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Why Atheism?
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Why Atheism? [Kindle Edition]

George H. Smith
1.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product Description

Is it possible for the nonbeliever to lead a happy and meaningful life?

This is one question George H. Smith, defender of reason and personal liberty and author of an influential contemporary classic on nonbelief, seeks to answer in Why Atheism? Smith reviews the historical roots of nonbelief going back to the ancient Greeks, argues that philosophy can serve as an important alternative to religion, and defends reason as the most reliable method humans have for establishing truth and conducting one's life.

Why Atheism? tackles a wide range of subjects, some of which have never been thoroughly analyzed from an atheistic point of view. Beginning with the problem of atheism's credibility, Smith points out the various ways in which religious opponents have sought to exclude atheism from serious consideration. He also analyzes a number of classical philosophical issues, such as the nature of knowledge and belief, concluding that modern atheism is largely an unintended consequence of the religious diversity brought about by the Protestant Reformation.

Two chapters are devoted to ethics, one focusing on the ethics of belief with particular attention given to the views of Thomas Aquinas and John Locke. Other chapters discuss the persecution of religious dissenters and the features of an ethical system without belief in God. Smith's characteristic lucidity, analytical rigor, and wit make Why Atheism? an accessible and enjoyable guide to living a positive life without belief in a supreme being.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2368 KB
  • Print Length: 170 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (31 Oct 2000)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002NKN8FE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 1.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #994,108 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dry as dry can be 24 Oct 2007
By calmly
I don't recall reading a book as dry as this one. This seems a book an extreme pedant might value. Athough an atheist and not adverse to philosophy, I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone wondering "why atheism". Its so dry that I found it difficult to maintain concentration. Not that the author's position or points aren't good: it seems he has put a good deal of effort into this book but the presentation seems horrific. It seems highly unlike any theist would remain reading this book long enough to be convinced that atheism is credible. It also seems unlikely that many atheists would remain reading this book long enough to learn from it. The capacity for boredom isn't infinite in most of us.

With considerable patience, you may learn something from this book. I'd suggest reading a few pages at a time so that you can appreciate the author's teaching without tedium overwhelming you. Because the underlying material presented has substance, a rewriting by a good writer might salvage this book.

Douglas Krueger's "What is Atheism? A Short Introduction" doesn't cover the same ground or go to the same depth but it covers the issues well and I found it vastly more readable.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.1 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
38 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful New Work 24 Nov 2000
By eunomius - Published on
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.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Nice Sequel on Atheism. 3 Aug 2001
By Dr. Francis A Olivo - Published on
I was first introduced to the author Mr. George H. Smith way back when he was Editor & Chief of Reason Magazine. I purchased his first book called, "Atheism: The Case Against God." It was brilliantly written. May I suggest perchasing this book first. In Why Atheism, Smith, often refers back to philosophies in his first book Atheism: The Case Against God, however, luckly, even though he expects you to have read that book, he still enlightens the reader to his old text, via a short review. The impression I got from Why Atheism was that Smith still had a few things to say about justification of being an Atheist. Why Atheism's concept was very straight forward. Smith wanted to give Atheists a leg to stand on while combating the endless war of being moral even though you're an atheist. Theists believe, through religious propaganda, that all atheists have no morals. This is not true in any way shape or form. Smith explains that the burden of proof is on the theist to prove that God exists. It's not the burden of proof for the atheist to prove that God does not exist. Smith breaks everything down very nicely for the reader. He explains that we must first give God some meaning or definition. In other words, we must first understand what exactly is God. Then if the theist cannot explain what God is, then how can he or she expect the atheist to understand what the theist is talking about. Smith goes on and explains how to view death as an atheist, hwo to live a good life as an atheist, and most improtantly how to use reason as a means to live your life. I say well done Smith! I'm also going to purchase his last book called, "Atheism, Ayn Rand, and other Heresies. Probably as soon as I'm done writing this review. Buy the book, he's ahead of his time...Regards Fellow Atheists....Another book worth reading is Atheism: A Philosophical Justification By Mr. Micheal Martin.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A review of this book and of the May 8, 2004 review 25 Dec 2004
By Drew J - Published on
This is a fantastic book. I was impressed with Smith's first two books and I was satisfied once again with his work. If you care about philosophy, you should care about the history of it. Here, Smith does a great job of drawing on the roots of Atheism and of providing an general overview of famous philosophers who examined reason and although found it to be fallible, still seemed to be philosophical optomists (Locke and Bacon for example). In discussing a whole range of philosophers, he ends up presenting nice introductions into various philosophical theories including nominalism, realism, correspondence theory, and others. As well many chapters have extensive footnotes and mention a lot of books for further readings. This is a pro.

Ultimately, the layout is great. Here is why: He lays epistemological ground by defining terms, discussing knowledge, justification, faith, reason, Occam's Razor and burdens. Then he discusses what philosophers such as Locke and Bacon had to say about reason (they said it was fallible whereas Descartes said otherwise) in great detail. His critique of Ayn Rand's (and Leonard Piekoff's) contextual theory of knowledge is excellent in that he effectively refutes it in only a few pages. It's short and to the point!

