My 4 Favorite Books for Christians

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 19, 2010 in General Atheism

As revealed in my new Recommended Books website, there are four books I recommend more highly than any others to Christians. They are relatively short and accessible books, and they may help to explain to Christians why most people on the planet – especially scientists and philosophers1 – reject Christianity.

jesus interruptedJesus, Interrupted
Bart Ehrman, 2010

Leading Bible scholar Bart Ehrman is  sympathetic with his believing audience, but gently explains how Biblical scholars – including Christian ones – have found that:

  • The Bible is full of contradictions.
  • The New Testament authors had different, and sometimes contradictory, theologies.
  • The Nicene Creed and the Trinity are not found in the Bible, but are constructs of later church fathers.
  • Traditional doctrines like the divinity of Christ and heaven and hell do not come from the teachings of the historical Jesus.
  • and more.

This is a must-read book for lay believers who have not been through seminary to learn these things.

guy harrison book50 reasons people give for believing in a god
Guy Harrison, 2008

Guy Harrison offers a short chapter on each of the top 50 reasons give for believing in a god, including:

  • “My God is obvious.”
  • “Faith is a good thing.”
  • “Our world is too beautiful to be an accident.”
  • “Better safe than sorry.”
  • “My god answers prayers.”
  • “My religion makes more sense than all the others.”

In plain language, Harrison explains these reasons are not convincing to unbelievers or people of other faiths. Often, the skeptical objections come from technical philosophy, but you would never guess it because Harrison presents all of them in common-sense form.

christian delusion coverThe Christian Delusion
John Loftus (ed.), 2010

A tour-de-force against Christian belief, each chapter is written by an expert on its topic. Several chapters are, quite simply, the best short works on that argument ever written. Chapters include:

  • Christian Belief Through the Lens of Cognitive Science
  • The Bible and Modern Scholarship
  • Yahweh is a Moral Monster
  • The Darwinian Problem of Evil
  • Why the Resurrection is Unbelievable
  • Christianity Does Not Provide the Basis for Morality

…and others. I will agree with philosopher Michael Martin in saying that “John Loftus and his distinguished colleagues have produced arguably the best critique of the Christian faith the world has ever known.” And, historian Dale Allison: “Forget Dawkins. If you are looking for a truly substantial, well-informed criticism of the Christian religion, this is your book.”

carrier book coverSense & Goodness Without God
Richard Carrier, 2005

Often, Christians fight legitimate doubts with all their might because they’ve been told the alternative is a hopeless, meaningless, purposeless, amoral existence. But that’s not true. In Sense & Goodness Without God, historian and philosopher Richard Carrier offers a thorough, fulfilling alternative worldview, one based on reason and evidence rather than magic and ancient scripture. This alternative is Metaphysical Naturalism, and it is the worldview of most scientists and philosophers, along with millions of other people who live lives full of hope, meaning, purpose, and morality.

Without God, what can be said about knowledge, free will, cosmic origins, the mind, the meaning of life, emotion, morality, politics, and beauty? It’s all here, presented as a cohesive whole.

  1. See here and here. []

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Ken Pulliam April 19, 2010 at 6:26 am

Luke,

these are good choices although I didn’t find Guy Harrison’s book particularly impressive. May I make a couple of additional selections:

1) Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary by Ken Daniels. Ken was a missionary in Africa with Wycliffe Bible Translators when doubts overtook him. In this autobiographical book, he explains in detail the specific doubts that led to his deconversion and how he tried to find answers but the answers were unconvincing. It is written on a popular level but its amazingly thorough in covering many of the serious intellectual problems within evangelical Christianity.

2. Religion Explained: The Human Instincts That Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors by Pascal Boyer. This book uses the latest neuroscience to explain how religious beliefs have evolved among the people of the world. It will force one to utilize John Loftus’ Outsider Test for Faith. Once one sees and understands how these ideas have come about, it will be difficult for an honest person to cling to them.

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Robert Slowley April 19, 2010 at 6:48 am

Bert Ehrman and Peter Williams (the warden of Tyndale House) debated the trustworthiness of the New Testament documents on Premier radio’s Unbelievable program.

It’s quite a nice debate as you get the back and forth between Ehrman and a highly regarded Evangelical scholar. FWIW I found Williams far more convincing, but everyone should listen to the debate and make up their own minds.

