus the power of imagination in A Midsummer Night's Dream.


Hey! I didn't know that! That's really 8)

I'd love to explore Shakespeare one day! Really I would, but I've had a difficult time with it the few times I have tried. :(

But now I know who to go to when I try again one day :P

What would you recommend as being a good intro to Shakespeare?


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“So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind!” (Ecclesiastes 2:17)


“For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin to and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the universe. And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant” (Metaphysics, 350 BC)


Last edited by ant on Tue Apr 17, 2012 3:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Tue Apr 17, 2012 3:22 pm
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Post Re: What is scientism?
ant wrote:
Quote:
Scientism is a belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientism

Quote:
I had never heard of the term "scientism" until you brought it up, ant. It's a remarkably awkward word. I prefer naturalism or materialism which I think means the same thing. But based on Shermer's definition, I am a scientistist.


Science is your preference when attempting to explain/make sense of the natural world. But, if I understand you correctly, you also acknowledge that human beings can not possibly hope to understand everything because their (our) intelligence has its limits. That is NOT the definition of scientism. IMO, your definition is not hubristic.

Shermer is attempting to redefine the word, no doubt.


My viewpoint is the normal viewpoint of the vast majority of freethinkers and skeptics and atheists or whatever you want to call us.

I suppose there are Scientistists out there who believe in science as dogma and to the exclusion of all other viewpoints. This is not your typical skeptic or free thinker and one should be careful not to think of them in such stark black-and-white terms. It would be like an atheist assuming all Christians are Young Earth Creationists. It doesn't really jive with reality.


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Post Re: What is scientism?
Quote:
This is not your typical skeptic or free thinker and one should be careful not to think of them in such stark black-and-white terms.


Oh no?
You've never been to a Skeptic "Free Thinker" lecture or conference in Calofornia then.

Ever hear of "The Brights?"

I chuckle at the phrase "Free Thinker"
I believe in a creator. Maybe not in the traditional sense, but I do.
Why am I not a "Free Thinker?"


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“So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind!” (Ecclesiastes 2:17)


“For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin to and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the universe. And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant” (Metaphysics, 350 BC)


Last edited by ant on Tue Apr 17, 2012 3:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Tue Apr 17, 2012 3:51 pm
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Post Re: What is scientism?
ant wrote:
Quote:
By the way, I teach college-level literature. Shakespeare explores this theme of rationality versus the power of imagination in A Midsummer Night's Dream.


Hey! I didn't know that! That's really 8)

I'd love to explore Shakespeare one day! Really I would, but I've had a difficult time with it the few times I have tried. :(

But now I know who to go to when I try again one day :P

What would you recommend as being a good intro to Shakespeare?


Shakespeare requires a lot of context, historical and otherwise. I always recommend reading a synopsis of the play first and a few good peripheral sources, such as the introduction in most college textbooks. The intro to Shakespeare in our Bedford textbook is excellent. Anything by Harold Bloom is gold. As a literary critic, he's really quite approachable. For that matter, Isaac Asimov wrote a wonderful guide which is sadly out of print, but can be found used for a few bucks.

http://www.amazon.com/Asimovs-Guide-Sha ... 0517268256

The Bevington (Necessary) Shakespeare is the best Shakespeare anthology I've ever seen. It contains the necessary plays and tons of background material.

http://www.amazon.com/Necessary-Shakesp ... 771&sr=1-2

When you sit down to read Shakespeare, you're going to be referring to the annotations quite a bit because many expressions and words in Shakespeare's time have fallen out of use. Also, we're not used to reading such poetic language. but after awhile you start getting used to it.

A Midsummer Night's Dream has the redeeming quality of being Shakespeare's shortest play. It's the Elizabethan version of a romantic comedy, but it has some serious themes as well. Most of us are at least familiar with Hamlet and that's also a great place to start. (Hamlet happens to be Shakespeare's longest play). But even so, all of Shakespeare's plays are written in five acts, and you can usually read an act in twenty minutes to a half hour or so. The language is so rich that you should savor the experience. I really like Macbeth mostly because of the witches.

After reading the play, it's fun to watch the movie version to further enrich your experience.

