I looked forward to reading this book, as a committed atheist I am aways looking for ways to expand my knowledge, and more importantly the arguments for atheism and against theism. There are some excellent papers in this collection, especially Daniel Dennett's on "Atheism and Evolution", and an excellent piece on the "Argument from Evil" (the author's name escapes me for the moment).
What let me down were the papers that were obvoiusly written by academics (which they all were) but FOR academics in language which was totally incomprehensible for me as a layman (and even I consider myself al least fairly educated).
It is still a worthwhile book for the sections that are intelligble, and thanks to the format of the book it is quite easy to skip the bits that you can't understand without diluting too much the message.
This is a very thought-provoking collection of essays, edited by Michael Martin, Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Boston University. Eighteen leading scholars, mostly from the USA, discuss aspects of atheism and its implications for philosophy, religion, law, anthropology, sociology, psychology, biology and physics.
Sociologist Phil Zuckerman estimates that there are about 500-750 million atheists, agnostics and unbelievers, which is 58 times the number of Mormons, 41 times the number of Jews, 35 times the number of Sikhs, and twice the number of Buddhists. Atheists, agnostics and unbelievers are the fourth largest group, after Christians (two billion), Muslims (1.2 billion) and Hindus (900 million).
Daniel Dennett examines the relationship between atheism and evolution. He shows how matter has evolved to produce mind, rather than matter being produced by an originating mind.
Philosopher David Brink discusses the need for a secular ethics based on objective standards. He notes that in ethical subjectivism, ethics depends on the beliefs of an appraiser, but God is an appraiser too. So religion brings subjectivity into ethics. Also, if ethics depends on God's will, then it is relative to God's will, so religion brings relativism into ethics.
Again, if God commands an action because it is good, then God and his commands are unnecessary. If an action is good because God commands it, then ethics is unnecessary and obedience to God is the only virtue. So religion, which supposedly sets ethics on an objective basis, with independent values and standards, in fact reduces ethics to subjective opinions, with no independent values or standards.
Also religion compromises morality. When eternal bliss is the reward for goodness, then selfish considerations cannot but intrude, inevitably corrupting goodness. Belief in God becomes an insurance policy.
Philosopher Andrea Weisberger writes, "The existence of evil is the most fundamental threat to the traditional Western concept of an all-good, all-powerful God." If we are morally obliged to reduce evil, then God must also be obliged. If he is all-powerful, why doesn't he prevent unnecessary suffering? Those who argue that God uses evil for some greater good are saying that God immorally uses people and their suffering as means to ends.
Philosopher Patrick Grim shows that God's traditional attributes - omnipotence, omniscience and moral perfection - are all intrinsically impossible, self-contradictory idealist fantasies.
This book is made up of a collection of essays. Some of them simply give historical or statistical information on atheism. Others are very technical. I could imagine this book sitting on the bookshelves of an academic. If this book has been thrown up as a recommendation based on previous purchases, it is worth knowing what you are letting yourself in for before buying it.
However, if you want to know how Plantinga's argument from 1983 in support of theism can be combined with his later version from 2000 to 'multiply the arguments against the existence of God' then this is your book.
Similarly, you may be interested in how William Lane Craig's version of the Kalam Cosmological argument for the existence of God can be inverted as an argument for atheism. Be warned, some knowledge of mathematics will be useful - particularly a bit of Set Theory and some familiarity with half-open intervals.
The technical sections are quite difficult for someone without any philosophical training to follow but what I could understand did seem interesting. It was certainly more demanding than I had anticipated. For this reason I would suggest that philosophers can plunge straight in and purchase it and that others should exercise greater caution.
Don't get me wrong, I think Dawkins is a genius, but he's not a philosopher or a theologian. The authors whose essays grace these pages are both. All aspects of atheism are covered, starting with its history from antiquity to modern times. There then follows a defence of theism by William Lane Craig, succeeded by atheist replies and examinations of issues regarding the existence or otherwise of God. The book is rounded off by a look at the consequences of atheism and its effects of other parts of philosophy and life in general.
I would have liked to see a little more in the middle section on the actual arguments, which is why only 4 stars, but what there is is first rate. The chapters on the argument from evil and the autonomy of ethics deserve particular mentions, but they're all well worth a read.
No book will convert many people to atheism from religion, but anybody who just isn't sure should certainly read this book, as should anyone who wants to read good arguments without the hysteria and venom that has entered popular theology recently.
If you fancy something meatier than Dawkins or more balanced and intellectually satisfying than the numerous other tirades against God that have hit the popular market recently, this collection of essays is the perfect companion to the modern debate as conducted by philosophers and theologians.
Each contributor is perfectly placed and qualified to investigate the varieties of modern atheism, their philosophical justification and historical background. A word of warning, though: most of the essays presuppose a familiarity with some central concepts in theology and analytic philosophy and readers lacking such background knowledge may find themselves at sea in several of the more difficult papers.
Contributions which to my mind stood out were `Atheism in Modern History' by Gavin Hyman - a clear, original account which explains the contours of contemporary atheism by tracing its genesis in Enlightenment critiques; `Atheism and Religion' by Michael Martin (also editor of the collection) - a fascinating investigation of the existence of atheistic religions like Jainism and `The Argument from Evil' by Andrea M Weisberger - one of the most accessible and comprehensive summaries of current thinking on the famous argument leveled by atheists against believers.
I strongly recommend this volume of specially commissioned essays as a much-needed antidote to recent superficial monographs on the topic - it will provide sharp, analytic approaches to this most contentious and stimulating of debates.