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Atheism For Dummies®

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Table of Contents

Introduction

About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

What You’re Not to Read

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organized

Part I: Understanding What Atheism Is

Part II: Following Atheism through the Ages

Part III: Reading the Great Works of Atheism

Part IV: Living a Full Life without Belief in God

Part V: The Part of Tens

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I: Understanding What Atheism Is

Chapter 1: Meeting Atheism

Getting a Grip on Atheism

Seeing the many forms and faces of religious disbelief

Examining what nonbelievers believe and don’t believe — and why

Seeing the Progression of Atheism

In the distant past and in different cultures

The 19th century

The 20th century

Atheism today

Examining Atheism in the Written Word

Understanding What Atheism Means in Everyday Life

Chapter 2: Unweaving the Rainbow of Disbelief

Tomato, Tomahto? The Wonderful, Maddening World of Atheist Labels

Defining atheism: Implicit versus explicit

Coming to terms: A quick look at labels

Answering the capital question: Is it Atheist or atheist?

Believing and Disbelieving by Degrees

Roberts’s rule: “We are both atheists”

Russell’s labels: Why most atheists are agnostics and vice versa

Dawkins’s degrees: The seven-point belief scale

Emphasizing Doubt: Agnostics Aren’t Sure (and Neither Are You)

Discovering Humanism: The Thousand Steps That Follow

Looking at the world in a different way

Coming to terms with terms: Humanist or secular humanist?

Seeing the humanist heart of atheism

Forcing a Square Peg into a Round Hole: The Unpigeonholeables

Believing in a different kind of creator: Deists

Seeing nature as God: Pantheists

Being religious without a god: Religious atheists

Moving beyond labels: The rise of the Nones

Chapter 3: Recognizing What Atheists Do and Don’t Believe — and Why

Understanding Why Atheists Don’t Believe in God

Crossing from the will to believe to “the will to find out”

Getting a handle on confirmation bias

Asking new questions

Comparing religions

Reading the Bible

Admitting the weakness of the arguments and evidence

Solving the complexity problem

Noticing the steady retreat of religious answers

Getting humble about humanness

Coming (really, really) late to the party

Grasping the size of the universe

Seeing that the universe is just as you would expect it to be without a God

Knowing What Most Atheists Actually Do Believe

Seeing the natural universe as all there is — and enough

Accepting that this is our one and only life

Valuing ethical behavior

Taking responsibility for ourselves and each other

Asserting that God is actually “that kind of question”

Addressing the negative consequences of religious belief

Discovering meaning and purpose

Realizing that a universe without God can be even more wonderful and inspiring

Setting Aside Misconceptions: Things That Few (If Any) Atheists Believe

That there is no right and wrong

That life arose and evolved by chance

That all religion is the same

That religion has made no positive contributions

Answering the Question: Is Science Incompatible with Belief in God?

Part II: Following Atheism through the Ages

Chapter 4: Finding Atheism in the Ancient World

Uncovering What the Ancients Believed (Or Didn’t)

Leaping Forward: The Axial Age

Inferring Unbelief in Ancient Judea

Finding Unbelief in Ancient China

Understanding the concept of t’ien (heaven . . . but not quite)

Getting to the roots of Confucianism

Visiting ancient India: 320 million gods and none at all

Whispering doubts in Ancient Greece and Rome

Chapter 5: Going Medieval

Continuing to Doubt in Medieval India

Putting atheist Hinduism front and center

Calling out “foolish men” — Jinasena

Sweeping Out the Superstitions in China

Trash-Talking in Medieval Islam

Kindling the Islamic Golden Age

Railing theologians: “Against the Unbelievers”

Railing back: Unbelievers say “Muhammad was a liar”

