Discussion: what books do you recommend to get someone out of religion?

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.

The only person who chimed in in response to my comment said “The Bible,” a recommendation I agree on wholeheartedly. Now I want to hear from all you readers: what books do you recommend to people to get them out of religion?
Also, another interesting comment from the LessWrong thread:

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?

  • Jay

    I agree with the last comment – it depends on where you are in your journey which book will make an impact. I followed essentially the same path – YEC, OEC, then doubter, then I would have called myself an atheist or agnostic in my heart but I went to church because I wasn’t “out” for a long long time. After a long time of praying to god and never hearing an answer, I discovered the God Delusion. It was rough for me to read – and I was already 99% there. It was so offensive to this god that I had loved but I knew he was right. I read it like touching a warm stove – a touch, recoil, think about it, touch, recoil until I could read it without wincing. Around the same time I found Pharyngula and did the same thing. But I knew because of all my other searching that they were right. It was just so hard to hear. But they finally took me the rest of the way. Now I’m out and not going to church – which feels much better.

  • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

    I recommend Dialogue with a Christian Proselytizer by Todd Allen Gates. It’s essentially a counter-apologetics book with meticulous research to use the best apologetics he can find, then explain what’s wrong with them. It’s full fo scientific, philosophical and historical arguments and pretty much covers the gamut of ever argument I’ve ever heard for Christianity. (Note Islamic apologetics are very similar.)

  • http://Skepticali.blogspot.com Skepticali

    It was the Old Testament that did the heavy lifting for me. Reading the Pentateuch and reflecting carefully after each chapter was important. Asking “how can this be” dispels the delusion that these are the words of someone that’s smarter than a fifth grader.

    More recently, I also read “Why Evolution is True”, “Jesus Interrupted”, “Misquoting Jesus”, and particularly Nick Lane’s “Life Ascending”. Many people think Robert Wright is too wooey, but I liked his “The Evolution of God” very much, it details many primitive conceptions of God, and paints a picture of a changing social phenomenon.

  • MNb0

    I do nót recommend The God Delusion. The parts I read I thought awful and I can totally imagine a christian being reinforced in his belief after reading it.
    Those believers who take science seriously might try the latest book of Herman Philipse, a Dutch philosopher. Like me he has never been deconverted for the simple reason he never was a believer anyway. His first publication in 1995 was called The Atheist Manifest, in Dutch. Fortunately for you his last – and according to himself definite – book is in English. I have to read it yet, but it has received very positive reviews.

    Philipse, Herman (2012). God in the Age of Science?: A Critique of Religious Reason. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-969753-3.



  • MNb0

    I suspect that Philipse’s latest book and CH’s forthcoming one will nicely complement each other. One of my complaints was that CH’s book is too American; Philipse’s seems directed to the European market. I’ll obviously have to postpone my judgment until I have read them both entirely, but if I’m right these two might be everything the atheist needs these days.
    Still I’ll probably read Ace of Sevens recommendation as well.

  • otrame

    I’d start with Misquoting Jesus or similar discussion of the early New Testament. If they have an education Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish is a great discussion of modern evolutionary theory that does not suffer from the “dumbing down” of The Greatest Show on Earth (note: not a criticism of TGSoE–different intended audience).

    And I agree that the implacable reasoning of Why I Am Not A Christian is a great way to get to those who actually try to use their brains.

  • grumpyoldfart

    Atheism: The Case Against God (George H. Smith)

    • aziraphale

      There are some good things in “Atheism: The Case Against God” but I found its frequent appeals to Ayn Rand as an unquestioned authority off-putting and (ironically) dogmatic.

      In their quiet way, Pascal Boyer’s “Religion Explained” and Daniel Dennett’s “Breaking The Spell” are good at showing the arbitrariness of religious beliefs.

      • J. Goard

        Unquestioned authority, indeed.

        Randian “Objectivism” is a non-theistic religion, with important similarities to Scientology or Mormonism (a cultish central community and a larger, much less cultish but still essentially religious, sphere of believers). It’s this religion that I fell into for several formative years, emerged from with considerable struggle, and which now gives me some insight into the deconversion process of true-believing Christians.

