on October 25, 2009
This is a very refreshing and stimulating book for three reasons. First, It was written by 50 authors - some philosophers, some physical scientists, some biologists, some science writers and some journalists. The diversity of the authors' backgrounds provided an exhilarating multiview of the subject, the non-existence of god. Secondly, the individual contributions were written in short, precise, and lucid styles. The reader has many articles from which to choose his personal favourites. I like Stephen Law's bold assertion that one can easily prove the non-existence of god; and he did so in fine surgical manner, cutting away the assertions of god's existence. Adele Mercier's critical analysis of the first and second orders of belief was fascinating, pointedly stating that 'most people who claim to have religious beliefs have scarcely ever analysed the contents of their belief, and indeed are reluctant to do so, even when prompted.' She explained that the belief in the existence of god is a first order belief; the belief that one's belief in god is a second order belief. She employed the two orders of belief to explain persuasively why theists always end up with non-answers when questioned about their god. Victor Stenger exposed the ignorance of science of some Christian apologists such as Michael Craig; and in the case of Craig, a stubborn persistance in repeating a false claim even when proven wrong (see pg.113) Some of the authors like Tamas Pataki injected a bit of their personal experience and early introduction to religion, explaining how their came to reject the belief in god. The third reason I found this book to be refreshing is that none of the 50 voices came from either Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, or Sam Harris. This is a very handy book for atheists, born-again atheists, and people wishing to learn more before they accept or reject the belief in god.
on November 30, 2009
I have given it the once through, and am going back methodically. I am amazed at the variety. If you are not familiar with arguments for and against God, this is a great place to start. It is not a good place to conclude. Most unfortunate is that the authors asked the essayist to comment on an "omniscient, omnipresent, all loving, all knowing God". This is a particular concept of God and one of the easiest in which to shoot holes. Fortunately a few essayist manage to sidestep this and talk about how religion fits in to the process of our evolution. J.L. Schellenberg's is particularly good for this.
Very few of the essays acknowledge where their reasons fall short. Many engage in hyperbole and sometimes misinformation, starting with the introduction that claims "concerted attempts are being made at the level of the United Nations to cement a new concept into international law, the dangerous idea of `defamation of religion'." This is an overstatement about a non-binding resolution.
A few of the essays work at examining history and philosophy and religion, and like Peter Singer suggest it is up to us to examine the conclusions of our ancestors and "work out which of them need to be changed."
I hope this book encourages more people to do the same. For a thorough review of all of the essays, I have a blogged titled "Religious Atheism" in blogspot. They start in November 2009.
on January 29, 2010
I'd really like to give this 4 1/2, but we don't have that option. So why the half star deduction?
It certainly was not any failure to meet my purposes. I read it with the herding cats problem at top of mind and Blackford and Schuklenk have done quite a job herding their 50 cats. And it is certainly not any failure in production, in quality of writing or anything else technical. They are all excellent.
Yet I finish up with at least three little niggles:
The "problem of evil" is greatly overplayed. Beyond being just plain boring, it is really a straw man argument, focusing on rhetorical fragments used by delusional celebrants of misplaced hyper-authoritarian fantasies. Even worse, the very use of the word "evil" is playing by their rules. Solid atheists delete it from their working vocabulary.
Then there are a small minority of contributions which struck me as just plain wacky. I've already had a chance to tell Russell that he got the wrong Sean Carroll. Counting any string theorist as an atheist is stretching credulity. There were others with pet theories earlier, but the double act who found it necessary to reinvent Freudianism are still stuck in my mind.
And thirdly, the book is pervaded by a sad lack of humour. It seems most serious atheists must share the problem that has bedeviled me all my life, of taking things way too seriously.
However none of that is reason to pass on reading it if you have any reason to suspect that the range of views of 50 generally very credible atheists could be worth your reading time. It certainly was worth mine.
The smattering of contributions from other cultural backgrounds are particularly valuable and, if you want to go a bit further in that direction I'd encourage you to look at a recent article by George Monbiot, The Holocaust We Will Not See, and particularly Chapter 10 of Marquez Comelab's The Tyranny Of God: Liberating Ourselves From Our Own Beliefs. I also recommend Comelab's concluding chapters where he follows through to the illusion of a personal soul which I feel was underplayed by the contributors to 50 Voices.
