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New Atheist Books

Tim Madigan has a New Atheist round-up.

There has been a plethora of books issued on the topic of the New Atheism, pro and con. In addition to the bestselling titles by Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens, the so-called ‘Four Horsemen of Atheism’ referred to in previous articles, here are some recent books that add to the discussion:

The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason by Victor J. Stenger (Prometheus Books, 2009).

An invigorating defense of the New Atheism by one of its foremost spokespersons, this is a good book for novices, as it has an excellent overview of the positions of the Four Horsemen, as well as Stenger’s own argument that modern physics gives new proofs for a naturalistic rather than a supernaturalistic hypothesis for the origins of the universe. A professor of physics and astronomy, Stenger is able to write in a way easily accessible to non-science buffs, yet has a polemical style equal to any of the Horsemen at their most outrageous.

Atheism Explained: From Folly to Philosophy by David Ramsay Steele (Open Court, 2008).

A brisk, no-nonsense overview of the classical arguments for and against the existence of a God, this is also a good primer, and it has been endorsed by theists and atheists alike as a clear and distinct explication of atheism. Steele is more modest in his claims than many other leading atheist advocates, asserting that “Atheism is like a clean water supply: very elementary and purely negative. It doesn’t tell us how to conduct our personal lives or how to organize our social order. But then, despite first impressions, neither does theism.” This is one of those rare books likely to provoke both atheists and theists.

Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life, edited by Louise M. Antony (Oxford U.P., 2007).

An Apologia Pro Vita Sua (‘A Defense of One’s Life’) from some of today’s leading academic philosophers, including Stewart Shapiro, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Simon Blackburn, Richard Feldman, Elizabeth Secord Anderson and David Lewis. This collection varies from personal accounts of losing one’s religion, to technical explorations of the meanings of faith, of evidentialism, and of what assumptions are warranted regarding a deity. While almost all the writers take a dim view of the Four Horsemen’s works, it’s unlikely that this volume would have been even considered for publication if not for those Horsemen proving that there is indeed a market for atheist testimonials.

Living Without God by Ronald Aronson (Counterpoint, 2008).

Aronson is often credited with coining the term ‘The New Atheism’. A noted expert on French existentialist writers (particularly Sartre and Camus), Aronson unsurprisingly takes a more continental approach to the topic than most of the previous, analytically-oriented philosophers, arguing that rather than being primarily reactive, secularism needs to embrace a committed, life-affirming approach. Like Camus in The Plague, he is also more willing than many of the more hardline atheists to envision a cooperative search for meaning among believers and non-believers.

Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies by David Bentley Hart (Yale University Press, 2009).

Willing to beard the atheist lions in their own den, Hart’s book is a no-holds-barred defense of traditional theistic arguments which relishes pointing out what he considers to be the logical flaws, rhetorical excesses and theological na ïvety of the Horsemen and their allies. A good counterblast to the Horsemen’s thunderous hoofbeats.

And, if I may be allowed to put in a plea for a work I helped to edit, Paul Edwards’ God and the Philosophers (Prometheus Books, 2009) is a tour de force overview of the differing views on God of major Western philosophers, from Averroes to the existentialists. Written in Edwards’ trademark acerbic and witty style, it was published posthumously. But shortly before his death in 2005, Edwards was delighted to see that books defending atheism were getting such prominent attention. As the editor of Bertrand Russell’s Why I’m Not a Christian and Other Essays (1957), he had a keen interest in keeping alive the free thought tradition, and saw his own final book as part of that effort.

© Dr Timothy J. Madigan 2010

Tim Madigan is a U.S. Editor of Philosophy Now, and has also written this issue’s editorial.

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