I recently saw a discussion thread at LessWrong where the OP claimed, “I have stopped recommending Dawkin’s work to people who are on the fence about religion. The God Delusion utterly destroyed his effectiveness at convincing people against religion.” This got me thinking: what books do you recommend to get someone out of religion? Here was my answer:
I consider myself a Dawkins fan, but I personally wouldn’t recommend The God Delusion to, say, a creationist. To a creationist, I’d recommend Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth, along with Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True and the website TalkOrigins.org. The other Dawkins book I most frequently recommend is The Selfish Gene, but I’d recommend that mainly to people who aren’t opposed to evolution but may need more help really understanding evolution.
I suspect The God Delusion would be of greatest help to someone on the fence about religion, but I’m not sure I’d necessarily recommend it over, say, Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian. The main advantage of publishing The God Delusion, as I see it, is that Bertrand Russell wasn’t going to make it back onto the bestseller list anytime soon.
I don’t have many books I really strongly recommend to people with total confidence, but I do frequently give strong recommendations for Bart Ehrman’s books, particularly Jesus, Interrupted.
I used to be a young-earth creationist. I was convinced that young-earth creationism was wrong by old-earth creationists. I was convinced that old-earth creationism was wrong by theistic evolutionists. I was convinced that theistic evolution was wrong, not by Dawkins, but by equally bombastic atheists before the God Delusion was published. I was never convinced of anything by mealy-mouthed atheists pretending to think that religion was a reasonable position that they just didn’t personally agree with.
There is a case to be made for “easing people into it”, when it comes to advocating ideas. That doesn’t mean atheists should advocate Intelligent Design in an attempt to lure in YECs, obviously. And I think it would be equally ill-advised for people like Dawkins to pretend they see religion as anything other than transparently stupid and evil. Better to have the people who actually hold moderate positions advocating those moderate positions.
I don’t think criticisms of tone are necessarily fallacious. But I am suspicious whenever anyone says “stop advocating your position so stridently, or you’ll only drive people further away from you position”, because such claims are usually unfounded, and often associated with sinister ulterior motives.
That would suggest that when it comes to recommending books to creationists, Kenneth Miller might be a better recommendation than Dawkins and Coyne. Do you agree? What other Kenneth Miller-like authors would you recommend to a hardcore fundamentalist?