This list was first published in July 2009, and is occasionally updated: add your own favourite atheist-related book to the comments and I will add it to the list.
During July 2009 I asked on Twitter and Facebook about your favourite atheist-related books, and why. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins was recommended as many times as the next three books combined. The Bible took second place, with its power to convince people of atheism edging it ahead of God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens.
Also popular in the original list were books by Phillip Pullman, Sam Harris, Bertrand Russell, Daniel Dennett, Douglas Adams, Michael Shermer, Julian Baggini, Pascal Boyer, Nietzsche, Carl Sagan and Derren Brown. More have since been added based on the comments to this post.
But the most fascinating part is the eclectic list of books recommended once. You may not have heard of all of them, but each is a book that somebody, somewhere, believes to be a valuable read for anybody interested in finding out more about atheism, reality or morality.
Here’s the full list, along with some of the reasons that you gave as to why this was your favourite atheist-related book.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
35 x The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. The first to comprehensively address a lot of the issues I had been thinking about… Because he is a genius and much more eloquent than I could ever be… Because it reinforced with me that my decision was right and it turned my dad from agnosticism to atheism… Because I kept shouting “YES!! That’s what I’ve always said!”… Because it’s all covered… I wanted to hand it to others that didn’t understand my beliefs and yell “See? Read”… The modern classic. I found it more “fun” than others I’ve read, and that counts with shallow folk like me… I already had ‘Faith’ I just needed the ammunition to argue more effectively… Total eye opener and extremely thought provoking… Logical and concise. Dawkins at his best… For its clear wording, its non-aggressive (well almost) approach and the breath of subjects covered… It was the first book that actually made question the beliefs I was brought up with in a scientific manner… He’s a brilliant man!… After 39 years was glad to find out that atheism was more prevalent than thought plus it was my first book to read on atheism… Provides the most clear scientific explanations for the existence of religion… It’s the most comprehensive rebuttal of religion out there and I’m drawn to the fact that Dawkins tackles it mainly from a scientific as opposed to a social viewpoint… Because it appears aggressive, domineering and arrogant but is in fact only plain and honest or reciprocating… By far my favorite and most important… The God Delusion changed my life.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
22 x The Bible (or holy book of choice), taken with a grain of skepticism… At least as far as books that led to my inability to believe… The New Testament… Hard to beat the Bible itself as a cornerstone for fundamental atheist belief!… It deconstructs itself… If only more Christians would read it… It has a bit of everything: genocide, incest, child murder, rape pillage, incurable knee botches… Best reason to reject theism… Makes it a whole lot easier to disbelieve in a god… My favorite is Leviticus… It’s really the only one you’ll ever need… It’s the best example of the ludicrousness of religion… It was certainly the Bible that started me doubting. I was a good little catholic girl but at the age of four or five when I heard the first thing Noah did on reaching dry land was to sacrifice some of the animals I said the whole thing was dotty.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
12 x God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens. More aggressive and attacking of religion than just the existence of gods… Utterly brilliant… Really blasted religion… It takes all my beliefs on religion and wraps them up as eloquently as possible… Bloody brilliant… Mainly because it goes straight to the point… Just a comprehensive analysis of the wrongs of religion against humanity… It’s vicious but brilliantly argued… I just like polemics I guess.
* * * * * * * *
8 x Why I am not a Christian by Bertrand Russell. Mostly because it was my first… I was very young when I read it, and it really made me think, still does… A clear, calm critique/argument against religion in essays; doesn’t ridicule believers… Not “against” religion, but against its use as a source for moral or ethical rules… Probably the most famous atheist of his time, he also supported son-in-law through seminary… 80 years later and that pamphlet hasn’t lost its potency.
* * * * * * *
7 x His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. Celebrates the unleashing of human creative thought and action over imposed dogma… Remember Pullman’s image of The Authority?… Like something from the fashion show in Fellini’s Roma… Nil points for originality on my part, but full points on his.
7 x Letter To A Christian Nation by Sam Harris. For its brevity… Because it’s short, to the point and covers all the bases… It’s a short, but sharp critique of Christianity… Short, sweet and loaded with powerful arguments against irrational religious belief.
* * * * *
5 x Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett. Pretty good. Easy to read & understand with a touch of humor… Good popularization of Boyer, et al… More convincing, less strident than Dawkins.
5 x The End of Faith by Sam Harris. Because it delves into the psychology… Less gratuitously nasty and better argued than many others… Well argued on points I was often uncomfortable with.
5 x The Portable Atheist by Christopher Hitchens. Great collection of essays from past & present atheists… It serves as a sort of atheist/humanist Bible, if you will… In it, Michael Shermer’s “Genesis Revisited; A Scientific Creation Story” is a long time personal favourite.
* * *
3 x A Very Short Introduction to Atheism, by Julian Baggini. Philosophically precise yet readable… Packs in all the arguments, including a few you may not find elsewhere, but does it pretty dispassionately, which can be an advantage sometimes.
3 x All in the Mind by Ludovic Kennedy. Often overlooked.
3 x God’s Problem. How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question: Why We Suffer. by Bart D. Ehrman. Ehrman is a higly educated biblical scholar and former evangelical christian who became an atheist through his knowledge of the bible.
3 x Godless by Dan Barker. How an evangelical preacher became an atheist advocate.
3 x Die Zukunft Einer Illusion by Freud. Essential to any atheist library.
3 x Dune by Frank Herbert
3 x In Defence of Atheism (aka The Atheist Manifesto) by Michel Onfray. Gives a great historical picture of how religion has obstructed social progress. Really for the convinced Atheist to help think more deeply about how Christianity has influenced every aspect of our lives and how to start deconstructing that influence.
