The first decade of the new millennium is nearing a close. “Best of the Decade” lists for music, movies, sports, and more are spreading like wildfire across the internet. It is time for my own contribution: the best atheism books of the decade.
Nonbelief claims one of the greatest success stories of the 20th century, having skyrocketed from 0.2% of world population in 1900 to 15.3% in 2000.1 And, contrary to believers’ predictions, societies that secularized freely have become the most well-developed, wealthiest, most democratic, most free, most entrepreneurial, least corrupt, least violent, most peaceful, healthiest, happiest, most egalitarian, best educated, most charitable, and most environmentally compassionate societies in the entire world.2
But nonbelief did not see major popular attention in the United States until a few atheistic books hit the bestseller lists: Sam Harris’ The End of Faith (2004), Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (2006), Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (2006), and Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great (2007).
These authors were dubbed the New Atheists, but the only thing new about them was that their books were selling. Nonbelievers have been saying many of the same things as the “New Atheists” since the dawn of recorded history: from Greek philosopher Epicurus (b. 341 BCE) to Arab philosopher Al Ma’arri (b. 973) to Catholic priest Jean Meslier (b. 1664) to political leader Robert Ingersoll (b. 1833) to the world’s greatest living intellectual Noam Chomsky (b. 1928).
I mention the New Atheists because you will not find their books listed here. This is a list of the best atheism books of the decade, not the most popular ones.
So, without further ado…
Former preacher John W. Loftus, who studied under the #1 Christian apologist in the world, William Lane Craig, explains how he lost his faith and why evangelical Christianity is false. American Christians who are sick of Dawkins & company misunderstanding their faith at every turn will be glad to finally read an atheist who thoroughly understands the Christianity they live and believe. Christian apologist Norman Geisler has recommended the book to his students, and Christian philosopher Mark Linville writes that “Evangelicals cannot afford to ignore Why I Became an Atheist.” This is an atheist book written directly to Christians which has been highly recommended from both sides of the fence. The new edition was just released in October 2009.
Nearly all theistic arguments claim that God is the “best explanation” of some phenomena: consciousness, apparent design, the universe, and so on. But can “God did it” really be a good explanation of anything? This central question has been begging for a thorough examination for centuries, and Dawes has finally delivered. Clear, careful, and readable, Theism and Explanation explains in explicit terms exactly what is wrong with using “God did it” as an explanation, and also proposes what a successful theistic explanation would look like. (The problem is, we’ve never seen one.) If justice prevails, this book will shape a major part of the theism-atheism debate for the next few decades.
Leading philosopher of religion Graham Oppy painstakingly analyzes all the major arguments for and against the existence of God in their strongest forms, and finds that none of them are 100% convincing. (But, because there are no good reasons to believe in God, he is an atheist.) No other book critiques these arguments with such depth and thoroughness (he even examines such obscure arguments as “Arguments from Puzzling Phenomena”), and Oppy is careful to engage the very latest work in the field. Not for the faint of heart or mind.
Theists often argue that without God there are no objective moral facts. Atheists scoff at this assertion, but fail to present a successful case for atheistic moral realism. When I lost my faith in God I surveyed all the approaches to moral realism that were available: virtue ethics, contractarianism, consequentialism, Kantianism, Cornell realism, non-naturalism, and so on. Since all of them failed to make their case (and in fact usually used arguments that looked just like bad theistic arguments), I had to admit there was no better reason to accept moral realism than theism. That is, until, I read A Better Place. Therein, Fyfe presents the first plausible theory of naturalistic moral realism I’ve ever read. Fyfe has a thorough understanding of the philosophical issues (he took 12 years of graduate study in moral philosophy), but he writes in plain talk, and his case is compelling. This is the cutting edge of moral theory.
[Buy on Lulu.]
Like Arguing About Gods, Everitt’s book is another careful examination of the arguments for and against the existence of God by a leading philosopher of religion. It even introduces a new argument against God’s existence, the Argument from Scale. But perhaps the most important chapters are the first two, on the role of reason when considering the existence of God, and the prospects for reformed epistemology about God. More readable than Arguing About Gods, Everitt’s book is an excellent introduction to the issues for a senior philosophy undergraduate or those of comparable education.
In Logic and Theism, leading philosopher of logic and probability J.H. Sobel turns his skeptical gaze to theism and finds it badly lacking. In his scholarly review of this “Acid Bath for Theism,” William Lane Craig said “This is an impressive book, a truly extraordinary achievement. I can think of no other treatment of theism, whether by theist or non-theist, comparable to it.” Sobel insists that the logical problem of evil is not dead, and presents a reformulated version of it. He also launches new attacks at the ontological, cosmological, teleological arguments, as well as arguments from miracles. Despite its strengths, this is the least accessible and most poorly edited book on this list.
Most books about the existence of God, even Everitt’s The Non-Existence of God, consider half a dozen arguments for God and only a single argument against God: the argument from evil. The Impossibility of God is an important collection of 33 articles which present arguments for the impossibility of God. Here you will find definitional disproofs, evil disproofs, single attribute disproofs, multiple attribute disproofs, and doctrinal disproofs. A welcome entry into a field of study normally dominated by theistic talk.
This followup to The Impossibility of God collects 32 articles that argue not for the impossibility of God, but for his improbability. Included are several cosmological, teleological, nonbelief, and inductive evil arguments against God’s existence.
One of the best atheism books of the decade was written by a Christian. William Rowe’s evidential argument from evil is perhaps the version of the problem of evil most discussed since the 1970s. In The God Beyond Belief, Christian philosopher Nick Trakakis summarizes the debate so far and concludes that neither of the major theistic responses to the argument – that “God is mysterious” or that “God has an excuse” – is persuasive. This is a very helpful introduction to an important philosophical argument about theism, which is the same thing I’m trying to do with the Kalam Cosmological Argument in my series Mapping the Kalam.
Honorable mentions include Can God Be Free? (2006) by William Rowe, The Cambridge Companion to Atheism (2003) edited by Michael Martin, The Wisdom to Doubt (2006) and Prolegomena to a Philosophy of Religion (2005) by J. L. Schellenberg, Sense & Goodness Without God (2005) by Richard Carrier, God: The Failed Hypothesis (2007) by Victor Stenger, Natural Atheism (2004) and Atheism Advanced (2008) by David Eller, Godless (2008) by Dan Barker, and 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God (2008) by Guy P. Harrison.
- According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, a trusted source on religious demographics, “The number of nonreligionists… throughout the 20th century has skyrocketed from 3.2 million in 1900… to 918 million in AD 2000.” World population in 1900 was 1.65 billion, and in 2000 it was 6 billion. [↩]
- For a defense of each contention in this list of qualities, see my post Society Without God. [↩]