Here's Bevinton's intro to A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's just excellent.

http://www.wordcentrist.net/bevington_midsummer.pdf


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Last edited by geo on Tue Apr 17, 2012 4:04 pm, edited 2 times in total.



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Post Re: What is scientism?
ant wrote:
Quote:
This is not your typical skeptic or free thinker and one should be careful not to think of them in such stark black-and-white terms.


Oh no?
You've never been to a Skeptic "Free Thinker" lecture or conference in Calofornia then.

Ever hear of "The Brights?"

I chuckle at the phrase "Free Thinker"
I believe in a creator. Maybe not in the traditional sense, but I do.
Why am I not a "Free Thinker?"


I like "free thinker" because Twain uses it in Puddn'head Wilson.

Watch out when like-minded people get together or, worse, start forming groups. Zero to Stupid in 60 seconds. Some skeptic groups are okay, but I wonder why they feel the need to get together with other like-minded people. Maybe not such free thinkers after all.

Yep, I've heard of the Brights. We had a thread going back a few years ago about that.


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Post Re: What is scientism?
Quote:
Watch out when like-minded people get together or, worse, start forming groups. Zero to Stupid in 60 seconds. Some skeptic groups are okay, but I wonder why they feel the need to get together with other like-minded people. Maybe not such free thinkers after all.


I've been attending most of these lectures

http://www.skeptic.com/lectures/

Great benefit to the community.

I do enjoy being in the company of people who think differently than I do.
It pushes me to see the world differently. It causes me to re-examine my belief system.
I can learn nothing from those who think precisely as I do.


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“For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin to and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the universe. And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant” (Metaphysics, 350 BC)


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Post Re: What is scientism?
I'm not sure why Shermer is trying to rescue the word "scientism." My understanding is that it is a perjorative term.

Perhaps some advocates of science sound a little arrogant and overconfident. That doesn't bother me in the slightest. They are not asking us to believe things without good reason. If they are, then you shouldn't listen -- they are not threatening eternal damnation either.

The contest between religion and science for understanding the world is not even a close match.



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Post Re: What is scientism?
Like geo, I prefer 'materialist,' to capture some of the idea of 'scientism' (without the pejorative part). With materialist, it's more clear that the term applies to specifics and is not a description of personality. Way back when modern science was revving up, some English Romantic poets worried that science would overwhelm us with its materialist view, robbing nature of what they viewed as transcendence. Wordsworth expressed some of this in his famous sonnet "The World Is Too Much With Us". The later American Romantics, who called themselves Transcendentalists, agreed. Even as keen a scientific mind as Thoreau's insisted that research and fact were meaningful only in the context of a being called Nature.

The problem with science, for me, comes down to reductionism misapplied. Reductionism has been essential to the physical sciences, but in the different areas of human culture and history it never seems to work. Trying to reduce culture to natural law or measurement often destroys what we're looking at. We run into another problem labeled by Wordsworth: "We murder to dissect." In perennial wisdom, the idea that materialism doesn't suffice has long been captured in the Bible adage, "Man does not live by bread alone."


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Post Re: What is scientism?
Dexter wrote:
I'm not sure why Shermer is trying to rescue the word "scientism." My understanding is that it is a perjorative term.

Perhaps some advocates of science sound a little arrogant and overconfident. That doesn't bother me in the slightest. They are not asking us to believe things without good reason. If they are, then you shouldn't listen -- they are not threatening eternal damnation either.

The contest between religion and science for understanding the world is not even a close match.


But again, don't they address different domains (or magisteria, to use Gould's word)? I see science as the pursuit of objective knowledge. Using the scientific method we now understand germ theory and we know how antibiotics work and we know how to treat cholera. Real world matters (medicine, technology) are clearly the domain of science.

Religious belief is meaningful to many individuals, so it can be viewed as part of a personal spiritual journey. It's a way of seeing the world.

Where the two come into conflict is when believers attempt to push their beliefs on others. Believers who disparage science or reject science altogether in order to make room for their beliefs are being irrational. This is the problem, not the religious belief itself. As Gould argued, even rational people of science can respect the metaphorical value of religion because it's outside the realm of science.

And, yes, it works the other way too. By disparaging people's religious beliefs, religious skeptics are saying that believers are wrong while they are right. But because religious belief is a subjective experience, it can't be wrong. It's like arguing with someone about whether they enjoyed a movie or not.