3 x Infidel by Ayann Hirsi Ali. Displays the evils of Islam and particularly the oppression of women and irrational dogma.
3 x On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. Probably the book that started the ball rolling as far as a valid alternative to the god idea is concerned. It is amazing how much Darwin had correct when he had no knowledge of the details of DNA and Plate Tectonics etc.
3 x Small Gods by Terry Pratchett. The gods in this book (and in The Galactic Pot Healer by Phillip K Dick) are real, as in eating, drinking, farting, fighting, falling in love real, as well as ridiculous. As any god would be.
3 x The Antichrist by Nietzsche
3 x The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan. Beautifully written… I think it might be because I read it in his voice.
3 x The Hitch-hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Classic… Particularly the Babel fish… God vanishes in a puff of logic!
3 x Tricks of the Mind by Derren Brown. Mostly for the non-atheist related stuff, but also he explains the rationale very well. It’s a stealth atheist book, you read about the shameful scam of mediums preying on the vulnerable and…
3 x Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer. Great on general skepticism, logical fallacies etc… Didn’t change my view on the world, but made me understand that I’m a skeptic, which led to understanding that I’m an atheist… Isn’t really atheistic but I loved it.
2 x 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God by Guy Harrison. Good broad & nonthreatening introduction to give to believers.
2 x An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Atheism by Daniel Harbour. Explains beautifully the difference between the two ways one can view the world. One is the view which underlies the scientific process, and the other is the one which underlies religion, belief in healing crystals and all that.
2 x Atheism Advanced by David Eller. Better than his Natural Atheism… takes atheism beyond atheism, so to speak, and brings his audience to atheism’s ultimate conclusion.
2 x Das Wesen des Christentums by Feuerbach. Essential to any atheist library.
2 x Natural Atheism by David Eller
2 x Religion Explained by Pascal Boyer. Great overall explanation.
2 x The Foundation series by Asimov. Shows how easily a religion could be invented – in this case, to control the nuclear power generation plants… My skeptical journey through agnostisism , eventually leading to atheism, began with Asimov.
2 x The Misery of Christianity Joachim Kahl. Brilliant, but sadly out of print.
2 x The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. A very readable science book, which explains how we evolved, and how behaviours like empathy evolved (not god given).
2 x Skepticism Inc. by Bo Fowler. Lovely bit of Vonnegut fanfic.
2 x Voltaire’s Bastards by John Ralston Saul. Saul is wonderful and a deep, black cynic. Vastly under-rated philosopher, economist and social commentator.
2 x Waiting For Godot by Samuel Becket. The greatest play of the 20th century and a powerful commentary on the emotions that engender religion – fear, vulnerability, a desire for certainty, and so on: “Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come.”
1984 by George Orwell. The most important book for me on the topic of what truth is, and being influenced by others, and lying to yourself.
A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby. It ought to be a mandatory read. I doubt even atheists realize the extent to which the religious bloc have impeded social progress. Or the extent to which just about every leap in humankind was either conceived or fervently encouraged by brave atheists and agnostics.
A History of God by Karen Armstrong. Should be required reading for ALL!
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
After God by MC Taylor
Against All Gods by AC Grayling. Like Life, Sex and Ideas, this makes the case against god/s and religion and outlines what makes healthy, sane, intelligent, informed, dare I say happy, people and societies.
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume. If for no other reason than his classic argument in Section X, “On Miracles”.
Androcles and the Lion by George Bernard Shaw. The preface gave me my first set of tools – ideas and words – for dismantling religion.
Atheism: A Philosophical Justification by by Martin. For the detail.
Atheism: A Reader. I liked all the essays.
Atheism Remix by R. Albert Mohler Jr. A Christian perspective on atheism’s recent popularity and growth surge since 9/11
Atheism: The Case Against God by George H Smith.
Atheist Universe by David Mills. Lucid, daring and cute as Dawkins, but deals with physics stuff too.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. Demonstrates the dangers of dogma in society whether mystical or social. Offers a view of ethics which rejects altruism as its basis and tells why and how rational egoism is the rational ethics in which to life by.
Beyond Good and Evil by Neitzsche
Black Mass by John Gray
Caesar’s Messiah’ by Joseph Atwill. Argues, very convincingly, that Jesus was a propaganda invention by a Roman emperor used to undermine Jewish resistance to Roman rule.
Cannery Row by Steinbeck. I’ve also always felt warm atheist fuzzies from Steinbeck. Not sure if that is a fair reading of Steinbeck, but there it is.
Chimpanzee Politics by Frans de Waal. Like Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin, it shows just how closely we are related to the living world and arose from it instead of being divinely purposed and partitioned from it.
Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg. A chilling 19th century tale that gets into the head of an utterly deluded religiot.
Cosmos by Carl Sagan. Goes into the struggles of science & reason versus religion throughout history.
Critique of Religion and Philosophy by Walter Kaufmann. Presents the elements of philosophy of religion in a way that is both intellectually and morally serious, but also accessible to a high school student.
Darwin’s Angel by John Cornwell
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett. Mind-opening.
Does God Hate Women? By Ophelia Benson & Jeremy Stangroom
Doubt: A History by Jennifer Michael Hecht. A skeptic’s Bible of historical doubt.
Early Christian Doctrine by J.N.D. Kelly
Examination of the Prophesies by Thomas Paine. A fisking of the New Testament claims that the Old Testament predicted the life of Christ.
