New Book Out Today: There Is No God: Atheists in America

Today marks the release of a new academic (and expensive) book called There Is No God: Atheists in America by David A. Williamson and George Yancey:

It’s a look at atheists from a sociological perspective — not an argument for it or against it — but I’m already put off by the title, which suggests that atheists have this absolute certainty that God doesn’t exist… instead of what most of us really live by, which is probable certainty. We might live like God doesn’t exist but we’re open to evidence to the contrary.

As Richard Dawkins made so clear in The God Delusion, even he doesn’t go that far, but he’s almost asymptotically close.

But maybe I’m just being nitpicky since there are obviously many atheists who have no problem saying they’re sure there’s no God.

I contacted the publishers last week to see if they would allow me to post an excerpt from the book on this site, and I’m still waiting to hear back. Until then, you can get a sneak preview on Amazon.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Epinephrine

    What evidence would you accept for the existence of gods? We know our senses can be fooled, and sufficiently advanced technology could seem like magic. From a practical standpoint there is little to differentiate my position from “there is no God,” though I can’t say it with certainty.

    • ortcutt

      We know pretty well what our sensory limitations are by now. A phenomenon that indicated extraordinary supernatural power and agency, measurable by instruments or within the reliable range of our senses, would be evidence for a god, although it would be extremely difficult to distinguish a supernatural agent from an advanced alien natural agent. Being an atheist doesn’t require certainty, whatever that means. It just requires that one doesn’t believe that there are any gods. I consider that state to be no different than any other of our provisional, defeasible epistemic positions about the world.

      • Cortex_Returns

        The thing about sensory (or cognitive) limitations is we only know about the ones we’ve been able to find. We could have any number of sensory inabilities that we’re oblivious to, since we can’t observe them by definition.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Book titles need to use a certain amount of shorthand and publishers like them to be attention-grabbing.

    Even Christopher Hitchens initially didn’t like his book’s subtitle in “God is Not Great: how religion poisons EVERYTHING”, but eventually he embraced the ‘everything’ part. We could criticize the ‘everything’, or even criticize that “God is not great” implies that there is a god in existence just that he/she/it is not great… or we can recognize that titles are imperfect and are just meant to entice us to read further.

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

      I just thought of a fantastic example:

      one cool guy wrote a book called “I sold my soul on eBay”, even though probably neither he nor most of his fans believe that a soul even exists.

      The title is a shorthand, attention-grabber. It entices us to read the book.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

        Curse you.

        • ShoeUnited

          “Curse you.”? You’re really falling into the colloquialism these days. Are you suggesting that there is a god or spiritual world from which curses can be put and affect people’s lives? ;)

  • Daniel In The Lions’ Den

    I am on the asymptote of atheism. Few can say the sun will rise tomorrow morning, or really, from personal experience that the earth revolves on its axis and around the sun. But we have good reason to feel certain of those things, from personal observations and the accumulated knowledge of science.

    Sounds like a great book. I like the cover photo with the author in the opposite direction from others. That’s often how I feel.

    Kindle edition is $28. Not for me. Maybe when/if the price drops.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

    Is this really a neutral, objective book? I came across it on Amazon a few months ago, and not only does the title seem biased, but the description is dodgy:

    There is No God: Atheists in America answers several questions pertaining to how the atheist population has grown from relatively small numbers to have a disproportionately large impact on important issues of our day, such as the separation of church and state, abortion, gay marriage, and public school curricula.

    I must have missed when we acquired all of these powers! Clearly, the authors are operating under the assumption that atheists have undue political influence, when we are actually one of the most marginalized minority groups in the country.

    One of the authors, George Yancey, is an evangelical Christian who is interested in “anti-Christian bias,” according to this biography:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/blackwhiteandgray/about-the-authors/authors/george-yancey/

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

      it sort of depends. my reaction is like yours, but from the perspective of a believer in this country who has NEVER had to endure so much as a peep from non-theists in their communities before, that’s some “great” power. esp given it’s usually only a handful of people putting up those billboards, or hosting those afternoon gatherings, or whatever.

      • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

        True, but if this book is written from the point of view of that type of believer, it’s hardly neutral or objective. It’s actually quite a bizarre claim to make, that atheists have a “disproportionately large impact” on issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, or public school curricula. When have lawmakers ever paid attention to what atheists have to say about those issues? The vast majority of people in favor of reproductive rights and marriage equality aren’t atheists, and the ones who are influencing the textbook industry are fundamentalist Christians, not atheists.

    • Anti Iggy Man

      Yancey is also black.

      • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

        Yes, I saw his picture, but I’m not sure what Yancey’s race has to do with the book’s neutrality. I don’t worry about his objectivity because he’s black. It’s his status as a Christian and the bio’s mention of “anti-Christian bias” that gives me pause.

  • Sackbut

    The title doesn’t bother me in the least. We don’t bat an eyelash when someone says “there are no unicorns” (or “No, I don’t have change for five dollars” or “Charlie is at the office” or various other absolute statements). I assume that an intelligent person who makes such a statement will be open to evidence. We don’t go around saying “there are probably no unicorns” or “there are almost certainly no unicorns” or “to the best of my knowledge there are no unicorns”. We don’t spend five minutes explaining that we doubt the existence of unicorns, we think the whole idea is preposterous, but we are open to changing positions if and when new verifiable evidence is presented. We simply say “there are no unicorns”, with the rest understood. In the event that a person is truly absolutist about a particular position, we will probably find that out later, but we don’t need to add lots of hedge words to clarify things every damn time we talk about it.

    I don’t bother with the hedge words myself, except in situations where I am trying to be precisely clear about my openness to new evidence. It’s much simpler and more concise to say “gods are myths” or simply to speak of gods as myths or fiction. If I use hedge words, people may say “Well, you’re not *really* an atheist, you’re *really* an agnostic” or some such nonsense, or, even worse, they may say, “Well, at least you’re not like those nasty mean atheists like Dawkins who say there is no god”. No. I want people to understand that, in view, there simply is NO GOD, that I don’t have a scintilla of doubt on that point, I think the whole concept of gods is ludicrous. It should go without saying that, regarding gods, as with EVERYTHING, I am open to changing my mind in light of new evidence. Show me the evidence first, then we’ll talk.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

      Show me the evidence first, then we’ll talk.

      this.

      my main reasons for being “absolutist” are:

      - define “god.” even believers can’t. it’s a word like myxzylpict. it could mean, and does mean, almost everything and anything to believers. when they agree on one, clear, definitive meaning, call me.

      -for the Common Era traditions, almost all arguments for the “existence of god” boil down to 1)because our holy book says so/because some commentary on a tradition says so and/or 2)we’ve always believed this way. before the Common Era, people believed what they were told… in many cases b/c if they didn’t they’d be killed.

      -every construction of “god/goddess(s)” that i have encountered, which is a lot, leaves something really essential to be desired. which is to say: why believe in worship if:

      ~it lets little children die
      ~it never speaks to you
      ~it can’t be clear in “holy” writings what it wants
      and a lot of other similar questions.

      the “unicorn” argument is usually the short version of all this. there are books, images, plushies, clubs for, sex rituals of, and billions of little girls (at heart) who believe in the power of the unicorn and make wishes at their personal representations of the unicorn every night before they go to bed. doesn’t make them real. sorry.

    • Anti Iggy Man

      Whats all this talk about uncertainly? Lots of atheists declare “there is no God” and in doing so they make a claim.

      The FFRF puts up signs saying it.

      John Loftus is blunt about it in his book, WIBA.

      Its a more and more common claim.

      The “lack of belief” definition is fading; in fact, I lack belief in your claims to “uncertainty”.

      Cut the hedging, Embrace Your Hate!

      • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

        You’re treating “lack of belief” and “disbelief” as mutually exclusive options within atheism. If I lack a belief in gods, I’m an atheist. If I disbelieve in gods (i.e. state emphatically that none exist), then I’m an atheist. There’s no problem here.

      • JohnnieCanuck

        Hate for what? Any god? Your God? They doesn’t exist, except as a symbol of delusions. Until evidence is presented for the existance of some god, any god or supernatural being, we can go with the default. It doesn’t exist and there is no point in worshipping or hating it.

        I hope it isn’t as a member of the persecuted majority that you yourself feel hated. After all, what have you or your fellow travellers done to deserve criticism, let alone hate?

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

    I will say, regardless of the book’s neutrality, that it’s nice to see a black atheist on the cover. Rarely do nonfiction books feature people of color as the “default.” They’re usually only the primary person on the dustjacket if the book is specifically connected to being an ethnic minority.

    One other title bucking the trend is Faith No More by Phil Zuckerman, which features an Asian woman as the only person on the cover.

  • Mario Strada

    Noit sure if anyone else noticed, but one of the authors is blogging about the book here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/blackwhiteandgray/2013/04/atheists-in-america-part-1/

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

      Interesting! For someone who’s written an entire book about atheism, Yancey comes across as incredibly uneducated on the topic. Did he even do any research before embarking on this project? His replies to commenters reveal a whole host of misconceptions.

  • r.holmgren

    You never hear atheists saying, “I’m an atheist because there is evidence that this is a material universe only.” It’s always, “I’m an atheist because I don’t believe what those other people believe.” You’d think that those who assume that they’re the most logical and rational among us would want to show off the supporting evidence for their world-view.

    • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

      No. I’m an atheist because I realized that there is no good evidence to support the positive claims made by theists. I suspect that this is a pretty common position, and since atheism does not entail materialism, it’s unlikely that you’d get the first response very frequently, anyway.

    • cipher

      YOU may never hear it – but my guess is that you hear what you want to.


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