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50 Great Myths About Atheism [Kindle Edition]

Russell Blackford
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Tackling a host of myths and prejudices commonly leveled at atheism, this captivating volume bursts with sparkling, eloquent arguments on every page. The authors rebut claims that range from atheism being just another religion to the alleged atrocities committed in its name.

  • An accessible yet scholarly commentary on hot-button issues in the debate over religious belief
  • Teaches critical thinking skills through detailed, rational argument
  • Objectively considers each myth on its merits
  • Includes a history of atheism and its advocates, an appendix detailing atheist organizations, and an extensive bibliography
  • Explains the differences between atheism and related concepts such as agnosticism and naturalism

Product Description


Overall, Blackford and Schu¨ klenk s work is avaluable contribution to the debate between believers andnon–believers.   (Journal of ContemporaryReligion, 1 August 2014)

Review appeared in Times Higher Education – 2 January 2014

"I am happy to report that Blackford and Schüklenk scollaboration has given us an intellectually rigorous yetcompositionally relaxed book. It is clearly written, clear–headed,and amusing on occasion (especially with the inclusion of comicsfrom the Jesus & Mo website). It is simply organized, as thetitle indicates, with the authors taking on the 50 Myths one byone." (Neworld Review, Vol 6. No. 46)

I recommend it as useful reading both to those who arefreethinkers (whatever they call themselves, be it atheists,agnostics or secularists) and to "believers", particularly thehard–core religious ones, though it might prove "heavy–going" forthem at times, and they are unlikely to be able to suspend beliefand permit scepticism to intrude into their "blindfaith".   (New Nurturing Potential, 1 September2013)



It has been my lot to have encountered all but threeof the 50 Great Myths about Atheism listed by Blackford andSchüklenk, most of them many times. It is useful to have themall listed in one book and so readably and authoritativelyrefuted. The long final chapter treats theological arguments withmore respect than I would have bothered with, but the refutation isall the more convincing for that. The whole book builds inexorablyto its conclusion: the Reasonableness of Atheism.

Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion

With humor, wisdom and sound philosophy, Blackford andSchüklenk dismantle 50 important myths about atheism.  Indoing so, they have done atheists and religious believers a greatservice, for putting aside the myths enables us to see where realdifferences remain.

Peter Singer, Princeton University

"Atheists are routinely called aggressive, buttheir strong values include a tolerance rarely shown them by thereligious. This book′s calm ripostes defend atheists everywhereagainst unreasoned assaults from the dwindling faithful." 

Polly Toynbee, The Guardian

Busted! Fifty times over! So say Blackfordand Schüklenk the New Mythbusters withreason, conviction and style. I enjoyed this bookimmensely.

Graham Oppy, Monash University

A brilliantly wide–ranging exploration of misconceptionsabout atheism and their relationship to our ideas about minds,human nature, morality for pretty much everything we careabout.

Ophelia Benson, co–author of Does God HateWomen?

This is a book that s as enjoyable to read as it isinformative. Sharp, clever, and witty, it systematically dismantlesmisconceptions about atheism. Even God could learn something fromit!

Ronald A. Lindsay, President, Center for Inquiry

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  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 7518 KB
  • Print Length: 287 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0470674059
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 1 edition (12 Aug. 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
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  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clear and Compelling 17 May 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Great book with clear and compelling arguments. Amongst many things, it deals well with some of the disgraceful criticism of atheists we sometimes hear - attributing any negative character trait to atheists - when, for the most part, atheists are just average, ordinary people with all the vices and virtues of anyone else. It looks for all the world like a tedious mud-slinging exercise. One fault that occurred to me whilst reading, it seemed a little over-reliant on quoting Alister McGrath and Dinesh D'Sousa.
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious, and mostly very satisfying 25 Aug. 2013
By J.A. Rousseau - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I spent a little time mulling over whether this should be a four- or a five-star review. In truth, I'd have liked to award a 4.5 star rating, because the book is perhaps slightly too ambitious, with the authors setting a standard that was always going to be difficult to full satisfy. The main concern I have can perhaps be summarized in saying that it's sometimes unclear who the audience of the book is intended to be, and the tone and content of various chapters ends up seeming slightly inconsistent as a result. Sometimes one gets the impression that the book is "arming" atheists against the caricatures of theists, and at other times, that theists are being addressed in an attempt to dispel their confusions. This gives rise to an unevenness in the level of detail, and also the tone, of various chapters.