Faith of a Heretic by Walter Kaufmann
Ghost Rider by Neil Peart. He chronicles the loss of his wife & daughter, how he copes and recovers, and there is zero mention of God, Religion or faith! He does it himself with a motorcycle, friends and love.
God: the Failed Hypothesis by Victor Stenger. I don’t understand why it isn’t right up there in the bestseller list alongside TGD, God is not Great, The End of Faith, etc.
Godless Morality by Richard Holloway. A Christian acknowledging that atheists can be moral people!
Golden Torc series by Julian May. Paints a nice alternative reality that’s just as ridiculous as, and yet somehow much more believable than, the bible.
How to Read The Bible by James L. Kugel. Goes through how modern scholars and early Christians interpreted the Old Testament. Great source if you want to talk to people about how to interpret the Bible.
Humanity’s Gain from Unbelief by Charles Bradlaugh. Bradlaugh may not have written a book length treatment of atheism but he did write a number of essays some of which are available in the Thinker’s Library under the title of one of his essays – Humanity’s Gain from Unbelief
Irreligion by John Allen Paulos. Mathematical arguments against the existence of a god. Love it!
Is Christianity True? by Michael Arnheim. Maybe not a great book but the first one that did it for me back in 1985.
Job: A Comedy of Justice by Heinlein
Kiln People by David Brin. Deals with morality and deity in a well written and fascinating Sci-Fi story.
Knowledge of Angels by Jill Paton Walsh
Leaving the Fold by Marlene Winell. A great book for a person who just left the faith. I highly recommend it.
Letters from Earth by Mark Twain. He will laugh you right out of Christianity.
Letters to a Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchens. Not explicitly about atheism but independent thought, skepticism.
Life, Sex and Ideas: the Good Life without God by AC Grayling. Like Against All Gods, this makes the case against god/s and religion and outlines what makes healthy, sane, intelligent, informed, dare I say happy, people and societies.
Man and His Gods by Homer Smith
Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir
Miracle of Theism by Mackie. Classic critique of the standard philosophical arguments for God.
Morals Without Religion by Margaret Knight. A fascinating little book that gives a window onto attitudes to religion in 1950s Britain.
Not Wanted on the Voyage by Timothy Findley. Another good atheist-related work of fiction (Noah’s Ark retold)
On the Genealogy of Morals by Neitzsche
On the Nature and Existence of God by Richard M. Gale. Precise critique of standard arguments and best explanation of what a god *could* be.
Re-Engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings, Piecewise Approximations to Reality by William Wimsatt. A collection of essays on the philosophy of science, not atheismper se. Helped me see my underlying approach or method, and my atheism is a product of my approach or method.
Second Philosophy by Wittgenstien
Talks by Ramana Maharshi. He reiterates again and again the folly of following the inventions of ego.
The Adding Machine by Elmer Rice. 1923 play that condemns a man to eternal mediocrity and drudgery for failing to challenge himself.
The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine
The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkins
The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong. For me its completely Deadly, killing off the fundies for all time. Can’t believe the clever-clogs tosh she’s writing now!
The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins
The Book on The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts. Not strictly atheist, but his work dismantles Christianity and offers an alternative worldview derived from interpreting Eastern thought.
The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell. It’s a self help book for atheists.
The da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. More of an example of how chirstianity was abducted and bastardized by the catholic church, but I find it interesting.
The Day I Sold my Soul to Santa by Dirk DurplePick
The Decameron by Boccaccio. For its raunchy clerical satire, topped later by the likes of Voltaire and De Sade.
The Faith Healers by James Randi. Love how Randi exposed that sham. Makes me wonder why Sister Cleo had 2 stop.
The Galactic Pot Healer by Phillip K Dick The gods in this book (and in Small Gods by Terry Pratchett) are real, as in eating, drinking, farting, fighting, falling in love real, as well as ridiculous. As any god would be.
The Golden Bough by Frazier
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. A frightening tale of an anti-feminist theocracy in a future dystopia in North America.
The Heroes Journey by Joseph Campbell. Because it shows myth is hardwired instinct.
The Jesus Puzzle. A scholarly work that explains the ancient world view that spawned a mythical Jesus.
The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow
The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality, by Andre Comte-Sponville (translated to English by Nancy Huston).
The Making of the Fittest by Sean B Carroll. It totally trashes the design argument by looking at the evolution of genes.
The Monstrosity of Christ by Slavoj Zizek
The Passover Plot by Hugh Schoenfeld. This was crucial in my coming to understand what kind of document the Bible is.
The Quotable Atheist by Jack Huberma. A collection of quotes from non-believing philosophers, scientists, poets, writers, artists, entertainers, and political figures.
The Reason for God by Tim Keller. The best Christian response to atheism I’ve read.
The Rebel by Camus
The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey
The Six Ways of Atheism by Geoffrey Berg
The Stranger by Camus
The Threat to Reason by Dan Hind
The Towing Jehovah Trilogy by James Morrow (Book iii The Eternal Footman is best)
The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James. An emperical psychologist interviews people of all denominations, documents their experiences with religion. He believes that the backbone of the worlds spiritual life is in the experiences of the individual.
The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts. Not strictly atheist, but his work dismantles Christianity and offers an alternative worldview derived from interpreting Eastern thought.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Neitzsche
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Wittgenstein. Each aphorism is a bitch slap to god fanatics.
Prison Notebooks by Gramsci. Beautifully written, insightful, testiment to the human spirit: defiance of his fascist censors.
Saxon Tales by Bernard Cornwell. Cornwell always has a few mean things to say about God.