50 Voices also makes it clear that the issues bioethicists like Schuklenk have with the overreach of religion into politics are the most critical that we face. We need renewed energy insisting on strictly secular politics with the obliteration of their presumptions of moral authority as the highest priority as well as removal of all special speech protection and financial advantaging of religious organisations.
Back to the herding cats question. Clearly those who have more recently found atheism are more interested in arguing with the religious, so even in largely irreligious Australia, where so many of the contributors have connections, it will remain uncomfortably difficult to try to create an infrastructure of atheist charity which might provide a protected zone as we drift into old age where we won't have to be bothered by the religious if we don't want to be.
on October 30, 2009
Great book on how different walks of life came to the conclusion they could live well with out gods in their lives. Great writing on the reasons to live a rational and scientific way of life and how to reconcile with other people who don't share the same views. Great book for any one who likes to think for them selves.
on April 25, 2010
This is a wonderful compilation of personal insights from unbelievers. The backgrounds of contributors range from the life long atheist to those brought up under a strict religious orthodoxy. Attitudes towards religion range from ambivalent to fiercely antagonistic.
The highlights of the book (for me) were as follows:
1) Accounts by Greg Egan ("Born Again Briefly")and Susan Blackmore ("Giving up Ghosts and Gods")of their experiences with 'spiritual witnesses', and how they eventually came to see these as internal (neurological) rather than external (communication with deity) phenomena. Many of the other authors (notably Philip Kitcher and Julian Baggini) also spend time discussing such phenomena, which many prominent life long atheists don't fully appreciate. You cannot prevail on a theist in a debate, you can only chase them down the rabbit hole of their 'testimony' (to use the Mormon vernacular of my upbringing). Many of these essays go one further by trying to flush the believer back out of said hole.
2) Adele Mercier's thought provoking discussion of first order ('I believe') vs. second order ('I believe that I believe') beliefs. Do most theists know - deep down where they fear to look - that this is all a bunch of hooey? Most would say it's not a testable proposition, but Adele argues that the actions of theists in their everyday lives betrays this.
3) A.C Grayling's "Why I am not a believer" - A superbly written critique reminiscent of 'The Four Horsemen'. This is one philosopher I'll be reading more of.
4) Ross Upshur's "Cold Comfort". Maybe I'm swayed by his Canadian roots, but I found his journey from child of an interfaith marriage to militant atheist to a more accommodating atheist an interesting one (particularly for someone like myself who still has many theistic loved ones). Lori Lipman Brown's "Who's Unhappy" and Taner Edis's "An Ambivalent Nonbelief" are two other examples of excellent essays taking a less combative approach.
So why only the four stars? Two reasons:
1) The cover art. A black cover picturing a black recently extinguished candle. Really? I know it's just the cover, but come' on! Was it designed and imposed by the local bible college? What happened to Carl Sagan's 'science as a candle in the demon haunted world'?
2) Too many of these essays fixate on the 'argument from evil'. I have never considered this argument particularly compelling. Worse, the argument feeds the myth that we aren't really unbelievers, just people who are angry with god over some misfortune or another. The 'argument from evil' IS a powerful argument against the false compromise of 'theistic evolution', but only Edgar Dahl explicitly deals with it in that context.
Overall, I heartily recommend this book.
on February 27, 2010
This is a very interesting book and as far as I know the first one of its kind. 50 essays about religion / disbelief / atheism without any of the four horsemen. Some of the essays are personal journeys into disbelief, some are arguments against religion and some are observations. Most are well written, I think only two of essays did not hold my interest and I skipped over them because they were too densely argued. I believe a book like this was important because it demonstrates the variety of views that atheists have, that not all (and not most in my opinion) are angry, hateful people and that most of the arguments are sound. This is not particularly news, but its curious just how many religious people (even the liberal ones) believe the above or dismiss arguments by stating "too strident", "too arrogant", "not my religion".
I also came across some new arguments (or atleast one's I haven't heard before). For example there is one essay that deals with the excuses people give to continue believing in a personal, omnipotent, omni-benevolent God given the current state of the world. Excuses being "Free Will", "Greater Good", "God works in mysterious ways". The author neatly turns the tables by hypothesizing a personal, omnipotent, evil God and shows that all the above excuses work equally well. The personal journeys are also really interesting because I could contrast them with my own.
One problem is that some of the ideas seem repetitive as the essays are all independently written. A good number mention the problem of evil and its implications. A large number of them deal with the Christian God and there is some lack of diversity. There were two essays by Indians which mostly dealt with humanism and superstitions (which reflect the problems in India) and only one by an ex-muslim Maryam Namazie which drew a line between Islam and political Islam, which also reflects a reality in the Islamic world. It is here where I feel the book lacks a little bit, because I would have loved to see some more Asian representation (Chinese, Japanese etc.) and more African representation. Most of the authors are also reasonably well known and I'd like to see a few more common people since I believe that is an important message to get across, that disbelievers are not the intellectual elite, they are you and me.
All in all , this is a book that is well worth the read, though I suspect it will not be famous as any controversial polemic work, nor will it be picked up by the religious who would benefit the most from it.
on March 24, 2012
If you know a teen who is an atheist (or is leaning in that direction) and you want to help them out, send them this book. It will help them feel less alone, and provide them with excellent examples of how a lot of awesome atheists dealt with disapproval in their early years - and best of all, young readers will have 50 examples of atheists who live excellent lives.
For everyone else - especially if you are new to atheism, this book will help validate your experiences. I can not recommend it enough.
on January 17, 2013
Love this book, especially how it takes on superstitious nonsense within our own country. Religious beliefs have no place in government, education, science or any other facet of people's lives. If you want to live in the first century AD., that's up to you! People at that stage of development actually thought the world was flat - disease was brought on by a god of love. Governments were ruled by religion and death! In fact, if weren't for all the stupid superstitions brought on by religion - this world would probably have had the airplane by 1400 AD. Quantum science would have been well advanced and space exploration would have been as common as an airplane trip.
People who really want to advance and leave something behind for their children - must exit all unproven nonsense and start to live in reality. Education without nonsense is the only way to understand this planet and progress to the universe. (Carl Sagan and other great thinkers had it right) life is in front of us not back to the dark ages of the 1st century AD. I live life in reality, knowing that some day I shall return to the dust of the universe. My understanding of this fact, makes me enjoy each and every day that I have on this planet (without superstitious nonsense). Religious beliefs kill people - just look around and think about the aids situation in Africa and the ban on contraceptive. I could list a so many things that backward thinking has done in the last 3,000 years, however, it's not worth my time. People need to start using that 3 pounds of gray matter between their ears and stop listening to some greedy preacher out there telling them absolute nonsense.. Read real books and not fairy tells that people force on you as children. THINK!
on December 20, 2009
This book, which is an original and very intelligent collection of wonderful essays from people of very different backgrounds, reinforces very much the position of atheism. After the four new great pioneers (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens), I haven't found very compelling or original arguments in the fight against religious monopoly, besides Victor Stenger's "Has Science Found God?" and Guy P. Harrison's wonderful "50 reasons people give for believing in a god".
This new collection gives great support in the realization that each of us is not an isolated case; that the difficult task in freeing ourselves from the pernicious indoctrination, which was forced upon us when we were children, was carried out in very different - and sometimes painful - ways from a big number of highly qualified people. Don't miss it.
on June 17, 2013
More than 50 short essays by atheists from around the globe make this a fascinating and stimulating read. If you are already a firm non-believer (not the correct term, but baby steps, haha), a believer with doubts or questions, a "just-plain" believer or a hard-core pusher of faith, this book is very readable and very interesting indeed.
Many of the authors relate their personal experiences, while others prove their point with science, the argument from evil, and on and on.
Incredibly refreshing and liberating, this book should be read and critiqued the world over.
I would also recommend: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins as well as God or Godless (a former preacher and a believer debate 20 questions) by John W Loftus and Randal Rauser.