MARKETPLACE OF THE GODS by Larry Witham
This is a fascinating work that considers religion as an article of economic exchange with all of the psychology that that implies. This book looks at religion like a business and explains how new religions start at small businesses (cults), grow into local thriving business (clubs, sect), and finally into a widespread big business (firm, church).
GRAND THEORIES AND EVERYDAY BELIEFS: SCIENCE, PHILOSOPHY AND THEIR HISTORIES by Wallace Matson
The author is a Professor of Philosophy at UC-Berkeley. The book is an account of how humans uniquely have the ability to acquire beliefs from culture and other people instead of only through their own experience like other animals. He adopts the unfortunate term "high beliefs" for the former and "low beliefs" for the latter, unfortunate because it implies that the first are in some way "better." Matson nevertheless gives an informative and enlightening account of what these different ways of acquiring beliefs have meant for humanity, as well as a compelling account of how scientific methods and thinking come down to us from a singular insight which traces back to the Greek thinker Thales of Miletus.
THE PORTABLE ATHEIST: ESSENTIAL READINGS FOR THE NONBELIEVER Ed by Christopher Hitchens
This is an anthology of what are undoubtedly some of the most important writings by religious skeptics beginning with Lucretius, Omar Khayyam, Hobbes and Spinoza and on through Darwin, Twain, Mencken, Freud, Orwell, Russell, and modern rationalists such as Dawkins, Shermer, Stneger, Dennett, Harris and Hirsi Ali. There are some notable omissions: nothing by Voltaire, Paine Jefferson, Madison or Thomas Henry Huxley (who coined the term "Agnosticism.") for example. Still, over 500 pages of entertaining and penetrating thought and wit exposing the foolishness of superstition and theology. Hitchens' introduction is itself a tour de force.
THE GOD DELUSION by Richard Dawkins
A classic work by a recognized leader in Freethought. In The God Delusion, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that belief in a personal god qualifies as a delusion, which he defines as a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence. He explains that one does not need religion to be moral and that the roots of religion and of morality can be explained in non-religious terms.
THE BONOBO AND THE ATHEIST by Frans De Waal
This was the book chosen for the NTCOF Book Club at its first meeting 8/29/2015. The author is a zoologist-ethologist who shares much information and many interesting stories relating human "morals" to the natural, evolved behavior of other animals and especially bonobo chimpanzees. De Waals includes quite a bit of his own personal history rooted in what would be called "liberal" Catholicism growing up in the Netherlands. He also relates and speculates about the meaning of Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights. Freethinkers may object to his finding fault with "neo-atheists" such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens as he accuses them of being too combative about their unbelief which they should just keep to themselves. He approvingly cites AC Grayling's saying that "militant" atheism is "like sleeping furiously" but is apparently unaware that Grayling intended the phrase as a jab at theists and their accusations that atheists who speak plainly are offensive. De Waal says he suspects that "militant" atheists must "secretly long for the certitude of religion" or have "inner demons to be kept at bay." He is confused and confusing in using words like "religion" ? as so many do! ? in more than one sense. So the book offers fascinating insight not just about what De Waal knows so well ? animal behavior and especially that behavior which resembles what we call "morals" ? but about De Waal's own troubling lack of very deep thinking about religion and religious questions.
THE LABYRINTH OF REASON: PARADOX, PUZZLES AND THE FRAILTY OF KNOWLEDGE by William Poundstone
If you want to think deeply about what it is to know something, read this book. By exploring paradoxes and many classic conundrums and thought experiments, Poundstone shows that our knowledge is not just "frail" but is really just a sort of descriptive arrangement of our experience. This book is decidedly not light reading. It is not breezy. You will have to carefully think your way through it as if you are exploring a labyrinth.