Stranger In A Strange Land by Heinlein. Showed the social mechanisms of fame and faith, & how 1 could be exploited 4 the other.
Unweaving the Rainbow by Richard Dawkins
What Is Good? by A C Grayling. Provides a godless account of morality, and its pre-christian history.
Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin. Like Chimpanzee Politics by Frans de Waal, it shows just how closely we are related to the living world and arose from it instead of being divinely purposed and partitioned from it.
Your Religion Is False by Joel Grus. Because it’s brilliantly funny.
Any book by Ayn Rand
A small booklet debunking the so called miracles and shams of the “godmen” of India… that booklet made me think rationally
Also: the work of many notable social scientists – Weber, Durkheim and more recently B.F. Skinner. If God is a Creation of man then it is toward social scientist that awe should look for an explanation, not philosophers like Dennet or biologists like Dawkins.
In much need of poststructuralist philosophy, absolutely devastating stuff. Try readable introductions to Deleuze, maybe Derrida & Lacan to a lesser extent.
Reading Carl Sagan and Richard Leakey was the final nail in the coffin of supernaturalism.
The work of Voltaire, Thomas Paine, Lock, Quine, Hume, and, of course, Hobbes (not the tiger!)
Thanks to the following for replying to the original post
26Tim | AllanCavanagh | Ammouni | Aperture11 | AprilBraswell | atheistie | askegg |asoulorg | Autarkis | BLADT | BrainCramps | brainycat | brenstrong | BriefLess | cafedave | CaptainGraviton | CheapEatsDotIE | Chrsthmsn | cpmichetti | damienlooney | danielgrosvenor | DaveMann | davemurdock | davidnicolson | daycoder | defiantskeptic | delfrisco | denvy | derekbradley | derekrootboy | dermotcasey | DollarLama | doodledawne | DeusExorcist | dhskee | drunkenmadman | dsriharsha | EddieBaseball | ElaineEdwards | expatina | failedmuso | FaithInterface | fatmike182 | finkeegan | galelem | GordonGoblin | HarryGuinness | hipishizik | HLindskold | H0llywoodWh0re | hudsonette | IAmRoot | Icaruspoe | irodman | istaranews | jbtweeter | Jackster69 | JM_Boivin | julzart | jptxs | justinf | joshcarples | Killarny | Larro | lippard | Locnar1970 | lucykjohnstone | m_ls | MarkLane71 | mary_martin | matt_warner | mattincinci | mdhughes | MeLorena | midnightcourt | MusiCaller | naehutch | NomDuJour | nwoolhouseuk | PattiMoran | pedro_vazquez | Pete_Knight | picklepumpers | PopuliAtheist | PrashVader | primaryposition | Rationalists | reeft | reneehendricks | richardmbunn | robertbruce13 | rodiell | SabreNation | saveourbluths | SeandBlogonaut | setdragonfriend | SkeptiKat | sketchfordawn | SloRunnerMom | spacetrucker | spam_methuselah | SpiderSlayer | spiller2 | stephanie206 | stinginthetail | straggleyway | Suckermouth | taueret | teebalicious | theadividual | thebeernut | theirishpenguin | TheMadderHat | tnargnitram | TomMendham | tommcmullenjr | trontsephore | TSLtLillith | tuibguy | tylermassey | Underbundle | UserNameError | vjack | WillLynch | woodpigeon01 | Ygern | yoga99 | yrif | ZenMonkey
Adam Dinan | Annie West | Billy Sands | Brian Carey | Colleen Murphy | David Maguire | Eoin Stephens | James Burkill | Keith Drummond | Paula Kirby | Richard Green | Shane Wrightson
Thanks to all who made comments about the list on RichardDawkins.net.
69 thoughts on “140+ favourite atheist-related books”
I’m not even sure which book I recommended, but now I’ve got even more books to read. Great list, thanks for putting it together.
what an interesting list 🙂
Great post! I really enjoyed reading about books that I’d forgotten from the past that shaped my atheism from way back, and also wrote down a lot of titles that I haven’t yet read. Off to the bookstore I go.
The full title of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s book: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Thanks again for organizing this information. My daughter and her boyfriend are wanting more atheist material, so I’ll send this along.
Thanks for the reading list. I should have answered the question on Facebook, sorry!
I’m surprised by the absence from this list of a couple of books.
My personal favorite atheist books are:-
Small Gods by Terry Pratchet
The Galactic Pot Healer by Philip K. Dick
Both for the same reason. The gods in these books are real (real as in eating, drinking, farting, fighting, falling in love real) as well as ridiculous. As any god would be.
The most important book for me on the topic of what truth is, and being influenced by others, and lieing to yourself, is 1984.
Nice list.. lots of options for future reading
As with any popularity contest, the above list reflects the notoriety of the times. Some of those at the top today may not stand the test of time, which makes it worthwhile to look down the list at those that have – such as Paine.
What is surprisingly omitted from this list is the work of many notable social scientists – Weber, Durkheim and more recently B.F. Skinner. If God is a Creation of man then it is toward social scientist that awe should look for an explanation, not philosophers like Dennet or biologists like Dawkins. Skinner is the only person to have shown superstitious behaviour in a laboratory and p;provided a scientific explanation. Something Dawkins rather belatedly acknowledged. See ‘”Superstition” in the Pigeon’ Am.J. Psychol, 1957, 70 308-311, reprinted in Cumulative Record, 3rd edition, 1972, Meredith. I guess Dawkins was still on school when Skinner published that!
Great list. As a teenager, the three books that did it for me were: Joachim Kahl’s‘The Misery of Christianity’ — brilliant, but sadly out of print; Nietzsche’s strident ‘The Antichrist’; and J.N.D. Kelly’s ‘Early Christian Doctrine’.
