This is an attempt to define a core set of books that any Atheist, or anyone who wishes to know what Atheism is about, should read and have in his or her library. With the advent of the New Atheism, the approach of Atheists to the problems of religion has changed, and anyone who claims to understand it will need to stay up to date.
[Since it is trivially easy to find books on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, I use only titles and authors (or editors) in the bibliographic entries.]
The New Atheists
The New Atheists tend to be distinguished from earlier Atheists by several factors: they emphasize the disparities between scientific knowledge and religious belief, rather than emphasizing the contradictions within religious beliefs and scriptures; they tend to be more forceful and less tentative in their arguments and condemnation of religion; they do not accept the “accommodationist” claim that religion and science can be reconciled; they understand that religious beliefs can and should be discussed openly and honestly.
Because of the New Atheists’ convictions, forthrightness, and forcefulness, religious people tend to consider them to be arrogant. This reaction is due mainly to the fact that open discussion of religion has been off-limits for many decades, as if it were not just another human product and activity. Atheists, of course, find the plain speaking to be refreshing.
The “founding documents” of the New Atheism are these: The God Delusion, R. Dawkins; Breaking the Spell, D. Dennett; The End of Faith, S. Harris; god is not Great, C. Hitchens; God, the Failed Hypothesis, V. Stenger.
All of these authors have other published works related to religion and Atheism (as will be seen), and on other subjects. Dawkins is a biologist, Dennett is a philosopher, Harris is a neuropsychologist, Hitchens is an essayist and biographer, and Stenger is a physicist. In fact, each is well-respected in his own field as well as among Atheists.
In his writings on religion and Atheism, each tends to emphasize arguments based on his particular background, although there is necessarily some overlap in several areas: science versus religion [of course]; the debunking of “proofs” of a god’s existence; scriptural errors and contradictions; Christianity’s sordid history; secular versus religious morality.
Finally, the New Atheists generally critique religion at the level that religious people understand it themselves. That is, they do not delve into the highly abstract (and abstruse) arguments of theology or the detailed analyses of the “higher criticism”. I will provide references to such delving in subsequent posts.