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Tom April 19, 2010 at 7:22 am

I completely agree with including “50 reasons”. That book probably almost singlehandedly turned my feelings about religious criticism from curiosity to an intense drive. As a christian college student, i had been grappling with certain issues, and found this book, and read it more than once (albeit out of order, the neat sections is one of the great things about the book). After reading this, i went to the biggest book i knew about atheism – The God Delusion, and then to others, which cemented my feelings and thoughts on the issue. But as the first major book in my deconversion, “50 reasons” will always have a special place in my heart. I always think of it first when considering which book to give to a friend. Great seeing it on a list like this.

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lukeprog April 19, 2010 at 7:22 am

Ken,

Harrison’s book isn’t a knock-down book against Christianity, and wasn’t meant to be. Rather, it was meant to raise some important questions for everyday believers. It’s best for people who haven’t though much about these issues before.

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Briang April 19, 2010 at 7:41 am

“they may help to explain to Christians why most people on the planet – especially scientists and philosophers1 – reject Christianity.”

I highly doubt that any of those books will help explain why most people on the planet reject Christianity. Probably, the biggest reason people reject Christianity, is that they are convinced that Mohammad is God’s prophet. This seems most likely because Islam, with 1.5 billion members, is the second largest religious group.

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Charles April 19, 2010 at 8:31 am

50 Reasons isn’t about why people actually believe in God. It’s about the reasons they give for why they believe in God. I read it shortly after I came out to my parents. I thought it was well done.

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lukeprog April 19, 2010 at 8:33 am

Briang,

I dunno, it’s a complicated subject. Unfortunately, the most common way to test metaphysical possibility is just ‘Can you conceive of such a thing?’ I cannot conceive of a spaceless building, a timeless thinking process, or an immaterial mind. But O’Connor says he can conceive of an immaterial mind. So… I’m not sure what else there is to say.

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Sherry Peyton April 19, 2010 at 9:15 am

I have read and reviewed some of Ehrman’s books. I categorically endorse them as must reads. However I am a committed Christian as well. I continue to wonder why atheists remain stuck in what we refer to as the grade school of interpretation–fundamentalism. Most Christians have matured to a fuller and deeper faith than the simplistic psychologically motivated nonsense espoused by most of the creationist/YEC’ers. We find them both silly and dangerous as do you, I assume.

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Briang April 19, 2010 at 9:40 am

Briang,I dunno, it’s a complicated subject. Unfortunately, the most common way to test metaphysical possibility is just ‘Can you conceive of such a thing?’ I cannot conceive of a spaceless building, a timeless thinking process, or an immaterial mind. But O’Connor says he can conceive of an immaterial mind. So… I’m not sure what else there is to say.  

I’m a little confused as to what this has to do with my comment. Did it get posted on the wrong article? or maybe there was more that got chopped off? In any case my point was that most people world wide don’t reject Christianity for atheism, but because they accept another religion.

An immaterial mind doesn’t bother me so much. Time is troubling. My own intuitions would lend me to think that time is a fix constant of the world and nothing can be outside it. It was only on reflecting on the science and theology which convinced me that my intuitions were wrong. (Nether one was convincing on it’s own.)

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lukeprog April 19, 2010 at 10:35 am

Oops, I think I was looking through the comments and thought your comment was on the Timothy O’Connor post, because the next most recent post right after yours was on that post.

In response to your comment here: Sure, Christians partly reject other religions because they are incompatible with the one they have experienced to be true: Christainity. But I think that many Christians reject other religions because they think the miracle stories of Hinduism and Mormonism and Scientology are bunk, for the same reasons that atheists think they are bunk.

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Silas April 19, 2010 at 10:36 am

I can’t conceive of an immaterial anything. What does that even mean? This is perhaps the biggest problem I have with theism.

I don’t think mathematical truths or words exist, either.

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lukeprog April 19, 2010 at 10:40 am

Silas,

BTW, William Lane Craig agrees with you about the existence of abstract objects.

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Silas April 19, 2010 at 10:47 am

BTW, William Lane Craig agrees with you about the existence of abstract objects.

Yes, he believes in immaterial minds, which are something entirely different, apparantly. Do you know how he reconciles the two? It would be an interesting read.

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Jeff H April 19, 2010 at 3:57 pm

2. Religion Explained: The Human Instincts That Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors by Pascal Boyer. This book uses the latest neuroscience to explain how religious beliefs have evolved among the people of the world. It will force one to utilize John Loftus’ Outsider Test for Faith. Once one sees and understands how these ideas have come about, it will be difficult for an honest person to cling to them.  

