Up@dawn 2.0


(Syllabus under reconstruction*)
Spring 2016

PHIL 3310-001 
Atheism & Philosophy
TTh 2:40-4:05 JUB 202

Dr. James P. Oliver

Office Hours: TTh 11:15-12:45 & by appointment
300 James Union Building, (615) 898-2050, 525-7865 (use this # only during office hours). Philosophy Department 898-2907.

The purpose of our course is to explore the philosophical, ethical, spiritual, existential, social, and personal implications of a godless universe, and to examine various philosophical perspectives on atheism, understood as the belief that no transcendent creator deity exists, and that there are no supernatural causes of natural events. The course compares and contrasts this belief with familiar alternatives (including theism, agnosticism, and humanism), considers the spiritual significance of atheism, and explores implications for ethics and religion.

TEXTS 2016:
  • Julian Baggini, Atheism: A Very Short Introduction (JB)
  • Samuel Scheffler, Death and the Afterlife (DA)
  • Alain de Botton, Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion (RA)
  • Philip Kitcher, Life After Faith (LAF)
  • Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian and other essays (BR)

TEXTS 2014 (just fyi):
  • A.C. Grayling, The Good Book: A Humanist Bible (GB)
  • Owen Flanagan, The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World (RHP)
  • Alex Rosenberg, The Atheist's Guide to Reality (AGR)
  • Christopher Hitchens, Mortality (M)
  • Carl Sagan, The Varieties of Scientific Experience (VSE)

First day, in class and on our blogsite: Introductions. Who are you? Why are you here?

On our second day we’ll break into rotating discussion groups of three. For every class, a member of each group will be designated "reporter" to post a brief summary of group discussion before leaving class. Each group will also appoint a moderator and scorekeeper each day.

  • TUE January 19, 2016 - Classes Begin
  • TH February 11 - Identify midterm report groups of 3 (& one author each)
  • TH Feb 25 - Exam #1; Turn in personal log; Midterm group report presentations begin
  • TH March 3 - tba
  • March 7-12 - Spring Break
  • TH April 7 - Exam #2; Turn in personal log
  • THUR April 21 - penultimate class date, top three run-leaders/report exemptees announced;
  • TUE April 26 - Last Day of Class; Exam #3; 1st final solo report blog post due; Turn in personal log
  • FRI April 29 - 2d final solo report blog post due
  • May 9 - Deadline for Final Grades; grade queries welcome

T 19 - Introduce yourself in class and online (before next class) by replying to "Introductions" on our blog site at http://bioethjpo.blogspot.com/ & read classmates' introductions. Answer two questions (bearing in mind that this is an open site):

  • Who are you? 
  • Why are you here? 

And answer a third, if you're ambitious:

  • What's your present view of the concept of an "afterlife"?

Th 21 – What is atheism? The case for it (JB 1-2)

T 26 - Atheist ethics; Meaning & purpose (JB 3-4)

Th 28 - Atheism in history; Against religion?; Conclusion (JB 5-7)

T 2 - The Afterfife, Part I (DA Intro, Lecture 1)

Th 4 - The Afterfife, Part II (DA Lecture 2)

T 9 - Fear, Death, and Confidence (DA Lecture 3) 

Th 11 - The Significance of Doomsday; How the Afterlife Matters; Preserving the Valued (DA comments)

T 16 -  That I Should Die and Others Live; Death, Value, and the Afterlife (DA comments & reply); and see "The Importance of the Afterlife" (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/21/the-importance-of-the-afterlife-seriously/?_r=0)

Th 18 - Wisdom Without Doctrine; Community (RA I-II)

T 23 - Kindness; Education; Tenderness  (RA III-V)

Th 25 - Exam #1; Turn in personal log; Midterm group report presentations begin

T 1 - Grade exam #1; Pessimism; Perspective  (RA VI-VII) 

Th 3 - Art; Architecture; Institutions (RA VIII-X)

Spring Break!