Freezing Out the Gods in Iceland

Giving Europe the Third Degree: The Inquisitions

Eyeing the Inquisition’s main focus

Meeting Jacques Fournier, Inquisitor

Finding unbelievers among the heretics

Chapter 6: Enlightening Strikes

Transmitting the Classics

Bringing the Greeks back to Europe: The Arab scholars

Saving atheism: Catholicism’s ironic role

Getting a (Bad) Name: Athée

Discovering a Whole New Way to Think: The Scientific Revolution

Copernicus knocks the Earth off-center; Galileo backs him up: The first humbling

Reconciling science and religion (or not) — Whiston’s New Theory of the Earth

Stirring the Pot: The Clandestine Manuscripts

Singing the War Song of an Atheist Priest

Thinking Dangerous Thoughts: The Enlightenment Philosophers

Crushing infamous things with Voltaire

Daring to know: Kant’s “Sapere aude!”

Meeting of minds in coffeehouses and salons

Getting explicit in Paris: The incredible Encyclopédie

Challenging the Powers That Be: The French Revolution

Dechristianizing France

Creating a Cult of Reason

Back to the future: The Cult of the Supreme Being

Checking In on the US Founding Fathers

Chapter 7: Opening a Golden Age of Freethought

Killing God: Atheist Philosophers Do the Crime, a Pantheist Writes the Eulogy

Freethinking with Early Feminists

Bracing for the Collision of Religion and Science

Aging the Earth: The second humbling

Dethroning the human species: The third humbling

Mixing signals: The Vatican warns against “the unrestrained freedom of thought”

Challenging the Religious Monopoly in Politics

Denying unbelief a seat at the table: The Bradlaugh Affair

Waxing eloquent in unbelief: Robert Green Ingersoll

Creating a Religion without God: Felix Adler’s Ethical Culture

Chapter 8: Growing Up in the Tumultuous 20th Century

Clashing at the National Levels: Atheism and Religion

Encountering violence and intolerance in the Soviet Union

Provoking the Cristero Rebellion in Mexico

Examining the horrors of a Cultural Revolution in China

Birthing Modern Humanism

Redefining God: John Dewey

Making manifestos and declarations

Building a philosophy of humanism: Corliss Lamont

Disagreeing with Gandhi

Leading a religious nation: The atheist Jawaharlal Nehru

Pressing Gandhi on social issues: Gora

Meeting the “Most Hated”

The “Most Hated Man in Kentucky”: Charles Chilton Moore

The “Most Hated Woman in America,” Part I: Emma Goldman

The “Most Hated Woman in Britain”: Margaret Knight

The “Most Hated Woman in America,” Part II: Madalyn Murray O’Hair

Courting the Separation of Church and State

Doing Religion with an Optional God: Unitarian Universalism

Burying God, Keeping Jesus: The Death of God Theologians

Skipping Yahweh: Humanistic Judaism

Reconciling Science and Religion (Or Not) Again: Gould’s NOMA

Chapter 9: Voicing a New Atheism, and a New Humanism, for the 21st Century

Tracing the Birth of the 21st-Century Atheist Movement

Feeling “Deep Grief and Fierce Anger”: The Four Horsemen

Sounding the alarm: Richard Dawkins on “the elephant in the room”

Joining (or rejoining) the battle: Harris, Dennett, Hitchens . . . and Dawkins again

Hearing the Chorus of New Atheists: We Are Here, We Are Here, We Are Here!

Calling out from billboards and buses

Coming out with the Out Campaign

Rallying around reason

Welcoming the young and the godless

Founding new organizations

Spreading Humanism Worldwide

Creating humanist chaplaincies at Harvard and beyond

Setting a place at the table — national and international humanism

Promoting humanism in Africa

Exploding into a Thriving Online Community

Considering how the Internet has helped

Surfing to some popular atheist websites

Maturing as a Movement

Making accommodations —is “interfaith” a bad word?