Gould wrote:
Religion is too important to too many people for any dismissal or denigration of the comfort still sought by many folks from theology. I may, for example, privately suspect that papal insistence on divine infusion of the soul represents a sop to our fears, a device for maintaining a belief in human superiority within an evolutionary world offering no privileged position to any creature. But I also know that souls represent a subject outside the magisterium of science. My world cannot prove or disprove such a notion, and the concept of souls cannot threaten or impact my domain. Moreover, while I cannot personally accept the Catholic view of souls, I surely honor the metaphorical value of such a concept both for grounding moral discussion and for expressing what we most value about human potentiality: our decency, care, and all the ethical and intellectual struggles that the evolution of consciousness imposed upon us.


So I guess I don't see it as a "contest" between science and religion. Clearly a large percentage of people derives meaning and pleasure from theological beliefs. It's only when we cross the line into other people's domains that problems occur. Or in the case of religion, it's equating personal religious experience with objective truth that invites confrontation.


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Post Re: What is scientism?
Quote:
The contest between religion and science for understanding the world is not even a close match


I don't think that is a productive way to view science and religion as being in a contest between each other. Actually, this is the very attitude that keeps the warfare thesis alive.

I don't believe the two are at odds with each other, or should be. Religion should not be a means to examine the materialistic nature of the natural world. Science, is not, nor should not be required to give meaning to our lives. That is a theological matter.

Theism has certainly had a positive, meaningful impact on humanity. Religious discourse as fabulation has assisted in establishing moral foundations for people to guide their lives by. It lays out values. It's tales share with us what is seen as "good," which can be implicit in the core of a story, reinforced by a moral attached to a story, or can be set forth in a list of what to do and what not to do. Theism can be seen as a motivation for good behavior. I know the reverse has been in the spotlight of late, but that is due largely to those who hold extremist positions that have allowed their religion to act as an uncompromising, cruel despot who's authority should not be questioned. Theism becomes poisonous when it is used to keep a harmful status quo in place at any cost.

For those who care to take an intellectually honest, empathetic view, theism/religion should be recognized as having played a prominent role in both the past and present time. It has held cultures together, provided meaning, comfort, reassurance, and hope to people throughout time.

Religion, much to the dismay of some hardcore militant atheists, is not going anywhere anytime soon.


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“For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin to and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the universe. And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant” (Metaphysics, 350 BC)


Tue Apr 17, 2012 10:19 pm
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Post Re: What is scientism?
Quote:
It's only when we cross the line into other people's domains that problems occur.


Clearly, there have really been only two major paradigms in human history - religion and science.., theistic and materialistic looking glasses.
No doubt there exists a conflict between the two because, as Thomas Kuhn might say, there is simply little to no communication possible between paradigms.


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“So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind!” (Ecclesiastes 2:17)


“For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin to and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the universe. And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant” (Metaphysics, 350 BC)