        Please don’t try to understand atheism from Objectivists. Although you’ll get the word “reason” uttered hysterically a bazillion times, you’re also in for a stunning amount of logical leaps, false equivocations on key terms, vicious rhetoric to distract from the poor logical structure of the arguments, wild mischaracterizations of famous thinkers, and of course quotes from Rand (often from her novels) offered as if they were evidence for Rand’s own views.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Here’s a former creationist still not placing the blame properly:

    Genesis of a social divide
    by Peter M. Leschak

    Why is it that despite convincing scientific evidence so many Americans are creationists? For me, at least, the answer was clear: I had never seriously studied evolution and the facts supporting it. I’d graduated high school and college with honors and continued to read widely, and yet was not adequately exposed to a key concept of science. The chief fault lies with the scientific establishment. We hear much about the widening income divide between the haves and have-nots, but there is also a knowledge divide. …

    Textbooks and popular books on evolution are widely available, and he still places the blame on “the scientific establishment”? Fuck that shit. Other places he could place the blame:
    Himself, for not reading those books.
    His parents and religious leaders, for encouraging him not to read those books.
    The school system, and society as a whole, for letting him think it was acceptable to remain in that state of ignorance.
    But scientists? Pthththththt.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CynicalOtaku Nathaniel Frein

    Textbooks and popular books on evolution are widely available, and he still places the blame on “the scientific establishment”? Fuck that shit.

    Indeed. I dislike how he tries to equate the knowledge gap with the income gap. A person’s earning power is dictated by a lot of variables, many outside of an individual’s control.

    Knowledge, on the other hand…

    You can drown yourself in a sea of knowledge these days. The information is out there. I really can’t see anything else that the scientific community can do to get people to absorb this information without what would effectively mount to government mandated skepticism.

    It’s no surprise that people who grow up being told to take religion on faith also learn to take other ideas on faith, and to defend those ideas against all attackers. All we can really do is support those who want to leave that cycle. We can’t MAKE parents and communities raise their children to be critical consumers of information, but we also don’t have to let them blame the scientific community for it either.

  • Pierre

    To a christian I recommand :
    Dan Barker , GODLESS
    Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher
    Became One of America’s Leading Atheists

  • jakc

    There’s nothing wrong with Origin of Species. It was meant as a popular science book, and they’re aren’t too many others that have moved more people away from creationism.

  • alnitak

    There is no question in my mind: THE best book is “Earth: An Intimate History” by Richard Fortey. He’s a travel writer, amiable, charming, knowledgeable, who tells personal stories about the geology of the earth. the volcanoes slumber, the plates grind and sink, and he tells the totally convincing story of our planet. Creationists wake up and realize that a completely friendly storyteller has dissolved their world-view, without even trying. They can move on to “Life, the first four billion years” and they’re goners.

  • believeinme2

    “It was the Old Testament that did the heavy lifting for me. Reading the Pentateuch and reflecting carefully after each chapter was important. Asking “how can this be” dispels the delusion that these are the words of someone that’s smarter than a fifth grader.”

    I have to agree with Skepticali. If someone is already on the “Fence” then going over the old testies is the way to go. The fog is begining to lift and reading it as being factual really drives the point home. “This shit has got to crazy”!

    Another book to consider is, “Chris in Egypt”. It is written so matter of fact yet less threating that it makes a believer wonder…even more. Hummm.

    • believeinme2

      Sorry, long day. That’s “Christ in Egypt”

  • http://twitter.com/blamer @blamer

    TGD seems to rally the troops rather than charm allies or deconvert the monotheists.

    The 2nd comment you quote is spot on. Go ask the deconverted christian laymen what undercut their trust in their favourite religious leaders.

  • Rick Taylor

    I highly recommend Walter Sinnot Armstrong’s “Morality without God.” He’s a moral realist who consistently speaks with respect towards the opposition, and his arguments are very well though out.

    He also did as well as anyone I know debating Dr. Craig in “God?: A Debate between a Christian and an Atheist.”

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