As for the reasons why I'd want to award at least 4, and ideally 4.5 stars, the book is enormously instructive. For the patient reader, the level of detail in many of the chapters is superb, and even for "myths" that you're already very familiar with, you'll often find a citation or example you didn't yet know about. The book begins by asking you to consider what are quite tricky questions, even before proceeding with discussing the myths - namely in discussions of who "counts" as an atheist, and what should count as myths. In my view, this could be described as one of the more challenging elements of the book to write, in that there are all sorts of opportunities for readers to take issue even at that early stage, rejecting the authors' definitions, and choosing to adopt an uncharitable attitude to the rest of the book as a result.

However, Blackford and Schüklenk set the tone for the rest of the book in those introductory sections, explaining with great clarity and to good persuasive effect that certain questions can be set aside, or at least resolved to a sufficient extent to make the myths that are dealt with worth focusing on. As I say, that rhetorical and argumentative skill is then carried throughout the book, leaving the reader feeling both enlightened and entertained in the reading of it.

I'd highly recommend this book for (at least) two sets of readers: first, the honestly curious theist, who is suspicious of the easy dismissals that some of his or her kind deploy against atheists. Second, the atheist who wants to develop a thoughtful, well-reasoned set of defenses against some of the stereotypes that are assigned to atheists - not only by theists, but also in popular culture.

(Disclosure: I am personally acquainted with both of the authors, and one is a colleague of mine. I do not however regard that as having influenced my comments unduly.)
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Superior Job Well-Done 17 Nov. 2013
By John W. Loftus - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have found that even among the very best Christian apologists there is a woeful, and perhaps even culpable ignorance about atheism. This is remedied by Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk's excellent book, "50 Great Myths About Atheism."

The first thing I noticed about this book was that Richard Dawkins has thankfully changed his mind about recommending books like this one, in which religious beliefs are treated with respect.

The second thing I noticed was the title itself. The authors had edited a previous book titled, "50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists" which is a great book. Guy P. Harrison has written three books of 50 reasons, beliefs and questions himself. Why 50? I don't know but authors and editors like to publish follow-up books with similar titles. It can become their signature book titles, unique titles assigned to them alone. I am doing likewise with some of my book titles. My anthologies are being titled after the books of the so-called New Atheists. There is something pretty cool about doing this, although I have been criticized for not being original with mine.

In the Introduction to their book the authors tell us why it's needed, how they chose the myths to be dealt with, and what they hope to accomplish.

The book is needed, as they say, because "a falsehood repeated often enough will eventually be taken as truth. This is, of course, likely to be true if those who propagate such falsehoods also control large segments of the mass media" (p. 1). Because these myths are so prevalent they have "had outright harmful consequences for people known to be or believed to be atheists" (p. 4). They cite a recent sociological survey in the USA that revealed "atheists constitute the most disliked among marginalized groups" (p. 5). And they cite the example of Damon Folwer, whose life was threatened for objecting to teacher led prayers in his school.

They chose the myths to be dealt with very carefully, wanting to draw the line between myths and legitimate disagreements people of faith have with atheism. "In each case, we are convinced that something is being claimed that is, if not straightforwardly false, at least seriously and demonstrably misleading" (p. 5). In order to show they are not picking "easy targets" they cite examples with the actual words said. That's the best anyone can expect. If anyone still objects with the "No True Scotchman" fallacy (my words) then the authors say, "Perhaps we can cover your favorites in a further book or edition of this one" (p. 7). ;-)

As to what they think their book accomplishes, they do not claim "to have proved that atheism is right," only that they have debunked "a fairly significant chunk of popular myths about atheism" (p. 8).

