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Imagine There's No Heaven: How Atheism Helped Create the Modern World Hardcover – February 25, 2014

4.4 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“[The] story of atheism as an articulate movement. We learn an enormous amount about figures censored out of history, and about the persecution that freethinkers suffered until shockingly recently. His martyrs fill our hearts; his heroes inspire….moving.” ―The New Yorker

“Stephens provides an intriguing take on a topic that has sparked much discussion and will surely spark more to come.” ―Publishers Weekly

“Provocative, deeply researched and enlightening.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“The only thing new about the New Atheists are the names. As Mitchell Stephens reveals in this gripping narrative history of atheism, many brave souls have come out of the atheist closet over the centuries to challenge the religious dogma of their day, and many paid the ultimate price for so doing. We all stand on the shoulders of these giants so artfully brought to life―along with their ideas―in this important contribution to the burgeoning literature on unbelief” ―Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, and author of The Believing Brain, and The Science of Good and Evil

“An intriguing book, presenting a magnificent cast of characters who helped shape modernity. It helps us all measure even those we disagree with most in terms of their creativity and moral worth rather than what they do, or do not, believe.” ―Jonathan Israel, Professor of History, Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton University


“Imagine There’s No Heaven is a landmark study of the role played by atheism and other forms of religious doubt in the development of Western civilization. Mitchell Stephens strides through history as deftly as he steps across disciplines, uncovering a dramatic chronicle of unbelief as a goad to innovation that centuries of more devout scholarship tended to obscure. This book invites atheists to celebrate ― and others to acknowledge ― the outsized role that unbelievers have played in shaping the West.” ―Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry magazine, and editor, The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief

“Mitchell Stephens' new book "Imagine There's No Heaven" is smart, evenhanded, and full of personality. He has a great eye for the important details, which is particularly evident in his evocative portraits of individuals, such as Sartre and Camus. Deserves to be on every skeptic's bookshelf and we can hope it reaches many among the faithful as well.” ―Jennifer Michael Hecht, author of Doubt: A History

About the Author

Mitchell Stephens is a historian and journalist who has been researching the history of atheism for a decade. A professor in the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, his books include A History of News, a New York Times "Notable Book of the Year" and the rise of the image the fall of the word. He has written on media, thought and culture for Daedalus, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post and many other publications.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (February 25, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1137002603
  • ISBN-13: 978-1137002600
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #436,262 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In “Imagine There’s No Heaven: How Atheism Helped Create The Modern World” author Mitchell Stephens delivers a readable, vibrant history of disbelief and atheistic thought, and argues persuasively that intellectual challenges to religious belief were a major catalyst to increasing knowledge in the modern world.
Stephens’ book is first and foremost a history of disbelief, from the Greeks and Romans, though the low points of the Dark Ages where it was institutionally repressed, then into the Renaissance where it fought to maintain a foothold and finally into the Enlightenment where atheism (and its more prevalent, slightly religious cousin, deism) finally became a valid viewpoint, at least among intellectual circles. He then follows disbelief through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and into our own, before suggesting where atheism might be heading based on his historical analysis up to now.
The history of disbelief is much more prevalent and rich than traditional history has portrayed, as atheism’s role has usually been downplayed or outright denied by conventional histories. Stephens brings out the role of many often overlooked personages, such as Denis Diderot, Jean Meslier and Charles Bradlaugh – the first open atheist elected to Parliament (in 1880) but who was denied his seat until he was re-elected several times.
While primarily a history, as the subtitle of his book suggests Stephens’ also argues that disbelief and the progress of knowledge have gone hand in hand throughout history. Whenever knowledge was taking great leaps forward, religious doubters were right there, stoking the intellectual fires.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is one of the most important I have ever read. Its scope is broad but its thesis is narrow. Atheism is a very old idea, responsible for much of human progress. I particularly enjoyed the connection between human rights and religiosity. Religions enjoy claiming for themselves the honors congruent with civil liberties, when in fact religions have been the conservators of the status quo, a status that perpetuates slavery, misogyny, homophobia, and colonialism. I hope that the author is correct in his assessment that even in the USA, religion is fading and being diluted until it will eventually be mere history.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
IMAGINE THERE’S NO HEAVEN
How Atheism Helped Create the Modern World
By Mitchell Stephens
Published 2014 by PALGRAVE MACMILLAN, 320 pp including notes plus index
Review by Tim Campbell

Taken from John Lennon’s famous song, IMAGINE THERE’S NO HEAVEN is unashamedly a feel-good book for atheists, agnostics, and anyone who has listened to a religious sermon and asked to themselves: “How can that be?”.

Of course, most of us are fully aware that believers have always been a majority in most cultures and most of history’s great movers and shakers have been believers, at least publicly. And we acknowledge their contributions gratefully. But religionists do not seem willing to return the courtesy. That doubters and infidels and questioners have also contributed to the creation of our modern society is a fact that religionists would rather ignore. This book attempts to begin to balance that ledger!

Author Mitchell Stephens takes back to the Greeks and forward through the Dark Ages and more, to Today in a nicely organized and very well-written manner. This is a book for the doubters, but believers would benefit also from seeing a bit of the “other side”. Of course, if the believer is afraid that reading an atheist book will cause him or her to be plunged into the depths of hell, then better to bury their heads into sand or perhaps wet concrete. Safer that way!

Stephens offers the premise that without doubt, without disbelief, without questioning, modern science, modern medicine, modern life would have been impossible to create.
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Format: Hardcover
The text is admirably clear, and a terrible injustice is done to it by the reviewer who calls himself The History Detective. For example, The History Detective accuses this book of "using Newton as an example of almost a closet atheist". In truth, however, the book's author asserts: "the men who made the Scientific Revolution appear to have sensed God... Isaac Newton, the greatest of these natural philosophers, shared the awe... he was a believer".

The book's author adds: "Yet Newton and these other 17th century scientists generally managed to keep their awe from interfering with their investigations. The first edition of Newton's Principia did not contain any discussion of... theology whatsoever. It was only after his book was criticized by Leibniz and others for impiety... that Newton added a section discussing God's role." Obviously, leaving theology out of a science text is not the same as (almost) atheism. Shame on "The History Detective" for this and other errors of fact.
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