Three good new books on secularism and atheism

This first book isn’t really new, since it came out in 2012, but it’s new to me since I’ve just finished it.

It’s Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship the the End of American Debate by Greg Lukianoff. Lukianoff is president of FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), an estimable organization devoted to preserving freedom of expression on American college campuses.

The book is an eloquent argument for why campuses should be the places most dedicated to promoted and preserving free speech, but in fact often give their students and employees less free speech than they enjoy in public (FIRE deals largely with public universities).  And it’s full of hair-raising stories, which would be funny if they didn’t result in punishment of students expressing their views.

One scary tale, for instance involves Keith Sampson, a student (and employee) at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis, who, in 2007, was found guilty of racial harrassment for simply reading a book whose cover offended his coworkers. The book was called Notre Dame versus the Klan, and its cover showed a photo of a Klan rally. The bizarre thing was that the book was “celebrating the defeat of the Klan in a 1924 street fight.”  Nevertheless, Sampson was found guilty of “openly reading [a] book related to a historically and racially abhorrent subject.”  Apparently that was the end of his career.

There are many similar stories of how universities, both public and private, try to curtail free speech for the merest of reasons, including protecting their administration from criticism. Lukianoff’s book is well worth reading, particularly if you’re connected with a university. It has are 37 reviews on Amazon; 35 of those give it the full five stars, and the other two four stars. That’s a good recommendation!

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Brother Russell Blackford has a very nice new book with Udo Shucklenk that I’ve read in draft, 50 Great Myths about Atheism, which will be coming out on November 4 in the US. As you might expect from these authors, the book is meticulously researched and compulsively readable.

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Rather than reprise those “myths,” here’s part of the contents that will give you an you an idea what they discuss.  I particularly liked their section on the incompatibility of science and religion.

This book will give you lots of ammunition for arguing with those pesky theists and accommodationists.

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In a post by Blackford at The Hellfire Club, he appends what he calls a “gentle rant” to a note about his books:

One thing that I notice in the blogosphere – and the social media generally – is how little of the daily discussion involves people’s responses to actual books and the information and arguments contained in them. And yet, some wonderful books are appearing month by month. Apart from 50 Great Myths About Atheism, you might want to check out the newest book by AC Grayling and the forthcoming book by Peter Boghossian, for example. And no, the ocean of wordage available for free on the internet is not usually a substitute for material that has been accepted by, and worked through with, reputable trade or academic publishers. (It should go without saying, I hope, that discussion of scandals and personalities is definitely not a good substitute for discussion of books and ideas.)

You tell them, Brother Blackford!  I am so tired of atheist websites that spend their time squabbling about other atheists and whether they’re “pure” enough. (Yes, I know I’ve criticized atheists like Alain de Botton here, but it’s usually over ideas, not character.)

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Finally, I’ve already recommended Peter Boghossian’s book, A Manual for Creating Atheists, which will be published by Pitchstone on November 1. As I said in my post:

I recommend it highly, as it’s quite different from other atheist books.  Rather than going through the usual arguments against God and showing that religion is harmful and delusional, he takes these issues as givens and then tells the reader how to change other people’s minds, dispelling their faith.  He tries to turn the reader into what he calls a “street epistemologist,” skilled at arguing against religious beliefs in a way that will actually work.  His techniques are based on decades of experience in the classroom (he’s a philosopher who teaches courses in critical thinking and atheism at Portland state), in working with prisoners, and in one-on-one encounters with the faithful.

What I also like about the book is that he concentrates not on religion per se, but on the idea of faith as a failed epistemology.  He thinks (and I agree) that our greatest leverage against religion is its reliance on “faith”—belief without good evidence—as a “way of knowing,” a way that is simply not justifiable to a rational person. One of our best weapons against religion is simply to ask its adherents, “How do you know that?” And so Boghossian’s strategies are concentrated on going after faith, and not letting yourself get distracted by issues like the so-called beneficial effect of religion on morality.

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47 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. rodgerma
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Great.
    Just checked. “50 Great Myths About Atheism” is already available for Kindle for $13.99. Publication Date: August 12, 2013.

    • Posted October 14, 2013 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      In fact, I see the Kindle price at the moment is only $9.99 at US Amazon. Just sayin’.