I must say, however, that Dawkin’s ‘The God Delusion’ is worthy of the number one spot.
Wow, that’s some list. I voted for Dawkins but have to say all (yes all) the novels of Iain (M) Banks, were a big influence on me in my formative years and nourished a fledgling atheism.
occured to me, reading the list (great list btw), that “Not Wanted on the Voyage” by Timothy Findley is another good atheist- work of fiction (Noah’s Ark retold). Haven’t read it in a while.
That’s a great list Michael, thank you. Two others that weren’t on your list that I got a lot out of were ‘The Atheist Manifesto’ by Michel Onfrey and ‘Caesar’s Messiah’ by Joseph Atwill. The first is really for the convinced Atheist to help think more deeply about how Christianity has influenced every aspect of our lives and how to start deconstructing that influence. The second argues, very convincingly, that Jesus was a propaganda invention by a Roman emperor used to undermine Jewish resistance to Roman rule.
I was going to add the new published and hilarious Your Religion Is False, but it’s there. Nice!
One of my favourites is Heinlein’s Job: A Comedy of Justice.
It’s not an atheism book exactly, but I highly recommend How to Read The Bible by James L. Kugel which goes through how modern scholars and early Christians interpreted the Old Testament. Great source if you want to talk to people about how to interpret the Bible. I’d recommend it before Asimov’s guide which is more speculative.
Michael, this is a useful list and I’m grateful to you for putting it together. Even more, I appreciate the list of contributors with links. Now I can easily connect with like-minded skeptics, free thinkers and atheists.
some others that may be of interest…
A C Grayling – What Is Good?
Provides a godless account of morality, and its pre-christian history.
Bart D. Ehrman – God’s Problem, How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question:Why We Suffer
Ehrman is a higly educated biblical scholar and former evangelical christian who became an atheist through his knowledge of the bible.
William James – The Varieties of Religious Experience
An emperical psychologist interviews people of all denominations, documents their experiences with religion. He believes that the backbone of the worlds spiritual life is in the experiences of the individual.
The Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins
A very readable science book, which explains how we evolved, and how behaviours like empathy evolved (not god given).
Is Christianity True by Michael Arnheim
Maybe not a great book but the first one that did it for me back in 1985
For a book that displays the evils of Islam and particularly the oppression of women and irrational dogma then Ayann Hirsi Ali’s Infidel has to go on the list.
Good list – some inspiration there.
A nice, dip-in-and-out one I can recommend is:
THE QUOTABLE ATHEIST
by Jack Huberma
A collection of quotes from non-believing philosophers, scientists, poets, writers, artists, entertainers, and political figures, including Woody Allen, Lance Armstrong, Buddha, George Carlin, Noam Chomsky, Larry Flynt, E.M. Forster, Benjamin Franklin, Sigmund Freud, Galileo, Matt Groening, Stephen Hawking, Christopher Hitchens, Thomas Jefferson, John Lennon, the Marquis de Sade, Carl Sagan, Sarah Silverman, Gertrude Stein, Howard Stern, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, and Frank Zappa (and many others).
No “DaVinci Code”?
Granted, it is more of an example of how chirstianity was abducted and bastardized by the catholic church, but I find it interesting and not necessarily pro-religion.
My favorite argument against those who claim it is pure hogwash (usually given with the complete understanding that TDVC is *fiction*): I was born in 1962 into a catholic family, within a year of the Vatican declaring Mary M was NOT a whore/prostitute. Yet I still heard from priests that MM was a prostitute saved by JC until I stopped going to church in the 70’s.
All in the Mind was written by Ludovic Kennedy, not Lucy Kennedy.
I’m surprised David Hume’s “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding” didn’t make the list if for no other reason than his classic argument in Section X, “On Miracles”.
George Bernard Shaw ‘Androcles and the Lion’ – the preface gave me my first set tools – ideas and words – for dismantling religion
Some great book contributions in the comments.
Will you update the list?
A personal favorite of mine is Walter Kaufmann’s 1961 book “Faith of a Heretic”. It is available online at http://ia311542.us.archive.org/0/items/faithofaheretic012669mbp/faithofaheretic012669mbp.pdf
They’re not strictly atheist books, but the work of Alan Watts is pretty interesting. He more or less dismantles Christian thought/philosophy, then offers an alternative world view he derived from interpreting Eastern thought (Hinduism/Buddhism/Taoism). In particular “The Wisdom of Insecurity” and “The Book On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are”
I can’t recommend Watts enough.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand demonstrates effectively the dangers of dogma in society weather that dogma comes from mystical or social. More importantly it offers a view of ethics which rejects altruism as its basis and tells us why and how rational egoism is the rational ethics in which to life by.
Many, many fine books. I was surprised that a few, which were very helpful to me in sorting things out in my youth, didn’t appear. First, no one should miss “Letters from Earth” by Mark Twain; he will laugh you right out of Christianity.Second, Walter Kaufmann’s “Critique of Religion and Philosophy” presents the elements of philosophy of religion in a way that is both intellectually and morally serious, but also accessible to a high school student. Finally, Hugh Schoenfeld’s “The Passover Plot” was crucial in my coming to understand what kind of document the Bible is.
Yes, I love this book. I knew it was out of print. Thanks letting us know where we can find it.
The books that started me thinking about gods and religion were Asimov’s Foundation series, in which he showed how easily a religion could be invented – in this case, to control the nuclear power generation plants.