I have dealt with some of these same myths in my writings, especially in "God or Godless?: One Atheist. One Christian. Twenty Controversial Questions." I was fortunate that I didn't need to search for actual examples of myth #'s 1, 11, 16, 20, 35, 38, 39, 40, 41, 43, 46, and 47. Dr. Randal Rauser provided the fodder himself. If anyone thinks Blackford and Schuklenk chose straw-man examples then consider a scholarly moderate evangelical like him. If anyone wants to see how I answered these particular myths then readers might want to get my book, although, if you get theirs you probably won't need to see how I dealt with them.

Very highly recommended. I sincerely think it will help contain the spread of the religious propaganda that threatens atheists with harm. Congrats to them for a superior job well-done!
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blackford and Schuklenk: The Mythbusters 11 Dec. 2013
By Tim K - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
There are many myths about atheists and atheism. Blackford and Schuklenk do a wonderful job dispelling 50 of the greatest (or at least most prominent) myths about atheists and atheism.

Blackford and Schuklenk did a wonderful job compiling the list of 50. Each was chosen for its prominence in popular culture and in literary circles. Although many of the myths are based on falsehoods or misinformation, Blackford and Schuklenk are fair enough to admit when a myth has a hint of truth to it.

Each myth is given a fair hearing, where Blackford and Schuklenk provide places where the myths are promoted. Then, Blackford and Schuklenk critically evaluate the myth in terms of coherence and whether it contains any truth. Each chapter is detailed and thorough, and where certain things were only touched on, there are plenty of citations for further study (I found myself flipping to the back multiple times).

The book doesn't promote atheism, though the final chapter "The Rise of Modern Atheism" does offer some insight into many of the points in the philosophical debate over theism and atheism. The main point of the book is to confront the many misconceptions about atheism.

The book is very well-written, engaging, witty, and an honest look at the myths surrounding atheists and atheism. "50 Great Myths About Atheism" is a timely book, one that will hopefully break the stigma of being an atheist. As an atheist myself, I've come across most of these myths before and it's refreshing to see two philosophers pick the myths apart.

Other recommendations:
50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists
Philosophers without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life
The Cambridge Companion to Atheism (Cambridge Companions to Philosophy)
10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Myth By Myth Summary 1 Nov. 2013
By Scholastic Reader - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book was written by two philosophers and it deals with 50 claims they believe are myths. Most of the myths are discussed in 1-3 pages so each myth only gets a very limited treatment. This books does carry a bit of mixed ideas that do not always flow well. For instance the way they talk about atheists and atheism is not always consistent. In some places they say atheists do not believe gods or the supernatural and are secular and in other sections they contradict this by saying that atheists simply lack belief in god and everything else is optional including religion and the supernatural. In reality the latter is true since both theism and atheism are merely 'components' of both secular and religion, are in and of themselves not equivalent to religion or secular automatically. There is crisscrossing, Myth 1, 8, and 9 mention atheism is not a religion itself, however, atheists can be either religious or secular. The same can be argued for theism since theism is not a religion either (no religion is called "theism") and theists can be either religious or secular also. None of these 4 terms are mutually exclusive inherently. Deists and Taoists are examples of the crisscross and overlap of identities/concepts.

Other things that were noticed were that some of the entries deviate quite a lot from the original claim and sometimes irrelevant material is discussed, while other entries are not really myths (they admit to core parts of some claims as being true) and some myths are redundant, obvious, or repeated. One thing I found to be very pointless was that there are many cartoons of Jesus and Mohammad "Jesus and Mo" throughout the book, that really serve no intellectual purpose at all but to waste space that could have been used to enhance the myth busting. These cartoons have the exact same images of Jesus and Mohammad in the same dull positions most of the time and looks like the cartoonists simply did not put in any real effort, plus the dialogues are not really helpful or enlightening at all. Also, another thing to know is that this book has a Christian bias, probably due to most of the objections to atheism coming from Christians writers and they do not really consider non-Christian criticisms. Nonetheless, despite all this, the book does look ambitious one can tolerate some of the structural shortcomings. It is informative to a good degree.

In terms of how the authors selected the myths, they say, "But there was nothing scientific about this, and we cannot claim that we were able to conduct representative surveys of people's most favored or widely held myths about atheism and atheists across the globe. In the end, we chose the myths that we have come across most frequently since we became involved in debates about God." They anticipate that some will say that this book does not really refute all possible versions of a criticism and that some will say they chose easy targets, but they have tried to make a general attempt at addressing what they see fit. They specify that this book does not prove theism wrong or prove atheism right, only that some claims are myths or misconceptions.