  3. Diana MacPherson
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    The Unlearning Liberty sounds especially interesting and that example is horrific!

    I believe my to read list will be growing!

    • eric
      Posted October 14, 2013 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      Yep.

      …and….downloaded. :)

  4. Sastra
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    These books are all advocating what’s been called “New (gnu) Atheism” — and they all sound excellent. I heard Boghossian speak at the last TAM and resolved then and there to purchase his book.

    What distinguishes the gnu from the accomodationist (plenty of old atheists were ‘gnu’) is the focus on science and debate — and the problems with religious faith.

    “There is no inherent conflict between science and religion.”
    “Faith is an important part of religious people’s identity and we shouldn’t try to change who they are.”
    “Religion is only a problem when it becomes extreme.
    “The New Atheists are just as dogmatic and intolerant as fundamentalists.”

    No. No. No. Hell no.

  5. Posted October 14, 2013 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Critical Thinking – A World View.

  6. staffordgordon
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Apropos of Hitler, professor Leo Strauss coined the expression reductio ad Hitlerum in 1951, out of annoyance at the lazy and fallacious argument that atrocities have been committed in the name of atheism.

    In Mein Kampf Hitler declares that he was raised a Catholic, remained a Catholic and believed that he was doing God’s work.

    Further to which Nazi iconography is littered with images of the Fuhrer in the smiling company of Catholic hierarchy.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 14, 2013 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      I like that one: reductio ad Hitlerum….I’ll try to remember it.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted October 14, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

        I like it, too; also, by using the Google, you can find a list of the 130 or so places in Mein Kampf where Hitler claimed to be a christian and/or to be doing the work of the lord.

        Isn’t reductio ad Hitlerum a high-falutin’ way of expressing Godwin’s Law?

  7. Larry Gay
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    For oldsters who can no longer see very well, the Lukianoff book is available as an audiobook at Audible.com. It will be my next purchase.

  8. Posted October 14, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    I’m reminded of the neverending controversy over a certain Twain masterpiece that offers one of the most insightful perspectives into the social dynamics of the deep South, all because he accurately and in context used a certain vernacular expression.

    People seem to think that modeling themselves on a cartoon of an ostrich is a good idea, whereas a real ostrich ain’t gonna take no shit from nobody — it’ll run you down and eviscerate you with its toes long before it tries to hide its head in the sand.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • eric
      Posted October 14, 2013 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      Kinda ironic that the one Twain book that ties people in knots is Huck Finn, isn’t it? I can only guess that that’s out of ignorance of his other works. If they only knew…

    • Posted October 15, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      I read somewhere that the politically correct hate the book because even though Jim is treated like a human being (at least by one character) he’s called that something, and that racist conservatives hate the book because although he’s called that something, he’s treated like a human being …

  9. Posted October 14, 2013 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    As a woman of color, I am especially astonished by the stupidity of the PC brigade. Now, I can say I am appreciateve of efforts ot smooth ruffled fetahers or whatever the damnable motivtaiosn are, but come on. I would have so rallied on the behalf of that poor fired professor. I mean, it wasn’t like he was teaching Klan principles to his students. How silly we have become…

  10. Posted October 14, 2013 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    “It should go without saying, I hope, that discussion of scandals and personalities is definitely not a good substitute for discussion of books and ideas.”

    and a hearty R’ amen there!

    As a relative newbie, I was shocked by some of the petty in fighting and us against them HS style BS, with both sides going, “Well, they started it.”. We are supposed to be the warriors of ideals and yet some seek to divide us because they think all atheists whould share the same world views. We don’t. Let us continue to stick to the topics at hand…much work to do!

  11. staffordgordon
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    I think I’m right in saying that the destruction of places of worship are almost invariably, if not always, committed by people of faith; blind faith that is, not the kind that I as a rationalist have, which is faith based on knowledge and experience.

    In “The Second Plane” Martin Amis wrote words to the affect: “It’s possible to be flippant here, when Jihadists fly aircraft into buildings they shout God is Great, what do atheists shout when they do it?

    • Sastra
      Posted October 14, 2013 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      … what do atheists shout when they do it?”

      They shout “Nooooooooo – oh SHIT!!!!”

      • darrelle
        Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        Nice! Brought a smile to my face.

