Saturday, February 27, 2010

50 voices of disbelief - Russel Blackford , Udo Schuklenk

This is a very interesting book and as far as I know the first one of its kind. 50 essays about religion / disbelief / atheism without any of the four horsemen. Some of the essays are personal journeys into disbelief, some are arguments against religion and some are observations. Most are well written, I think only two of essays did not hold my interest and I skipped over them because they were too densely argued. I believe a book like this was important because it demonstrates the variety of views that atheists have, that not all (and not most in my opinion) are angry, hateful people and that most of the arguments are sound. This is not particularly news, but its curious just how many religious people (even the liberal ones) believe the above or dismiss arguments by stating "too strident", "too arrogant", "not my religion".

I also came across some new arguments (or atleast one's I haven't heard before). For example there is one essay that deals with the excuses people give to continue believing in a personal, omnipotent, omni-benevolent God given the current state of the world. Excuses being "Free Will", "Greater Good", "God works in mysterious ways". The author neatly turns the tables by hypothesizing a personal, omnipotent, evil God and shows that all the above excuses work equally well. The personal journeys are also really interesting because I could contrast them with my own.
One problem is that some of the ideas seem repetitive as the essays are all independently written. A good number mention the problem of evil and its implications. A large number of them deal with the Christian God and there is some lack of diversity. There were two essays by Indians which mostly dealt with humanism and superstitions (which reflect the problems in India) and only one by an ex-muslim Maryam Namazie which drew a line between Islam and political Islam, which also reflects a reality in the Islamic world. It is here where I feel the book lacks a little bit, because I would have loved to see some more Asian representation (Chinese, Japanese etc.) and more African representation. Most of the authors are also reasonably well known and I'd like to see a few more common people since I believe that is an important message to get across, that disbelievers are not the intellectual elite, they are you and me.
All in all , this is a book that is well worth the read, though I suspect it will not be famous as any controversial polemic work, nor will it be picked up by the religious who would benefit the most from it.