Here is a list of ALL the myths in the book including some of the stuff one will find there. (This list is not exhaustive and since some of the myths are pretty straight forward or incredibly obvious, some did not really need a summary at all. My comments, if any, are in [ ].)

Myth 1 - Atheism is Just Another Type of Religion

There are no clear or uncontroversial definitions of "religion"; in other societies a distinction between the religious or the secular does not exist; based on Charles Taylor's criteria of religion having 1) relation to the beyond, 2) possibility of personal transformation to higher good, 3) a sense of human life extending beyond "this life", atheism would not qualify as a religion because atheism is not a way of life and simply is a lack of belief in deities [it should also be noted that theism would also not qualify as religion because there is no religion called "theism" and theism is not a way of life either - it is merely a belief in the existence of a class of entities]; however, they admit that one can be an atheist and be religious since Theravada Buddhism is used as an example, but that atheism itself is not a religion

Myth 2 - But the Courts Recognize Atheism as a Religion

Some courts have treated atheism as a religion for legal purposes; "Secular Humanism" has been listed among religions that do not teach the existence of God in one case, but Secular Humanism is more of a comprehensive worldview than atheism alone; in other court cases Secular Humanism has not been included as being relevant to the Establishment Clause; one case of an atheist study group by an inmate in prison treated atheism as a religion; the authors admit that part of the myth is true since nonreligious viewpoints sometimes get the same protections as religious ones do; however, a lack of belief is not simply the same as a form of belief and atheism requires only lacking a belief in deities

Myth 3 - Atheists Believe in God but are in Denial

Some have argued that everyone believes in God and that some are in denial; rejection of beliefs does not equate to denial; a significant number of people, globally, are estimated to be atheists; if everyone believed in God, there would be no need for proofs of God (which some have labored endlessly in throughout history)

Myth 4 - Atheists are Certain There is No God

Not all religious people have such high certainties in their beliefs - many experience uncertainties and have hope instead; the desire for certainty is a very deep human thing; atheism is not based on high certainty, but that does not mean that some atheists are not confident - some feel very confident in their beliefs and some are upfront about it

Myth 5 - Atheists Hate or are Angry with God

Atheists cannot hate what they don't believe exists; sometimes expressions of unsatisfaction of theistic justifications tend to be interpreted as hatred or anger; some theists also have felt anger towards their deities

Myth 6 - Atheism is a Rebellion Against God's Authority

Deals with D'Souza's claims of moral rebellion as a reason for being an atheist; individuals can and do simply reason about important issues like sex, abortion, euthanasia all the time irrespective of religious beliefs

Myth 7 - Atheists See No Good in Religion

Atheists acknowledge good things about religion such as community building, charity, peace of mind, but there are also some negative things too; there is always a "but" to religious activities; religious people should not be judged based only on their beliefs in other worldly agencies - everyone, including atheists, are much more complex than that

Myth 8 - No Atheist Believes in Anything Supernatural

Atheists are diverse; some atheists do believe in supernatural or scientifically anomalous phenomena of various sorts; the authors have met atheists that believe in ghosts and astrology; some religions are atheistic; being an atheist only means one lacks belief in deities, not that one lacks belief in the supernatural or otherworldly claims

Myth 9 - It Makes No Sense for an Atheist to Practice Any Kind of Religion

Some religions are atheistic (i.e. Buddhism, Jainism, Confucianism) and as such some forms of atheism are religious, however, that does no mean that atheism itself is a religion; atheists sometimes partake in religious practices or identify with a religion (i.e. secular Jews) for diverse reasons without personally believing the tenants; some atheists participate in religion for raising up children in a moral training ground, family tradition, or to help develop discipline; cites Elaine Howard Ecklund's study on atheist scientists on how very few of these "actively work against religion"

Myth 10 - Atheists Worship False Gods (Satan, Money, Materialism, etc.)

