Spring 2006

                     Dr. William S. Abruzzi            

                     106d Ettinger Bldg.                                  

                     Office:  (484) 664-3437                                           




Class Time:   

T/Th:   3:00 - 4:15



Office Hours:   


T/Th:     2:00 - 3:00


W:       12:00 - 1:00




Required Textbooks:


1.   William L. Rathje, Cullen Murphy, Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage, University of Arizona Press. 2001.


2.   Bjorn Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World. Cambridge University Press. (2001).


3.   David L. Gollaher, Circumcision: A History of the World’s Most Controversial Surgery. Basic Books (2000).


4.   Emmanuel Babatunde, Women’s Rights versus Women’s Rites. Africa World Press, Inc. (1998)


5.   Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, Henry Lincoln, Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Dell; (1983)


6.   Paula Fredriksen,  From Jesus to Christ : The Origins of the New Testament Images of Christ, Second Edition. Yale University Press (2000) 


7.   Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels. Vintage; (1989)   



Course Description:


People in all societies, including the United States, possess beliefs which they assume are true and which they seldom question. These beliefs are generally acquired through family, school, church, government and the media.  Such beliefs often gain uncritical acceptance because their validity is reinforced through all of these institutions simultaneously.  However, many generally accepted beliefs contain little, if any, validity.  Indeed, we need only examine the many beliefs that were formerly assumed to be true in order to caution us against accepting our current beliefs too uncritically.   General principles of scientific reasoning exist which can be applied to critically evaluate the validity of commonly held beliefs. This course will employ these principles to examine several widely accepted beliefs in our own society in order to determine the extent to which these beliefs survive the scrutiny of critical evaluation.  As an essential part of the critical evaluation process, the course will also explore the reasons why erroneous beliefs endure in the face of evidence to the contrary.  In particular, it will examine the way in which the interests of individuals and groups contribute to the persistence of false beliefs. The purpose of the course is to demonstrate the value of approaching all beliefs from a skeptical perspective.



Teaching Methods:

A variety of teaching techniques will be used throughout the course, including lectures, class discussions, small-group discussions, films, and out-of-class assignments. In addition, reading assignments will be given in the form of handouts distributed in class, Internet sites, email messages as well as articles audio and video tapes placed on reserve in the Trexler Library. These different sources of information and methods of teaching are used to complement and reinforce each other in order to increase the depth and the scope of the student's understanding of the material included within the course.



Grading Policy:


1.     ALL assignments must be completed at the scheduled time.  Late essays will only be accepted in the event of an emergency and will receive a 10-point reduction in grade for each day they are late, i.e., a score of 80 will be recorded as a 70, 60, 50, etc. (Computer problems or printer dysfunction are NOT valid excuses for a late paper.  They indicate that the student waited until the very last minute to complete an assignment.)  Similarly, incomplete course grades  will be reduced by 10 points when they are completed. The grade on any assignment not completed will be zero.  Plagiarized assignments will also receive a grade of zero.

2.     Attendance will not be taken, but absence from class is NOT an acceptable excuse for a student's failure to complete an assignment.  It is the student's responsibility to obtain the necessary information on days that he or she misses class.  In addition, a student who regularly misses class cannot expect special consideration in the event of poor grades.


4.     In the final analysis, responsibility for completing all course requirements rests with the student. If the student has any doubt on any matter regarding the course, he or she should contact the instructor BEFORE the problem becomes insurmountable.  One of the benefits of the small size of the Muhlenberg Campus is the potential that exist for easy faculty-student contact.


5,    Twenty percent (20%) of a student’s grade in the course is based on participation.  Each student in the class begins with a "C" (73) for participation, and their individual grade increases or decreases depending upon the quality of their participation.  I expect students to attend ALL classes.  While I don’t grade down for one or two classes missed, excessive absences result in a reduced grade for participation.  (Obviously, if a student is not in class, participation for that day is zero.)  I assign a higher participation grade for those students who contribute positively to class discussions or who discuss issues with me in my office or through email.  Conversely, I assign a lower grade for those students who come to class unprepared, who do not participate in class discussions, or whose classroom behavior is inappropriate or disruptive.


