Sunday, October 28, 2007


As I have mentioned before, I highly disapprove of the phrase "atheist literature", because it makes it sound like just another politically fashinable school of thought that advocates its own beliefs which have nothing necessarily to do with reality. In any case, I thought I would summarise some of the books from this "genre" that I have read in the past one year. I would heartily recommend every one of them, for different aspects.

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason- Sam Harris If you want to read only one book related to faith and atheism, read this one. There is no other book that I have read which so clearly and eloquently illustrates the fundamental nature and problems with faith as an instrument for enforcing ignorance, bigotry and clan mentality. Religious faith is the most pernicious kind, but Harris nails the bizarre nature of all kinds of dogmatic faith, that makes religious people believe in things they otherwise would never believe without evidence. Religious faith causes a strange and instant mental severing from reality that has been approved in society. Harris also talks about why "religious tolerance" is a utopian myth and how religion by its very nature cannot really be "tolerant" in the true sense of the word; on the other hand, Harris also makes it clear that some religions are more rigid than others and needless to say he focuses on Islam as one of the most rigid ones. In future chapters, Harris also distinguishes between religion and spirituality, the latter being open-minded while the former is essentially close-minded faith without evidence and further questioning. Harris is trained in neuroscience and explores psychological aspects of faith not found in other volumes. This is a fantastic book, one which is astonishingly insightful and revealing about the basic nature of faith.

The God Delusion- Richard Dawkins Ah, the book which everyone has been talking about. Nobody can say it as well as the British, and even among the British Richard Dawkins is a unique pugilist. All his arguments about religion are highly entertaining and spot on. Especially his point about how religious indoctrination of children is tantamount to child abuse is profoundly worth pondering. He also explores possible evolutionary bases for religion and faith. While I agreed with essentially everything he said, his style may put off some people who are on the fence. But for "closet atheists", it would be a great initiation.

God: The Failed Hypothesis- Victor Stenger This is clearly a book written by a scientist. Stenger who is a Professor of Physics at the University of Hawaii treats God as a scientific hypothesis. He then thoughtfully and carefully sifts throught the evidence and without rhetoric, comes up with the conclusion that even giving people who believe in God the benefit of doubt does not prove their basic belief in a supernatural deity. This is an important point; God enters the turf of scientists and scientific investigations only when religious people invoke him to interfere in people's daily lives, cause miracles and heal the sick and wreak destruction by way of natural disasters on people who harbour homosexuals, atheists and liberals. Stenger's book is a gentle but no-nonsense scientific exposition on God, and was written because religious people seem to invite such books by believing in an interventionist God.

God is Not Great- Christopher Hitchens Clearly the most delightful book of the lot! His words and scalding criticism are nothing less than delicious. As a reviewer once said, Hitchens is a national treasure and no atheist including Dawkins entertains us so much when debating with a bunch of daft conservatives or religious people. Hitchens does not give a whit about feelings, and his courteous insults are nothing less than hysterically laughter-provoking. Hitchens is oblivious to the expected insults hurled back at him and is always ready with a terrific rejoinder. Nobody I have seen has stood up to his gentlemen's slander, and few have the linguistic capability to do so. Hitchens also explores the social and political aspects of religious faith better than any other author. For him, Jerry Falwell was a "little toad" who would "pinch his chubby flanks everyday and chuckle at how he fooled people yet again". Simply priceless. Thank God for Christopher Hitchens.

Letter to a Christian Nation- Sam Harris Another gem from Sam Harris. In this slim volume, Harris explores the problems with the Christian religious right, and through sound and rational reasoning convinces us that all these pious individuals who for instance argue against abortion and stem-cell research, want to have nothing to do with actually alleviating suffering and misery. With their rants against stem-cell research, they actually consign the life of the countless stricken with serious diseases like Parkinson's to an early grave and much misery, while with their mindless railings against abortion, they deliver a life of suffering to millions of slighted women and their unwanted children. If there's any evidence of religion causing immense harm, it's right here in these two instances involving the Christian right. An eloquent and riveting little book.

Finding Darwin's God- Kenneth Miller This is not per se a book about atheism; in fact it is by a Christian who goes to church every Sunday. But Ken Miller is an unusual Christian who has testified against other Christians' beliefs in landmark court cases, including the famous Dover case of 2005. He is a biologist and one of the foremost opponents of intelligent design (ID) and I cite his book because it is the clearest and most devastating rebuttal of ID and defence of evolution that I have come across. The second part of the book involves Miller trying to convince us that faith and science are compatible and while he makes a few good points, he lost me there. But the book is worth reading for the first part alone, where Miller single-handedly demolishes all the pseudosceintific advocates of ID like William Dembski and- always great to hear from him- Michael Behe.

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