T 15 - Doubt Delineated (LAF 1); Midterm report presentations conclude

Th 17 - Values Vindicated (LAF 2)

T 22 - Religion Refined (LAF 3)

Th 24 - Mortality and Meaning (LAF 4)

T 29 - Depth and Depravity (LAF 5); Exam 2; Turn in personal log

Th 31 - No class (I'm goin' to KC...)

T 5 - Why I Am Not a Christian (BR) 

Th 7 - Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization? (BR)

T 12 - What I Believe (BR)  

Th 14 - Do We Survive Death? ...A Free Man's Worship (BR)

T 19 - On Catholic & Protestant Skeptics... The Fate of Thomas Paine (BR)

Th 21 - Nice People... Our Sexual Ethics (BR)

T 26 - Freedom and the Colleges... Religion and Morals (BR); 1st final solo report blog post due; Turn in personal log

FRI April 29 - 2d final solo report blog post due

May 9 - Deadline for Final Grades; grade queries welcome

PARTICIPATION is the single largest grading factor: you can earn up to five participation points (or "runs," which we'll track daily on baseball-style scorecards) per class, via attendance, quizzes, discussion, and posts to this site. Collaborative MIDTERM GROUP REPORT PRESENTATIONS (3 reporters to a group, 15-20 minutes) are worth up to twenty runs. FINAL SOLO REPORTS (in the form of two 500-word blog posts, including relevant graphics, videos, and links) are also worth twenty runs. And three objective-format short EXAMS are each worth twenty runs.

The top three run-scorers of the semester, as determined on the penultimate class date, are exempt from a final solo report( but may still post for extra credit).

Presentations, like group discussions, will follow the peripatetic model whenever weather permits. So, post all supplemental and supportive multimedia material on our site in advance and be prepared to report like a peripatetic, in the open air.

PHONE POLICY. It should go without saying, but for some does not: put your phone away during class. During class and group discussion, participate. If you cannot comply with this, you'll be asked to leave and will be marked absent.
We'll track daily participation with baseball-style scorecards. But our game's much easier than the national pastime, all you have to do to get to 1st base is show up for class. Each class date is a column or "inning" on the scorecard. Simply showing up to class gets you to 1st base. Mark your scorecard accordingly. Now you're eligible to score runs (runs=participation points). Here's how:

You can come around from 1st base to score your first run if you took today's quiz before class.

You can score additional runs (up to five per class) if you: 
  • aced the quiz; 
  • posted relevant comments before class, about last class and/or today's new material; 
  • posted a relevant quiz question (in the comments section below the daily quiz); 
  • posted a relevant question for class or group discussion; 
  • posted a link to something relevant online or in print (a YouTube video, an article, a book...); 
  • started the computer/projector & this site before class; 
  • served as your group's discussion MODERATOR, SCOREKEEPER, or REPORTER today. (MODERATORS keep group discussion flowing, orderly, & civil, SCOREKEEPERS certify, tally, and post each group member's runs totals, today and to date, REPORTERS post a brief summary of their group's conversation); 
  • do something else that impresses the professor. 

How to post. Eventually, everyone will have an opportunity to sign up as an "author" on our site. Until then, post your questions, comments, links, etc. in the current "comments" section under the quiz. Or, post under a classmate's author account (click on "new post" in the upper right.)

Daily routine. Before coming to each class, read/watch/listen to the assigned material, post relevant questions, comments, & links, log and date the runs you intend to claim on the scorecard in your notebook, write your quiz answers on a separate sheet of paper.

When you get to class each day, look for two classmates to join in discussion (we'll always split into rotating discussion groups of three, with a different combination each class).

On nice (enough) days we'll quickly head outdoors for peripatetic discussions... we'll grade the quizzes and look ahead to what's next... and then we'll return to our classroom to begin posting brief reporters' summaries of our discussions and mark scorecards before dismissing. You can claim up to five certified runs per class.

Those who are physically restricted from participating in peripatetic discussions will receive alternative assignments.

