Monday, January 21, 2013

The unbelievers: The evolution of modern atheism

The unbelievers: The evolution of modern atheism
By S. T. Joshi

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

I picked up this book because it looked like a good read. First, it looked as though Joshi had an excellent background as a writer, scholar, and editor, and at least five previously published books to his credit. Second, his 10 pages of notes looked solid, and I knew his information was well researched. His 30 years of knowledge and background in researching this topic is remarkable and impressive.

This is truly a competent history book that is well-written. It is a clear, easy-to-read, thorough documentary. The book covers the works of Thomas Henry Husley, Leslie Stephen, John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Nietzsche, Mark Twain, Clarence Darrow, H. L. Mencken, H. P. Lovecraft, Bertrand Russell, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Gore Vidal, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. I am not a reader of any of these writers, although I have to admit that I read and enjoyed Hitchen’s book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007).

In the epilogue, I agreed entirely with his personal note: "I will frankly confess that many of the central issues pertaining to religion—the existence of God, the existence of the soul and its survival after death, the existence of heaven and hell, the dependence of morality upon religion—have ceased to interest me because they have, to my mind, been all but settled in favor of atheism" (p. 247). Joshi adds in the next paragraph, " . . . after more than thirty years of investigation of these questions, I have not found a single argument offered by the religions as even remotely compelling or convincing. Every one of them has been demolished by far superior thinkers than I, and I do not pretend to hold out hope that the pious can somehow come up with better arguments than they have" (p. 247).

I have found, in my own life, a similar discovery to the one found by Joshi: It is unlikely any book or any set of evidence of any kind, " . . . will convert, any significant number of the populace who are devout, or even those who are fencesitters;; such individuals tend not to read books that might threaten the stability of their belief structure, to which they have become psychologically dependent" (p. 247).

I believe the author’s intent writing this book is well-supported and well-represented throughout: "I have written this book in the hope that it might shed some light on the development of atheist thought over the past century and a half or so" (p. 16). I especially enjoyed Joshi’s reasoning regarding which writers to include in this book and which to exclude. (p. 16)

For those who are religious and are reading this review, please not eht author’s comment on page 14: ". . . for perhaps the first time in human istory, it can plausibly be said that civilized societies are essentially nonreligious" (p. 14). "Intellectually, . . . at least in the West, the battle is, in my mind, over. Atheism has won. The intellectual classes are, if not explicitly atheistic, certainly nonreligious and in many cases anti religious" (p. 14).

". . . It does take a certain amount of knowledge—knowledge of science, knowledge of history, knowledge of language and literature, knowledge of fundamental philosophical conceptions—to grasp the intellectual issues and stake in the battle between religion and irreligion, and once those issues are grasped, the majority will come, regretfully or joyously, to the realization that religion simply has no credibility. It is an emperor without clothes and has been without clothese for the better part of two centuries" (p. 15).

If for no other reason, this statement alone offers a strong endorsement of this book and, too, reason enough to read it cover-to-cover. Five stars out of five!

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