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What Is Atheism? Paperback – May 1, 1998
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About the Author
- Paperback : 241 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1573922145
- ISBN-13 : 978-1573922142
- Dimensions : 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
- Item Weight : 12.8 ounces
- Publisher : Prometheus (May 1, 1998)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #3,782,956 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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This book by philosophy teacher Doug Krueger answers eight questions "which are important for an understanding of atheism and representative of the type of questions which are often asked of atheists." Thus this book fills a need for a concise introduction to atheism "which avoids the technical analysis of the professional philosopher yet which sacrifices little accuracy."
To represent the theistic view, Christianity is most often used. Why? Because "in our culture Christianity is the most widespread religion which asserts the existence of God." But the author stresses that what can be said of Christianity "may also be said of other versions of theism, their claims about their gods, and their holy books."
Is the author trying to convert theists? NO. Krueger says this more eloquently:
"I harbor no illusions about the possibility of changing the minds of theists. Most have believed in [G]od since childhood and will [probably] never abandon that belief...it is my hope that this work may free some theists from the intellectual domination born of fear and ignorance and allow [them] to make an informed choice about how they should view their lives and the universe in which they live."
The eight questions posed deal with atheism and atheists (three questions), God's existence (four questions), and faith (one question).
The answers to each of these questions take up an entire chapter. These answers are extremely well laid out with each major point Krueger making having a separate subheading (indicated by a an upper case letter) and explanatory points (indicated by some other character such as a number, lower case letter, etc.) to discuss that major point. The result: this book is very, very easy to read.
For example, here are the subheadings of the answer to the first question "What is Atheism?:"
A. *Atheism may be defined as the view that there are no gods.
1. Theism will be defined as the view that the traditional God exists.
2. There are two definitions of atheism.
a. The atheist does not assert that there are gods.
b. The atheist denies that there are gods.
B. *There are common misconceptions about atheism.
1. People become atheists so they can do whatever they want.
2. An atheist is one who hates God.
3. An atheist is one who worships Satan.
4. Everyone worships something. An atheist must have some god.
5. A person becomes an atheist because of a fight with a priest, pastor, etc.
6. All atheists believe in the same thing, a certain view.
Each chapter ends in most cases with a helpful conclusion. As well there are notes to document the footnotes indicated throughout each chapter.
A brief but excellent conclusion ends the book. At the end of this conclusion is a "Summary of the argument Against Belief in Gods." I found this to be concise, elegant, and logically valid.
Finally, there are two problems I found with this book:
First, even though each chapter is referenced quite well, there are still some assertions that Krueger makes that are not documented. All assertions have to be thoroughly documented especially when dealing with this subject.
Second, this book is not indexed. Even though this book is supposed to be "a short introduction" to atheism, Krueger still presents a wealth of information that I feel should be indexed to make the book more user friendly.
In conclusion, this book presents a concise introduction to atheism, an important and intellectually powerful alternative to the religious outlook so prevalent today.
(first published 1998; preface; acknowledgements; 9 chapters; main narrative 220 pages; suggested readings)
When I first started reading the book, I could tell the author was somewhat condescending to Christians and has probably never tried to understand the Christian view. One gets the feeling that Douglas has an a prior view of Christianity as false. No matter what the logical outcome.
This feeling became more apparent as I continued reading. Not only does Douglas show to have the worst biblical understanding than anybody, but often times looks as if Douglas doesn't care. Misrepresentations of Christianity so far off, that all one has to do to prove him wrong are to go to the verses he quoted.
For example, Douglas writes "Leviticus 19:20-21 explains that if a master has sex with a female slave who is engaged to someone else, she is punished but the man may be forgiven"(pg 39). If one looks up the verse, one sees the exact opposite. He was punished and not her(RSV). Other times the lies gets greater. Leading the reader in directions he must know are false. He claims the bible teaches it is ethical to rape women, women are inferior to men, childbirth is a sin, racism, to not honor your parents and that the bible shows genocide as a moral duty. He quotes different passages from different translations, obviously trying to get the one that is closest to his interpretation.
Another false understanding, Douglas claims one not believing in God is like not believing in elves. He says it doesn't imply a worldview. But belief in God is not at all comparable to belief in such a creature. One important difference is that elves are merely "one more creature." The two people that disagree about the elf agree about all the other animals. God, however, is not merely "one more thing." The person who believes in God and the person who does not believe in God do not merely disagree about God. They disagree about the very character of the universe.
These comments and passages are easily answered for anybody who at least gives a minimal effort in trying. Not only does Douglas give the most twisted understanding and misrepresentation of the bible, but leaves out any intelligent answer that is given by theists. Therefore, thwarting everything to look like the atheist is just so right. There are less than 2 references in the book to any credible theist in answering these objections. Clearly, what Douglas wanted to do was show the atheist position, with the minimal amount of theism influence.