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins was a factor in forming my present opinion that gods are imaginary. Since then, I’ve read about 30 other books related to atheism (including the popular books by Harris and Hitchens), but only a few books have helped me move forward in the dimensions I care about: A) Understanding how I think, B) Understanding how other people think, and C) Knowing what I want –
– Atheism, A Very Short Introduction, by Julian Baggini.
– An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Atheism, by Daniel Harbour.
– 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God, by Guy Harrison.
– The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality, by Andre Comte-Sponville (translated to English by Nancy Huston).
I also see some people here contributed books they found relevant while not being explicitly about atheism per se, so in that spirit, I’ll mention another book I found relevant and helpful: Re-Engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings, Piecewise Approximations to Reality, by William Wimsatt. The book is a collection of essays on the philosophy of science, not atheism per se. I might never get around to understanding some of the chapters that seem especially dense with specialized concepts, but I understood a few chapters on my first reading. This book works for me like Daniel Harbour’s book does, in helping me see my underlying approach or method, and my atheism is a product of my approach or method. A curious reader might browse Wimsatt’s book in a library to see if it appeals to them.
In much need of poststructuralist philosophy, absolutely DEVISTATING stuff. Try readable introductions to Deleuze, maybe Derrida & Lacan to a lesser extent!
Also try; “After God” MC Taylor & “The Monstrosity of Christ” Slavoj Zizek
Wittgenstien’s second philosophy is missing from the list!
I didn’t see Freud’s “Die Zukunft einer Illusion” or Feuerbach’s “Das Wesen des Christentums”. These are both essential to any atheist library.
Good point about Freud and Feuebach. A couple of others that no one should miss:
Frazier’s “The Golden Bough,” and Homer Smith’s “Man and His Gods,” – available here: http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/homer1a.htm
Whoa…Where is some Stephen Hawking? A Brief History Of Time anyone?
Otherwise a good selection.
Not sure I see the relevance of Hawking — could you explain?
Hawkins should be there but…..
The significance of Hawkin’s discover is not only did the universe have a beginning (As the bible says), but that time began(also the bible). Did something come from nothing? Science cannot accept that, which leaves open the possibility of supreme creator. Hence Hawkins, an atheist, said “Now we can see the mind of God.” That is the characteristic honesty of science. Science is neither atheist nor religious.
Sorry, but I’m afraid I disagree with you about this. Science is and must be strictly a-theistic, without God, because supernatural explanations are, in scientific terms, no explanations at all. “And then a miracle happened” is not a scientific explanation. I hope Hawking meant his remark in a poetic, not a philosophical sense.
Brian, that is not science. Science says ‘I have no evidence for the existence of God’, it does not say there is no God.
Many scientists believe that matter is indestructible, hence the search for the smallest indivisible particle which some scientists once believed was the quark. Now they know better.
Most ‘science’ is based on a body of knowledge. Religion is often based on a body of knowledge – called the bible. The blues line, Big Bill Bronsy I think – “The things that you’re liable to read in the bible, it ain’t necessarily so.” – applies to the bible of science as much as religious bibles. Scientists are natural septics, qualify every finding with such as ‘At this point in time, all things being equal, as far as we know.”
A miracle is simply the unexpected, extraordinary and ,as yet, inexplicable. Such as the discovery of penicillin – its anniversary celebrated this week. Science went on to explain how penicillin works.
Most of religious knowledge is expressed in terms that are untestable to science. Science is riddled with beliefs. A hypotheses is a belief, a theory is a set of beliefs and ‘facts’. The difference in science ‘beliefs’ is that they must be testable or they are not ‘scientific’. It does not mean they are not true, it means that science has not yet found a way to test them. Platetechtonics started that way.
Hawking’s finding has lead to reconceptualization of time, even a questioning whether time exists as a dimension. Others conclude there was a series of big bangs, the universe expanding then collapsing back into a big bang. The problem with that idea is if everything was destroyed in the big bang we may never know what preceded it. Mankind will never know what is the end. Long before, the universe will be cold and lifeless. Unless there are parallel universes and we can see what happens in parallel universes, rather like the restaurant at the end of the universe in Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy.
If it was God then it certainly was not the all powerful God of Judaism and many religions, nor the caring, loving God of the Christianity. As Hawkins knows more than most. Maybe God blew himself up in his kitchen table experiment.
Hawkins was not being poetic. He was expressing his scientific belief that something cannot come form nothing, something must have preceded it. Whatever it was got destroyed in the process, as far as we know. Call that God if you want, but lets accept we don’t know and may never know.
That is the problem of the religious evangelists and the New Atheists. They think they know. Let us be honest and allow other to believe as they need, as long as they do not bring their beliefs into public policy.
Are comments being censored?
You will notice that I did not claim that science says “there is no god.” It is atheistic in a much more fundamental respect: scientific explanations must be in natural, not supernatural, terms, precisely because supernatural claims are not testable. It may be true that Edmond Gosse’s Omphalos hypothesis is true, but it is not science. It doesn’t matter how many bangs or branes or whatever there are, so long as the hypotheses are testable. A miracle, by the way, is not something surprising. A miracle, in the sense that religion relies on, is a violation of natural law, i.e., a phenomenon that has no natural explanation. The idea that so-called holy books contain religious “knowledge” is itself a bizarre one, especially since they tend to contradict one another. Of course, they do make testable claims from time time, and in most cases those claims turn out to be false.
Generally, no. A genuine comment might get caught by the automated spam-filter, in which case it has to wait until I manually approve it. Please contact me via the contact link at the top of the page if you post a comment and it does not appear.
