How Not to Be Extreme
Extremism, by J. M. Berger (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2018, ISBN 9780262535878). x+201 pp. Softcover, $15.95. Extremism is part of the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, consisting of short expert overviews of subjects of current interest. The accusation of extremism appears often and, like terrorism, is too often one of those very elastic words …
Is the Idea Behind Minds Make Societies Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts?
Minds Make Societies, by Pascal Boyer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018, ISBN 978-0300223453). 376 pp. Hardcover, $30.00. Minds Make Societies by Pascal Boyer is a fresh new perspective on approaching our social world. Boyer has a reputation as one of the most forward-thinking scientists on topics of society and culture today. His hallmark is …
Harbingers of the Apocalypse
The Four Horsemen: The Conversation That Sparked an Atheist Revolution, by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, with foreword by Stephen Fry (Random House, 2019, ISBN 978-0525511953). 160 pp. Hardcover, $13.69. The Four Horsemen is a transcript of a 2007 conversation between four prominent public intellectuals, each the author of a bestselling …
Women Are No Longer Born Criminal
Born Criminal: Matilda Joslyn Gage, Radical Suffragist, by Angelica Shirley Carpenter (South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2018, ISBN 978-1941813188). 272 pp. Hardcover, $16.95. Sexual assault, misogyny, racism, isolationism, homophobia, human rights violations, and the Christian Right’s use of the Bible to justify all of the above—the news stories of the past few years in the …
An Example for Us All
Divided We Fall: The Secular vs. the Sacred, by Marie Alena Castle (Bloomington: Archway Publishing, 2018, ISBN 978-1-4808-6132-9). 244 pp. Softcover, $17.99. Marie Alena Castle, for decades a tough-as-nails activist in Minnesota for abortion rights and church-state separation, died on May 25, 2018—the very same day, coincidentally, that voters in Ireland approved an abortion-rights referendum …
Why No God Cares If Ken Miller Has Free Will
The Human Instinct, by Kenneth Miller (Simon and Schuster, 2017, ISBN 978-1476790268). 304 pp. Hardcover, $26.00. Although Kenneth Miller, a pro-evolution cell and molecular biologist, is within the modern liberal, science-friendly wing of Roman Catholics, in the end he is a creationist in the sense that he believes there really is a supernatural creator deity. …
The Source of Self
Neither Ghost nor Machine: The Emergence and Nature of Selves, by Jeremy Sherman, foreword by Dr. Terrence Deacon (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017, ISBN 978-0-231-17332-2). 312 pp. Hardcover, $90.00; softcover, $30.00. It was not what I expected but something better. In this book, psychologist Jeremy Sherman turns a light on the mystery of goal-oriented …
Knocking Our Cosmic Socks Off
Behold, He Said, by Tom Flynn (Double Dragon Publishing, 2018, ISBN 9781790470907) 778 pp., Hardcover, $27.99. I hesitate to accord Tom Flynn’s deliriously erudite oeuvre the familiar label “cult books,” since cults are among the many human follies this witty and adroit novelist takes to task. In any event, the coterie of discerning fans who …
The Memory of Jesus
Jesus Before the Gospels, by Bart Ehrman (New York: HarperOne, 2016, ISBN 978-06-228520-1). 326 pp. Hardcover, $27.99. For evangelical apologists, the search for the historical Jesus centers often on the existence of supposed witnesses very close to, or from within, his actual lifetime. Accordingly, we supposedly can trust those sources because memories would be fresh …
Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid
Fear: Trump in the White House, by Bob Woodward (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018, ISBN 978-1-5011-7551-0). 444 pp. Hardcover, $30.00. (Also available in audio and Kindle versions.) On September 5, The New York Times published an op-ed titled “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration” by an unidentified, but known to …
Elbow Room for the Masses
Free Will Explained: How Science and Philosophy Converge to Create a Beautiful Illusion. By Dan Barker (New York: Sterling Publishing, 2018, ISBN 978-1-4549-2735-8). 176 pp. Softcover, $9.95. Former fundamentalist minister, lifelong musician, and longtime freethought activist Dan Barker seems to have found a new niche: reinterpreting the Four Horsemen for broader audiences. His 2016 God: The …
A Worthy Introduction to Russell
Bertrand Russell: Public Intellectual. Edited by Tim Madigan and Peter Stone (Rochester, N.Y.: Tiger Bark Press, 2016, ISBN 978-0-9976305-0-3). 241 pp. Softcover, $22.95. This appealing anthology profiles mathematician, philosopher, peace activist, sex radical, and humanist Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) through the lens of his status as a public intellectual. In the mid-twentieth century, Russell was perhaps a …