Moving beyond words

Part III: Reading the Great Works of Atheism

Chapter 10: Uncovering Lost, Secret, Censored, and Forbidden Works

Speaking Volumes in Two Sentences: Protagoras’s On the Gods

Hearing Echoes of the Lost Sutras of Cārvāka

Listening to Al-Razi on “Fraudulent” Muhammad

Discovering the First Explicitly Atheist Book — Theophrastus Redivivus

Making a Whispered Myth Real: The Treatise of the Three Impostors

Expelling the Atheist: Shelley’s Necessity of Atheism

Disguising Darwin’s Autobiography

Censoring Himself . . . for Awhile: Mark Twain

Chapter 11: Sampling Important Works: Deep Thoughts, Big Thinkers

Spotting the Survivors

Musing on the Nature of Things with Lucretius

Correcting the Unenlightened with Chang

Appreciating Unorthodox Believers

Praising Folly with Erasmus

Reasoning with Paine

Clearing the Way

Hiding disbelief with an atheist priest

Promoting Good Sense with d’Holbach

Rejecting Christianity with Russell

Building a New Vision

Drawing crowds with Robert Ingersoll

Imagining a humanist world with Lamont

Waxing miraculous with Dawkins

Chapter 12: Laughing in Disbelief: Challenging the Divine with Humor

Getting Satirical

Mark Twain

George Carlin

The Onion

The Power of Parody: The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Skewering the Sacred Musically: Tim Minchin

Blaspheming at the Movies: Life of Brian

Bringing the Blasphemy Home on TV

The Simpsons

South Park

Family Guy

Downloading Disbelief

Mr. Deity

Jesus and Mo

Eternal Earthbound Pets

Chapter 13: Reawakening Passionate Disbelief: Key Works of the 21st Century

Sparking an Atheist Renaissance

Setting the stage: Hecht and Jacoby

Urging The End of Faith – Sam Harris

Diagnosing The God Delusion with Richard Dawkins

Breaking the Spell with Daniel Dennett

Arguing that God Is Not Great with Christopher Hitchens

Continuing the Conversation: Great Blogs

Reflecting intelligently: Greta Christina’s Blog

Commenting on the current: Friendly Atheist

Leading the Marines: Pharyngula

Building bridges: Non-Prophet Status

Providing perspective: Skepchick

Going beyond the Intellectual: The Complete Life without Gods

Getting godlessly spiritual

Flipping the idea of holiness

Creating a humanist Bible

Seeking the good without God

Building bridges with the religious

Part IV: Living a Full Life without Belief in God

Chapter 14: Getting Personal with Atheism Today

Counting Heads: The Growing Nontheistic Presence around the World

Figuring Out the Who, What, and Where of Atheism

Mapping religion and doubt: Atheists hiding in plain sight

Disbelieving differently around the world

Talkin’ about My (Kids’) Generation

Answering the Question: “Why Are Atheists So Angry?”

Opening Up the Freethought Movement

Speaking of gender

Honoring Harry — the “classic” atheists, and what they built

Seeing Sally — the “community” atheists, and what they need

Considering race and ethnicity

Creating a Satisfying Community for Nonbelievers of Every Stripe

Taking a Quick Look at Issues around the World

Chapter 15: Being Good with or without God

Defining Morality

Being Good without a Belief in God

Why bother being good at all?

Chucking Stalin and the Inquisition — and getting serious about morality

Being good without God — a quick history

Digging Up the Natural Roots of Morality

Clarifying “survival of the fittest”

Being afraid — and getting over it

Framing the question right — why do people (mostly) behave so well?

Recognizing the changing nature of morality

Exercising the moral muscle

Grasping ethical incentives — carrots and sticks

Recognizing different levels of morality

Keeping two moral ideas in view

Chapter 16 : Seeing the World Naturally

Feeling Freedom and Relief

Accepting Responsibility and Accountability

Setting Aside Bronze-Age Ideas

Thinking about virtues and vices

Embracing doubt

Rethinking sex and sexuality

Thinking about gender

Accepting Mortality

Saying goodbye . . . for real

Embracing life’s limits

Gaping in New Wonder at Reality

Considering whether an atheist can be spiritual

Welcoming natural wonder

Grasping the implications of evolution

Discovering and Defining Life’s Meaning

Raising Children to Think Independently

Chapter 17: Being an Atheist in a Religious World

Living in a Mostly Religious Culture

Choosing battles, knowing rules

Grappling with church-state issues in public school and in the public square

Living in the closet

Coming out of the closet

Deciding how to interact with religion and the religious

Getting Religiously Literate

Understanding why religious literacy matters (for everyone)