2.     Plagiarism constitutes a violation of the Academic Behavior Code and will be dealt with VERY STRICTLY. Faculty in the Sociology and Anthropology Department treats plagiarism cases very seriously.  Depending on the nature of the plagiarism, a student could receive a failing grade for the course; be referred to the Dean's Office for judicial review; and have a "VF" (violation of Academic Behavior Code) grade entered on their transcripts.  If a student is in doubt about a specific situation, it is his or her responsibility to consult the instructor or some other appropriate person (such as a librarian or writing tutor) for clarification.




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First Year Seminar

Spring 2006




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1-17 & 1-24       

Introduction: Learning to Be Skeptical

Bigot:  One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.  --  Ambrose Bierce




Declaration of War on the New Age.



1.    Chief Seattle's 1854 Speech

2.    Mander, "What You Don't Know about Indians." (R)

3.    Hughes, "The Unspoiled Continent." Chapter 1 in American Indian Ecology (R)

4.    Deloria, "Indians Today, the Real and the Unreal", Chapter 1 in Custer Died for Your Sins.  (R)

5.    GoodrichAttack on the Kiowa.

6.    Susan Jeffers, Brother Eagle, Sister Sky(R)



*   *   *   *   *



7.    Krech, "Introduction," The Ecological Indian.

8.    Abruzzi, The Myth of Chief Seattle.

9.    Smith, For All Those Who Were Indian in a Former Life.



Film:   "Plastic Shamans, White Medicine

               Men" (R)



~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~




Baloney Detection

THE NEW LOGIC:   It would be nice if it worked. Ergo, it will work."  --H.L. Menken





Bread Is Dangerous !




Road Rage!




Dihydrogen Monoxide Alert




Snopes.com: Urban Legends Reference Page









"A concern with knowing the world, rather than advocating a view of the world because it confirms some political, ideological, or religious project, has always been fundamental to scientific philosophy." 


  --Lawrence Kuznar (1997)






Intelligent Falling Theory





1.      Holmes, It's Awful! It's Terrible! It's . . . Never Mind

2.      Onishi, "African Numbers, Problems and Number Problems."

3.      Logging and Deforestation

4.      Schenkman, "Shrines" & "Freedom and Democracy" (R)


*     *     *


5.     Sagan, The Burden of Skepticism

9.     Lastrucci, "What Science Is." (R)



Carl Sagan's Baloney Detection Kit



Hill's Criteria of Causality



Occam's Razor





According to a Harris poll taken on August 12, 1998, Americans are three times as likely to believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus (83%) as in evolution (28%).  (NewYorkTimes)






Creationism Explained






"The aim of scientific research is to formulate explanatory theories which are: (1) predictive (or retrodictive), (2) testable (or falsifiable), (3) parsimonious, (4) of broad scope, and (5) integratable or cumulative within a coherent and expanding corpus of theories."

--Marvin Harris (1994)





"Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves."

--Eric Hoffer






U.S. Forest Facts


1.    About 33% of the U.S. land area, or 298 million ha (737 million acres), is forest land.

2.    The nation's forest land area is still about two-thirds the size it was in the year 1600, in spite of the conversion of 370 million acres of forest land to other uses, principally to agriculture.

3.    More trees are growing in America's forests today than at any time since the early 1900's.

4.    In 1900, forest growth rates were a fraction of harvest. Today, overall annual forest growth exceeds harvest by 37%.

5.    Net annual forest growth has increased 62% since 1952, and total growth per acre has increased 71%.

6.    Nationally, standing timber volume per acre in U.S. forests is 30% greater today than it was in 1952.

7.    On a per acre basis, net annual tree growth in the U.S. is 52 cubic feet compared with 27 in Canada and 24 in Russia.

8.    Annual growth in National Forests now exceeds harvest by more than 55%.


SOURCE:  The Bugwood Network (The University of Georgia - Warnell School of Forest Resources and College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences)





"Some people have this vision -especially back East- that we're running out of trees.  We're not running out of trees.  We're running out of agreement on what to do with all these trees."