Atheists do not worship Satan; atheism does not require worship of anything; "worshiping involves a distinct set of actions with a uniquely theistic character" [I think this understanding of what worship is, is erroneous since there is worship involves in non-theistic contexts too like in Buddhism]; in a metaphorical sense money and material goods can be "worshiped" (they suppose); however materialism in the economic senses is usually championed by political conservatives so materialism is worshiped by them too; the modern consumer culture was created by the US, which is quite a religious country;

Myth 11 - Atheism Robs Life of Meaning and Purpose

"Meaning" and "purpose" are not that clear when people use it; Life is what we make of it; one need not have in immortal or timeless purpose to live; we make our own purpose; some distinguish between cosmic and terrestrial meaning or purpose; joy and happiness are sometimes mixed into what makes a purpose, though this maybe an issue too

Myth 12 - Atheism is Depressing

Pretty self explanatory

Myth 13 - Atheists Have No Sense of Humor

Pretty self explanatory

Myth 14 - Atheists Don't Appreciate Some of the Greatest Works of Art

Pretty self explanatory

Myth 15 - There is No Christmas in Atheist Families

Many non-Christians including atheists enjoy Christmas

Myth 16 - Atheists Don't Appreciate the Beauty and Perfection of God's Creation

There are less than perfect things about the world too [though design is still observable and is never perfect at all in reality]; suffering is mentioned

Myth 17 - Atheists Fear Death (More than Others)

Though few studies have been done, but so far both religious believers and atheists who are strong in their convictions can cope with death well and can experience similar psychological benefits; one study "...matched groups of people over 60, roughly half of whom held either strong atheistic views or strong religious views. They concluded that "a strong atheistic belief system can fulfill the same role as a strong religious belief system in providing support, explanation, consolation and inspiration"; "Strong religious beliefs have the potential, much like strong atheistic views, to provide us with solace in times of need."; secularization is associated with more acceptance of euthanasia; [This section blurs the line on atheism as religion or not]

Myth 18 - Atheists Turn to God When Death is Near

Deathbed conversions have surely occurred, but some famous cases can be dubious

Myth 19 - There are no Atheists in Foxholes

There are military personnel that are atheists

Myth 20 - Without God There is No Morality

There are ethics that are universal, without inherent reliance or grounding on theism or religion; authority and morality discussed

Myth 21 - Atheists are Moral Relativists

Discusses that most people, atheist or not, are not pure absolutists and that pretty much everyone has some flexibility in morals

Myth 22 - Atheists Don't Give to Charity

The authors argue that though theists and the religious give more to charity, they do so because of peer pressure, whereas any charity given by atheists is more based on compassion; religious people may be more prone to give to religious charities than secular ones; religious conservatives prefer private giving and are resistant to government spending on social programs [this may reflect the economic and personal freedom that many religious conservatives think should exist in everyone's lives. Private giving reflects personal character on compassion for their fellow man.]; "Nonetheless, all of this suggests that there is an element of truth in the suggestion that more religious people give more to the needy than do less religious people, including atheists."

Myth 23 - Atheists Deny the Sanctity of Human Life

Pretty self evident - everyone, including atheists, do not think that human life is valueless or expendable

Myth 24 - If There is No God We are Soulless Creatures

Lacking belief in God does not equate to lack of belief in souls; discusses issues of mind and self

Myth 25 - Atheists are all Communists, Left-Wing, Liberal. . .

Atheism is not a political doctrine; some topics like same sex marriage may make some atheists speak out their political views; demographically atheists tend to be male, younger, highly educated, concentrated in some areas, and less likely to be republicans [however, religious people also tend to be highly educated demographically also]; despite all this, atheists can be found in all demographics

Myth 26 - Atheists Can't be Trusted

Pretty self explanatory; interesting fact: "Indeed, explicit and committed atheism - atheism as thoughtful disbelief in the existence of any god or gods - was virtually unknown in Europe in 1689."

