The jacket copy describes this work "as a powerful weapon against religious conformists, dogmatists, and others who would roll back the clock on the teaching of evolution and who are working to tear down the wall of separation between church and state." This agenda does not bode well for any sense of balance or objectivity in presentation. In fact, author James Haught has penned a shallow reference work in lieu of engaging and refuting the positions of those with whom he disagrees. "The purpose of this book is to assure thinking people that they needn't apologize if they can't believe mystical claims. They are in the company of giants." By presenting "renowned people, past and present, who have challenged religion," he seems to imply that doubt of the supernatural is a credible position simply because many famous people have done so.
Chapters present short biographical introductions to a number of famous philosophers, literary figures, historians, politicians, and artists (e.g., Locke, Shakespeare, Gibbon, Jefferson, Bertrand Russell), focusing more on their detractors and the problems these individuals encountered as a result of their disbelief rather than articulating their views and placing them in their historical context. A black-and-white portrait is provided for each person. The biographical sketch is followed by a selection of quotations from the person. However, passages from an individual's writings, taken in isolation and, thus, out of context, cannot give an accurate account of the person's thought on a subject. Haught also fails to supply complete bibliographic information for the works from which the quotations are drawn. A far better source is The Encyclopedia of Unbelief (Prometheus, 1986). While sharing the same doubts about religious belief as Haught's work, it nevertheless remains both balanced and scholarly in its presentation.
In discussing the advance of Western civilization, Haught claims, "Much of the progress was impelled by men and women who didn't pray, didn't kneel at altars, didn't make pilgrimages, didn't recite creeds." His view, with its implicit disdain for people of faith, ignores the role religion has played in the development of the positive aspects of Western culture. Haught could have authored a work that presented the contributions of the nonreligious to the Western intellectual tradition. This work is vitriol, masquerading as a collection of antireligious quotations. Not recommended.
The English speaking world rarely acknowledges the many and varied gifts that "disbelievers" have bestowed upon humanity. Churchmen generally contend that great figures in history, such as America's founders, were conventional believers. But author James A. Haught demonstrates that this just isn't true. In 2000 Years Of Disbelief: Famous People With The Courage To Doubt, he offers a spirited collection of biographical sketches and choice quotations to set the record straight -- intelligent, educated people tend to doubt the supernatural. It is hardly surprising to find a high ratio of religious skeptics among major thinkers, scientists, writers, reformers,scholars, champions of democracy, and other world changers -- people called "great" in history. The advance of Western civilization has been partly a story of gradual victory over oppressive religion, and these brilliant doubters were men and women who didn't pray, didn't kneel at altars, didn't make pilgrimages, and didn't recite creeds. Included in this handy reference are such internationally famous figures as Isaac Asimov, W. E. B. DuBois, Will Durant, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Edward Gibbon, Langston Hughes, Thomas Jefferson, Omar Khayyam, Abraham Lincoln, James Madison, John Stuart Mill, Ayn Rand, Gene Roddenberry, Margaret Sanger, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Voltaire, and many others whose own words reveal their rejection of the supernatural. -- Midwest Book Review