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2000 Years of Disbelief: Famous People with the Courage to Doubt Hardcover – June 1, 1996
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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
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This book was especially fascinating to me because of my recent visit to Philidelphia. Reading the quotes of some of our founding fathers brought their determination to seperate church and state to a clear, new level of understanding. At the time of writing the constitution the efforts of the "religious" to establish religious control was overt, which made their work critical to them at the time. The slow erosion of this seperation over the past several decades has been insidious. This is scary and sad because the wisdom of our forefathers has protected ALL religious (and lack there-of) freedom - for everybody! Everyone stands to lose a lot if seperation of church and state continues to be eroded. Reading the "thoughts" of our forefathers really drove this home for me.
Many of the people included in the book were quite funny, so if you're looking for some good quotes - this book is a treasure trove!!! They range from thoughtful, to bitter, funny, sarcastic, philosophical and reverant of the thinking mind. Many times the beauty of the atheist sense/source of morality is described.
I highly recommend this book to all who are skeptical of religion, and possibly to those who are curious about skeptics if they don't mind some hard hitting statements.
This book lived up to it's goal of "assuring thinking people that they needn't apologize if they can't believe mystical claims".
It has left me inspired to write my own thoughts down as so many free-thinkers have before me.
Here is (one of very many)a favorite quote: "Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies" Friedrich Nietzsche
And I can't resist quoting this one: "The Vatican is against surrogate mothers. Good thing they didn't have that rule when Jesus was born." Elayne Boosler quoted by Robert Byrne.
And just one more: "God must have loved the people in power, for he made them so much like their own image of him." Kenneth Patchen American Poet
The quotations are interesting, engaging and often humorous. Any book offering the following quote can't be all bad:
"I read about an Eskimo hunter who asked the local missionary priest, 'If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?' 'No,' said the priest, 'not if you did not know.' 'Then why,' asked the Eskimo earnestly, 'did you tell me?' " -- Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 1974
I have picked up a copyer here on Amazone and a few at local book stores and the like. I get the extra copies to leave places or give to someone taht tells me some thing like "No Atheist has ever done the world good" I let them read quips and quotes from great minds that have brought us the world we know and live in today, well the good parts of the world at least.