Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I Stand on the Shoulders of Giants

When I was in 9th grade, I was asked in social studies class to name the person whom I most admire. That's a simple task on its face, but I found it exceedingly difficult. I have the same difficulty when asked to name my favorite movie. It's not that I can't find a person or movie that I like, but rather that I am not the sort of person who ranks things.

A few months ago, when I participated in something called the American Values Survey, I was again asked the most admired person question, but this time I had no trouble coming up with a name. Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has done more than any other person to promote and energize atheism in recent memory, and atheists in the United States are more confident and more vocal then ever before as a result. His recent book The God Delusion not only solidified my nascent atheism, but also inspired me to take a greater interest in the subject, ultimately leading to this blog. Superbly reasoned and elegantly witty, The God Delusion makes an unapologetically devastating (from a theists point of view) intellectual and moral case for atheism. I recommend the book to everyone. Dawkins' web site,, is also an excellent resource for a wide array of topics related to both religion and evolution. Dawkins is a top tier scientist and author who rose to prominence by proposing, in The Selfish Gene, the now widely accepted idea that the gene is the principal unit upon which evolution acts. His success in advancing the cause of atheism is in no small part due to the gravitas his name carries. It is a measure of how far atheism has to go that most Americans have nevertheless never heard of him.

My favorite atheist writer is actually not Richard Dawkins but American neuroscientist Sam Harris. His books The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation are unparalleled, as are many of his other writings and speeches available at his web site, The best introduction to atheism available on the web (that I am aware of) is his essay An Atheist Manifesto. If you can get past the title -- it has a unfortunate tendency to evoke A Communist Manifesto, or a deranged anarchist writing an antigovernment rant in a remote cabin -- it is an excellent, and fairly quick, read.

Physicist Victor Stenger's God: The Failed Hypothesis and journalist Christopher Hitchens's God is Not Great are also excellent and highly recommended books. Author and journalist Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven, ostensibly about Mormonism, is a fascinating case study of how religion begins, and how it can spiral out of control and spawn abuse and violence. Others that I have not yet read but come highly recommended by others include Daniel Dennet's Breaking the Spell, Dan Barker's Losing Faith in Faith, and Ayan Hirsi Ali's Infidel. Although I have only so far read small parts of their works, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the freethinkers of yesteryear such a Bertrand Russell and Robert Ingersoll. Lest I forget, the greatest argument for atheism ever written (or the most ironic, at least) is the book I am currently reading, the Bible.

For those of you with the time to listen to podcasts, I can recommend Point of Inquiry, Freethought Radio, The Non-Prophets, The Atheist Experience, and The Way of Reason. Some of these podcasts are better than others, but all are worth listening to. Excellent web resources include the aforementioned Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris web sites, PZ Meyers' Pharyngula blog, The Secular Web, TalkOrigins, and the Iron Chariots Wiki.

Although I believe I have some novel ideas to add to the debate, I gratefully acknowledge that I draw heavily from the aforementioned sources, among others. I truly stand on the shoulders of giants.


Anti-Sprawl said...

Proud Atheist,

Many thanks for the book reports. Although, I think I am going to continue “watching football ‘religiously’” than exposing myself to literature that was most likely written in a cabin buried in the mountains of Montana, or in this case Wyoming. Look, I don’t fully disagree with you. In fact I agree with most of your points, except the first paragraph in your “introduction” statement which seems to promote anti-acceptance. The fact is religion is not “potentially violent”; it is the lack of acceptance, or lack of religious freedom, that is violent. There are hundreds of non-profit organizations that promote, advocate, and illustrate the societal benefit of religious freedom quite elegantly. You should familiarize yourself with one of them - the Anti-Defamation League.

What’s also interesting is the fact that I know this one Atheist who was married by a priest (not a judge), and who performed a Jewish custom when his marriage commenced. Kind of odd, don’t you think? Anyways, I am not writing to judge. I am just trying to promote my own religion (a word I use loosely) – Anti-Sprawl.

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