Persevere: A Life with Cancer, by Lisa Bonchek Adams
Persevere: A Life with Cancer, by Lisa Bonchek Adams (The Bonchek Family Foundation, 2017, ISBN 978-0999162903) 320 pp. Softcover, $19.95. This book is a gem. Lisa Bonchek Adams was an atheist, a realist, and a talented writer and poet. Before her recent death from breast cancer, she shared her experience and her insights with …
Time Is Irreverent, by Marty Essen
Time Is Irreverent, by Marty Essen (Victor, Montana: Encante Press, 2018, ISBN 978-0-9778599-4-8) 238 pp., Softcover, $14.99. Time Is Irreverent is not really a science-fiction novel. It’s a novel that takes familiar science-fiction tropes and bangs them together like that mechanical monkey in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. From the clatter somehow emerges …
Organized Secularism in the United States: New Directions in Research, Edited by Ryan T. Cragun, Christel Manning, and Lori L. Fazzino
Organized Secularism in the United States: New Directions in Research, edited by Ryan T. Cragun, Christel Manning, and Lori L. Fazzino (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017, ISBN 978-3-11-045742-1) 321 pp., Hardcover, $114.99. In November 2014, Pitzer College, home of prominent secularism researcher Phil Zuckerman, hosted the third international conference of the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network …
Women v. Religion: The Case Against Faith—and for Freedom
Women v. Religion: The Case Against Faith—and for Freedom, edited by Karen L. Garst (Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing, 2018, ISBN 978-1634311700) 224 pp. Softcover, $16.95. With a bold title such as Women v. Religion: The Case Against Faith—and for Freedom, Karen L. Garst has once again provided an opportunity for women who have suffered at …
An Atheist Stranger in a Strange Religious Land: Selected Writings from the Bible Belt
An Atheist Stranger in a Strange Religious Land: Selected Writings from the Bible Belt, by Herb Silverman (Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing, 2017, ISBN 978-1634311052) 264 pp. Softcover, $15.95. Can anyone write an objective, reasonable review of an essentially autobiographical book about someone he knows well and admires? Perhaps not, but An Atheist Stranger in a …
Think Before You Like: Social Media’s Effect on the Brain and the Tools You Need to Navigate Your Newsfeed
Think Before You Like: Social Media’s Effect on the Brain and the Tools You Need to Navigate Your Newsfeed, by Guy P. Harrison (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2017, ISBN 978-1633883512) 380 pp. Softcover, $18.00. Since I initially read Guy P. Harrison’s book Think Before You Like: Social Media’s Effect on the Brain and the Tools …
Adventures in the Bible Business
Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby, by Candida R. Moss and Joel S. Baden (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2017, ISBN 978-0-691-17735-9) 223 pp. Hardcover, $29.95. I have to say I felt a bit misled at first by the subtitle of Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby. The implication seemed …
Secularism in Africa
What Secularism Means to Africa: What It Has Been, What It Hasn’t Been and What It Could Mean for Human Rights, edited by Jon O’Brien (Washington, D.C., Catholics for Choice, 2017, ISBN 978-0-998416-1-6) 40 pp. Softcover, $15.00. In America today, we struggle nervously against a rising tide of efforts by the “theocrat Right” and their …
A River Ran through Him
The River of Consciousness, by Oliver Sacks (New York: Knopf, 2017, ISBN 978-0-385-35256-7) x + 237 pp. Hardcover, $27.00. The River of Consciousness, the book neurologist Oliver Sacks (Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat) was working on just before his death in 2015, collects ten essays written over the past fifteen …
Understanding Ignorance: The Surprising Impact of What We Don’t Know, by Daniel R. DeNicola
Understanding Ignorance: The Surprising Impact of What We Don’t Know, by Daniel R. DeNicola (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2017, ISBN 978-0-262-03644-3) xii + 250 pp. Hardcover, $27.95. “Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance,” observed H. L. Mencken in Notes on Democracy (1926). Gettysburg College Professor of Philosophy Daniel …
Sharing Reality: How to Bring Secularism and Science to an Evolving Religious World
Sharing Reality: How to Bring Secularism and Science to an Evolving Religious World, by Jeff T. Haley and Dale McGowan (Durham, N.C.: Pitchstone Publishing, 2017, ISBN 978-1634311267) 151 pp. Paperback, $14.95. Some atheists embrace missionary work. They maintain we should strive, through peaceful persuasion, to eradicate belief in gods. There are no deities, and …
Sigmund Freud and the Mystery of Psychoanalysis
Frederick Crews’s new book paints Freud as a swindling purveyor of pseudoscience.