Peripatetics. The original peripatetics were Aristotle's students at the Lyceum, back in the day. Legend has it that they didn't sit indoors in orderly rows like students nowadays, but instead roamed the grounds in small groups, walking-and-talking philosophy. I like their style, apocryphal or not. It’s a model we’ll emulate when the weather is nice enough, outdoors. They're also why I'm developing a Study Abroad course that will involve walking and talking in England beginning in the summer of '16. Stay tuned for more info on that.

"Solvitur ambulando"

Always designate a member of your group as MODERATOR to keep discussion relevant and flowing, another as SCOREKEEPER to certify, tally, and post runs totals, and the third as REPORTER to post a brief account of your conversation - including group participants' names & topic(s) discussed, etc. Take turns playing all these positions.

PERSONAL LOG. Set aside a section of your notebook for a personal log in which you will record, by date, all the runs you claim on the scorecard, & how you earned them (by taking/acing the quiz, posting a question, comment, or link, etc.) Your group's scorekeeper should certify & initial your log at the end of each class (and one of you should do the same for him/her). Turn in your personal log on each exam date.

Daily Quiz. We'll do daily non-punitive quizzes consisting of six questions, posted before class on our site by me and supplemented (in the comments section) by you. The three semester exams will be drawn from the quizzes. Ace a quiz with six non-redundant right answers (to questions other than your own) and score a run. Swap quizzes with a classmate when we go over them, and certify & initial the "aces" before returning them.

Why a daily quiz? Because philosophy is all about the questions, and because "frequent quizzes can deepen learning" (see "How to Study" below).

And note: "One reason scientists suspect that studying in pairs or groups can be helpful is that students are forced to talk to one another about the material-or better yet, argue about it... [this] deepens learning more than passively rereading or reviewing the material" alone. Hence, the rationale for our quiz-and-collaboration course format.

Besides, it's fun.

FACTUAL QUESTIONS, DISCUSSION QUESTIONS. An example of a FQ: “Was it Plato or Aristotle who presented the Allegory of the Cave in his book The Republic?” [Plato]. A DQ might be: “Who do you think had a better understanding of reality (as applied to issues in medical practice) and how we can discover it, Plato or Aristotle? Why?”

LINKS. An example of a posted link that would get you home to score: “Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is helpfully explained in a cartoon I found on YouTube athttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-EPz5z1pUag”... OR, “I found a helpful article about Aristotle in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy at http://www.iep.utm.edu/aristotl/” etc.

MODERATOR. Each group selects a moderator each class to keep the conversation relevant and flowing.

SCOREKEEPER. Each group picks a scorekeeper each class to certify, tally, update, and post each group member's current runs total.

REPORTER. Each group selects a reporter each class to post a brief summary of their conversation.

Everyone should play each of these positions in turn.
Bonus Exemption. If you're one of the top three run-scorers of the semester, as determined on the penultimate class date, you’re EXEMPT from the 1,000-word final report blog series. 
JPO's blogs & podcasts (we're not using D2L): JPO blogs at CoPhilosophyUp@dawn and Delight Springs, podcasts here and on Soundcloud (More day to dawn, at iTunes), and tweets @osopher. "You don't need to follow me..."

but if a blog or podcast link is included with the daily quiz you'll probably want to read or listen.

Don't forget to take the quiz before each class (and add your own questions, for the quiz and for discussion, in the comments section). If you come to class and ace the quiz (with six correct & non-redundant answers) you score a run.

Lottery scholarship statement. Do you have a lottery scholarship? To retain the Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship eligibility, you must earn a cumulative TELS GPA of 2.75 after 24 and 48 attempted hours and a cumulative TELS GPA of 3.0 thereafter. A grade of C, D, F, FA, or I in this class may negatively impact TELS eligibility. If you drop this class, withdraw, or if you stop attending this class you may lose eligibility for your lottery scholarship, and you will not be able to regain eligibility at a later time. For additional Lottery rules, please refer to your Lottery Statement of Understanding form (http://www.mtsu.edu/financial-aid/forms/LOTFEV.pdf) or contact your MT One Stop Enrollment Coordinator (http://www.mtsu.edu/one-stop/counselor.php).