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Atheism: A Philosophical Justification Paperback – January 8, 1992
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—Martin Gardner, The Humanist
"A tour-de-force for the mind.... This is a book to be read several times and savored while being slowly digested.... If one follows Martin's reasoning throughout this book, one will have gone through the most thorough and vigorous examination of the logical arguments surrounding atheism and theism that has ever been offered."
—Gordon Stein, American Rationalist
"[This book] has the impact of a runaway train. It is certainly the best philosophical justification of atheism that I have ever read.... Even readers with little philosophical background will find themselves richly repaid."
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There are certainly some caveats though. First of all, some of the information is a bit dated. Martin's comments on the sociology of religion could certainly benefit from the two decades of research since the writing of the book. Moreover, since many readers might stumble upon this book after reading authors like Dawkins and Hitchens, those expecting anything near the flair and readability of the "new atheist" authors may be disappointed by Martin's denser, less colorful writing style.
Here's an excerpt: "A class of propositions is said to be closed with respect to conjunctive elimination if (necessarily), whenever the conjunctive of two propositions is in a class, so are the two propositions themselves" (p. 384).
This book is most suited to people who a) already understand what the above sentence means or b) are really, really interested in investing the time and mental effort necessary to figure out what exactly Martin is saying. For those willing to spend quite a bit of time deciphering Martin's points, this book is a valuable, if somewhat dated, resource.
In his Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, he encyclopedically analyzes traditional as well as contemporary negative and positive arguments against the existence of God. By "negative," he means arguments which deny the strength of standard theistic arguments: ontological, cosmological, teleological, experience, miracles, and so on. By "positive," he means arguments that deny the existence of God: incoherence, argument from evil, and atheistic teleological arguments. Martin also considers claims that, from a linguistic perspective, God-talk is meaningless. He thinks that both general arguments--that talk about God is meaningless, and that positive and negative arguments against the existence of God are valid--should be considered, with the latter serving as a fallback position if the former is rejected. There's a bit of tension here, since of course the two positions are incompatible. If God-talk is meaningless, it's meaningless regardless of whether one is arguing for or against God's existence. But Martin is well aware of this, which is why he goes with the default argument.
Martin's analysis of standard positive and negative arguments is sandwiched between helpful introductory and concluding chapters which discuss the varieties of atheism, issues about atheism and meaning of life, common criticisms of atheism, and nonbelief in general.
Atheism: A Philosophical Justification is without doubt the single best analysis of philosophical arguments for atheism available, and serious inquirers would do well to read the New Atheists for fun but Martin for erudition. But there are sections of the book which will be tough-going for those who have no familiarity with symbolic logic. And it can't be denied that Martin's dry and academic style makes his volume a bit off-putting.