on September 11, 2004
This past week, I received a wonderful surprise in the mail. A friend of mine was excited and impressed by a new book he'd read. He overnighted me his copy. When I opened the package, I saw David Eller's "Natural Atheism." Looking at the cover, it was the most attractive and beautifully printed book on atheism I'd ever seen. In this case, you CAN judge a book by its cover.
I was familiar with David Eller's esteemed reputation in the atheist community, but I had never read a book by Dr. Eller (which is a sad comment on me, rather than Dr. Eller). This is unquestionably one of the finest books on atheism ever published. If you think this is an overstatement, then you have not yet read the book. Thankfully, there is no dishonest attempt in this book to reconcile religion and science, nor to water down the atheist message into agnosticism or secular humanism. The writing is clear, on-the-mark, and no-nonsense. If you are a person whose mind is at all receptive to reason, then you will benefit from -- and enjoy! -- reading this free-thought title. Your ability to combat creationism will be greatly empowered.
Dr. Eller succinctly summarizes all the traditional arguments for and against God's existence. But, more importantly, he actually introduces a wealth of original material. Many books on atheism (and religion) merely rehash the same old arguments again and again. "Natural Atheism," while discussing all the traditional issues, provides a much needed fresh and updated perspective. My only complaint is that, as the author of a title on atheism myself, Dr. Eller's book will no doubt prove to be tough competition!
Nonetheless, I congratulate Dr. Eller for his exceptional volume, which will certainly become a popular seller when word of its publication becomes widely known. Additionally, Dr. Eller's book is published by American Atheists, who, in my opinion, are the leading and most authoritative voice for atheism in the world today. You will be very pleased with "Natural Atheism."
Author of "Atheist Universe"
on April 26, 2006
In addition to being a contribution to clear and unpretentious explanations on the premises of atheism, this book succeeds in identifying several pitfalls created by faulty argumentation. Eller makes a remarkable distinction between the basis of a "belief," which is neither "true or false" since it is beyond the scope of reason, and a contention presented as fact which requires evidence that can be observed or tested.
In one of my favorite examples, Eller responds in this way when asked if he "believes" in evolution: he states that he doesn't "believe" in evolution but rather "accepts" evolution as the best explanation we have so far based on available evidence; if something more convincing comes along, he is ready to part with his previous views. Would theists be as willing to part with their views in light of hostile new evidence? This is one of many instances where Eller demonstrates his care in avoiding any games associated with "belief." People can hide behind "beliefs" and justify them unfairly, either by using feelings and/ or personal experiences or reason itself--until, of course, reason fails to support their claims. That is, when convenient, logic and reason are allies to the believer. When not, it is time to hide behind the myriad of gods, spiritual experiences, etc.
Eller maintains an open mind and recommends rigorous questioning and skepticism as a way of avoiding hasty conslusions and assumptions. Much explanation is given, and the reader should come away with a lucid understanding of the importance of the "burden of proof." If we are to accept everything at face value without question, we would resort to considering any claim--regardless of how ludicrous--as serious.
This book can reinforce a healthy mentality, challenging readers to examine the integrity of their thinking. From the role of philosophy and logic to the often misrepresented views of the "founding fathers," Eller covers plenty of ground; to oversimplify his discussion of serveral matters with general comments would be unfair. I can hardly represent the depth of his elaborations. Eller delivers impeccable arguments complete with a combination of honesty, sophistication, experience, and wit rarely seen in a work of this nature.
on November 5, 2004
To David Eller, an atheist is someone who does not believe in any God, as opposed to someone who affirmatively denies the existence of God. People, according to Eller, are not born believing in God; they have to be converted. In Eller's terminology, we are all natural atheists, hence the title of this worthwhile and well reasoned book.
Eller's intention is to convert you back to your natural atheism. He even offers a twelve-step program; it won't work, of course, but neither do any other twelve-step programs, as far as we can tell.
The book runs the gamut from reasoning and philosophy to science and religion, toleration, separation of church and state, and (although he doesn't call it that) epistemology. Many of the subjects are at least vaguely familiar to me, yet I found Eller's treatments refreshing and worthwhile.