Doing religious literacy the wrong way

Doing religious literacy the right way

Living as an Atheist in a Religious Extended Family

Drawing out family religious diversity

Creating a safe space for doubt and difference

Defusing family pressure

Connecting with others

Trying not to disappear

Chapter 18: Getting the Best of Religion . . . and Leaving the Rest

Realizing Why People (Really) Go to Church

Creating Communities without Church (. . . or at Least without God)

Experimenting with humanist community

Finding other tribes

Celebrating Special Days

Enjoying the holidays

Celebrating birth

Coming of age

Getting hitched

Remembering the dead

Counseling and Support without Religion

Kicking bad habits without a “higher power”

Consoling those who grieve

Doing Good Together

Asking Whether Anything is Sacred

Part V: The Part of Tens

Chapter 19: Ten Surprising Things about Atheists and Other Nonbelievers

They’re All Around You

They’re Growing in Number

They Know an Awful Lot about Religion

They Tend to Behave Themselves

They Have a Lot in Common with Everyone Else

They Can Be Nice, Normal, and Funny

They’re in Foxholes, Too

They Don’t Usually Raise Their Kids to Be Atheists

They’re Not More Worried about Death than the Religious

They Often Seek to Coexist and Cooperate with Religious People

Chapter 20: Ten (Plus One) Famous People You May Not Know are Nonbelievers

The Guy Who Wrote Slaughterhouse-Five

The First Female Prime Minister of Australia

The First Atheist Over the Rainbow

The First Woman on US Currency

Ten Points for Gryffindor!

An A-List Actor and Philanthropist

The Founder of Ms. Magazine

An Actual No-Kidding Bishop

The World’s Coolest Astronomer

One of the World’s Richest (and Most Generous) People

An Actress, Activist of the First Rank, and another Harry Potter Alum

Chapter 21: Ten Fun and Easy Ways to Explore Atheism

Read the Books

Follow Blogs, Pods, and Vlogs

Listen to the Music

Think about Thinking

Be Touched by His Noodly Appendage

Read the Bible

Watch Letting Go of God

Watch Other Movies That Challenge Beliefs or Explore a Natural Worldview

Talk to an Atheist

Join the Club

Cheat Sheet

About the Author

Dale McGowan, PhD, conducted orchestras, earned a doctorate in music composition, and spent 15 years as a college professor before chucking it all to become a writer.

Editor and co-author of Parenting Beyond Belief (“A compelling read”—Newsweek) and Raising Freethinkers, the two top-selling books for nonreligious parents, Dale also offers secular parenting workshops in cities across North America and writes a popular blog for nonreligious parents called “The Meming of Life” (www.parentingbeyondbelief.com\\blog).

Dale edited the historical anthology Voices of Unbelief: Documents by Atheists and Agnostics, and reviewers have called his satirical novel Calling Bernadette’s Bluff “an undoubted triumph of satire” and “a riot.”

He was named 2008 Harvard Humanist of the Year for his work in nonreligious parenting. In addition to writing and speaking, he is the founding executive director of Foundation Beyond Belief, a nonprofit charitable foundation focusing and encouraging humanist generosity and compassion.

Dale lives near Atlanta with his wife and three kids. To learn more or to contact Dale, visit DaleMcGowan.com.

Dedication

This book is dedicated to my parents, Dave and Carol McGowan, who raised me to be curious about the real world and never told me there was a thought I couldn’t think.

To my kids, Connor, Erin, and Delaney, to whom I return the favor.

And to Becca, the perfect partner for a great adventure.

