Icons of Unbelief: Atheists, Agnostics, and Secularists

By S. T. Joshi | Go to book overview

Preface

Icons of Unbelief seeks to provide insight into some of the most significant atheists, agnostics, and secularists in Western civilization during the past three centuries. The subject of atheism has attracted considerable interest in recent years as a result of best-selling books by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens; but many of the arguments made in their books draw upon philosophical, religious, political, and historical arguments made by atheists and agnostics reaching back to classical antiquity. For a number of reasons, it can be said that atheism achieved full coherence as a viable philosophical outlook in the course of the past three centuries, first with the work of the French philosophes (whose influence on the Founding Fathers was profound), and especially with the advance of scientific knowledge in the nineteenth century, culminating in Darwin’s theory of evolution. Evolution, in the eyes of many thinkers, provided the final piece of the puzzle (in its refutation of the argument from design, one of the last remaining arguments supporting the existence of a deity) for a purely secular outlook—and it is no doubt for this reason that Darwin and his theory remain profoundly controversial.

The selection of the twenty-seven subjects included in this book was a difficult one, and I decided that this volume would be of greatest service to readers if it covered a wide range of intellectuals, ranging from pure philosophers (John Dewey, John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell) to scientists (Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Albert Einstein), political figures (Charles Bradlaugh, the Founding Fathers), journalists and other publicists (Sam Harris, Robert G. Ingersoll, H. L. Mencken), and even creative writers (H. P. Lovecraft, Mark Twain, Gore Vidal), all of whom have contributed to the advocacy of atheism, agnosticism, or secularism or have presented arguments against the central tenets of religion, from metaphysical, ethical, political, or other perspectives. The great majority of these thinkers were chiefly devoted to battling Christianity because they had emerged from a Christian culture; one recent thinker, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, has expressed her rejection of her native Islamic upbringing.

-ix-

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Icons of Unbelief: Atheists, Agnostics, and Secularists
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Series Foreword vii
  • Preface ix
  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali 1
  • Charles Bradlaugh 9
  • Richard Dawkins 27
  • Daniel C. Dennett 39
  • John Dewey 51
  • Albert Einstein 67
  • The Existentialists 79
  • The Founding Fathers 97
  • Sigmund Freud 125
  • Sam Harris 141
  • Thomas Henry Huxley 153
  • Robert G. Ingersoll 175
  • Paul Kurtz 193
  • Corliss Lamont 211
  • H. P. Lovecraft 223
  • H. L. Mencken 241
  • John Stuart Mill 261
  • Kai Nielsen 279
  • Friedrich Nietzsche 297
  • Madalyn Murray O’Hair 319
  • The Philosophes 335
  • Bertrand Russell 357
  • Carl Sagan 379
  • Leslie Stephen 389
  • Mark Twain 401
  • Gore Vidal 415
  • Voltaire 427
  • General Bibliography 443
  • About the Contributors 449
  • Index 455
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