The book is a wonderful combination of reasoned argument and cogent one-liners. You'll have to read the reasoned arguments for yourselves, and I recommend you do so, but here, paraphrased, are some of the insightful one-liners. To the charge that atheism is a religion, Eller responds that atheism is no more a religion than not collecting stamps is a hobby. To monotheists, Eller (an anthropologist) observes that countless cultures believed in countless gods, and monotheists disbelieve in all but one. Atheists thus disbelieve in only one god fewer than monotheists. Finally, religion has no methodology and cannot solve problems: physics debunked phlogiston, but the Protestant Reformation could only replace one paradigm with a welter of conflicting paradigms.
Two criticisms: Eller's inconsistent use of "god(s)" for "God" drove me crazy. More importantly, the book has no index; unlike a fish without a bicycle, a nonfiction book without an index is considerably less useful than the same book with an index.
Such carping aside, it is a splendid book, and I highly recommend it.
on August 15, 2005
I am a "natural atheist" as Dr. Eller defines the term, as I have never been a theist of any kind. Oh, my parents tried the best they could, but no one could ever give me a satisfactory answer to where the water came from. I really didn't think about it too much though, `till I moved from the northeast to the south about fourteen years ago. Religion is part of the culture here, and impossible to avoid.
"Natural Atheism" is probably the most complete book on atheism itself I have read, and the most coherent. He managed to hit most of my hot buttons, and clear up several of my conundrums along the way. As other reviewers have mentioned, reading the book is kind of like having a long-time atheist, who is also an old friend, take you through some of the rough spots, and show you where the shoals are.
If you think you may be an atheist, I suggest you consider this book. If you are troubled about your belief in a deity of some sort, I suggest you consider this book. If you know you are an atheist, and are looking for a friend to talk to, I suggest you consider this book.
The author discusses "spirituality," where it comes from, and what it is. For me, this was one of the most meaningful parts of the book, as I have always had a problem with understanding exactly what was going on. His explanation was clear, concise, logical, and understandable. This book will become a part of my permanent library!
on July 21, 2006
Book catalogues are loaded with titles extolling the benefits and virtues of god-belief and religions. However, testimonials about atheism are in short supply.
David Eller's "Natural Atheism" fills that niche beautifully. The author doesn't just explain atheism and make a compelling case for its validity. He also advocates "evangelism" on behalf of atheism and points out why it is so important to our modern world, especially to the culture of the United States.
Dr. Eller writes with candor and clarity. His book is a welcome addition to this atheist's library. It sits alongside Dianna Narciso's "Like Rolling Uphill: realizing the honesty of Atheism," David Mills' "Atheist Universe," George Smith's "Atheism: the case against God," and my own modest effort.
As more and more atheists speak out, maybe there will be less and less misunderstanding about what atheism means and who atheists are and greater appreciation for why it matters.
"Natural Atheism" is a valuable contribution toward that effort.
on April 27, 2005
I've been a non-theist since 2001 and have read a couple dozen books on the topic. This one is by far the best one I've read. The chapter on critical thinking alone is worth the price of the book. There's also a section on separation of church(es) and state that includes a handy synopsis of important legal decisions.
Most books on atheism are structured approximately the same way - a section criticizing arguments for belief in gods and a section offering arguments against belief in gods and little else. Eller's book goes much further than these types of books and is much more useful.
As mentioned above, Eller includes an and excellent chapter on critical thinking and logical fallacies. He also deals with issues like the difference between belief and knowledge, how to think about topics such as truth, science, and values.
His section explaining the misunderstandings (and proper understanding) of relativism is also quite informative.
This book has a lot more to offer and I've only scratched the surface - there are excellent chapters that discuss anthropology and freethought, toleration and truth, the twelve steps to atheism, fundamentalism, atheism as good news, and living in a disenchanted world.
The book strikes an appropriate balance between heavy philosophical works like Michael Martin's Atheism: A Philosophical Justification and popular works like George H. Smith's Atheism: The Case Against God. Unlike many books on atheism, Eller accomplishes what he sets out to do without engaging in religion bashing.
If you could buy only one book on atheism, I would recommend that it be this one.
on March 10, 2006
David Eller writes with wit and passion. "Passion" is not a word applied by so-called mainstreamers to Atheists, since they are supposed to be feckless and ignorant. David Eller shows how this is not so as he passionately, intelligently and articulately lays out the Atheistic position.
