This page contains a list of the six best philosophical books on Atheism. Finding good introductory philosophy books can be difficult for two reasons. First, searching google for recommendations usually doesn’t bring up anything useful. Second, phrases like “best books on Atheism” are ambiguous. One person may be looking for a short, beginner friendly introduction, someone else may want a comprehensive academic overview, a third person may be looking for classic works on Atheism. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on Atheism. This list was created by compiling recommendations from across the internet and is not a list of personal recommendations. More information about this process is at the end of the post. Here are the best books on Atheism in no particular order:
Atheism: A Very Short Introduction – Julian Baggini
Publisher description: Atheism is often considered to be a negative, dark, and pessimistic belief which is characterised by a rejection of values and purpose and a fierce opposition to religion. Atheism: A Very Short Introduction sets out to dispel the myths that surround atheism and show how a life without religious belief can be positive, meaningful, and moral. It also confronts the failure of officially atheist states in the Twentieth Century. The book presents an intellectual case for atheism that rests as much upon positive arguments for its truth as on negative arguments against religion.
Atheism: What Everyone Needs to Know – Michael Ruse
Publisher description: Over the last decade, “New Atheists” such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens have pushed the issue of atheism to the forefront of public discussion. Yet very few of the ensuing debates and discussions have managed to provide a full and objective treatment of the subject.
Atheism: What Everyone Needs to Know provides a balanced look at the topic, considering atheism historically, philosophically, theologically, sociologically and psychologically. Written in an easily accessible style, the book uses a question and answer format to examine the history of atheism, arguments for and against atheism, the relationship between religion and science, and the issue of the meaning of life-and whether or not one can be a happy and satisfied atheist. Above all, the author stresses that the atheism controversy is not just a matter of the facts, but a matter of burning moral concern, both about the stand one should take on the issues and the consequences of one’s commitment.
The Cambridge Companion to Atheism – Michael Martin
Publisher description: In this 2007 volume, eighteen of the world’s leading scholars present original essays on various aspects of atheism: its history, both ancient and modern, defense and implications. The topic is examined in terms of its implications for a wide range of disciplines including philosophy, religion, feminism, postmodernism, sociology and psychology. In its defense, both classical and contemporary theistic arguments are criticized, and, the argument from evil, and impossibility arguments, along with a non religious basis for morality are defended. These essays give a broad understanding of atheism and a lucid introduction to this controversial topic.
The Impossibility of God – Michael Martin
Publisher description: Most people, believers and nonbelievers alike, are unfamiliar with the variety and force of arguments for the impossibility of God. Yet over recent years a growing number of scholars have been formulating and developing a series of increasingly powerful arguments that the concept of God, as variously understood by the world’s major religions and leading theologians, is contradictory in many ways, and therefore God does not and cannot exist.
This unique anthology brings together for the first time most of the important arguments for the impossibility of God that have been published. The collection includes papers and book selections by J. L. Mackie, Quentin Smith, Theodore Drange, Michael Martin, and many other distinguished scholars. The editors provide a general introduction and brief summaries of the arguments to help the reader grasp the crucial issues involved. Both students and teachers of philosophy and the philosophy of religion will find this anthology to be an indispensable resource.
Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon – Daniel Dennett
Publisher description: For all the thousands of books that have been written about religion, few until this one have attempted to examine it scientifically: to ask why—and how—it has shaped so many lives so strongly. Is religion a product of blind evolutionary instinct or rational choice? Is it truly the best way to live a moral life? Ranging through biology, history, and psychology, Daniel C. Dennett charts religion’s evolution from “wild” folk belief to “domesticated” dogma. Not an antireligious screed but an unblinking look beneath the veil of orthodoxy, Breaking the Spell will be read and debated by believers and skeptics alike.
Seven Types of Atheism – John Gray
Publisher description: From the provocative author of Straw Dogs comes an incisive, surprising intervention in the political and scientific debate over religion and atheism.
When you explore older atheisms, you will find that some of your firmest convictions―secular or religious―are highly questionable. If this prospect disturbs you, what you are looking for may be freedom from thought.
For a generation now, public debate has been corroded by a shrill, narrow derision of religion in the name of an often vaguely understood “science.” John Gray’s stimulating and enjoyable new book, Seven Types of Atheism, describes the complex, dynamic world of older atheisms, a tradition that is, he writes, in many ways intertwined with and as rich as religion itself.
Along a spectrum that ranges from the convictions of “God-haters” like the Marquis de Sade to the mysticism of Arthur Schopenhauer, from Bertrand Russell’s search for truth in mathematics to secular political religions like Jacobinism and Nazism, Gray explores the various ways great minds have attempted to understand the questions of salvation, purpose, progress, and evil. The result is a book that sheds an extraordinary light on what it is to be human.
This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:
- browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
- searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
- browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- searching for recommendations on philosophy forums
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Atheism and Agnosticism
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Atheism
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