Myth 27 - Many Atrocities Have Been Committed in the Name of Atheism

Comments on Hitler; genocides by Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot etc, though twisted and horrific, were not done for the sake of atheism, but for massive economic gambles and politics; comprehensive worldviews and apocalyptic thinking may cause the overriding of human sympathy

Myth 28 - Adolf Hitler was an Atheist

Pretty self explanatory on the ambiguities of his views

Myth 29 - Atheists Give a Free Pass to Non-Christian Religions

Many atheists only know about Christianity since it the only local religion they are familiar with (many atheists that complain about religion are from historically Christian nations); in Islamic countries atheists focus on Islam; some Western atheists have also criticized Islam; Asian religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism do not seem to be seen as immediate threats in the West so they often are given a free pass

Myth 30 - Atheists are Arrogant

Pretty self explanatory; talks about the awkward atheist identity called "Brights" by Dennett

Myth 31 - Atheists are Intolerant

Pretty self explanatory; atheists are no more intolerant than other members of society

Myth 32 - Atheists Want to Ban Teaching Religion to Children

Discusses a bit on creationism

Myth 33 - Atheists Want to Strip People of Their Beliefs

Pretty self explanatory

Myth 34 - Atheists Want to Ban Religion from the Public Square

Pretty self explanatory

Myth 35 - Atheists Don't Understand Moderate Religion

Pretty self explanatory; some religious tenants are not moderate

Myth 36 - We Should Fear a "Fundamentalist" or "Militant" Atheism

Militancy is usually activism of some sort or harsh opinions lashed out; holding a firmly held belief does not mean it is dogmatic or fundamentalist [this is difficult to distinguish because some atheists do have immovable beliefs and it is impossible for some to change their minds]

Myth 37 - Atheists are to Blame for Religious Fundamentalism

Fundamentalists are not stupid, irrational, driven by emotion, or read everything in the Bible literally - many have really sophisticated justifications for their beliefs; awkward discussion on evolution-creation debate

Myth 38 - Atheists Don't Understand the Nature of Faith

Theologians and philosophers have different understandings of the term making the situation problematic

Myth 39 - Atheism Depends on Faith, Just the Same as Religion

Pretty self explanatory [confuses atheism, science, and faith]

Myth 40 - Atheism is Self-refuting, as Rational Argument Presumes the Existence of God

Pretty self explanatory

Myth 41 - There is No Conflict Between Religion and Science

The relationship between science and religion is complex; the National Academy of Sciences and American Association for the Advancement of Science have argued that both are compatible; modification of religious doctrines waters them down either way; both have different epistemologies

Myth 42 - Atheists Confuse Two Forms of Naturalism

Confusing methodological naturalism with metaphysical naturalism (philosophical naturalism)

Myth 43 - Atheism Implies Scientism

Scientism may be self contradictory since it is a philosophical position not a scientific one

Myth 44 - Evolutionary Theory is a Form of Atheistic Religion

Pretty self explanatory

Myth 45 - Albert Einstein Professed a Belief in God

Pretty self explanatory

Myth 46 - Atheists Can't Explain Miracles

Pretty self explanatory

Myth 47 - Atheists Can't Explain the Resurrection

Pretty self explanatory

Myth 48 - Atheism is a Bad Bet (Pascal's Wager)

Pretty self explanatory

Myth 49 - Atheism is Only for an Educated Elite

Pretty self explanatory

Myth 50 - Atheism is Doomed in a Postsecular Age

Pretty self explanatory

The Rise of Modern Atheism

Interesting facts: the term "atheist" emerged in the 1600s and the earliest adherents of atheism as we know it today was from that period; discusses many other issues like secularity, theistic arguments, science and religion (mainly on contemporary views), evil

International Atheist and Related Organizations

Overall, it's pretty good because it does touch upon some subtleties that need to be addressed about atheism and atheists. The book probably won't convince most or change minds, but at least it's a good start on many interesting topics.

