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Atheism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) [Paperback]

Julian Baggini
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 Jun 2003 Very Short Introductions (Book 99)
Atheism is often considered to be a negative, dark, and pessimistic belief which is characterized by a rejection of values and purpose and a fierce opposition to religion. Atheism: A Very Short Introduction sets out to dispel the myths that surround atheism and show how a life without religious belief can be positive, meaningful, and moral. It also confronts the failure of officially atheist states in the Twentieth Century. The book presents an intellectual case for atheism that rests as much upon positive arguments for its truth as on negative arguments against religion. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 136 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (26 Jun 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192804243
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192804242
  • Product Dimensions: 18.4 x 11.5 x 0.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 48,481 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Julian Baggini's books include The Ego Trick, Welcome to Everytown, What's It All About? - Philosophy and the Meaning of Life and The Pig That Wants to be Eaten, all published by Granta Books. He writes for several newspapers and magazines and is co-founder of The Philosophers' Magazine.

Product Description

About the Author

Julian Baggini is editor and co-founder of The Philosophers' Magazine.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
When I was a child I attended a Roman Catholic primary school. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
66 of 69 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Atheism - a very short introduction 30 Jun 2003
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Julian Baggini's 'very short introduction' is timely. In a world which - commendably - is increasingly multicultural and respectful of diversity (including religious diversity), atheism finds itself out on a limb and needing to defend itself.
Perhaps (and I am one of the already converted) this shouldn't be necessary. J Baggini invokes an analogy whereby 'Nessies'- those who believe in a Loch Ness Monster - become the norm, so that unbelievers need to be labelled 'Annessies'. Similarly, in a world where so many people believe in a god or gods, 'atheism has come to be defined in contrast to theism'.
J Baggini sets out to do several important things. Firstly, he promotes a positive case for atheism, making clear that it is not to be equated with negativity and denial. Secondly, he separates morality and ethics from both theism and atheism, shifting responsibility on to individual choice. Thirdly, he dispels the notion that without religion life becomes meaningless and purposeless, and suggests that sufficient purpose can be gained from living in the world we know rather than in some nebulous hereafter. Fourthly, he shows that atheism is part of a historic progression from superstition to rational explanation. Finally - and importantly - he advocates the 'quiet voice of reason', rather than dogmatic and table-thumping atheism. Militancy from any point of view, he recognises, begets increased defensiveness and entrenchment.
I hope that this little book, with its quiet voice of reason, gives food for thought, and even reasurrance, to those who may be hovering on the brink of atheism and, for whatever reason, feel hesitation in coming out.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By Steve
Format:Paperback
For the most part, this Very Short Introduction is a lively and enjoyable little guide which sets out to counter various myths about atheism and to make it more palatable to the non-atheist. Author Baggini breezes through a handful of key areas - ethics, purpose, history, and so on - bringing his admirable philosophical knowledge to bear on each contending argument, and presenting it in a down-to-earth and amiable style.

One pivotal area of contention in the theist-atheist debate is how to define atheism. Here, Baggini chooses to define it as "a positive belief system" rather than as a term of negation. Personally, I've always felt more comfortable with the latter approach (a-theism = 'lack of' theism) and wondered if perhaps Baggini, in his eagerness to counter the impression that atheists are "lacking" meaning, morality, happiness, etc, had let this concern drive his decision to turn it into a positive.

To his credit, he develops his argument well and, in an extended discussion about evidence, counters the common charges, such as the one about atheism being a faith position. Still, it's hard not to feel that his approach just serves to introduce a layer of unnecessary confusion to the distinction between theist and atheist, and I have to admit I remain unconvinced that it's strictly necessary. (Incidentally, on this issue, I highly recommend George H Smith's Atheism: The Case against God.)

