I’m a member of a book club here in Stockholm, Sweden, consisting of people not aware/concerned about the type of issues discussed here or within the humanist movement. What one convincing book would you recommend that I suggest for this club to make them aware of "our issues". I guess that would refer to "religiosity vs secularism" or perhaps about disproving god or some such related topic? ("Evolution vs ID" is not a relevant issue in Sweden though.)
It can only be one book due to the nature of the club. I’m considering Dawkins The God Illusion (that I have not read) but I want to make sure that the one book is "the best" and even if I don’t doubt Dawkins book is great I’m thinking that maybe it is hyped right now because it is so new?
The club participants are all well educated and fluent in English but I’d still prefer the English in the book to not be too complex or academic.
It’s a hard question ... there are a lot of good books, but some are hard to find, others are academic or hard to read.
The virtue of Dawkins is that his book is widely available, and his arguments are lucid and clear. I have a few problems with his approach, but on balance I think it’s probably your best option. It will certainly encourage debate.
Have not read the Dawkins book, but I could not finish the Harris one The End Of Faith, the intellectual sister to God Delusion) for all the venom and rhetoric therein. Doug, I believe you and I have similar problems with Dawkins’s position…do you know, is the Dawkins book more balanced and less a polemic than the Harris book?
For a balanced approach I would bet big on the Sagan book (The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God.) being most readable, palatable, and illuminating, but I also have not yet read that.
Dawkins’s book is rhetorically similar to Harris’s End of Faith, IMO, but much more complete a treatment. He isn’t so much talking about faith per se, but about arguments for and against the existence of god. So it’s a bit more meaty a topic ...
Dawkins is at times venomous, as you say, but actually I have at times found him worse in person than in the book ... (Although he’s more nuanced than Harris). One option is to pick up a copy in the bookstore and give it a quick flip-through. There is a lot of good info there.
Sagan’s book is excellent as well. It’s not quite as focused or controversial, so perhaps less likely to spur discussion. But yes, that’s definitely another great option.
Well, Sam Harris attempts to go after Religious Dogma, but he does a rather poor job of it. I have even sent him a message, via his website, that I thought he missed a few things or even could have covered a few things a bit better. It also seemed like he was picking on Islam more than Christianity. I could think of a lot of things to point out about Christianity that is controlling and oppressing, even in this day and age that he completely missed. If he had pointed these things out, he MIGHT have had an even more convincing book, IMHO.
George is absolutely right about Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World. It isn’t so much about religion, but rather about rationalism, pseudoscience and the paranormal, and the value of the scientific enterprise. But it’s an absolute classic.
Shermer’s books should fit the criteria as well. I find his style a little dryer, FWIW.
I’ve read: Letter to a Christian Nation and End of Faith by Sam Harris God Delusion by Richard Dawkins god is not great - How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett (not finished yet)
and scanned God: The Failed Hypothesis by Victor Stenger Why People Believe Wierd Things by Michael Schermer
IMHO, I wouldn’t go with the Schermer, Stenger or Dennett books. Schermer is dry and broad. Stenger’s is narrow. Dennett is long and exhaustive: it’s great philosophy but not good for book club reading. Sam Harris gets incredibly polemical and I agree with him in many instances (not on torture or his hypocrisy and near-sightedness on Buddhism). Letter is great but it might be too provincial to the U.S.
That leaves the Hitchens and the Dawkins. They are both stylishly written and contain some dastardly cuts and scathing indictments. Hitchens uses literature a fair amount more than Dawkins and science that much less while Dawkins does the opposite. In a way, I appreciate Hitchens’ breadth a great deal and his wit is acidic…some would say cruel to his opponent. Dawkins can be so as well, but his scientific arguments are more detailed and often elegant. It’s a question of style. I’d read chapters online to determine your choice.
I look forward to reading the Sagan, but haven’t gotten to it yet.
Hope that wasn’t too long.
I am not sure if I agree, Peter. Does it get any better than The Dragon in My Garage chapter?
Agreed. I loved that argument and entertained some people at my undergrad institution while I argued with a street preacher. I guess that “oomph” was an amorphous term so I should use a better term and I think that my perception of that “oomph” came from dougsmith’s thinking that a book could “spur discussion.” So I sensed that something that is a bit inflammatory might do that well. Sagan was an erudite and exacting man whose genius should be celebrated the world over.
But what might be great about a book like The God Delusion is that it invites a great discussion both of the logic and illogic of theism and atheism and importantly the style with which one broaches this debate. Dawkins’s or Hitchens’s styles bring that to the forefront because they are irreverent without engaging in the torture discussion that Harris gets into.
That said, I should think that Harris’s The End of Faith might really generate an enormous amount of discussion precisely because of his engagement with the torture issue and the somewhat strange acquiescence to Eastern mysticism.
Nonetheless! I think The Dragon in My Garage chapter is up there with the Russell’s “celestial teapot.”
Sagan’s “Demon Haunted World” is very good. I read it years ago and need to read it again.
I agree pretty much with the criticisms of Dawkins and Harris on this thread. Harris in particular seems extremely focused and unyielding in his attack on faith. While I agree with much of his take on it, I find fault with some of it.
I’m reading Shermer’s “Why People Believe Weird Things” right now and finding it very informative. I like how he kind of meanders between various subjects and uses his personal experiences as frames for his points.
The Varieties of Scientific Experience by Sagan, taken from his Gifford lectures, is also a pretty good read, and focused on the relationship between science and either religion or the things religion is purported to offer that science doesn’t. Also, I never tire of recommending Thomas Kida’s Don’t Believe Everything You Think, a great concise listing of common reasons why perfectly rational, intelligent people can believe utter nonsense through typical thought patterns and errors. It doesn’t go into the evolutionary hypotheses about why we have these habits, but it is accessible to anyone and likely to make headway even with the religious believer because it lacks the confrontational tone of some of the other books suggested here.