America’s Sense of Mission
Burton L. Mack is a prominent scholar in the field of early Christian history. He is the author of an extensive body of work examining the origins of Christianity up to and including the all-important fourth century CE, when it became the official religion of the Roman Empire.
A Short but Essential Read on Secularism
Numerous books offer an introduction to humanism. Many more acquaint the reader with naturalism. There’s an absolute torrent of “primers” on atheism. But secularism?
Community Life or Disbelief?
As a rule, Free Inquiry does not review books that are self-published or issued by subsidy or vanity presses. An exception is made for A Reluctant Agnostic because of the work’s unique character.
Thinking Inside the Box
Arlindo Oliveira, president of the Instituto Superior Técnico (Lisbon, Portugal) and a professor of computer science and engineering, wishes to inform us of our possible digital future by explaining the development and present state of work in computer science, cell biology, and neuroscience.
Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500 Year History
America’s religious liberty impulse and its Enlightenment impulse have been magnified over time and now tilt overwhelmingly toward the former.
The Christian Fallacy: The Real Truth about Jesus and the Early History of Christianity
The Christian Fallacy cherry-picks intriguing but highly dubious hypotheses … and cobbles together from them a chain of weak links.
Religious Freedom or Discrimination?
The culture wars have left us with a country that is polarized to the point of paralysis and a national political discourse that becomes more divisive, childish, and vulgar with each passing election year.
No One Here Gets Out Alive
“Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick,” wrote Susan Sontag in Illness as Metaphor.
A Notable Freethinker and Humanist Writes a Memoir
No one in the last forty years has thought or written more for the general public about a person’s right to choose when it is time to die than Derek Humphry.
Morality as a Human Institution
Most of us think that moral norms are binding on us. For example, “Don’t kill a child for pleasure” is not a rule we can simply choose to follow or not, depending on our current desires and attitudes. Indeed, one point of the institution of morality seems to be to subordinate our personal preferences to the common good.
The Post-Humanists Are at the Gates!
If you think a lot has happened in the past few centuries, then, to echo Bachman Turner Overdrive, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari echoes the increasingly popular refrain that humans are on the brink of becoming superhuman. Harari, an Israeli history professor and author of the best-seller Sapiens, uses his scholarly worldview to take an unflinching look at a range of possible futures, most of them dystopian.
Ernestine Rose: Nineteenth-Century Freethought Firebrand
Review of The Rabbi’s Atheist Daughter: Ernestine Rose, International Feminist Pioneer, by Bonnie S. Anderson
A Powerful Account of Leaving Faith
Review of Star Map: A Journey of Faith, Doubt, and Meaning, by Lewis Vaughn
Leaving Religion—for ‘Religion’
Review of Why I Left / Why I Stayed: Conversations on Christianity Between an Evangelical Father and His Humanist Son, by Tony Campolo and Bart Campolo.
Another Step Forward for Freethought Literature
Review of: Village Atheists: How America’s Unbelievers Made Their Way in a Godly Nation
Bait and Switch
Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower: Finding Answers in Jesus for Those Who Don’t Believe, by Tom Krattenmaker (New York: Convergent, 2016, ISBN 978-1-101-90642-2) 245 pp. Hardcover, $25.00. Despite the title, Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower, this book is classified by the publisher on the dust jacket as “Religion-Spiritual,” and it is. One wonders …