The title alone will stop you in your tracks, “A Manual for Creating Atheists”, a new book by philosopher Peter Boghossian.
At first glance, I thought I was looking at atheist proselytizing, the very thing we atheists often stand against. I was wrong, and in a really good way.
This book will in fact create atheists, and this book will make you a creator of some, but it will not be by preaching atheism, denouncing god or even denouncing religion. You are going to create atheists by simply learning how to talk about and discuss faith like never before.
Faith, as Boghossian describes is claiming to know something you don’t know. Others, such as Richard Dawkins have used similar definitions such as belief without evidence. This definition works just as well and keeping that in mind will help you understand this book even further.
Many atheists, like myself, love a good debate or even just a discussion –or as Boghossian refers to them, interventions– about why we gave up the idea of God, or why we left religion but for many these discussions revolve around picking apart evil in the Bible, or simply just how unlikely a God is. However, and I can speak from experience, how many minds have changed from anyone saying God does not exist and really convinced a believer otherwise based on our account of the world and universe alone? None? One if you are lucky?
Boghossian offers a much different tactic here; faith. Discuss someone’s faith and why they hold the beliefs they hold. They often hold such strong faith in things like the resurrection of Jesus, and we can debate the historicity of Jesus all day and night, but it may be worth more to ask them why they believe in such a story. What would it take for them to not believe the resurrection happened? As pointed out in the book, it is often a reply like “Jesus remains”, knowing very well if someone found remains and claimed them to be of Jesus, the believer would quickly denounce the finding or move the goal post, maybe saying something like “well that was his earthly body”, etc, etc”
Boghossian offers advice on how to answer these replies, what kind of questions are good to ask and how to lead an intervention that forces a believer to answer to such claims of faith that they may never have been forced to think about before.
Discussions like these plant a seed. As Boghossian points out, you will not change minds in front of you, but you will leave these people questioning aspects of their faith they have gone unquestioned and really make them come to terms with what they claim to believe in.
This is a book all atheists must read, especially any of you who speak to others about why you are an atheist and question others who are believers, regardless if you are debating theism or homeopathy, this book will give you the tools to use the Socratic method of questioning all while being entertained by his writing style and his interventions. I spend the whole book reflecting on past conversations that would have gone better if I had this tool already and I have already noticed myself using these tools in discussions now.
A Manual for Creating Atheists may be one of the most important books in a long time that discusses the importance of evidence based thinking instead of relying on faith, or hope, or whatever else someone uses as an excuse to hold into illogical positions.
This review originally appeared on Emily Has Books and has been reprinted here with permission.
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