Today is the release date for Victor Stenger‘s new book The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason (Prometheus Books). Stenger previously authored the God: The Failed Hypothesis, the first-ever book released by Prometheus Books to make it onto the New York Times Bestsellers List.
The new book is a history of atheism… over the past five years. It essentially spans the release of Sam Harris‘ The End of Faith in 2004 to the present day, explaining how the “New Atheism” rose up. (Even if you don’t like the term, it’s certainly popular and Stenger rightly capitalizes on it.) He summarizes the New Atheists’ main points and offers up a few more arguments of his own. Along the way, Stenger also discusses the critics’ arguments to what is written in the atheist books — and offers excellent rebuttals to them.
This is a wonderful book for any person who hasn’t read an atheist blog over the past five years. That is to say, older and brand new atheists will enjoy Stenger’s book — it’s an excellent primer for godless newbies.
Younger and older-but-Internet-savvy atheists might enjoy it, but much of the time, they’ll just be saying “I already know this.” Several references in the book have been seen on blogs everywhere — like why Francis Collins is mistaken when he tries to reconciles science with faith. Other references are known if you’ve read the other New Atheist books. Still, there is a lot of good information in here and I’m not dismissing the book.
There is one serious criticism that I have about it. In Stenger’s entire discussion of the New Atheism, he seems to focus exclusively on the works of the bestselling authors.
There is little or no mention of American Atheists, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the American Humanist Association, and the Secular Coalition for America. Those organizations have flourished in the wake of the New Atheism.
There is also no mention at all of the atheist blogosphere — even PZ Myers gets short-shrifted. I’m not exactly unbiased about this, but I feel like blogs are one of the main ways people find out about what is going on in the atheist community. To not mention them, even in a section titled “The Future of Atheism,” seems like a tremendous oversight.
Stenger comes off as someone who knows all about what gets released by major publishers but relatively little about what gets written on the Internet.
Perhaps that’s not too surprising. Even his bio at the end of the book — nearly identical to the one in God: The Failed Hypothesis — includes the line, “Dr. Stenger maintains a popular Web site (a thousand hits per month)…” A thousand hits per month? That was nice a decade ago, but nowadays, no “popular” web presence gets only 33 hits per day on average. (I’d like to believe more people visit his site and he just hasn’t updated the bio.)
Personal rant about ignoring blogs and national organizations aside, The New Atheism is indeed a good introduction to the New Atheism. It’s not overly philosophical and provides easy-to-understand arguments to use if you’re ever in a religious debate.
A few sample chapters from the book can be found here.