      • JohnnieCanuck
        Posted October 14, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        True.

        I once read in a Transport Canada Safety letter that the last words of cockpit personnel as recorded by the black box were typically along the lines of “Oh Shit!”.

        God hardly rated a mention except as an expletive, proving that there are few theists in cockpits.

      • Diane G.
        Posted October 14, 2013 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

        Laughing here!

  12. uglicoyote
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Road.

  13. Lianne Byram
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    I’m particularly looking forward to Peter Boghossian’s book. I was very impressed with him at TAM this year. Very engaging speaker.

  14. Mark Joseph
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    not letting yourself get distracted by issues like the so-called beneficial effect of religion on morality

    “When people say we need religion, what they really mean is, we need police” (HL Mencken).

  15. Posted October 14, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    When I saw the cover of “A Maunal For Creating Atheists” I thought…just place stickers of the same title on all of the bibles…be a lot easier than having to write a book!

  16. Gordon
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    A quick google on Keith Sampson seems to make it fairly clear that the ridiculous allegation was eventually withdrawn, an apology issued and his record cleared. What is slightly opaque is what happened after that and some suggestions of administrators engaging in butt covering by suggestions of other unspecified problems.

  17. kelskye
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    I hope Peter Boghossian’s book is available via kindle come release date.

  18. dongiovanni
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    “Atheists are all communist, left wing, liberal…”

    I’m sorry, is this meant to be an insult?

    • darrelle
      Posted October 14, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      Of course it is. A mortal one too. At least by those who actually make the claim.

      But of course your point is well taken. Irony is indeed far from dead. Though there does seem to be some percentage of people that are incapable of perceiving it, no matter the magnitude of its manifestation.

      • Posted October 14, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

        Well, of course…ever since the great irony meter blowout in September of 1993, and ACME’s utter failure to develop an irony meter capable of handling the demands of the Internet Age…well, what do you expect?

        b&

        • darrelle
          Posted October 14, 2013 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

          We will have to wait for some, as of yet unforseen, break through in materials science before we can hope to build a meter that can withstand the demands of the unfettered ass showing contest that is the internet.

          • Posted October 15, 2013 at 9:37 am | Permalink

            Unfortunately, at this point, it would appear that the materials required are themselves impossible, involving objects of negative mass and conductivity. We may be well and truly fucked.

            b&

            • dongiovanni
              Posted October 15, 2013 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

              Is there any way to measure it indirectly… say by picking up radiation from the surface?

              This would eliminate the need for direct contact with the medium.

              • Posted October 15, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

                Unfortunately, we’re already soaking in the medium, so non-contact measurements simply aren’t an option.

                Nice thought, though….

                b&

  19. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    One of the finest professors I had as an undergraduate, Alan Kors, was a cofounder of FIRE, and was the defendor of the student caught up in the notorious “water buffalo” controversy.

    I’m becoming increasingly unsure exactly what an “accommodationist” is. It seems to me the word embraces a lot of things. I suppose I am a selective sorta semi-accomodationist some of the time. But I don’t believe any of those myths about atheists at all!

  20. Posted October 15, 2013 at 4:39 am | Permalink

    My book is also available if anyone is interested.

    • Posted October 15, 2013 at 5:13 am | Permalink

      Please do not tout your book on my website. If you are looking for a mention, send it to me and I’ll decide, but I don’t want this site used as a vending machine. I’ve removed the image of the book.

      • Posted October 15, 2013 at 6:21 am | Permalink

        Fair enough. Stupid thing to do – it won’t happen again. Please accept my apologies for what they mat be worth.

        I’ve probably ruined my chances of a mention now, but just in case I haven’t, how exactly would I go about sending it to you?

        Thanks

        • Posted October 15, 2013 at 6:22 am | Permalink

          *may

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 15, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

          You can find JAC’s email & work addresses via any search engine, or by clicking one of the “Book Links” above.

          • Posted October 15, 2013 at 10:55 am | Permalink

            Links might be broken, but I found it anyway. Thanks for your help.

  21. Posted December 28, 2013 at 5:43 am | Permalink

    Dear Editor,

    An atheist rewrites the ‘life after death’ story: This novel may be of interest to your readers…

    https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/316200#longdescr

    Free copy for review available in all formats on request.

    Regards,
    Robby


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