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What agnostic/atheist literature should I read?

I am interested in reading some literature relating to atheism, skepticism, and/or agnosticism. I have limited time, and can only choose one or two books at this time.

What 1-2 books should be at the top of my “to read” list and why?

Thanks!

Posted: March 25th 2008

flagellant www

There are two obvious choice of literature (and I assume you mean book) that could be helpful to you.

The first is Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell. He writes lucidly and persuasively. His style is gentle and non-aggressive, the opposite of 'the shrill atheist’, if there is such a thing. Dennett sets out his stall meticulously and carries you along on with a crystal-clear analysis of religion as a natural phenomenon.

The second is, of course, Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion. This is a book that I came to with my atheism fully developed, yet I found in it further persuasive arguments. The book is well-written and non-dogmatic. (Why anyone should think of Dawkins as shrill and dogmatic when he has a chapter entitled, fairmindedly, 'Why there almost certainly is no God’ beats me.) He is certainly far less shrill and dogmatic than most theologians – or Christian apologists/hopefuls as they should be called. While Dawkins is dismissive of theology as an academic discipline, nevertheless he has a surprising amount in common with many modern theologians in John T. Robinson’s Honest to God mould.

Posted: April 2nd 2008

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George Locke

See a related question answered here.

As I wrote there, the Zhuangzi is my favorite book. One of the central ideas of the book is that humans are imperfect and inconstant beings and our grasp of the world is inherently tenuous. Written sometime around 300 BC, the Zhuangzi is one of the earliest works of skeptical philosophy. The book is actually part of the tradition of 'philosophical taoism’, but from an atheist’s point of view there’s essentially nothing in it to complain about.

The ideas the book contains are very rich and complex, but the presentation is very readable and often humorous. Moreover, the best parts of the book are the first three chapters which are something like fifty pages in all, so it’s a quick read.

Here’s a free online translation, and here’s much better translation by Burton Watson. The second link is a translation of the 'inner chapters’, where most of the stuff i really like is found. There is also a complete translation by Watson, which is more expensive to buy, though you could surely find it at your library or through inter-library loan.

Posted: March 27th 2008

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bitbutter www

Sam Harris: The End of Faith

Very well written, enjoyable and quotable. Harris makes the case that faith is a threat to civilisation in a very persuasive way.

Michael Martin: Atheism, Morality and Meaning

This book is more dry, but filled with excellent material if you’re likely to be entering into debates with theists, especially Christians. This book has many tightly argued syllogisms which you’ll find very useful. Particularly strong are the sections talking about the resurrection. The author carefully explains why it is not rational to accept it, even if you have a preexisting belief in a god who has a redemptive plan for humanity.

Simon Blackburn: Think

This small and accessible book is an excellent introduction to the main questions in philosophy, the most famous attempts to answer them, and the problems with those answers. Although it’s not specifically about atheism, it includes several illuminating examples of how religious answers to these questions are flawed.

George H Smith: Atheism: The Case Against God

I’m reading this one at the time of writing. It’s very good. Better that The God Delusion, as an 'atheism primer’ in my opinion (it provides a more solid philosophical grounding, while also being very readable).

Posted: March 26th 2008

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