Tue Apr 17, 2012 10:26 pm
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Oliver Twist - by Charles DickensSense and Goodness Without God - by Richard CarrierFrankenstein - by Mary ShelleyThe Big Questions - by Simon BlackburnScience Was Born of Christianity - by Stacy TrasancosThe Happiness Hypothesis - by Jonathan HaidtA Game of Thrones - by George R. R. MartinTempesta's Dream - by Vincent LoCocoWhy Nations Fail - by Daron Acemoglu and James RobinsonThe Drowning Girl - Caitlin R. KiernanThe Consolations of the Forest - by Sylvain TessonThe Complete Heretic's Guide to Western Religion: The Mormons - by David FitzgeraldA Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - by James JoyceThe Divine Comedy - by Dante AlighieriThe Magic of Reality - by Richard DawkinsDubliners - by James JoyceMy Name Is Red - by Orhan PamukThe World Until Yesterday - by Jared DiamondThe Man Who Was Thursday - by by G. K. ChestertonThe Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven PinkerLord Jim by Joseph ConradThe Hobbit by J. R. R. TolkienThe Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas AdamsAtlas Shrugged by Ayn RandThinking, Fast and Slow - by Daniel KahnemanThe Righteous Mind - by Jonathan HaidtWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max BrooksMoby Dick: or, the Whale by Herman MelvilleA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer EganLost Memory of Skin: A Novel by Russell BanksThe Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. KuhnHobbes: Leviathan by Thomas HobbesThe House of the Spirits - by Isabel AllendeArguably: Essays by Christopher HitchensThe Falls: A Novel (P.S.) by Joyce Carol OatesChrist in Egypt by D.M. MurdockThe Glass Bead Game: A Novel by Hermann HesseA Devil's Chaplain by Richard DawkinsThe Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph CampbellThe Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor DostoyevskyThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark TwainThe Moral Landscape by Sam HarrisThe Decameron by Giovanni BoccaccioThe Road by Cormac McCarthyThe Grand Design by Stephen HawkingThe Evolution of God by Robert WrightThe Tin Drum by Gunter GrassGood Omens by Neil GaimanPredictably Irrational by Dan ArielyThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel by Haruki MurakamiALONE: Orphaned on the Ocean by Richard Logan & Tere Duperrault FassbenderDon Quixote by Miguel De CervantesMusicophilia by Oliver SacksDiary of a Madman and Other Stories by Nikolai GogolThe Passion of the Western Mind by Richard TarnasThe Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le GuinThe Genius of the Beast by Howard BloomAlice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll Empire of Illusion by Chris HedgesThe Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner The Extended Phenotype by Richard DawkinsSmoke and Mirrors by Neil GaimanThe Selfish Gene by Richard DawkinsWhen Good Thinking Goes Bad by Todd C. RinioloHouse of Leaves by Mark Z. DanielewskiAmerican Gods: A Novel by Neil GaimanPrimates and Philosophers by Frans de WaalThe Enormous Room by E.E. CummingsThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar WildeGod Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher HitchensThe Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama Paradise Lost by John Milton Bad Money by Kevin PhillipsThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson BurnettGodless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists by Dan BarkerThe Things They Carried by Tim O'BrienThe Limits of Power by Andrew BacevichLolita by Vladimir NabokovOrlando by Virginia Woolf On Being Certain by Robert A. Burton50 reasons people give for believing in a god by Guy P. HarrisonWalden: Or, Life in the Woods by Henry David ThoreauExile and the Kingdom by Albert CamusOur Inner Ape by Frans de WaalYour Inner Fish by Neil ShubinNo Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthyThe Age of American Unreason by Susan JacobyTen Theories of Human Nature by Leslie Stevenson & David HabermanHeart of Darkness by Joseph ConradThe Stuff of Thought by Stephen PinkerA Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled HosseiniThe Lucifer Effect by Philip ZimbardoResponsibility and Judgment by Hannah ArendtInterventions by Noam ChomskyGodless in America by George A. RickerReligious Expression and the American Constitution by Franklyn S. HaimanDeep Economy by Phil McKibbenThe God Delusion by Richard DawkinsThe Third Chimpanzee by Jared DiamondThe Woman in the Dunes by Abe KoboEvolution vs. Creationism by Eugenie C. ScottThe Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael PollanI, Claudius by Robert GravesBreaking The Spell by Daniel C. DennettA Peace to End All Peace by David FromkinThe Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey NiffeneggerThe End of Faith by Sam HarrisEnder's Game by Orson Scott CardThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark HaddonValue and Virtue in a Godless Universe by Erik J. WielenbergThe March by E. L DoctorowThe Ethical Brain by Michael GazzanigaFreethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan JacobyCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared DiamondThe Battle for God by Karen ArmstrongThe Future of Life by Edward O. WilsonWhat is Good? by A. C. GraylingCivilization and Its Enemies by Lee HarrisPale Blue Dot by Carl SaganHow We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God by Michael ShermerLooking for Spinoza by Antonio DamasioLies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al FrankenThe Red Queen by Matt RidleyThe Blank Slate by Stephen PinkerUnweaving the Rainbow by Richard DawkinsAtheism: A Reader edited by S.T. JoshiGlobal Brain by Howard BloomThe Lucifer Principle by Howard BloomGuns, Germs and Steel by Jared DiamondThe Demon-Haunted World by Carl SaganBury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee BrownFuture Shock by Alvin Toffler

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