Book Review

50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists ed. by Russell Blackford and Udo Schüklenk. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester, UK, 2009; 346 pages, ISBN 978-1-4051-9046-6, paper, $29.95.

This collection gives a varied and expansive picture of why people are disbelievers.  Contributors were asked to provide "your explanation of why you do not subscribe to the view that there exists an all-powerful, omniscient, good entity running the universe."  Most of the essays include personal and biographical reflections, others are largely philosophical or scientific arguments, but all are well written and only two or three fail to hold your interest. Many essays are entertaining as well. The writers are drawn from many fields (scientists, philosophers, fiction writers, journalists, psychologists, politicians, activists, even a magician) and countries (America, Australia, UK, Canada, Nigeria, India, Iran, Germany). It is very interesting to see the many different factors and events that cause these people to be nonbelievers.  Because contributors are addressing disbelief in this specific idea of god, the problems of evil and suffering come up quite often in the essays, but the approaches and reasons are diverse. 

An "all-powerful, omniscient, good entity" may seem an overly narrow concept of god, but of course it is the one promoted by Christian and Islamic fundamentalists and the one most commonly believed in by ordinary members of Abrahamic religions, and the editors wanted a volume that forms a counterpoint to the religious fanaticism so apparent in the world today.  Several writers mention that they have been forced to censor their public remarks on religion or social practices because of fear of reprisal, some having received death threats from Moslem fundamentalists that the police in Western countries refuse to investigate for fear of "offending Moslem sensibilities." But as the Iranian writer notes, "offended Moslem sensibilities" is a phrase used by political Islamists to suppress dissent and diverse viewpoints not only of non-Muslims but of their political and religious opponents in the Muslim community.  The only weapons these more moderate thinkers and believers have is criticism and ridicule, which are precisely what the phrase seeks to intimidate under the cloak of their being intolerant or even racist.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it. – Sally Dougherty (April 2010)   

Book Reviews