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Book Thread for a Sunday

January 24, 2010

Hemant Mehta had this on his blog, The Friendly Atheist and I thought it would be a good one to post here.

The question: What books have you read from “the other side”? What did you think was good? What did you think was bad? Indifferent? What would you recommend for the “other side” to read from your point of view?

Rule One: The Bible is not a part of this discussion from the Christian or atheist point of view. That would be cheating.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. January 24, 2010 3:13 pm

    Unintelligent Design by Mark Perakh is probably my favorite atheist book. He did a good job slapping down a lot of the ridiculous things my side says, including some of the nonsense about Bible codes and such. However, on the greater issues of faith, I didn’t find his critiques challenging at all. I know, I know, psychologically I’m highly invested in not finding his critiques challenging because of my Christian background, but they just didn’t seem all that weighty.

    If I had to recommend that the other side read something, and the Bible can’t be used, I’d have to go with Josh McDowel’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Other than his annoying misspelling of Rabbi Aqiba’s name, I, in my biased Christian opinion, find it to be one of the more solid defenses and promotions of the Christian faith from a historical perspective that I’ve ever read.

  2. thomas2026 permalink*
    January 24, 2010 3:38 pm

    I have to greatly disagree with you on McDowell’s book. I would go with Tim Keller’s book Reason for God and N.T. Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus to take their place.

  3. AdamK permalink
    January 24, 2010 3:51 pm

    I always wish christians would read John Loftus; if not his book, then frequent visits to his website.

    Starting here, maybe, with some challenging advice:

  4. Knockgoats permalink
    January 24, 2010 6:23 pm

    Hmm. From the other (Christian) side: A long time ago C.S.Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters (good), The Problem of Pain (poor); John Hick’s The Problem of Evil (poor); William James The Varieties of Religious Experience (can’t honestly remember), Charles Hartshorne’s Anselm’s Discovery (complete hooey). Recently, John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts (Second Edition) (if this counts as the other side) (good), part of Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity (this was in response to a specific challenge made on Pharyngula – Stark made a surprisingly (to me) good case that early Christianity flourished in large part because it treated women better than Graeco-Roman religion.

    Atheist side: Russell’s Why I am not a Christian (a pamphlet rather than a book – very good), Dawkins’ The God Delusion (mostly good, despite the Courtier’s Reply responses to it, though I don’t buy his “Why there is almost certainly no God” argument), Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (not by any means all about Christianity, and not always historically reliable, but absolutely wonderful narrative, and use of irony). If you haven’t read it, whatever your views, do – and in the full version.

  5. Knockgoats permalink
    January 24, 2010 6:28 pm

    Oh, and Hitchens’ The Missionary Position – a fine takedown of that dreadful woman Agnesë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu. Only thing I’ve read by Hitchens.

  6. January 24, 2010 7:23 pm


    I’ve seen people refer to McDowel’s work in a quite negative way a number of times. But I haven’t yet seen an explanation of why they don’t like it. I suppose I should find some criticism of it to read so that I can get an appreciation for why people don’t like it. That’s why I noted by bias–because I’ve just read it through once and never read opposing literature to it specifically. If it is convenient for you, I would be grateful for any further comment you could make on Evidence That Demands A Verdict.

    And I’ll make sure some time this year to read the other two books you recommended. I’m fairly new to the apologetics/antiapologetics area, and I’m more than happy to learn anything relevant to it, pro- or anti-Christian.

  7. thomas2026 permalink*
    January 24, 2010 7:56 pm

    Holy Shit, Knockgoats, we actually agree on something. That is, the Screwtape Letters.

  8. erp permalink
    January 24, 2010 8:10 pm

    For one group of atheists’ response to Evidence that demands a verdict see Jeff Lowder and co.

    Personally from the atheist side I prefer the liberal Christians.

  9. thomas2026 permalink*
    January 24, 2010 9:09 pm

    By the by, there is a new audio version/play out of the Screwtape Letters. Guess who is the voice of Screwtape? Mr Andy Serkis, of Gollum fame. He does an amazing job.

  10. January 25, 2010 2:47 am

    Thanks for the link, erp — if that’s your real name 🙂 — I just spent the several hours wading through the rebuttal to ETDAV‘s first chapter. I was not at all impressed by the logic of the attack, which included Farrell Till (a former pastor from the churches I was raised in) engaging in repeatedly missing the point and making utterly false statements. I don’t think he landed a single serious punch in his rebuttal. Maybe some of the writers who rebut other chapters will have more worthwhile thinking than Till, who seems mainly to be an ingenious guy who is bitter about a caricature of Christians doctrine that he apparently believed in before seeing the atheist light.

    Anyhow, I think your link has given me fodder for a great number of posts, even if some of the authors wind up eventually discrediting Josh McDowel. Whether he rises or falls, it’s bound to be thought-provoking.

  11. Eric R permalink
    January 25, 2010 4:22 pm

    I’ve read only a little bit of theist literature, most notably was Friedman, Richard Eliot (1997) “Who Wrote the Bible” (Harper) which I found to be interesting. The only atheist literature I have read is “The God Delusion” (Dawkin’s).

    Not necessarily atheist literature but I have read a great deal of Carl Sagans works in which many he discusses religion.

    The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence (1978)
    Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science. Ballantine Books, 1979,
    Cosmos. Random house, 1980.
    Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. (1994)
    The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. (1996)
    Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium(1997)
    The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God, Carl Sagan (writer) & Ann Druyan (editor), 1985 Gifford lectures

  12. erp permalink
    January 26, 2010 1:18 am

    ERP are actually my initials. I’m consistent in their use on the blogs so I don’t consider it deceptive in any way.

    I’m reading Karen Armstrong’s “The Case for God” which though not exactly pushing Christianity is certainly not atheistic (at least from most atheists’ points of view, some Christians might disagree). Have read some Borg and Crossan.

    I’m not sure what I would recommend to Christians wanting to read about atheists or atheistic stuff. Perhaps an anthology, “The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever” edited by Hitchens just because it is a wide ranging collection. Perhaps Greg Epstein, “Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe”, because I suspect Hitchens would despise it. Or for something different, “The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality” by Andre Comte-Sponville and translated by Nancy Huston. “Godless Morality” by Richard Holloway is also interesting though Holloway is not an atheist (he is former Primus or chief bishop of the Scottish Episcopal Church) though he seems he to get on well with Dawkins. “Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism ” by Susan Jacoby is also worth reading; learn about Robert Ingersoll the best known American atheist of the late 19th century. Like Christians atheistic people are not monolithic in their views.

  13. January 26, 2010 1:54 am

    No intention of accusing you of deception, ERP. I was just kidding around about exhibiting the sort of paranoia that is all too common in discussions.

    Again, thanks for all the information. I realize that there´s all sorts of flavors of atheist. I mean, we Christians claim to have a unified set of teachings and we disagree with each other all the time. It would be only foolish to expect those without any centralized dogma to be monolithic.

  14. ferret wrangler permalink
    January 27, 2010 8:32 pm

    I’m kinda partial to “Tao of Pooh” and “Te of Piglet”.

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