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!
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.
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.
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.)
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.