Author’s Acknowledgments

Thanks first of all to the great and friendly atheist Hemant Mehta, the first person to think I’d be a good person to write this book. I’m deeply indebted to Ed Buckner and Amanda Metskas, two giants of the freethought world who took the time to read this book while it was in progress and whose rod and staff guided me when I went astray.

Greta Christina and Jennifer Michael Hecht are the two great writers and thinkers on whose work I’ve drawn more than any others for this project.

Immense thanks to the staff and interns at Foundation Beyond Belief who kept things humming while I wrote: Airan Wright, Brittany Shoots-Reinhard, Claire Vinyard, Kelly Wright, Walker Bristol, Joshua Brose, Cathleen O’Grady, Andrew Geary, Sam Shore, Sarah Hamilton, Kate Donovan, Chana Messinger, Corey Glasscock, Lauren Lane . . . and special praise for the dynamic duo of Noelle George and AJ Chalom.

A hat tip to my blog readers at The Meming of Life who helped plumb the depths of several big questions.

Many thanks to the professional and supportive team at John Wiley & Sons, Inc., especially Anam Ahmed and Chad Sievers, and my splendid agent Dr. Uwe Stender.

Finally, all thanks and love to my wife, Becca, who also read and improved every page, and our three spectacular kids, Connor, Erin, and Delaney. You make it all worthwhile.

Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our online registration form located at http://dummies.custhelp.com. For other comments, please contact our Customer Care Department within the United States at 877-762-2974, outside the United States at 317-572-3993, or fax 317-572-4002.

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Proofreaders: Susan Moritz, Wordsmith Editorial

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John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd.

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Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

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Composition Services

Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services

Introduction

A friend who heard I was writing Atheism For Dummies said it would be the skinniest book on the shelf. “Just one sentence long,” he said. “‘Atheists are people who don’t believe in God.’”

I replied by suggesting a book on the Grand Canyon: “The Grand Canyon is a big hole in Arizona.” Of course that sentence would miss most of what’s really worth knowing about the Grand Canyon — its geology and geography, how it came to be, its wildlife and formations, and its significance among other formations on the planet.

Likewise, a book on atheism that stops at the definition of the word would miss what’s really interesting about the startling idea that (despite what your mother and your hunches may tell you) God doesn’t actually exist. It’d be just as incomplete as saying, “Religious people believe in God,” and leaving it at that. There’s a bit more to say.

People who’ve entertained the possibility that God doesn’t exist, and sometimes even said it out loud, make up a seldom-explored thread of human history that intersects with the biggest questions in human life:

check.png How did everything get here?

check.png What is the meaning and purpose of life?

check.png How can you (and more importantly, that guy over there) be a good and moral person?

check.png What happens when you die?

check.png Seriously, is somebody steering this thing?

The idea that an unseen power created and runs the universe is surely as old as the human mind. From the first time one Homo habilis saw his neighbor fall down and never get up again, the curious human neo-cortex would have demanded an explanation. Lacking any good way of figuring out what happened, that same neo-cortex would have provided an answer that seemed true.

But every guess in human history that “seemed right” has almost certainly been doubted by somebody in the room. When the guess is “God,” and the doubt rises to the level of strong conviction, you have yourself an atheist.

Atheist. If that word makes you flinch, you’re not alone. People are conditioned to flinch at certain words. When my son came home in seventh grade and said, “You know what? I think I’m a communist,” I nearly flinched down a flight of stairs. He’d learned about systems of government, you see, and the one where everybody shared what they had sounded good to him. But I grew up in the 1970s, and before I could actually learn anything about communism, I’d heard it hissed so many times that I couldn’t think about it at all. All I could do was flinch.

The same is true of atheism; however, it’s much less flinch-worthy than you may think. And one purpose of this book is to bring that flinch down to a mild tic.

About This Book

This is a book about atheism written by an atheist. I’m also an agnostic and a humanist, which makes more sense when you finish Chapter 2. If you finish Chapter 2, I should say, because this book is written for dipping and diving. Skip Chapter 2 completely if you want.