I question the sincerity of readers who claim this book is so great in demolishing Christianity. Have you ever opened up a book by a theist? Even I, who hasn't read that many books could answer almost 90% of the theist problems and show the loopholes in his "defense".
I give this book 4 stars because he does present the strongest atheistic arguments around. He also explains them very well. So in accomplishing his objective, he deserves 4 stars. However, Douglas leaves out the most forceful arguments against atheism. Like the inductive reasoning problem that atheist can't defend, the ethical problems that arise with the atheist worldview, and several others.
For anybody who wants a balanced search for truth, I recommend authors like, Geisler and Strobel. They give great intros to the Philosophical Christian understanding and are also good for the "not to" philosophical people. Lee's book "A Case for Christ" is known as a great start in showing the historical data in support of Christ. For the more Philosophically minded, I would recommend books by Greg Bahnson, Peter Kreeft, and J.P. Moreland's "Scaling the Secular City : A Defense of Christianity" is also good. Other great authors are, William Lane Craig, and Ravi Zacharia. For a Christian worldview understanding, I would recommend, C.S. Lewis, Cardinal Newman, Cardinal Ratzinger "Introduction to Christianity", and Scott Hahn.
Top reviews from other countries
Although Krueger "avoids the technical analysis of the professional philosopher" this is still grown-up material, in several senses: alongside phrases like "argumentum ad ignoratium" are headings like the "bible approves of kidnap and rape" and "God punishes people by causing them to become cannibals". Eye-watering stuff for anyone who imagines that scripture is all about peace and love, and even some atheists may tire of the many jaw-dropping examples of biblical cruelty and immorality Krueger cites as part of his case. An important strand of atheism, however, is being critical of that which has traditionally been beyond criticism, and Krueger is unflinching on this score.
Krueger is justified in not pulling his punches when it comes to the "good" book. After all, many Christians relish being pejorative of atheists, and propagate the depressingly common and entirely mistaken view that, without god, life is meaningless and without purpose or a moral basis. In the chapter on moral systems, Krueger argues that it is theism which is "an inadequate foundation for morality". According to the Euthyphro dilemma, either god is the source of our ethics, in which case anything "from rape to murder would be considered good if it were commanded by the being who serves as the standard", or he isn't, in which case an atheist can have an ethical system. Either Abraham was right to obey God and the order to kill Isaac was good, or our better instincts to protect and nurture children should be followed. Doing whatever god commands is merely "a standard of obedience" and slavery "is not ethics."
Krueger concludes that the divine command theory of ethics cannot work, and that "no theist has ever been able to overcome this strong objection to the view that god is the source of ethics." This is not quite true, and the philosopher J. L. Mackie has sketched a possible way through the dilemma. But since Mackie also argues that "there is no cogent positive argument for the existence of God", I think Krueger is justified in sacrificing a "little accuracy" here.
Most people agree that we "should adopt beliefs because they are true" and "abandon beliefs because they have been discovered false", and that we should try to be good for its own sake, not because we're afraid of being caught or because we expect some reward. Yet many religious beliefs are untrue (the virgin birth is untrue on historical and biological grounds, and, logically, arguments that invoke inerrant scripture to prove the existence of god are circular and therefore false) and many religious ethical principles are in fact a precondition for reward (even the Beatitudes are "methods of getting something" rather than an encouragement to do good for its own sake).
Oh, but faith solves all this, doesn't it? Cuts through all this nonsense about having to have reasons and evidence to back up your beliefs? Not only is faith - or "believing for no reason" - no solution, Krueger argues "that it is immoral to believe for no reason" and points out the double standards of "many Christians who admit that they have no evidence for their belief" and yet "ask for evidence" for atheism. The much vaunted religious moral compass is shown up as an unreliable and often arbitrary spike, pulled this way or that according to doctrinal whim.
For all its brevity, this is an effective demolition job. Knocking down the shallow intellectual foundations of religion, as Krueger acknowledges, is only half the battle. Knowing that there are no gods is the end of one journey and the beginning of another more exciting, more positive and more fulfilling one. You won't find answers to "questions about such matters as love, coping with death, specific ethical issues" in this book - there is no single atheist view. Far more important is the "love of truth" that nurtures "careful and conscientious investigations into these matters, investigations freed from the constraints of dogma and superstition". For those ready to continue the journey, there are notes containing brief bibliographies at the end of each chapter, and at the end of the book a useful reading list, where Krueger's brief description of each reference will give you a better idea of its contents. There's also a brief list of atheist or secular organizations, most with still current websites (impressive as it's been over ten years since publication).