This is the sixth and last part of 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.
I will finish this series with three books that I really enjoyed, books that span the history of Atheism from ancient to modern times.
Epicurus, who lived about 300 BCE. rejected the idea that gods were behind natural events, and insisted that there were no gods that could do us harm. The record of Epicurus’ ideas consists of only fragmentary texts until about 60 BCE, when Lucretius wrote his long poem, De Rerum Naturum (The Nature of Things), in which he elaborates and defends the ideas of Epicurus.
I read the version translated by A. E. Stallings into plain modern English. Her translation is delightful.
The 1700s are called The Age of Voltaire. This is because his writings, which spanned that century, had an enormous influence on discourse throughout the West. Although we can’t say with certainty that he was an Atheist, he certainly was actively critical of Christianity and the Catholic Church. Since the Church was still a major power during this period, Voltaire was chased all over Europe for expressing his views.
The Portable Voltaire, edited by Ben Ray Redman, is a collection of long excerpts from Voltaire’s writings, including the novella Candide, selections from his Philosophical Dictionary, several letters, and much more. The Philosophical Dictionary, which contains much of his critique of religion, is available separately, for example in an edition edited by John R. Iverson.
In the last quarter of the 1800s, Robert G. Ingersoll, the “Great Agnostic”, toured the United States, packing auditoriums with thousands of people eager to hear his lectures analyzing and mocking Christianity and religion in general. More popular than Mark Twain, his speaking even impressed Mark Twain himself.
His modus operandi was mainly to point out the contradictions in the Bible, but also to show how certain beliefs had silly or illogical consequences. It is interesting that complete transcripts of his lectures were published in local newspapers, and that the reporters actually noted in the texts when people laughed, applauded, or shouted agreement!
Ingersoll’s writings comprise 12 large volumes, but collections of speeches, letters and articles are available in many editions. I read the Complete Lectures of Col. R. G. Ingersoll, a reprint available from Kessinger Publishing, via Amazon.com.