Brian, I think we are beginning to split hairs, but I think this is a valuable discussion and I feel you have knowledge to further that discussion.
Words are not fixed but defined by their communities. When discussing across communities we should understand and respect other people’s definitions. The bible is commonly called the book of knowledge. Much of it is historical knowledge told in anecdotes. Caine and Bale is the history of conflict between hunter gatherers and early farmers. It resulted in the ruling that one shall not kill humans for self-benefit. The Bible is also a record of the moral and legal development of society. For me and many Jews, the story of Adam and Eve is not literal, it is a moral of coming of age, and a valuable one. Many argue the Ten Commandments are the ten basic rules of very civilized society. There are more today, such as thou shalt not deprive another of their freedom for personal gain. Democratic law took over that process. The New testament takes a universal moral “Love thy neighbour as one loves oneself” and developers it further to a moral philosophy based on love, understanding, tolerance and forgiveness. A philosophy that enabled civilized peaceful social development.
The problem, for me is that in the current polarized debate both sides seem to have forgotten that philosophy. Rather than take such positions, I prefer to admit that science has its beliefs. Sometimes blind. Perhaps that is because I am a social scientist and know there are substantial problems with theories in social science and they are hardly scientific – such as the concepts of introversion / extroversion, intelligence, schitzoprehnia…I could go on. For schizophrenia read Szazs. The problem with these theories is that they, like Freud, are essentially religious.
My second problem is that I can show, beyond reasonable doubt in scientific terms, that it is natural to believe. I am not saying that such beliefs are true and accurate in scientific terms. Similarly most laws are not scientific. Capital punishment serves only one purpose – revenge. Nor is the whole concept of Human Rights – if you look at it from a Darwinian or only a logical perspective. God, human rights, laws and all science theories are all human constructs. They are not fact as defined by science.
It takes great personal strength to be independent and sceptically of the pronouncements of authority figures. Just because I was raised to have a scientific view, does not give me the authority to claim that I do not act on belief in any area of my life. I will not be so arrogant. That makes me open to others views showing me when I am acting on spurious belief, instead of dogmatically closing my mind. As long as Atheists refuse to hear other people’s beliefs, how can Atheists expect the religious to hear theirs? I don’t want a war, I want to learn and move on.
The third problem I have is the growing evidence that belief is personally beneficial. Those beliefs may take many forms and be limited to personal belief in oneself, but that fact tells me it is fundamentally wrong to tell anyone their beliefs are delusional.
As John Lennon said “Whatever gets you through the night, its all right.” I add a condition ‘As long as you are not abusing another in the process’. Here I would add ‘As long as you are not bringing your beliefs into social decisions that affect others.’
The evidence shows that all but the closed minded will come to accept the findings of science, as long as they see personal value in doing so. Scientist must show that value if they want acceptance.
Freud was a Fraud and a Plagiarist. (Webster, 1995) He may have denounced religious beliefs and his own belief in Judaism, but Freud took his psychoanalytic model from Christianity. Association with Freud has brought psychology into disrepute and it will do the same for Atheism if allowed.
1. Both have a tripartite model. Super Ego – Ego – Id or as popularised by Berne (1970) Father – self – child, which is remarkable similar to Father – Son – Holy Ghost.
2. Freud placed this model in the ‘SUBconscious’ where it could not be seen or measured by any objective means. Much the same as the Christian ‘Soul.’ The subconscious and being unconscious are two different things.
3. To ‘see’ the subconscious you have to be analysed by a Freudian. This was undertaken by Freud or one of his inner circle. Similar to being a disciple and the training of Priests.
4. Anyone who disagreed with Freud was ostracised or accused of plagiarism. (Roazen, 1970) Much the same as the Catholic Church’s accusations of heresy.
5. Freud stated to be a balanced person you have to undertake psychoanalysis throughout your life. Rather like praying to God throughout your life.
6. Freud claimed to have undertaken scientific research. He never did. None of his case studies stand up to any scientific standard and he plagiarised several.
7. Freud’s theories were based on the analysis of dreams which no scientist would touch as data because they are entirely subjective self-report.
8. Freud believed everyone has a death instinct. Science says the opposite. Freud practiced the opposite. Despite oral cancer from smoking cigars and repeated surgery to his palette, Freud continued smoking until he no long could. If there is a phallic symbol, the most obvious is a cigar.
9. Freud perpetuated child abuse by accusing the victim of being the aggressor – The Oedipus Complex. Another idea plagiarized from ancient mythology. It is now clear a number of Freud’s clients were being abused but Freud covered it up for the sake of his income.
10. Despite the lack of evidence and logical contradictions, Freud’s ideas have entered the popular imagination and continued to be defended by his followers. Same as religion.
Freud was widely denounced by the press in 1995 by the intellectual press London Times and NY Times. The most striking headline was the UK Guardians “Freud the Fraud”
The President of the American Psychological Society (1998) declared “We are all behaviourists now” in his inaugural speech. What he meant is Psychology is now a behavioural science. Then they should drop the term Psychology because it means the study of the psyche but they are stuck with it and the damage to their reputations by Freud. The problem is that many psychological and psychiatric theories postulate things that cannot be directly seen or measured by science. Sir Cyril Burt who used twin studies to ‘prove’ inheritability of intelligence was also exposed as a fraud in 1996. Interesting to note that Burt was knighted by a grateful Queen!
Atheists who adopt Freud’s criticisms of religion risk the rebuke “But your explanation is based on the same model as ours!” Both Freud and the church exploited a human need for their own personal gain.