Just a couple of gripes to mention: The photos throughout are seriously superfluous, particularly given how space is at such a premium. (Did we really need a stock photo of a man looking thoughtful while sipping coffee to illustrate the discussion on acts of faith?
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great small book - powerful but not militant 5 Oct 2005
Format:Paperback
Let me just tell what I like especially about this concentrated presentation of arguments for atheism. Baggini always keeps a realistic sight on psychological und social facts. He starts off describing how religious education - though experienced in a moderate and relatively little indoctrinating form - nevertheless succeeded in embedding in his mind a connection of atheism and moral inferiority to stay for ever at least on a half-conscious, emotional level. An experience probably not to unusual and - apart from this - pointing to the general limits of changing convictions by rational argument. Later he demonstrates very convincingly why we shouldn't consider theism and atheism to be just intellectually equal types of faith: "The atheist believes in what she has good reason to believe in and doesn't believe in supernatural entities that there are few reasons to believe in, none of them strong. If this is a faith position then the amount of faith required is extremely small." In chapters on "Atheist ethics" and "Meaning and purpose" the author does away with the prejudice that atheism is just or predominantly negative. Very rewarding in the historical section on atheism is the discussion how far atheism might to be blamed for the crimes of totalitarian leaders and ideologies in the 20th century. Just read the book. It fits in your pocket to be taken everywhere!
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Why I Am Not a Christian..." 13 May 2007
Format:Paperback
... and neither a follower of whatsoever other faiths else.

This book is about a strange thing, a non-belief that has got its own name. We do not have words for people who do not believe in unicorns, or not in astrology, but people who do not believe in gods are called atheists. Only the disbelief in gods seems important that westerners coined a special term for it.

Though persecution of nonbelievers has gone out of fashion in most parts of the civilized world, prejudices about atheism and atheists are still abundant - even among the more liberal believers.

Philosopher Julian Baggini explains in plain and clear terms what atheism is, and what it is not, how individual atheists' positions differ, and which reasons atheists give for their nonbeliefs. He discusses why atheism isn't a faith in itself (though a few atheists are strong believers in something else), if being religious is necessary for moral behaviour, and other basic concepts and misconceptions.

Baggini does not try to convert anyone, but presents a very balanced perspective on atheism. Religions are mainly discussed as sets of beliefs, not as social or psychological phenomena. Understanding why people believe would probably shed some crucial light on why others don't.

To be fair, the question why people believe is an open and delicate one, and it is clearly one beyond the book's scope and intentions. Those interested in such questions, believers and non-believers alike, should probably consult P. Boyer's "Religion Explained" or D. C. Dennett's "Breaking the Spell". - The same is true for those who'd like a more thorough and rigid discussion of the philosophical arguments; B.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars EXCELLENT
A very straightforward account of what it it means being an atheist in modern society. It is short and to the point ,covering most things every good atheist should know. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Moonshine.
1.0 out of 5 stars Gets it wrong before even starting.
How woefully disappointing and ironic that Baggini gets it so incredibly wrong so incredibly quickly. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Dessum
2.0 out of 5 stars Uninspiring
Bought on a whim, hardly bedtime stuff. Not sure why I did buy the book, But there we go !!
Published 11 months ago by Rosiem
5.0 out of 5 stars A very good insight into a deeply philosophical subject.
This book took me on a very interesting journey. The writer uses some very clear, lucid, and thankfully succinct philosophy to illustrate some very important points. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Artshed
3.0 out of 5 stars Good yet Unbalanced Introduction
Let me lay my cards down: I'm a Christian and disagree with Mr. Baggini's philosophy entirely.
However, I found this to be a very useful introduction to the topic of atheism,... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Mr. T. E. Rochester
4.0 out of 5 stars A useful overview suggesting some new interpretations
Julian Baggini presents a rather moderated case for atheism, based on the argument that naturalism is the best explanation of existence. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Geoff Crocker
5.0 out of 5 stars The one star reviews prove what idiots the religious are!
The one star reviews highlight what all intelligent people have known for the last 100 years or so; the religious are clearly idiots... there I said it. Read more
Published on 31 Jan 2012 by Red Baron
4.0 out of 5 stars A philosophical introduction
This entry in the OUP's A Very Short Introduction series is by Julian Baggini, a philosopher and the author of several philosophical works written for a general readership. Read more
Published on 25 April 2011 by Peter Reeve
1.0 out of 5 stars Fallacious and dishonest
After being left completely frustrated by the abysmal God Delusion in my attempt to understand what atheists believe in, a friend suggested this book for a less "fundamentalist"... Read more
Published on 19 Feb 2011 by Taramatie Daniel
4.0 out of 5 stars Presents the case for atheism as positively as possible
In appears to me that, in a concise way, the author presents the case for atheism in its strongest possible light. (Atheists may, of course, disagree. Read more
Published on 24 Jan 2010 by Mr. Richard J. Pask
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