36 of 46 people found the following review helpful
Elizabeth A. Root
- Published on Amazon.com
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.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
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 Examiner.com An Atheist Defends Religion is a compelling read - National Christian Entertainment | Examiner.com (...)
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
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.
8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
After reading this book, I must say that I was really impressed with how Mr. