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AN Athiest Defends Religion: Why Humanity is Better Off with Religion Than Without It. [Paperback]

Bruce Sheiman

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Book Description

July 28 2009
A new perspective.

Defending religion as a cultural institution in the face of resurgent atheistic thought

For centuries, the theism-atheism debate has been dominated by two positions: stringent believers committed to the "yes, there is a God" argument, and atheists vehemently driven to repudiate not only God, but also religion as a cultural institution. To date, this is the first and only mainstream book in which a nonbeliever criticizes atheism and affirms religion.

An Atheist Defends Religion persuasively argues that religion is overwhelmingly beneficial for humanity, regardless of whether God exists, based on a new paradigm of 10 affirmative dimensions that make up religious experience. It also puts to rest the theory that religion is behind most of the world's sectarian violence by showing that religion becomes evil when it is politicized. Readers will learn they do not have to be fundamentalists to be believers, and about the value and benefits of religion itself.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Alpha; Original edition (July 28 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592578543
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592578542
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.2 x 1.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 299 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #591,428 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
34 of 43 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A consideration of atheism and religion in society Sept. 21 2010
By Elizabeth A. Root - Published on
Don't take the stars too seriously in this case. I think this book will be useful to some and useless to others.

Roger Sheiman, "grew up in a religious-neutral, theologically confused household. [...] went to a Jesuit college and learned to do what Jesuits do--question everything, including religion. Self-reflection and critical reasoning were the forces that molded me into an obstinate atheist."

Sheiman would like to believe in God, but can't, yet finds his atheism rather barren. "devoid of depth, value, and meaning." I simply disagree, so these arguments don't move me. The reader who is troubled by such questions would probably do well to pick up this book. To be fair, Sheiman is speaking about society at large more than giving individual advice.

Unlike David G. Myers in A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists: Musings on Why God Is Good and Faith Isn't Evil, he does not urge atheists and skeptics to practice religion in hopes of becoming religious. He does, however, think that religion is a great force for good in the lives of humanity. At times he is talking about any and all religions, but at other times he exalts Christianity above all others.

I came to atheism by another route: I was religious as a child and became disillusioned. To me, accepting atheism was finding a sanctuary. I share some of the distress of Sheiman and others at militant atheism, as practiced by the belligerent Dawkins, Hitchens, etc., but I am also disheartened by the fact that atheists are attacked merely for being atheists, so I suppose one might argue that one might as well be tactless.

I don't find Sheiman's glorification of religion entirely convincing. The argument that churchgoers are superior people simply doesn't resonate, giving my experience with actually going to church. I don't look back and think that those were loving, supportive people and that I miss the experience of going to church. I know several deeply religious people who are truly models for humanity, but I'm not convinced that it is their church-going and not their nature that makes them so wonderful. Consider the Phelps family of the Westboro Baptist Church who picket soldiers' funerals and spew hatred with almost everything they say publicly. They certainly seem to be ardent in their faith and practice. Even so, I know good people who find their churches central to their lives, and I would never attempt to take it away from them.

Sheiman has a lot of impressive statistics, but there are other counter statistics. Some similar statistics, especially in David G. Myers book, seem a little ambiguous. The conservative Christian David Kinnaman reveals in the book unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters that public opinion about Christians has gone south. especially among those under thirty, as people find them overly judgmental, hypocritical and insensitive. When one compares these to the case made in Phil Zuckerman's Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment, it will take a better head than mine to make sense of it all. Why isn't the United States a "kinder, gentler nation" since it is so religious? Why don't we score better on measures of social welfare? Mike Cuthbert of NPR was interviewing T. R. Reid about his new book The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care and wondering, rather indignantly, why "post-religious" wealthy European democracies are willing to provide health care as a right, and the church-going United States allows tens of thousands of people to die every year from treatable diseases. I'm not sure that "large" and "not homogeneous" are adequate explanations if all religions strive for human welfare; besides the US is still largely Christian and was even more so in the past.

There is one part of the book which is truly bad, and the most charitable interpretation that one can make is that Sheiman has seriously misunderstood works like The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design. That is chapter 11, "The Existential Implications of Science: Does Life Have a Purpose?". His CARL (Chance + Accidents + Randomness + Luck) is a misrepresentation of the arguments of science; the only question is whether or not it is deliberate. In evolution, as Dawkins and many other science writers have explained, CARL is acted upon by natural selection, which is not at all random, so the chapter is almost entirely nonsense and put me quite out of patience with Sheiman. The entropy argument has been repeatedly discredited: it applies to closed systems, and the earth is an open system constantly receiving energy from the sun.

He further posits "intelligent design without intelligence divine." Stephen Gould, who he quotes in other places, would argue vehemently against his claim that life tends toward complexity. I find this concept too poorly developed to make sense of how this is supposed to work. If this comforts Sheiman on a personal level, I wouldn't try to argue him out of it, but as presented for general consumption in this book, I find it very unconvincing, and personally, unnecessary.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book on the conflict between Religion and Science; Religious people and Athiests Feb. 29 2012
By Robert Kiehn - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Author Bruce Sheiman wrote an excellent book about the ongoing conflict
between Religion and Science; Religious people and Atheists.

I think the examiner gave a good review of it:

"Subtitled, "Why Humanity is Better Off with Religion Than Without It" this book's title is admittedly provocative, causing a plethora of questions and comments, "What?" "Yeah, right, I bet he defends religion." But don't be tempted to dismiss this book without reading it. In fact, it is worth sharing with someone else in order to stimulate a conversation over the topic of Them vs. Us or "God exists" vs. "God is dead."

A self-proclaimed "aspiring theist" Sheiman presents a compelling argument in response to the militant atheists who proclaim the the rejection of God is a sign of intellectual superiority and will bring about the betterment of society. Instead, the author maintains that religion has been a force for good throughout history, for the individual, family, communities, globally and historically. When commenting on the argument that religion is responsible for many of the world's atrocities, he writes,

"Religion's misdeeds make for provocative history, but the everyday good works of billions of people is the real history of religion, one that parallels the growth and prosperity of humankind. There are countless examples of individuals lifting themselves out of personal misery through faith. In the lives of these individuals, God is not a delusion, God is not a spell that must be broken - God is indeed great."

However, this book is not intended to simply prove that militant atheists are in the wrong. With abundant research, the author takes on the role of mediator, presenting arguments for both sides. He explains the benefits of science and religion in the world, the dangers of extremism on both sides and offers suggestions for the two to co-exist with respect.

Does Sheiman answer all the questions in this debate? No. While the author tries to present the wide range of faith, from my position as a believer, he misses a number of key points. Based upon that, I would assume there are unbelievers who would claim the same thing.

Does this mean An Atheist Defends Religion is not worth reading? Absolutely not. It is a calm, well-written and well-documented book and, if nothing more, it helps readers to understand their own belief system - whether religious or science-based - and encourages them to have a more understanding position towards those who disagree.

Continue reading on An Atheist Defends Religion is a compelling read - National Christian Entertainment | (...)
There are many good reviews of his book on here, (...) and other websites
and blog as well.

Finally here is a small excerpt from Chapter 8 of his book:

"An Atheist Defends Religion

Militant Atheism's Abuse of Science

Chapter 8 excerpt

"If you pay attention to the headlines, you could be excused for believing
that science and religion are mutually exclusive and incompatible. In
truth, that characterization applies only to a minority of people, the
extremists on either side of the debate. But because extremists are
usually the most vociferous, theirs tend to be the only voices we hear.
Because extremists are the ones writing books and giving speeches,
it is easy to think that this conflict reflects the sentiment of the majority
of Americans. But it is a manifestation mainly between religious fund-
mentalists on one end of the spectrum and militant atheism on the
other end.

The Danger of Extremism

Physicist Freeman Dyson said of the extremists "The media exaggerate
their numbers and importance. The media rarely mentions the fact that
the great majority of religious people belong to moderate denominations
that treat science with respect, or the fact that the great majority of scientists
treat religion with respect." Thus the battle underway between religion and
science, but between religious and secular extremists--hardened adherents
who believe they hold the exclusive truth." -Page 151

"Within the past 5 years, numerous books my militant atheists
have highlighted the destructive legacy of fundamentalist religion. In
this chapter, I focus on the other end of the ideological spectrum: the
extent to which militant atheists misuse science in their effort to chal-
lenge the validity of religion as a meaningful paradigm for understand-
ing the world, a perspective I identify as "scientism." -Page 152 excerpt.

I give this book 5/5 stars for great points about both sides in this ongoing debate,
why Religion and Science are not in conflict and a somewhat neutral stance that Bruce
takes on this often times confusing and complex issue.
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Finally, a moderate position! Nov. 7 2011
By Clarinerd85 - Published on
I really enjoyed reading this book. This is, I believe, the closest thing to a "neutral" position that we will find in the never-ending atheism-vs.-theism debate.

Sheiman has obviously done his homework -- he pulls quotes from probably a hundred other authors, and covers just about every topic imaginable, from the violence perpetrated by religious extremists (i.e. terrorists) to evolution/creation in the public school classroom. He describes himself as "an atheist sympathetic to theists," so throughout the book, he takes every attack that militant atheists (such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens) have made on religion and picks it apart. He makes a case for why religion is GOOD for society (and for the individual, as cases allow) and is actually flourishing when it has been predicted that we would "evolve away" from religion.

I also very much appreciated his distinction between science (which is values-neutral) and what he calls "scientism," a perversion of science that militant atheists use to justify their attack on religion. I am a Christian that loves science, so it has always bothered me when people pervert science for their own agenda (religious or not). I sincerely hope his coining of the term "scientism" catches on, and religious people will begin to embrace science more fully.

My only issue with this book is that I often felt like I was reading a textbook. It was, for the most part, very dry and sometimes difficult to read. I think in the interest of reaching more people, it could have been a little bit more colloquial and a little less academic in its linguistic styling.
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read April 5 2014
By The Questioner - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This guy has many good ideas. It has been a while since I read it but I remember the moderation in it. militant athiests and fundamentalism are blood brothers.
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful April 4 2013
By Mark Alan McNeil - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book surprised me with its depth and thoughtfulness. It is hard to believe that the author really doesn't believe in God. The book provides insightful responses to many common atheist arguments against belief in God.

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