I wholeheartedly agree with this. I thought that book was stellar.

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Evan April 19, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Most Christians have matured to a fuller and deeper faith than the simplistic psychologically motivated nonsense espoused by most of the creationist/YEC’ers. We find them both silly and dangerous as do you, I assume. Sherry Peyton(

Yes, most Christians aren’t so silly. That’s why 47% of Americans agree that the earth was created 10000 years ago or less and that God specially created mankind in his present form more or less.

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Joshua Blanchard April 19, 2010 at 4:35 pm

I wonder what one has to have read in order to say meaningfully of any book that “several chapters are, quite simply, the best short works on that argument ever written.” This is maximally high praise!

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Tom Molloy April 19, 2010 at 4:46 pm

I highly doubt that any of those books will help explain why most people on the planet reject Christianity. Probably, the biggest reason people reject Christianity, is that they are convinced that Mohammad is God’s prophet. This seems most likely because Islam, with 1.5 billion members, is the second largest religious group.

Yeah, I was wondering the same thing. I don’t know where the data is coming from but I can’t find ANYTHING that says the majority of people reject religion. Atheism is a very recent development in the history of ideas and is a very small amount of people worldwide. Here are the top charts I found on google:

http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html
Notice that Christians are the number one group and the second is Islam. So, like you said, the major reason people reject Christianity is for ANOTHER monotheistic religion. Also notice that amongst the 16% of nonreligious, half are theistic but nonreligious in what I take to be an institutional way.

http://www.religioustolerance.org/worldrel.htm
Atheists are 2% of the population, Christians are 33%. Muslims 19%–the 2nd.

I’ve never heard anyone ever seriously suggest that Atheism is dominant in size (very vocal, yes, but not dominant in size).

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lukeprog April 19, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Joshua,

Well, these are very specific topics, often covered in meandering blog posts or else at much greater length. I haven’t read everything, but I haven’t read a better brief coverage of the cosmology of the Bible (for example) as in that chapter in The Christian Delusion. Honestly.

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Charles April 19, 2010 at 6:07 pm

I can’t find ANYTHING that says the majority of people reject religion.

That’s because they don’t. They just reject Christianity.

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Edson April 20, 2010 at 12:08 am

But I think that many Christians reject other religions because they think the miracle stories of Hinduism and Mormonism and Scientology are bunk, for the same reasons that atheists think they are bunk.

I think a bit of clarification need be made here about the concept of Christians “rejecting other religions”. It is not merely the issue of specific truth or miracle claims of a particular religion that govern Christians relationship with other religions.

It has something to do with connecting various points determined by scientific and historical facts and experience to bring about a complete and bigger picture that determines the relationship of Christians with people of other religions or philosophy.

Just as right ingredients make a good meal complete for taste and health, miracle stories (or other facts) of each religion or philosophy should add up to make a religion or philosophy meaningful spiritually and intellectually. We don’t get that in atheism, or in Hinduism or in Islam. Of course, from Christian perspective.

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Edson April 20, 2010 at 12:36 am

why most people on the planet – especially scientists and philosophers – reject Christianity.

6.5 billion people is the approximate total population of the planet. About 3 billions call themselves Christians. Hindus are about 1 billion and their philosophy does not comment on other religions. In fact, theirs is live-and-let-others-live philosophy. The only people who reject Christianity in some aspects are atheists (buddhists and liberal Christians included), Muslims and Jews. At least, the majority do not reject Christianity.

To answer the question, I think some (and not most) people reject Christianity for precise the same reason (albeit for different perspectives) why Christians do not accept other religions. It is just that these people are connecting the dots and the picture of Christianity does not come. It is really a puzzling phenomenon that we have the same history and the same facts but reach different conclusions. The controlling factor here must be lying somewhere in our brain physiology.

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thomas April 20, 2010 at 3:40 am

“Traditional doctrines like the divinity of Christ and heaven and hell do not come from the teachings of the historical Jesus”

Very controversial. A good case can be made for the divine authority of the historical Jesus from Mark and Paul only (the earliest sources.) In fact the creed which Paul is quoting in 1.cor.15:3b-8 goes back within a few years after Jesus´s crucifixion and it contains high christology (as I´m sure you know.) Bart Ehrman might disagree but I hope you read the other side aswell. Scholars like Craig Evans, N.T.Wright, Gary Habermas, Darrell Bock and Craig Blomberg don´t agree with Ehrman at all.