--Jack Ward Thomas, former chief of the U.S. Forest Service.














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2-7 & 2-14    

That's a Bunch of Garbage!

No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism.  --  Winston Churchill







Yuppie Environmentalism




1.     Rathje, Cullen Murphy, Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage.

2.     Tierney, Recycling is Garbage.

3.     Kummer, Carried Away.




“The most critical part of the garbage problem in America is that our notions about the creation and disposal of garbage are often riddled with myth.”  --William Rathje




Resilient Rainforests




Bottled Water: Pure Drink or Pure Hype?




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3-7 thru 3-21    

Confronting the Skeptical Environmentalist

Creator:  a comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh --  H.L. Menken












"Paul Ehrlich gets Stanford 'Reviewed.'"














*     *     *     *     *




On Ozone Depletion


1.     EPA: The Science of Ozone Depletion.

2.     NASA: Stratospheric Ozone Depletion

3.     Fahey, Twenty Questions and Answers about the Ozone Layer.

4.    Common Ozone Depletion Myths

5.     Environmental Effects of Ozone Depletion.

6.     Rensberger, “A Reader’s Guide to the Ozone Controversy.” The Skeptical Inquirer.


*     *     *


On Overpopulation


1.     Abruzzi, On Overpopulation

2.     Abruzzi, "Sociopolitical Implications of the Persistent Western Concern with Global Population Growth" FORUM.

3.     Ehrlich, The Population Bomb, Chapters 1 & 2. (R)

4.     Weeks, Population, "A Demographic Perspective" & Chapter 1. (R)

5.     Six Billion People

6.     Ryerson, 16 Myths about Population.

8.     Duncan, "World Energy Production, Population Growth, and the Road to Olduvai Gorge." Population and Environment.

9.     Singer, "Review of Paul and Anne Ehrlich Betrayal of Science and Reason"

10.     Hartmann, "Introduction" Reproductive Rights and Wrongs. (R)

11.     Pradervand, "The Neo-Malthusian Myth." (R)

12.     "Can Famine Be Averted?" The Economist

13.     Murdoch, The Poverty of Nations, Chapter 1.  (R)

14.     Simon, The Economics of Population Growth, Chapter 1. (R)

15.     Kasun, "Doomsday Every Day". The Independent Review.

17.     Wilmoth & Ball, The Population Debate in American Popular Magazines, 1946-90. Population and Development Review. [JSTOR]

18.     Jonathan Swift, A Modest Proposal.

21.     Bongaartz, Population Growth and Global Warming. Population and Development Review. (1992) [JSTOR]

22.     Garrett Hardin, "The Tragedy of the Commons"



*     *     *







1.     Bjorn Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World.

2.     Controversy Surrounding the Skeptical Environmentalist

3.     Crichton, Remarks to the Commonwealth Club.


*     *     *     *     *


4.     Abruzzi, On Overpopulation

5.     Weeks, Population, "A Demographic Perspective" & Chapter 1. (R)

6.     Pimentel, et.al., "Impact of Population Growth on Food Supplies and Environment."


*     *     *     *     *


7.     Fahey, Twenty Questions and Answers about the Ozone Layer.

8.     Rensberger, “A Reader’s Guide to the Ozone Controversy.” The Skeptical Inquirer.

9.     A Paleo Perspective on Abrupt Climate Change

10.    Baliunas, "Why So Hot? Don't Blame Man, Blame the Sun." Wall Street Journal.


*     *     *     *     *


11.     Wilson, et. al., "Biodiversity Distortions in Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist

12.     Mann, Extinction: Are Ecologists Crying Wolf?




Hurricanes and Global Warming








*     *     *     *     *




On Global Warming


1.     "Global Warming", U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

2.     "Global Warming." National Resource Defense Council.

3.     "A Closer Look at Global Warming." U.S. National Academies of Science.

