In my previous post, I listed three atheist books that helped me to change the way I view the world. Just to recap, they were: 1) Prisoner for Blasphemy by G.W. Foote, 2) Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, and 3) Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan.
As I was thinking of atheistic books and books written by atheists I wanted to share three more which I think everybody should read. While the first books which influenced my thinking dealt with mainly the philosophical aspects to religious belief, these next three deal more with the science behind human cognition and the nature of belief itself.
1. Atheism Advanced
Anthropologist David Eller’s book Natural Atheism set the grounds for how all religion is inevitably the creation of mankind. His case is more than convincing, but it that wasn’t enough, his follow up to the first book, Atheism Advanced, actually advances the implications of secular philosophy, such as Humanism, and Eller takes and in depth look at how all religion inevitably has a humanistic threat weaving throughout, because unlike the teachings of religion which claim to be from the divine, Eller advances a theory which shows all religions have humanistic elements because they come from us humans.
In Atheism Advanced Eller explains quite precisely why we must discredit religion with atheism (pull back the curtain in other words and reveal that God’s are just mortal men creating mere phantasms to act as their voices in order to trick the human race into heeding their own selfish needs). Eller makes a convincing case that it’s not just a matter of letting bygones be bygones, but rather, a means to an end. It’s one of the reasons I get frustrated when religious people accuse atheists of attacking their precious faith–as if it were an injustice. Well, actually the opposite seems to be true. Such attacks are necessary if you care anything about getting to the truth of a matter, and much like pseudoscience, religious claims which are patently false actually work to retard society and cripple good critical thinking. Hence, debunking religion becomes a necessary form of justice. It doesn’t mean we have to stop appreciating the religious myths, but only to realize that they are myths, and not confuse them for reality.
2. Religion Explained
Coined a cognitive anthropologist, Pascal Boyer goes one further than Eller than simply making the anthropological connections which reveal the origin of religion rooted in the imagination of mankind, Boyer actually shows it by providing an evolutionary explanation for the rise of religious belief and practice! Relying on anthropology, biology, psychology, and cutting edge neuroscience, Boyer’s cross-disciplinary investigation into religion reveals exactly how the human mind fabricates myth, creates religious practices, and psychologically tricks itself into believing its own delusions as real.
This book is a must read. It’s the one book that shattered my last and final reservations that there could possibly be something more to religion–something transcendent. Nope. After reading this book my atheism was forever solidified. Boyer destroys any such notion that religious belief could be anything more than mere human fancy by showing how religious beliefs arise, evolve, and take hold and root themselves in human culture and society.
3. The Belief Instinct
If Boyer’s account of how religious beliefs arise wasn’t enough to convince you, Jesse Bering provides the icing on the cake. After reading Bering’s book, The Belief Instinct, I was convinced that all three men, Eller, Boyer, and Bering weren’t just theorizing about the origins of religious belief. In actuality, they were making astute observations about the nature of religious belief and providing extremely detailed connections between human cognition and psychology which aptly explained the origins of religious belief.
Bering demonstrates the foundations of religious thought are based on cognition that is much more ingrained within the workings of the human mind than any religious expression or faith based experience may hint at. Once Bering shows how the mind works, how belief are generated, and our limitations with regard to both, most all religious experience seems superficial if not entirely redundant. But Bering explains the technical aspects of cognitive science in a way that is both accessible and easy to read. In addition, his book is surprisingly funny. Something which made reading it seem all the more enjoyable.
After reading all three books I came away with a deeper appreciation for religion. That might sound strange when you consider that these books use the tools of science to dismantle religion and show that it’s a mere psychological byproduct of human imagination and experience. But I found that once I understood how the mind worked, at least well enough to see the connections that Eller, Boyer, and Bering suggest are very real cognitive functions of the human mind, religious belief made a lot more sense to me.
The crazy religious beliefs as well as the beneficial beliefs worth saving suddenly made sense as they all neatly fit under an umbrella of scientific understanding. In turn, this helped me make sense of why religion is the way it is and why people believe the way they do.
Once you understand these things a little more clearly, then the rest doesn’t bother you as much as when you get frustrated because you couldn’t possibly understand how so many people could be so deluded, delusional, and willing to live a lie! Well, as Paul Harvey used to say, now I know the rest of the story.