For those interested in further reading on related topics mentioned in the book one can check out:

Edited by Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar. 2007. "Secularism & Secularity: Contemporary International Perspectives". Hartford, CT: Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC). (its free online - global sociological studies on diversity of atheism and non-religion)

Varieties of Unbelief: Atheists and Agnostics in English Society, 1850-1960

Religion without God (50 Great Myths does touch upon this reality, but does not really investigate it. This books adds another dimension to the diversity within atheism)

The Oxford Handbook of Atheism (Oxford Handbooks) (has many entries on many dimensions of atheism including myths that atheists believe about atheism)

Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism (on charity by religious and nonreligious folk including international comparisons)

Exposing Myths About Christianity: A Guide to Answering 145 Viral Lies and Legends

Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites...and Other Lies You've Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media

Who Speaks For Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think

The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict

Death by Government (on genocides by religious/secular and atheist/secular governments)

Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and challenging, though occasionally hampered by a skewed analysis 14 Aug. 2014
By Randal Rauser - Published on
When Russell and Schüklenk use the word myth, they are referring to a widely held and persistent belief that is demonstrably false. (As they write in the introduction, they are focused on claims that “are false” and yet “have managed to persist remarkably well…” (1)) For example, they refer to the belief that Barack Obama was born outside the United States as a myth, one that was finally put to rest when Obama produced his birth certificate (2). With that definition in mind, "50 Great Myths" shoulders the ambitious task of putting to rest more than four dozen false and persistent beliefs about atheism.

Buckle up, kids. We’re in for quite a ride.

*Fifty Myths? Really?*

This certainly is an ambitious agenda. Have Russell and Schüklenk really identified fifty distinct beliefs about atheists that are widely held and demonstrably false?

Let’s start with an example: myth 5, “Atheists Hate or are Angry with God”. Some atheists do evince a palpable hostility toward God (or, if you prefer, the concept of God), such as self-identified “anti-theist” Christopher Hitchens. But even if we grant these instances, it hardly follows that all atheists hate God or, counterfactually, that they would hate God if he existed. I know many atheists who show no such hostility. Some even insist that they really would prefer that God existed. They just happen not to believe in God’s existence. Concrete examples like that show the claim to be a myth.

So that’s one myth down.

However, I don’t think Russell and Schüklenk have identified (let alone debunked) fifty widely held and persistent false beliefs about atheists. In some cases they take a single myth and spin it into two. Consider, for example, myth 18 “Atheists Turn to God When Death is Near” and myth 19, “There are no Atheists in Foxholes”. Russell and Schüklenk interpret the latter claim in a literalistic fashion: “The myth is that atheists won’t be found in the military, or at least that their atheism will not last long once they come under enemy fire.” (56) But in fact, this aphorism merely appeals to the image of the foxhole (a hole used by soldiers to seek cover from military bombardment) as a metaphor for stressful situations (see the Wikipedia article on “There are no atheists in foxholes” .) Thus, myth 18 could have been subsumed under myth 19 without loss.

In many other cases, it is doubtful that the belief in question really meets the standard of a myth. For example, how many Christians claim that “Atheism is Only for an Educated Elite” (Myth 49)? I have no idea, but I can say that I have not often heard this claim. To be sure, one does hear Christian conservatives often complaining about the secular intelligentsia (e.g. universities, the media) but that doesn’t necessarily cash out into this myth.

This problem highlights the inherent vagueness in Russell and Schüklenk’s usage of the concept of myth. How widespread and persistent does a claim have to be to constitute a myth? It isn’t clear. To be sure, I don’t offer this as an objection to the book. Rather, I present it as a means to situate the book appropriately. The concept of “myth” provides a useful framework to disabuse the reader of some common (and not so common) misconceptions about atheism while serving as an apologetic for Russell and Schüklenk’s atheist beliefs.

*The Good*

With that in mind, how good is the book? To begin with, I enjoy the way Blackford and Schüklenk write. They are good communicators and have an easy and engaging prose style that finds a good balance between accessibility and rigor. I enjoyed reading most of the chapters, even where I strongly disagreed with some aspect of the analysis.

I also found some chapters to be outstanding. I especially appreciated the chapter on humor (myth 13, “Atheists Have No Sense of Humor”). That chapter ends with the authors recounting one atheist joke about Christians and one Christian joke about atheists, while encouraging everybody to remember the importance of a sense of humor (44). This kind of levity offers a welcome respite from the frequent acrimony of these debates. (Incidentally, they mention George Carlin as an atheist humorist, but there are many others from Mark Twain to Ricky Gervais.)