4.   "Global Environment." Union of Concerned Scientists.

5.     "Two Sides, Two Data Sets", Science

6.     "Global Warming: Does It Exist?  If So, Is It man or Sun-made?" Solar Center, Stanford University.

7.     Calvin, "The Great Climate Flip-Flop", The Atlantic Monthly.

8.     Cromie, "Brightening Sun is Warming Earth. Harvard University Gazette.

9.     Kirby, "Animals Retreat as Antarctic Cools." BBC News

10.    "A Paleo Perspective on Global Warming." National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

11.     "Global Warming," Skepticism.Net.

12.     Climate Science.

13.     Earth's Climatic History

14.     Climate and the Carboniferous Period

15.     A Paleo Perspective on Abrupt Climate Change

16.     Rushing to Judgment

17.     Global Warming: A Chilling Perspective

18.     The Petition Project 

19.     Lindzen, Global Warming: The Origin and Nature of the Alleged Scientific Consensus.

20.     Baliunas, "Why So Hot? Don't Blame Man, Blame the Sun." Wall Street Journal.


*     *     *


On Species Extinction


2.     Wilson, Diversity of Life (1992)

3.     Ehrlich, Extinction (1981)

4.     Myers The Sinking Ark (1979)

5.     Mann, Extinction: Are Ecologists Crying Wolf? Science (1991)

6.     Stevens, "Species loss: Crisis or False Alarm?" [R]

7.     Mass Extinctions: Introduction

8.     Devonian Mass Extinctions

9.     Mass Extinctions of the Phanerozoic Menu

10.     Mass Extinctions Underway

11.     Shwartz, Global extinction crisis more serious than previously thought, study suggests



*     *     *






European Space Agency

Science Department

Statement Regarding Solar Impact on Global Climate


SOURCE:  ESA: Solar Influence on Global Climate












Spring Break:  March 4 - 12






OUCH!: Putting Female Circumcision in Perspective

Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.  --  Friedrich Nietzsche






Maasai Association: Rituals and Ceremonies


Male Circumcision (Africa)


Male Circumcision (U.S.)


Circumcision Information Australia



The Holy Prepuce





1.     Babatunde, Women's Rights vs. Women's Rites.

2.     Gollaher, Circumcision.

3.     Abruzzi (ed.), Circumcision, Subincision and Other Forms of Genital Surgery. (R)


a.    Saitoti, "The Initiation of a Maasai Warrior."

b.    Sillah, "Buntu Trap."

c.   Mary Daly, "African Genital Mutilation: The Unspeakable Atrocities" in Gynecology .

4.     Abruzzi, Circumcision.

5.     Gollaher, "From Ritual to Science: The Medical Transformation of Circumcision in America."  Journal of Social History 



The Origin of Male Circumcision in the U.S.



Films:  L.A. Mohel

Maasai Women







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Genesis and Exodus: Book 1 & 2 of the Bible

"Satan hasn't a single salaried helper; the opposition employ a million."

-Mark Twain






Moses and the Exodus from Egypt



On the name, "Moses"



Become an ordained member

of the Spiritual Humanist clergy





1.     Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, “Scholarship and Public Understanding” (R)

2.     Friedman, "Taking the Biblical Text Apart" Bible Review 21 (2005). (R)

3.     Genesis & Exodus. Bible Gateway

4.     Levine, Old Testament, Lectures 1-3 & 8. (R) 

5.     Asimov, Asimov's Guide to the Bible: Old Testament, vol. 1, Chapters 1 & 2. (R) 

6.     Silberman, “Who Were the Israelites?” (R)

7.     Abruzzi, Geneology, Politics, History (and a Little Sex) in the Bible.

8.     Kramer, History Begins at Sumer. (R)

a.     "Paradise: The First Biblical Parallels." (Ch. 19).

b.     "A Flood: The First Noah." (Ch. 20).

c.     "Tales of Gilgamesh: The First Case of Literary Borrowing." (Ch. 23).