“The Bible is full of contradictions. — The New Testament authors had different, and sometimes contradictory, theologies.”

This a very puzzling argument, for me. Different individuals have their own point of view, traditions, sources, personal experiences, etc. When these independent writers write their own account of Jesus´s life, of course they are going to be different! This argument rests on the false premise that the NT cannot contain contradictionary information if it is going to tell reliable history. But surely that´s false. Whenever there are independent reports of the same event, there are going to be differences and contradictions. The main thing is that Mark, Matthew, Luke, John and Paul all agree in the main issues. So I don´t understand this argument at all.

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Reginald Selkirk April 20, 2010 at 8:22 am

50 Reasons isn’t about why people actually believe in God. It’s about the reasons they give for why they believe in God.

That’s an important distinction. I cannot believe that many people were convinced in their faith by Pascal’s wager, for example. And yet, if people are put on the spot to come up with an answer, a sizable percentage will include that in their top few reasons.

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Al Moritz April 20, 2010 at 10:20 am

This link from answeringinfidels.com contains an absolutely devastating review of Carrier’s book:

http://snipurl.com/vn9vj

To be honest, I simply cannot see how someone can be impressed by Carrier, let alone take him seriously. If Carrier was all that atheism has to offer it would be in dire straights. Fortunately, there are defenders of atheism that are on a vastly higher level, and thus not an outright embarrassment for that world view (not that their arguments would convince me).

Luke, if you want Christians to read atheist literature without the unwanted effect of having their faith-o-meter spike through the roof in response, I suggest you stop recommending Carrier. How you can be so enthusiastic about Carrier is, frankly, beyond me.

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Al Moritz April 20, 2010 at 10:35 am

By the way, a while ago an atheist scored high points with me in a discussion when he called Carrier an ‘amateur’.

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Michael April 20, 2010 at 10:43 am

Thought I would throw a couple things out there.

Ehrman’s Jesus Interrupted was disappointing to me. The contradictions he proposes are useless, for if they had been in entire agreeance, he would have dismissed them as contrived. Check out my post on this on my site.

Craig has recently baffled me with his anti-realism. It seems weird to deny that abstract things exist but that an immaterial mind does, yes. But it is feasible. On the other hand, if one accepts the ontological argument from S5 logic, as Craig does, it seems one can “prove” the existence of abstract objects in a similar way, as a friend of mine has proposed here:

http://www.doxazotheos.com/?page_id=123.

One final thing. It does not seem to me that the “fact,” in quotes because I know that some don’t agree but many do, that most people are naturally more likely to accept belief in an immaterial being than not is evidence against an immaterial being. It seems that this is nearly equally likely, or even less likely, on naturalistic evolution as it is on monotheism, since most monotheists hold that God in fact places this intuition in us since he does exist. It seems like it is a silly argument either way. It is neither evidence for nor against unless one can show it is unlikely on one more so than the other. In many situations, intuition is used as evidence for something, like the existence of other people and an external world. We have no more reason to be solipsists or think that some scientist has our brain in a vat and is poking an prodding here and there to cause us to “experience” things, yet not many hold to either of these ideas, but rather accept the intuition that there is an external world and other people really do exist apart from our imagination. So it is questionable to begin with to assume intuitions decrease the likelihood of something, and usually we have to use evidence of some extent to overcome these intuitions.

Overall, I agree with the list except for Ehrman, because there are many that have answers to his objections, and he is hypocritical nonetheless in his thinking, which I think is due to his originally flawed concept of biblical inerrancy, and it has crept into his now atheistic work, as he has unreal ideas of what should be.

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Michael April 20, 2010 at 10:52 am

Carrier has some flaws, but so does everyone it seems like. He has some things that are valuable, and some that aren’t. You can always learn something no matter how bad a book is. The God Delusion was terrible, yet there were a few parts here or there that could have been promising or has led to healthy discussion.

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lukeprog April 20, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Al,

I’m very interested to read that review of Carrier, thanks.

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MauricXe May 3, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Craig starts a “rebuttal” of Ehrman’s work:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zANl-OcPnfI&feature=related

I think its worth looking at since one of the books on your list is addressed here. I’m going to watch it tomorrow.

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