While we’re on the topic of humor, the book is complemented by several irreverent “Jesus & Mo” cartoons. (See the Jesus and Mo website here.) Some people will find them funny, others (i.e. some Christians and Muslims) will find at least some of the cartoons offensive (or perhaps even blasphemous). But one thing is undeniable: the cartoons are always relevant to the subject matter.

At its best, the book reflects a balance and irenicism that is to be admired. For example, in myth 26 they take aim at the common Christian belief that “Atheists Can’t be Trusted.” (I also critique this myth in my book You’re not as Crazy as I Think.) This is how they conclude the section:

“To be fair, atheists also seem to consider religious people to be less trustworthy than fellow atheists…. Perhaps both atheists and religious believers would do well to respect and trust each other a little bit more, despite our ideological differences. We are fellow humans first.” (84)

Wow, well said!

I also really enjoyed the chapters debunking the myths that Hitler was an atheist (Myth 28) and that Einstein was a theist (Myth 45). Both of these chapters are well researched and very informative. And given that these claims both do seem to qualify as myths widely circulated among Christians, they are especially helpful.

The fifty myths are grouped into eight chapters and are complemented by a final chapter on “The Rise of Modern Atheism” which offers a quick overview of several topics including the recent history of atheism, a rebuttal of classic theistic argument, and an analysis of the tension between science and religion.

*The Bad and Ugly*

As much as I enjoyed the book, there were aspects of it that eroded what would have otherwise been a ringing endorsement. Since I’ve titled this section the bad and ugly, let me begin with the latter. Where ugliness is concerned, I’m thinking of the bright violet book cover complemented by the multi-colored fridge magnet atheism lettering. Definitely on the gaudy side.

Of more import is the bad. At many points I disagreed with Russell and Schüklenk’s reasoning. For example, on the topic of the above-mentioned myth 5 they write: “Let us start with a pretty obvious point: atheists cannot be angry with God, and we cannot resent God … because we do not believe God actually exists. How could you hate or resent something you do not think exists?” (21) As I suggested above, there is a simple answer available: some atheists exhibit hostility toward God insofar as they not only believe God doesn’t exists but they also desire that God not exist. Surely this much is implied by Hitchens’ espousal of the term “anti-theist”.

Later in this section Russell and Schüklenk take issue with Alvin Plantinga’s claim that some recent new atheist books are “driven by hatred rather than logic.” (Cited in 22) They reply, “This kind of language is problematic, because it is only a small step away from characterizing your opponents as motivated by hatred to calling for their speech to be suppressed and for stigmatizing them as enemies of the social order.” (22) Huh? Plantinga’s simple observation that some recent new atheist writing evinces a troubling hostility and militancy is sufficient to charge him with paving the way to the social oppression of atheists as “enemies of the social order”. This analysis is borderline paranoid. It also has a bizarre consequence: by this reasoning any critique of putative incendiary language or hate speech would itself be censured as intolerant.

To sum up, I agree that myth 5 ought to be called out as such, but that’s no excuse to substitute it with myth 5.1, “No Atheists Hate or are Angry with God” and myth 5.2, “Merely suggesting that some atheists hate or are angry with God is but a short step to labelling all atheists enemies of the social order”.

There is also lack of balance in their treatment of myth 31, “Atheists are Intolerant.” While I agree that Christians over-play this hand, I would have appreciated it if Russell and Schüklenk would have conceded that atheists sometimes do make proposals that are arguably intolerant and worthy of concern. Consider, for example, atheist and militant secularist Nicholas Humphrey’s 1997 Amnesty International lecture where he opines:

“children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense. And we as a society have a duty to protect them from it. So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible, or that the planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out or lock them in a dungeon.” (Source)

Rhetoric like this raises the obvious question: who decides what constitutes “nonsense”? Presumably Humphrey and those of like-mind? How is this not a recipe for intolerance?

*The Verdict*

"50 Great Myths" has a lot to commend it, and it is arguably at its strongest when the authors concede a grain of truth in the myths they aim to debunk. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen as often as one might like. It is at those points that Blackford and Schüklenk’s ideological commitments become evident. At the same time, these weaknesses are not sufficient to undermine a work which is frequently informative and thought-provoking. "50 Great Myths" is well worth placing on your bookshelf.
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