The Best Book on Atheism Out Today

No, it’s not from Dawkins, or Hitchens, or even Harris.  It’s David Ramsay Steele’s “Atheism Explained: From Folly to Philosophy.”   Presented as a sort of primer on all the common atheist responses to theist claims, Steele’s book bears far more in common with George Smith’s classic “Atheism: The Case Against God” (which itself used to be the token atheist work in Barnes & Noble philosophy bookshelves long before Dawkins came along) than anything else.

Steele is clean, concise, and straight to the point, with a refreshing minimum of rhetoric and diverting character assaults.  The result is a nice, nearly encyclopedic compendium of atheistic responses that is well worth a place on the bookshelf, and far better than most slapdash internet sources.

While much of his material might be old hat to old hands at these sorts of philosophical matters (the relatively perfunctory discussion of evolution in my case), this is a weakness borne of the need to be fairly comprehensive in a relatively short work.  There is still a pleasure in seeing the same arguments explained well, particularly when some of his strongest objections to things like the “free will” defense of evil, or the “improbability” of existence, are also some of the rarest encountered in these sorts of debates.  He also includes a much-needed discussion of some of the core belief claims specific to Islam.

Of course, theists now often complain that the philosophical objections that atheists have to god beliefs never change: that the new atheists have little to offer over the old.  But I think there is a far more plausible alternative: it is theists who merely repeat the same arguments, and arguments that are false or unconvincing one day will continue to be for the same reasons tomorrow.  All that matters is the strength of these arguments, and whether critics can really deal with them, as opposed to merely finding ways to dismiss them.

Whether his arguments are old or new, Steele leaves very little wiggle room for apologists, even in the small amount of space he’s allowed himself.  Certainly a single book can never anticipate and respond to every possible objection, and critics of atheism are bound to have plenty.  But what he has down on paper gives me every reason to suspect who’d dominate further rounds of debate as well.

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4 Responses to The Best Book on Atheism Out Today

  1. Heathen Dan says:

    Good choice! I recently finished reading that book, and I was impressed with his prose. I think he stumbled a bit with some of the science, but it’s minor stuff. I won’t hesitate to recommend the book to my religious friends.

  2. asg says:

    Came here from the link in your ID on the Hagee thread on Volokh. I posted that I hadn’t seen anything new from theists in it, but on reflection that’s actually not true — William Oliver’s apparent willingness to swallow the entirety of divine command theory along with total nonchalance about the triviality of morality that doesn’t apply to God is pretty rare to see, in this century at least.

  3. Bad says:

    Oh, he has nothing on some of the fiery revolutionary-era Calvinists, believe me.

  4. Legislative says:

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation :) Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Legislative!

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