On the issue of god, you must take a position; you either believe that you exist according to some divine plan or else think your existence can be explained adequately by the laws of physics and biology. And this is no small thing; your answer to this will impact all of your other beliefs.
The topic of god and religion is fascinating because it segues into almost every other area of intellectual discourse. The question of god’s existence invariably leads to questions of existence and reality (metaphysics), the nature of knowledge and what can be known (epistemology), and the foundation of ethics and morality and even society.
As such, it’s an important topic for both the believer and unbeliever alike. Simply identifying as an atheist doesn’t automatically make you a free-thinker if your beliefs are merely the result of an unquestioned acceptance of someone else’s thinking. The designation of free-thinker is reserved for those who fully engage with the arguments and in the process form their own beliefs.
If you’d like to dive deeper into humanity’s oldest debate, here are 23 of the best books on atheism, religion, secularism, and free-thinking:
- The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever by Christopher Hitchens — Christopher Hitchens’ personally curated anthology of the most influential and important writings on atheism throughout history.
- God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens — with a close and erudite reading of the major religious texts, Christopher Hitchens makes the ultimate case against religion and for a more secular life based on science and reason.
- The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins — a preeminent scientist — and the world’s most prominent atheist — asserts the irrationality of belief in God and the grievous harm religion has inflicted on society, from the Crusades to 9/11.
- The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design by Richard Dawkins — the classic text that remains the definitive argument for our modern understanding of evolution.
- The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible by Steve Wells — an invaluable presentation of the Bible that doesn’t hide the cruelties, contradictions, absurdities, misogyny, and everything else that makes the ‘Good Book’ bad.
- The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris — delivers a startling analysis of the clash between reason and religion in the modern world. Harris offers a vivid, historical tour of our willingness to suspend reason in favor of religious beliefs―even when these beliefs inspire the worst human atrocities.
- Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris — an articulate, no apologies challenge to adherents of religion.
- The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values by Sam Harris — defining morality in terms of human and animal well-being, Harris argues that science can do more than tell how we are; it can, in principle, tell us how we ought to be.
- A Manual for Creating Atheists by Peter Boghossian — the first-ever guide, not for talking people into faith, but for talking them out of it.
- Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne — a succinct and accessible summary of the facts supporting the theory of natural selection.
- Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible by Jerry Coyne — details why the toolkit of science, based on reason and empirical study, is reliable, while that of religion—including faith, dogma, and revelation—leads to incorrect, untestable, or conflicting conclusions.
- Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel Dennett — a scientific and philosophical examination of the phenomenon of religion.
- The God Argument: The Case against Religion and for Humanism by A.C. Grayling — an examination of all the arguments for god’s existence and a defense of humanism in place of religion.
- The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths by Michael Shermer — a comprehensive theory, based on thirty years of research, on how beliefs are born, formed, reinforced, challenged, changed, and extinguished.
- The Moral Arc: How Science Makes Us Better People by Michael Shermer — demonstrates how the scientific way of thinking has made people, and society as a whole, more moral.
- Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby — a powerful defense of the secularist heritage that gave Americans the first government in the world founded not on the authority of religion but on the bedrock of human reason.
- Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects by Bertrand Russell — a collection of essays that express Russell’s views on religion. In Russell’s own words: “I am as firmly convinced that religions do harm as I am that they are untrue.”
- The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan — argues that scientific thinking is critical not only to the pursuit of truth but to the very well-being of our democratic institutions. A prescient warning of a future we now inhabit, where fake news stories and Internet conspiracy theories play to a disaffected American populace.
- God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction by Dan Barker — a former ordained minister and current atheist gives us a biblical play-by-play illustrating God’s not-so-admirable qualities.
- The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails by John Loftus — an anthology of articles arguing that believers should test their faith with the same skeptical standards they use to evaluate the other faiths they reject, as if they were outsiders.
- Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson by Jennifer Hecht — champions doubt and questioning as one of the great and noble, if unheralded, intellectual traditions that distinguish the Western mind.
- The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker — the psychological, historical, and cultural causes for the decline in violence and why secularism is behind the progress.
- Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker — shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise, not just in the West, but worldwide. Demonstrates that progress is a gift of the Enlightenment: the conviction that reason and science can enhance human flourishing.