Then he goes on to explore the Ontological argument which is one of the highlights of the book since it is clearly written and easily understood. Thankfully, draws on a lot of sources for criticisms of the argument as well. Next comes two fairly long chapters on the roots of modern atheism. In the first, quotes a lot of arguments from ancient Greeks, some of which still have validity today. In the second, he has an excellent discussion on Hume and miracles and why one should be able to refuse consideration to miracles as a class instead of wasting time trying to disrpove one miracle at a time. Finally, he has a chapter with some humourous questions that still have philosophical validity.

The final chapter, which is devoted to ethics considers the question of whether ethics without God are possible, and of course they are. He makes a good point in that most theists, in terms of morality, deep down are natural law theologians like Thomas Aquinas since most theists these days would never willingly do anything designated as immoral simply because God demands it.

About the May 8 review: NOWHERE in the first chapter has Smith defined theism solely as belief in the Christian deity. He simply would not do that since he has atheism (correctly) defined as lacking belief in any deity. As well, he made the point in his book that throughout history, people have been deemed atheists for not believing in the god of another person.
"Some theists have been called atheists for disbelieving in the god (or gods) of the orthodox majority. Early Christains, for example were frequently accused of atheism by their pagan critics." (p.19)
Therefore, Smith clearly understands that theism means the belief in any supernatural being, not just the Christian deity. This reviwer should try a little harder to discredit Smith.

Another great book from another great author. I am eagerly awating for his newest book "Happiness in a Godless World," to eventually arrive at the store in my cold Canadian city. Here is a good place one can go where he talks about this book [...] And don't hesitate to check him out on the website of Resources for Independent Thinking.

Keep em' coming George. You keep writing and I'll keep buying.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for the layperson of Philosophy 10 Jan 2007
By M. Williams - Published on
I'm somewhat biased, if I hadn't read "Atheism: The Case Against God," I doubt I'd have ever finished this book. The writting in the book is good, I suppose, but it was beyond my grasp. The book for the most part deals heavily with philosophy, and the understanding of most of the philosophy is beyond the reach of Joe Average.

Most of his 'arguments' in the book seem to be an analysis of 17th and 18th philosophers, and applying their arguments towards his ideas about Atheisms contemporary relevance. This is by no means bad, but for people lacking background the reading is incredibly dense, and somewhat uninteresting.

Where he succeeds the most is near the end of the book in a short chapter where he adresses 'silly' issues. He talks about 'silly issues' like whether God himself is an Atheist (he is!) and whether Satan is actually a Christian. His wit in this very short chapter was great, and I wished he'd written more on the topic of strange concepts like that.

Overall, this isn't a bad book, but unlike "Atheism: The Case Against God" This book is much harder to grasp for people not grounded in philosophy, and is more an analysis of philosophers then a refutation of Christianity.
10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Roots of Modern Atheism 15 Jan 2001
By Sherwood SK - Published on
The book starts out on a fun tone, establishing the rules of the game, going over material that has been covered many places but is there just in case the reader is new to non-belief. For instance, Smith treats at considerable length the difference between positive, impossible to prove atheism ("There is no God") and negative, standard atheism ("I don't believe in God") in order to counter the common attack that atheism is logically impossible. It is this sort of discussion that brings out the conversational strength of Smith's writing.
The bulk of the book is philosophy and history of philosophy. Fascinating, fun and well-developed, but its depth took me by surprise and was sometimes, for this reader, sluggish reading that dwelled on minutae too often. He discusses what it means to have "faith," how "faith" differs from knowledge, and the processes that define how, what, and why we should believe. He does this in a measured pace that goes from the Greeks through Aquinas, Augustine, Francis Bacon, Spinoza, and, of course, Hume. Through this he develops the "History of Modern Atheism."
As a previous reviewer mentioned, the second-to-last chapter may be the funnest, called "Irreverent questions about God." (Is God an atheist? --He doesn't believe in a power higher than himself. He doesn't believe in a "first cause" that made him.) It is fun, at least a little, because of the angry responses that it will evoke from a theist.
The style of easy sections, short chapters, and the lengthy explanatory notes for the interested reader at the chapters' end (rather than in the text itself), make it an easy read that you can finish in a couple of days.
If you are looking for a philosophical and historical trek celebrating how far we've come in the realm of free-thought, this book is a good one. Be careful, though, if you are looking for developed arguments for atheism or reasons to consider atheism (as the title might just suggest), try Smith's former book (Atheism: The Case Against God) instead.
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The first method is known as onus probandi, i.e., the onus (or burden) of proof. This principle states that the burden of proof falls on the &quote;
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It is this generic meaning of "belief "which refers to a psychological act of assent-that I shall employ throughout this book. Thus, contrary to Locke, I shall not speak of knowledge in contrast to belief, but shall instead treat knowledge as a type of belief. Specifically, I shall follow the common philosophical practice &quote;
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