This book isn’t the first one about atheism written by an atheist, but it’s different from most. It’s an overview, an intro for people who are interested in finding out more about the topic. It does include some of the reasons atheists are atheists, but it’s not written to convince you to become one. If that’s what you’re after, other books can serve you better. And though it includes some of the complaints atheists have about religion — because hey, that’s part of the picture — it’s not a broadside against religious belief either. In fact, I spend a good deal of ink talking about the good things religion has to offer and the things believers and nonbelievers have in common. Chapters 17 and 18 are bursting with that sort of thing, which is one of the likely surprises for readers of Atheism For Dummies.

Although a lot of atheists spend a lot of time (and rightly so) fighting against the bad things religion does, just as many of atheists are interested in co-existing with religion and religious people. And sometimes the same person goes back and forth, depending on the issue. If the idea of atheism freaks you out a bit, my hope is that this book can help you relax. Atheists are mostly perfectly normal folks, and everyone will be better off if they’re less fearful of each other.

On a personal note: You’ll see a lot of personal notes in this book. It’s one of the most striking differences between Atheism For Dummies and, say, Catholicism For Dummies. There’s no atheist Vatican, no catechism, no scripture, so I can’t point to a central, defining authority to tell you who atheists are or what they believe. I end up relying on surveys, on the reports of organizations, on research, on histories, on anecdotal evidence from the thousands of atheists and humanists I’ve met during my years in the freethought movement, and on my own personal experience as an atheist and humanist. (To keep myself honest, Dr. Ed Buckner, one of the true giants of the American freethought movement, is the book’s technical editor to catch my errors. If any got through, blame Ed.)

The lack of an atheist Vatican is a good thing. Just as not all Catholics believe what the Vatican defines as “Catholic belief,” so any central atheist authority would instantly fail to represent the true diversity of belief among those who claim one of the many labels under that great big umbrella.

So as you flip through this book, instead of a single grand procession through history, you can see religious disbelief as it really is — a collection of millions of individual voices, millions of separate stories, millions of individual human beings asking questions, questioning answers, and finally arriving at the conclusion that God, for better and worse, is all in our heads.

Finally, no one should expect a complete reckoning of the wonderful world of atheism. It’s not possible, it’s not desirable, and it’s not the purpose of this book. Instead, I try to stick to the things that are most interesting and relevant to the past and present of atheism, then give you tips for finding out more if you want to.

Conventions Used in This Book

I use the following conventions throughout the text to make things consistent and easy to understand:

check.png All Web addresses appear in monofont. However, I don’t give a lot of URLs. There’s nothing as tedious as copying out a long web address from a book. So I often give an organization name, for example, and let you search for it online.

check.png New terms appear in italics and are closely followed by an easy-to-understand definition.

check.png Though a lot of nonbelievers capitalize Atheist and Humanist, many others don’t. For reasons I explain in Chapter 2, I’m with the lower-casers. I follow the convention of capitalizing the names of religions, and I capitalize God when used as a proper name (“she believes in God”), just like I capitalize Steve (“she believes in Steve”). But when it’s a generic god or gods (“they worship a big blue god”), no cap. I plan to be pretty inconsistent on this one.

check.png Bold is used to highlight the action parts of numbered steps and to emphasize keywords.

In addition, let me warn you that atheists are a wordy bunch. We tend to read and write and talk a lot. And the analyzing, oh the analyzing. As a result, we have countless words and terms and labels, including some with microscopic differences between them (or none). If I can spare you from a term in this book, I do. If two words have important differences in meaning, I let you know. If they’re basically synonyms, I may use them interchangeably, just to irritate atheists who know the tiny differences and care too much. I even plan to irritate myself in this way.

You may also notice that I almost never make an absolute claim about atheists — or theists, for that matter. (See? I said “almost never.” Get used to that.) You may see a lot of qualifiers like

check.png “Atheists tend to . . . ”

check.png “Atheists usually . . . ”

check.pngMost atheists . . .”

