Today, I was walking by a table set up by a Christian student group, and noticed their sign advertising free candy if you take their survey. Free candy! On Halloween, no less. Well, I’ve been thinking, for the past year or so, every time I walk by a table like this, that maybe I should try talking to them. So, after I finished eating lunch, I walked back by their table and asked them about their candy, I mean, survey.
It was a pretty open ended survey with verbal questions and answers. It didn’t take long for them to figure out I’m an atheist. They asked me questions like how I became an atheist and why I don’t believe in their god. It was hard for me to pin down one thing to answer questions like this. There are just so many things. So I told them that, and I tried to give them a vague overview of why I don’t believe in any gods. The main thing I said was that, several years back, when I started thinking for myself more and asking questions, I started looking for a better reason to believe than “Mommy and Daddy said so”, but I never did find one. Instead, I found reasons not to believe.
After a little while of talking, they asked me if I would read a book they gave me. I was all set to refuse and walk off into the sunset when the “of course, I’ll also read a book you want me to” bit came out. That was a rather pleasant surprise, and, sadly, there’s no “of course” about it. It’s nice to see a proselytizer who actually understands the sort of reciprocity necessary to having a real discussion (my Dear Christian letter was a response to having run into a lack of such reciprocity too many times).
They ended up giving me their email. Neither of us has firmly decided what book the other shall read, yet, although they said they were thinking of having me read “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist“, unless there was some particular specific reason for why I don’t believe in their god, in which case they might have a different suggestion. I can already tell from the title that I have major disagreements with the premise of the book, and that it probably uses weird definitions of “faith” and/or “atheist”. Still, it will be interesting to see what a Christian finds to be a convincing argument against atheism.
I, on the other hand, really have no idea what book I am going to have them read. And that is where you, dear reader(s), come in. I’d really like some suggestions of what to recommend! I have a few thoughts myself, but I’m nowhere near settled on anything. I’m hesitant to recommend anything that I haven’t read myself, but I also want to pick the best, most convincing book I can find. There’s always “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins, but I don’t know if I want to recommend anything of Dawkins right now, and I’m not sure I’d be confident calling that the best I can find, anyway. I’m in the middle of reading one of Victor J Stenger’s books at the moment, and I’m thinking of suggesting his “God:The Failed Hypothesis“, except that I haven’t actually read that one yet. I was poking through my public library’s online catalog a bit for atheist books, and I’ve put Stenger’s book on hold, as well as PZ Myers new book, “The Happy Atheist“.
Another book I thought of was “50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God“, but if their reasons for believing aren’t among the 50 discussed in the book, it’s not exactly going to be very convincing. Another idea is that, perhaps, I should recommend a book that focuses more on talking about what atheists are like (e.g. how atheists can live ethical, happy lives) and less on putting forwards arguments against the existence of any gods. It depends on what I want to accomplish with this. If the title of the book they recommended to me is any indication, though, they may have a lot of misconceptions about atheists.
To take a completely different track, I could also recommend Abul A’la Maududi’s “Towards Understanding Islam“. I blogged a bit about my response to reading this book here. At the time, I was looking for books that explain what Islam is all about, what the main beliefs/practices/etc. are, and what sort of divides there are in Islam (e.g. Shi’a, Sunni). Well, this book did explain some of these things, but it was also a very persuasive bit of writing. It was a difficult, highly thought provoking book to read. It was a short book, but I spent quite a lot of time on it. I’d need to take breaks every now and again, because it was not even remotely light reading. A lot of the arguments in it were very emotional in nature, e.g. talking about how the unbeliever is willful/foolish/malicious/will go to Hell (keep in mind I’m talking about a book I read over a year ago, here–I’m not going to remember things precisely). Describing an outgroup as being bad/stupid/foolish/deluded can certainly be a very effective emotional argument, though it is not a logical argument at all.
In any case, there are a few reasons that recommending this book on Islam crossed my mind. For one thing, it might make them rethink some of the arguments they use or hear about Christianity, if they see the same sorts of arguments being used for Islam. For another, one of the most convincing arguments for atheism that I can think of, is the number and variety of religions in the world, many of which claim very similar things (prophets, miracles, god(s) interacting with the physical world, spiritual experiences, etc.), and none of which have notably better arguments/evidence than the others. Many arguments that can be used to support one religion (e.g. “my god does miracles” or “the universe was clearly intelligently designed”), apply equally as well (or equally as badly) to others. Which is to say, the argument about whether or not any gods exist is completely reframed once you take into account the many different religions/gods of the world.
So, yea. Thoughts? Suggestions? What sort of book should I recommend? What specific book(s) would you recommend?