Bible Gateway


Bible Review



Dear Dr. Laura







The Religious Divide in America


"America is one of the most religious countries in the industrialised world. Over 80% of Americans claim to believe in God, compared with 62% of the French and 52% of Swedes. About two-thirds of Americans claim membership of a church, 40% go to church once a week, and 43% describe themselves as born-again Christians. Three times as many people believe in the Virgin birth as in evolution.  . . .  But America is also one of the most secular countries in the world. The constitution guarantees a rigorous separation of church and state, and secular groups are assiduous in using the courts to enforce that separation. (On February 25th, the Supreme Court ruled that states could withhold scholarships from students studying divinity.) Public schools recoil from even the mildest religious imagery. More than 29m Americans say that they have “no religion”, a number that exceeds all but two religious denominations, Roman Catholics and Baptists. For the most part, the people who run America's media industries in New York and Hollywood are aggressively secular, combining intellectual hostility to Middle America's religious fundamentalists with a generous measure of cultural disdain."

--The Economist (February 28-04)





Easter Break:  April 14 - 17





4-11 thru 5-2    

From Jesus to Christ:  The Transforma-tion of a Local Galilean Prophet into the Savior of All Mankind

"Faith can move mountains, but not furniture."







Saints and Relics and Other Weird Stuff




Bible Maps





What Would Jesus Eat?



Saint. Elvis the Divine



1.      Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, Henry Lincoln, Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Dell; (1983)

2.      Paula Fredriksen,  From Jesus to Christ : The Origins of the New Testament Images of Christ, Second Edition. Yale University Press (2000)

3.      Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels. Vintage; (1989)

4.      Abruzzi, The Jesus Movement.

5.     Ehrman, The Historical Jesus, Lectures 1-4. (R)

6.     Ehrman, The New Testament, Lectures 5-8, 13 & 18. (R)

7.      Schaberg, "How Mary Magdalene Became a Whore." (Bible Review, October, 1992). [R]

8.      The Gospel of Thomas

9.      The Gospel of Mary Magdalene

10.      The Gospel of Phillip



The Nag Hammadi Library




Early Christian Writings



FILM:  Jesus, Mary and Da Vinci (R)




MAP: Palestine under the Maccabees


MAP: Palestine in the 1st Century


MAP: Expansion of Christianity




Mother Theresa's Exorcism




Is Barney the ANTICHRIST?










The Greatest Action Story Ever Told

A Slightly Different Version

of the Original Story



Gifts for the Irreverent



*     *     *     *     *



Controversies in Christianity


How do we evaluate them?








Who is James,

The Brother of Jesus?



James: The Brother of Jesus


Historical References to James,

the Brother of Jesus


Josephus on Jesus' Brother James



Is Mary Magdalene buried

 in Southern France?


Burial Crypt of St. Mary Magdalene at St. Maximin-de-Provence in southern France

(see below)














 The Mary Magdalene Reliquary (above left) is located in a crypt located beneath the Basilica to Mary Magdalene in Saint Maximin de Provence, France (above center) where Mary Magdalene is purportedly buried.  The reliquary contains what  many believe is Mary Magdalene's skull (see above right).  According to local beliefs, Mary Magdalene left Palestine with Mary (the mother of Jesus) and Mary (the aunt of Jesus) and landed at what is today known as Sts. Marie de la Mer, a small village on the Mediterranean south of St. Maximin.  According to local tradition, Jesus' mother and aunt remained in Sts. Marie de la Mer, while Mary Magdalene left the village to live naked (with just her long hair covering her body) as a hermit for 33 years in a cave at Baume (southeast of St. Maximin).   Each year in late May, Gypsies converge on Sts. Marie de la Mer to celebrate the landing of the three Maries in southern France.




Chapel in the Cave at St. Baume where Mary Magdalene is believed to have lived for 33 years as a hermit following the death of Jesus.



St. Maries de la Mer Church where the remains of the two Mary's are believed to reside.






Chapel on the cliff above the Cave at St. Baume where Mary Magdalene is believed to have been carried to heaven by angels.





Last Day of Class: Thursday, May 4th





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