Aside from not believing in God, not many things can be positively said about all nonbelievers.

What You’re Not to Read

Don’t feel like you have to read every word to get something out of this book. I’ve made it modular, so you can flip to any part of the book and start reading at any heading without needing to have read anything up to that point.

Sidebars are interesting but nonessential, as is anything marked with the “Technical Stuff” icon. You can skip them at will. If anything makes your eyes glaze over, I’m sorry, and you can skip it.

Everything else is golden.

Foolish Assumptions

From the start, I assume a certain ideal reader. Here are the assumptions that I make about you:

check.png You’re probably not an atheist yourself and don’t know much about the subject, but you’re curious and would like to learn more.

check.png If you identify as atheist, agnostic, or secular humanist, I bet you can come away from this book knowing and appreciating more about the history and underpinnings of our worldview. If you can stand being relegated to the nosebleed seats for this performance, I promise to occasionally aim the KissCam at you or shoot a T-shirt your way.

check.png You’re not actually a dummy. In fact, one of the best assumptions made by the publishers of the For Dummies series is that its readers aren’t dummies in general, just uninformed about a particular subject. So although I’ve tried to keep the tone light and the details brief, I assume you can chew on some serious ideas and handle a few unfamiliar terms.

How This Book Is Organized

This book is divided into five parts. Each introduces you to an important dimension of atheism.

Part I: Understanding What Atheism Is

The first part is all about the nuts and bolts of atheism: the labels (and labels, and labels) that go along with it, a few other key terms, how someone can be both an atheist and an agnostic, and what atheists actually believe, and don’t believe, and why.

Part II: Following Atheism through the Ages

Part II takes a reckless ride through the long, fascinating history of the idea that (despite persistent rumors to the contrary) there aren’t any gods, from ancient China and India to 21st century Britain and America.

Part III: Reading the Great Works of Atheism

Part III goes back to Square One and retraces the steps of atheism through the ages, this time using important written works in every era as stepping stones. If you’re looking for additions to your reading list, you can find them in this part.

Part IV: Living a Full Life without Belief in God

This part walks you through what it’s actually like being an atheist, including what atheists think about meaning, ethics, and death. Here I discuss how many nonbelievers are in the world today and why their influence is growing. I also discuss how the nonreligious get some of the benefits of the church without the detriments — and without the actual church.

Part V: The Part of Tens

Every Dummies book has a Part of Tens — lists with (about) ten fun and interesting things each that relate to the main topic. I cover surprising things about atheists, some famous nonbelievers you didn’t know are nonbelievers, and ways you can explore atheism.

Icons Used in This Book

You can notice these small icons in the margins that map important points in this book. Here are the icons I use:

famousfreethinker.eps This icon identifies a few of the most important atheists, agnostics, and humanists in freethought history.

remember.eps This icon signals a bit of information that’s especially important to remember.

tip.eps This icon points you to a bit of advice that can help in thinking about a difficult issue.

warning_bomb.eps This one warns about common misconceptions. If you want to avoid jumping to conclusions, pay special attention to these.

technicalstuff.eps This icon appears next to information that you may find interesting but won’t kill you to skip.

Where to Go from Here

Now you have the very basic flavor of this book. If you go straight into Chapter 1, you can get a more detailed synopsis of the whole book. If you’re a dip-and-diver, Chapter 1 can help you figure out where to go next. You can also check the table of contents or index, find a topic that interests you, and start reading.

Or you can read straight through. Any way works just fine, as long as you remember to skip anything that loses your interest. However you read it, by the end you’ll know whether you want to explore further.

Part I

Understanding What Atheism Is

9781118509203-pp0101.eps

In this part . . .

This part is all about the nuts and bolts of atheism: the labels that go along with it, some key terms, how someone can be both an atheist and an agnostic, and what atheists actually believe, don’t believe, and why.