I didn’t see in the list Neil Shubin’s “Your Inner Fish” or Frans de Waal’s “Chimpanzee Politics”. They are not “atheistic’ in the sense of New Atheism, but show us just how closely we are related to the living world and arose from it instead of being divinely purposed and partitioned from it. Both are excellent reads.
Any well written commentaries to The Reason for God?
Excellent list. I would add "How Jesus Became Christian" by Barrie Wilson. It describes how the early Christians hijacked a Jewish Jesus and turned him into 'the Christ' and sowed the seeds for centuries of Christian anti-Semitism. Not strictly an atheist book but it shows how religious myths are created.
Christianity Unveiled by Baron d'Holbach
(A controversy in documents)
Nice list. I think I've read about 40 of those. Armstrong, Ehrman, de Waal, and Dawkins (at least in biology, not so much philosophy) are among some of my favorite authors.
Hi. I am the author of the best-selling Heathen's Guide to World Religions. I'm supposed to be drumming up a web presence, and was hoping to add my book to your list. Also sending out review copies if you do reviews.
Let me know.
"Why The Religious Right Is Wrong (About separation of church and state)"
By Robert Boston
Thank you so much for the list and reviews.
While watching panels and debates involving (on our side) the notables Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, Grayling, Schermer, I am constantly finding myself mystified by their non-use of the intellectual ammunition provided by Walter Richard Cassels' 'Supernatural Religion: An Enquiry Concerning the Reality of Divine Revelation', and David Friedrich Strauss's 'Life of Jesus' (Das Leben Jesu) and its later edition retitled (and completely revised, simplified for laymen, as the earlier work was aimed at his professional colleagues among the various university theologians) 'A New Life of Jesus', translated from "A Life of Jesus for the German People'. I cannot here emphasize enough the monumental importance of these books, nor over-estimate the rapturous, revelatory, epiphanies awaiting the readers of Strauss and Cassels.
It's great that Dawkins topped the list and had other books here as well. The same with the late, great Dr. Carl Sagan. I was amazed that his "Pale Blue Dot" didn't make the list. His pure poetry of science and evolution naturally includes many references to atheism and disbelief in all things supernatural. He does it with such naturalness and class! this list can't be complete without it. Also, one of the best websites I've come across is: http://www.edge.org It archives voluminous amounts of past articles and material and be sure not to miss the annual question posed to and answered by the best thinkers on the planet on atheistic topics. Enjoy!
So that's it?
Dawkins cannot be happy topping that list. The core if Dawkins' argument is that science lead to the great enlightenment and the greatest defence against ignorance and prejudice is science. Yet there is hardly a scientific book on the list.
Dawkins' own hero, and greatest atheist book, comes 10th, social scientists are also-rans and the greatest science fraudster of all time, Freud, ranks equal to Darwin!
Richard, you still have a mountain to climb!
I recommend "The God Delusion" because it gave me enough ammunition to intellectually hold my own against theists. And if you read it cover to cover, it can convert an open-minded theist into an atheist.
And you're wrong. Religion can hardly be considered to be based on a body of knowledge. The Bible can hardly be considered a book of knowledge. Do you honestly believe that Genesis has the best explanation for the origin and diversity of life, as well as of language (Tower of Babel story)?
And, you wrote a bunch of paragraphs over one simple phrase. Let me clarify by having the courtesy to give a clearer picture, instead of quote mining. Actually, checking the book I read, you seem to have misquoted Hawking. The quote is as follows:
"If we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we would know the mind of God."
So he was talking about God in a pantheistic way. He was talking about the wonder of finding a complete theory of physics, which makes sense because that's what the chapter is about.
There are objective reasons for law. They are the stability of society, which is fundamentally an evolutionary concept, since humans happen to be social creatures. Bears: not social, so I don't suppose they would need laws. Even ants follow certain guidelines.
Now while atheists like Dawkins may state that religion is delusional as a belief, this has nothing to do with whether or not you should believe in them. Optimally, everyone would hold as many true beliefs and as few false ones as possible, but it doesn't look likely right now. On a personal level, there is not that much damage in religion, as long as one doesn't take the Old Testament literally and kill people for capricious reasons. There are people who do however: they are mostly Muslim fundamentalists, and this is the problem with religion, that these people can be theologically justified in their actions, because their holy book commands them to do it!
Here's where the delusional part comes back in though: if anyone were to write a book today which commanded wholesale slaughter of various ethnic groups, and someone proceeded to carry out those commands, no sane lawyer would work on a defense that the book told him to kill people. They would plead insanity.
I read a number of those books but atheism still seems so unbelievable. Am I too human?
David Ramsay Steele: Atheism Explained. Open Court, 2008. One of the best, and I'm not sure why it is not already on the list.
Also Ibn Warraq's Why I Am Not a Muslim (Prometheus Books).
Please add "To Set Prometheus Free", by A. C. Grayling to the list. One of the greatest contemporary philosophers, and easily one of the most accessible, Grayling adds more detail to his views on religion, previously expressed in "Against All Gods" and the excellent "What Is Good". Grayling's clear reasoning and moderate approach make his essays a joy to read.
I'd like to recommend "The Non-existence of God" by Nicholas Everitt. Everitt can be a little deep and intense, and his book does requires a basic understanding of philosophy. But his arguments against God are absolutely brilliant in every possible way.
I’d like to add Pat Condells Godless and Free on your list. Hilarious and a bit provocative(in a good way, my opinnion) piece of literature.
Many thanks for the list, I now have reading for the next year to come!
Nice list. You didn’t mention Diaries of Dissension by Tommy Rodriguez. Excellent book. Doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Belongs atop that list. Here is the link: