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The Cambridge Companion to Atheism (Cambridge Companions to Philosophy) Paperback – October 30, 2006

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Editorial Reviews


"This timely volume appears in the midst of what many see as a resurgence of interest in and enthusiasm for atheism, a resurgence that may result from a reaction to resurgent religious fundamentalism at home and abroad[...]the book does contain some resources that scholars will find valuable, and its introductory-level approach is appropriate given the book's aims."
-Stephen Maitzen, Acadia University, Social Theory and Practice

Book Description

In this 2007 volume, eighteen of the world's leading scholars present original essays on various aspects of atheism: its history, defense and implications. These essays give a broad understanding of atheism and a lucid introduction to this controversial topic.

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Product Details

  • Series: Cambridge Companions to Philosophy
  • Paperback: 354 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (October 30, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521603676
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521603676
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #527,808 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

144 of 148 people found the following review helpful By Peter D. Glickenhaus on November 28, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is really a superb introduction to atheism. What gets my attention is that it includes a number of essays that contextualize atheism in its particular historical instances.

The first chapter, "Atheism in Antiquity," details how naturalism and similar concepts central to atheism were advocated long ago. Due to the prevailing influences of Christianity and other voices and powers in the ancient world, however, they didn't "catch on" like other metaphysical notions did.

The next chapter, "Atheism in Modern History," is a superb supplement, and is worth the price of the entire volume in my estimation. In it, Gavin Hyman argues persuasively that modern atheism is a reactionary phenomenon to a modern conception of God, which was different from more ancient conceptions. Hyman says that the advent of modernity made the rise of atheism inevitable. Modernity and atheism are inexorably entwined. What might atheism do, then, in our postmodern context?

Much later in the book, the Derridean scholar, John Caputo, shows how the matrix of postmodernity alters the strength of atheism. His conclusion: postmodernity is just as unfavorable to theism as it is to atheism, and there is the paradoxical attempt to move beyond the binary oppositions of the Western tradition (in this case, between theism and atheism) into a new and unforeseen option. It is difficult to say exactly how this tertium quid should be described. A kind of Levinasian mysticism of sorts, tempered by a learned ignorance? What we can say is that there is a reluctance to affirm naturalism or a supernaturalism too strongly. While a "weak" conception of God predominates, the language of theology remains in use.
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51 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Nikolaos Stathopoulos on January 15, 2007
Format: Paperback
I recently read this superb introductory book to atheism.I have read more sophisticated books on this subject,but i think that this book is the most appropriate for the general reader who wanths to be introduced to what atheism represents.Its chapters are written by experts on their fields and comprise the history of atheism from antiquity to modern times,arguments for and against the existence of God,the implications of atheism for other aspects of our life as for example morality and approaches from different cognitive faculties to the subject of religion such as the relationship between atheism and the state and what anthropology says about the origin of religious beliefs.I highly recommend it to readers who want to know what atheism is all about,but i think that it will also be good for more advanced readers to have a look at this book since it covers aspects of atheism as yet not taken into account like the relationship between atheism and feminism.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By William Podmore on July 16, 2008
Format: Paperback
This is a very thought-provoking collection of essays, edited by Michael Martin, Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Boston University. Eighteen leading scholars, mostly from the USA, discuss aspects of atheism and its implications for philosophy, religion, law, anthropology, sociology, psychology, biology and physics.

Sociologist Phil Zuckerman estimates that there are about 500-750 million atheists, agnostics and unbelievers, which is 58 times the number of Mormons, 41 times the number of Jews, 35 times the number of Sikhs, and twice the number of Buddhists. Atheists, agnostics and unbelievers are the fourth largest group, after Christians (two billion), Muslims (1.2 billion) and Hindus (900 million).

Daniel Dennett examines the relationship between atheism and evolution. He shows how matter has evolved to produce mind, rather than matter being produced by an originating mind.

Philosopher David Brink discusses the need for a secular ethics based on objective standards. He notes that in ethical subjectivism, ethics depends on the beliefs of an appraiser, but God is an appraiser too. So religion brings subjectivity into ethics. Also, if ethics depends on God's will, then it is relative to God's will, so religion brings relativism into ethics.

Again, if God commands an action because it is good, then God and his commands are unnecessary. If an action is good because God commands it, then ethics is unnecessary and obedience to God is the only virtue. So religion, which supposedly sets ethics on an objective basis, with independent values and standards, in fact reduces ethics to subjective opinions, with no independent values or standards.

Also religion compromises morality.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By ewomack VINE VOICE on February 16, 2009
Format: Paperback
Atheism involves far more than people screaming "God is dead!" and stamping their feet. As this dense collection demonstrates, scholars have heaped oodles of diverse brain power onto this subject. Three main sections, each containing numerous erudite essays, provide enough intellectual girth and breadth to quell disparate curiosities. Theists and atheists alike can hone their knowledge and expand their understanding of this firebrand topic that has recently crept into the mainstream. As of last year, many bookstores even have sections dedicated to atheism, from which this book's purple-blue spine often juts out like neon.

The book opens with a short general, and unattributed, introduction that delineates the definitional nuances that riddle the terms "atheism" and "agnosticism." It also discusses the etymological roots of "atheist" back to the Greek "a" and "theos," roughly meaning "without gods." Later essays build on the definitions presented, which include "positive" and "negative" atheism and "skeptical" and "cancellation" agnosticism. A glossary also helps keeps these terms in line. The subsequent essays can be read in any order, but keeping to one section at a time will aid comprehension of the major issues.

Part I, called "Background," looks at ancient and modern notions of atheism. Jam Bremmer's "Atheism in Antiquity" discusses the Greek, Hellenic, Roman, and Christian attitudes. As expected, the term was often used in disparaging ways against enemies. For example, Socrates was accused of atheism in Plato's famous "Apology." Next, "Atheism in Modern History," by Gavin Hyman, explores the link between theism, atheism, and modernity.
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