For general information about online classes,
visit the CFI Institute Online main page
"The Science of Free Will"
May 1 – May 31, 2013
Instructor: Richard Carrier, PhD, philosopher, historian, and author
Instructor: John Shook, PhD, CFI director of education and AHA education coordinator
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.
-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.
Readings: Sam Harris, Free Will (2012). Students will purchase their own copy (print or electronic). Additional readings will be provided electronically at no cost to students.
Richard Carrier, PhD, is
the renowned author of Sense
and Goodness without God and Not
the Impossible Faith, as well as numerous articles online and
in print. He received his PhD in ancient history from Columbia University in
2008, and now specializes in the modern philosophy of naturalism, the origins
of Christianity, and the intellectual history of Greece and Rome. For more
about him and his work visit www.richardcarrier.info.
John Shook, PhD, is Director of Education and Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Inquiry and Education Coordinator for theAmerican Humanist Association. He also serves as visiting assistant professor of science education at the University at Buffalo, teaching for the joint CFI-UB Science and the Public online masters program. From 2000 to 2006 John was professor of philosophy at Oklahoma State University. Shook publishes on philosophical topics regarding science, the mind, humanist ethics, democracy, secularism, and religion, and has debated the existence of God with leading theologians, including William Lane Craig. His most recent books are The God Debates, and as editor, The Essential William James.
About CFI Institute Online courses:
CFI 200-level seminar courses are taught at an intellectual level equivalent to an introductory college course. We expect students to participate in the class discussion at their own chosen pace, and there are no other writing requirements and no grading. These classes are entirely online — everything for the course except the book is provided on a CFI website. You will read the course lectures, follow links to other webpages, ask your questions, and participate in class discussion with the instructors and other students on our website.
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.
Online courses are now jointly advertised by the Center for Inquiry and the American Humanist Association, and both organizations encourage their members and affiliates to consider taking them. Online courses are the most visible sign that CFI and the AHA have entered a cooperative relationship on some educational programming. That cooperation is facilitated by Dr. John Shook, who now serves as education coordinator for both CFI and AHA.
Seminar Fee: $70 for general registration; $60 for Friends of the Center; $30 for students (valid education institution email required)