Once again we are fortunate enough to have a new book from the formidable George H. Smith, one of the greatest free-thinkers of our day. Both of his previous works were excellent, and "Why Atheism?" does not dissapoint. Smith marshals his great learning and wit to deal with a number of important issues surrounding atheism, religious belief, history, ethics, and philosophy. Although he is treading on largely familiar ground, there is little overlap between this effort and his earlier volumes.
Smith begins by discussing the credibility and methodology of atheism, and continues on to examine the relationship of belief with doubt, knowledge, and free will. A great deal of attention is devoted to the history of ideas and those who developed them. Such thinkers as Thomas Aquinas, John Locke, Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, Benedict Spinoza, and Arthur Schopenhauer, to name a few, are discussed at length. In addition to a chaper paying tribute to the philosophers of the seventeenth century, two others are devoted to a fascinating survey of the roots of modern ideas of atheism and secularism.
Objectivists and others interested in Ayn Rand's philosophy should be particularly interesting in his discussion of Rand's theory of knowledge. Drawing on the work of Rand's supposed "successor" Leonard Peikoff, Smith rejects the Objectivist theory of contextual certainty in favor of a more traditional variant of correspondence theory.
While each chapter is highly stimulating and informative, I particularly enjoyed those which dealt with the lifestyle of the philosopher, the Ontological argument for God's existence, and the atheistical view of death. The penultimate chapter as well, in which Smith discusses several "irreverent" aspects of the concept of God, was highly entertaining, despite, but perhaps because of, the response that it will inspire from the theistic reader.
The book is written in a clear, logical, and lucid prose that is no doubt a reflection of Smith's great talent for communication. While the discussion is kept at a consistently sophisticated level, the intelligent reader should have no trouble keeping up. All in all, "Why Atheism?" is a wonderful book, well worth the attention of anyone interested in the nature, history, and philosophy of nonbelief.