This Makes It All Worth It - A Followup

Earlier today I wrote about an email I received from Abraham (not his real name) and how he is starting to look to atheism. He said that it was partly due to deep thinking and partly due to things I said here on HDC. We had a very nice exchange of emails and he agreed to let me share them, which I did earlier today in This Makes It All Worth It

Well! Abraham read the emails I sent to him, and my elaboration on here (see above link) and said the following a bit ago:
Saw the post on the blog, and I appreciated it, and the comments. In terms of reading, not much so far. I did go to Wikipedia and looked up "atheism", and with your comment, it helped me greatly. I am now ready to say that I am, in fact, an atheist, and hope to be able to defend my knowing that God does not exist more in time (I did read your post on Dawkins Spectrum of Theistic Probablilty). I hope to learn more in time. I really am not that much into podcasts, but am willing to look at essays.

I told him he is now on the A-Team and that he will soon get to learn our secret handshake. :P

I had offered to share the podcasts with him that I feel have been so helpful to me. I also asked him which books he's read on the subject.

So hey, I need your help! Let's compile a list for new atheists. I'd like to put books, essays and anything else on there that you've found helpful in your godless travels. Believe it or not, I have read very little of the classic stuff on atheism/religion/etc.

What would you recommend to Abraham? Which one or 2 sources did you find most informative and helpful once you were comfortable calling yourself an atheist (or the label of your choice)? Remember, he's come over to the Dark Side now, so we don't have to convince him. Now it's about information, insight, and being able to defend his lack of belief in gods. Please leave comments with the books, essays or resources you recommend and briefly how you felt they were helpful to you. Thanks very much! :)


  1. I really love Julia Sweeney's monologue "Letting Go of God", about her journey from growing up as a devout Catholic to becoming an atheist. I highly recommend it for anyone like me who grew up in a very religious environment. Letting go of all that stuff is definitely an ongoing process!

    It's a little over 2 hours long. It's available on YouTube in 7 parts, starting here:

    I'm not sure if the YouTube videos are strictly legal or might get yanked. But it's available through iTunes for $9.95, or through various other links on Julia's website:

    Cool, I only have audio, but apparently it's available as a DVD now, I might have to get that!

  2. I hear that Deep Simplicity's worth a read. I haven't read (or bought or borrowed) it yet myself. The Selfish Gene is a great book to read, but perhaps something like The Greatest Show on Earth might be a better place to start these days. Reading these books will help you to clearly see why the things the ID-crowd says are not even missing the point. Understanding how complexity can arise from simplicity and, more specifically, how complex life can, should show you how the God image propagated by many is an argument from ignorance and incredulity, and usually includes a false dichotomy too.

  3. I agree with Lisa, gods or goddesses have to prove themselves to us. My gold standard would be one that did no harm to anyone; did not have a group preference or a ‘chosen people’; and generally acted at least as a mature as thinking intelligent adult. Santa Claus is the only one I can think of that comes close. He gives out presents to everyone and the worst punishment you can possibly get is a lump of coal. The Easter Bunny is a close second. Any rabbit that can find, dye, and hide millions of eggs- has to have the highly organized mind of a CEO or a mom. So this proves what? Simple: the dark side has more fun and more laughs.
    I have read everything and anything from an early age and still I read. There is no one book I can recommend. However, when I really read the bible, (okay, tried to,) I was disappointed.
    To quote David Plotz , from his latest column in Slate magazine; What I learned from reading the entire Bible: “I don't, and can't, believe that Christ died for my sins. And even if he did, I still don't think that would wash away God's crimes in the Old Testament…. Why would anyone want to be ruled by a God who's so unmerciful, unjust, unforgiving, and unloving?”
    The cognitive dissonances built in to religions are incredible. Those alone are what should trigger most people to question their (in most cases) hand-me-down beliefs. But religion as a feel-good-group-Sunday (or Saturday)-hug is tempting to many. It’s comfortable and familiar, even though its rituals are built around age old scary tales of vengeance, hate, and persecution.
    Sadly, and more importantly, we don’t have a viable socially acceptable alternative.
    Quoting David again at the end of the same column, “As I read the book, I realized that the Bible's greatest heroes—or, at least, my greatest heroes—are not those who are most faithful, but those who are most contentious and doubtful: Moses negotiating with God at the burning bush, Gideon demanding divine proof before going to war, Job questioning God's own justice, Abraham demanding that God be merciful to the innocent of Sodom. They challenge God for his capriciousness, and demand justice, order, and morality, even when God refuses to provide them. Reading the Bible has given me a chance to start an argument with God about the most important questions there are, an argument that can last a lifetime.”
    Okay, here we have an intelligent literate person who says he doesn’t, or can’t believe in a god, but at the same time, is looking forward to arguing with this god just like his heroes did, for the rest of his life. This is what I mean by cognitive dissonance. Why argue with a god you say you don’t believe in? Please, Abraham, don’t fall into the trap of having to find alternate “proofs” to how the universe was created as an alternative to a god having creating everything.
    Give yourself a break. Breathe in the air around you and think about all the atoms that ever existed in the universe without having to take orders from anyone or thing except their own self structured survival mechanisms. Now that is something worth discovering over a lifetime.

  4. I agree with Marcia that Julia Sweeney's monologue is excellent - I saw the dvd and was fascinated by her ability to describe her transition from Catholicism to Atheism with such humor - and did it for an hour and a half! My other favorite is Greg Epstein's book: Good without God, particularly his discussion of the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments.

  5. It was rather poignant, touching and also funny, wasn't it? I enjoyed it too, and I'll add it to the list. Thanks for the links, Marcia.

  6. Thanks Frans, I've never heard of Deep Simplicity. What's it about? I'll have to check it out for myself!
    Yes, I got so much out of The Selfish Gene. It definitely belongs on the list.

  7. Thanks so much, Merrilee. I agree with you!

  8. Thanks Nancy. That helps. :)

  9. I can't tell you more than Amazon can, but from what I understand it's about how simple beginnings can lead to complex systems or something like that. I think it's a bit like the Selfish Gene in that it expresses "complex" mathematics in plain language, but I can only reiterate that I haven't read it! ;)

  10. Fascinating. I added it to the list and will have to look into it at some point. :) Thanks for sharing it, Frans.

  11. Goodreads has some more reviews if you want to know more. Personally I simply intend to add it to our collection of popular science novels. Perhaps I'll gift it to my wife for her birthday. I know, that might sound kind of bad, but we read all of "each other's" books regardless.

  12. Oh, it's a novel? Interesting. Thanks very much, Frans. No, I think getting it for your wife and then reading it is a good thing. It means you are sharing something that you can both enjoy and then talk about together. :)

  13. A slip of the, um, keyboard. I meant to say popular science books, but somehow it came out as novel. Of course it all depends on how inclusive (or exclusive) your definition of novel is.

  14. lol, well, if it's a fictional story, then it's a novel. At least that's how I'd define it off the top of my head. :P

  15. I doubt it's a novel then, like I already said. Sorry for the confusion. It may contain fictional stories to illustrate points though! :P