The globalisation of the economy and the modern world’s speed of communication haven’t been followed by a commensurate unification of the world’s belief. Religious belief is enjoying something of a revival in some (but not all) parts of the world and belief in magic, the supernatural and the paranormal remain widespread. Here philosophers and intellectuals recommend books on beliefs, unbelief, God and other related questions.
Andrew Copson, the CEO of Humanists UK chooses his best books on “humanism” and explains that its modern usage carries more baggage than the label “atheism”. A humanist, as well as not believing in God in any conventional sense, believes in empiricism, and that morality is (or should be) internally and culturally determined, rather that imposed by any external authority.
Philosopher Julian Baggini, author of Atheism: a very short introduction chooses his best books on atheism, as does the American author Susan Jacoby. None of their choices overlap, but Jacoby chooses Confessions by Saint Augustine to illustrate how even the best attempt to make a coherent case for belief in a loving omnipotent God fails.
Historian of ideas, Anthony Gottlieb chooses his best books on God, although he comes from much the same angle as Baggini and Jacoby and, indeed, like Baggini chooses David Hume’s Dialogues and Natural History of Religion as a seminal text that demolishes the arguments for the existence of God. Gottlieb describes it as “the masterpiece of English language philosophy”.
James Randi, magician and escape artists, chooses his best books on being sceptical and recounts the time he made Uri Geller cross by pointing out how he bends spoons – he does it with his hands.
Humanist ideas are not a recent phenomenon, but have been around for millennia, says Andrew Copson, chief executive of Humanists UK. He explains why it’s worth making a positive choice to be a humanist and recommends a great humanist reading list.
Which are the best books on atheism? The British philosopher Julian Baggini, author of Atheism: A Very Short Introduction, chooses his top five.
The philosopher and former executive editor of The Economist, Anthony Gottlieb, discusses religion and suggests that belief in God only truly declines in a society when economic development brings existential security.
The main reason for the survival of religion is not a desire to live a better life, but our fear of death, says atheist author and independent scholar Susan Jacoby. Here she recommends five books she considers essential to “understanding the merits of atheism.”
Former magician and internationally renowned debunker of paranormal claims James Randi sharpens his knives against proponents of flim-flam, pseudoscience and the so-called paranormal – and tells us where the creator of Sherlock Holmes went badly wrong. He selects the best books on scepticism for Five Books.