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2000 Years of Disbelief Hardcover – June 1, 1996

4.6 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 339 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (June 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573920673
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573920674
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,067,837 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Those who'd like to challenge the founding fathers as to religion, - maintaining that they were Christians , would do well to read this book. America was NOT founded upon Christianity, but upon Deism- the idea that there might have BEEN an original God , but that he was only the watchmaker who created the earth , but left it to it's own devices once it was wound up; not giving humans dominance nor establishing faiths. Thus the idea of revealed religion was false and open to skepticism. The true focus of this book however , is to expose the reader to a VAST number of humanity's greatest thinkers they might have not known were skeptics and doubters of their times and ours. Full of quotes -from ancient through modern times- this is an extremely well researched compilation .Truly a gold-mine for those who'd like to know what Aristotle ,Shakespeare, Decartes, Franklin , Twain , Voltaire , Jefferson, Edison , Einstein , Freud , Asimov , Roddenberry actually said- to mention only a few of at least forty other great minds that have shaped us into the humans and societies we are today. 2000 Years of Disbelief is a MUST-READ for any student of philosophy or religion . Progress has never been measured by blind adherence , but careful study of minority thinking , as that is the only true road to growth ;both personal and societal , and this book realizes it's goal - to expose the myths and introduce us to the even GREATER original thinking of the minds we hold dearest in our historical psyches.DO READ!!
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Format: Hardcover
This book, while not extremely in-depth, does a great job of showing that people need not be religious in order to be good, accomplished, human beings. While some consider it to be a mere anti-religious diatribe, what the book does is serve as a quick glance at some of history's greatest freethinkers. There are great theists and atheists; morals, virtue, and ethics are not restricted to either. This book goes far in showing that. Also, one point about the quotes. The "Booklist" review says that they may have been taken out of context. But further research into many of the people Haught listed in his book show that the quotes he uses are usually supported by the true views of their author's. I suspect that Booklist did not research the people, or the quotes, at all, which explains their shortsighted review.
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Format: Hardcover
2000 Years of Disbelief is a good collection of famous people from the ancients to the modern ones, who criticized religion. The book is organized into time periods such as renaissance, European enlightenment etc and covers a large number of thinkers. There is a short information for each thinker's life, opinions and then comes quotations from his/her books or sayings.

It is a good collection but it is somewhat light in explaining the ideas of the philosophers or the general conditions in their times that lead to their doubt or disbelief. About two thirds of the book consists of the quotations. More detailed information about the lives and ideas of the philosophers would have been nice.

Among some of the quotations that I like:

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one. - Voltaire

Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear. - Thomas Jefferson

Gullibility and credulity are considered undesirable qualities in every department of human life, except religion. - Christopher Hitchens

If the philosophers were to form a government, the people, after 150 years, would forgo some new superstition, and would either pray to little idols, or to the graves in which the great men were buried, or invoke the sun, or commit some similar nonsense. Superstition is the weakness of the human mind, which is inseparably tied to it; it has always existed, and always will. - Frederich the Great

Faith: Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel. Pray: To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner, confessedly unworthy.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is very good. It is chronologically ordered, so that one can read what various freethinkers throughout history thought of religion, often at the threat of social disdain (at the very least) or death. Although a great many ancient minds thought the Earth was flat and posessed by various gods of a Draconian religion, there were those precious few that were surprisingly ahead of their time. This book chronicles this nicely.
Even theists that have the slightest bit of doubt will enjoy this book, perhaps unwittingly. There are some great minds listed throughout such as: Voltaire, Copernicus, Magellan, Einstein, Freud, Mark Twain, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, John Adams, Ben Franklin, Darwin, Ayn Rand, Louis Pasteur, Thomas Edison, and lots more.
Also littered throughout the book are various snippets of historic events, such as atheists who were murdered for their beliefs. Makes one realize how serious people were and are about their pet mythologies.
This book is a must have for the atheist seeking some fun arguments by authority or for the theist who is impressed by such. In any event, it is VERY insightful!
Dan The Burke
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