Prior to reading this, I read Sam Harris' *End of Faith* and can say there's simply no comparison. Harris' case is sophomoric in comparison. Mr. Eller hits the nails on their heads repeatedly. It would be hard to argue with the position he stakes out, without resorting to intellectual dishonesty, ad hominem abuse, and self-contradiction -- all which Theists are usually willing to do.
One of the very strongest aspects of the book comes from Mr. Eller's anthropological background. He makes a point very forcefully and in different contexts that Theists really have no answer to whatsoever: which god(s) do we accept as real? Which body of supposedly divine teaching is right? There are so very many out there to choose from. Since most of the claims of these different traditions are mutually exclusive, which is right? You will find, says Mr. Eller, that Theists insist that their particular version is right and everyone else, by extension, must be wrong. You can't believe in Yahweh, Allah, Buddha and the Hindu pantheon all at once. These religions make mutually exclusive claims. So who has it right?
Theists, of course, will defend their particular version of god(s). They are very uncomfortable if you try to extend that defence to other religious traditions. The more blinkered will condemn the other traditions as idolatry etc; the more open may pay lip service to ecumenism or other wishy-washy brands of toleration. But then you only have to point out that they are traducing the demands of the very god they profess, who insists as an absolutely basic point of faith, the he and he alone is god. They may then admit that the other god(s) are not real, that their followers are misguided, and so on. But the crucial point, no matter how it's dressed up, is that the monotheist denies the existence of the Greek, Roman or Hindu gods, African witches, Amazonian forest spirits, dead ancestor spirits, Aztec rain and war gods, or other monotheistic head honchos (like Allah). He has no other choice. If he didn't, he wouldn't be a monotheist.
Most monotheists are therefore disbelievers. They disbelieve in many hundreds (if not thousands) of deities worshipped by others. Atheists only disbelieve in one more god than monotheists. So what's the fuss?
This simple and beautiful point illustrates the book's elegant argument. A fabulous read. Highly recommended.
on January 12, 2007
David Eller has written a fantastic, and very thorough, book about whether any gods exist, and about atheism.
Early chapters of the book cover critical thinking, logic, epistemology, and a systematic dissection of the major reasons why people believe in God. Later chapters include wide-ranging topics, including an especially-splendid argument for the separation of church and state. It is a little slow at the start, but certainly worth reading to the end.
In the recently-popular "God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins arguments that came from the author's own field of expertise, biology, were the most novel, and some of the most compelling. Similarly, Eller provides novel and compelling insights from his own area of expertise. Eller is an anthropologist and brings much of his knowledge from this discipline to the analysis of religious practice and belief. Eller provides some fascinating insights when writing about culture and history.
My only gripe about the writing style of this book is that the author occasionally refers to himself by the first person plural "we", rather than the singular "I". This might simply be my personal preference, or my inexperience with the typical writing style of anthropology. But this is trivial.
All in all, I think this is the most comprehensive and scholarly book on atheism since George Smith's "Atheism: the Case Against God".
on December 22, 2005
For those who wonder why others do not believe in gods, the title of this book offers a big clue. The title addresses the fact that all humans are born athiests. It is only through indoctrination that they become theists. But a more important fact made in the book and addressed by the title is that many athiests acquire and develop their views as a natural consequence of how they acquire and process knowledge. They are not necessarily former theists, people who are disgruntled with religion, or rebels. They are critical thinkers, people who analyze situations, people who require evidence and logic. For rational thinkers, people who don't wallow in fiction, ahteism is a natural position. Many athiests are folks who simply don't hold as truth anything which is not reasonable, logical, or proven. It's not just religion which they disbelieve, but anything which must be accepted on faith alone. Based on this concept, it is probably safe to say that most atheists don't believe in anything "supernatural," astrology, UFO's, or that the moon is made of cheese. Atheism, naturally, comes as part of the mindset of a reasoned thinker.
It is this fact, above all the others made so well by author Eller, which will help readers understand what makes an atheist an atheist. While Eller encourages atheists to be heard by joining organizations, he points out that membership does not make one an athiest. Atheism a natural conclusion of a logical mind.
on June 29, 2006
This book will hopefully persuade parents to provide an environment for their children that encourages the critical thinking skills that they will sorely need to successfully maneuver through life. Dr. Eller contrasts the concepts of knowledge and belief in an enlightening manner. I found logic, reason, insight, and humor on every page. I highly recommend!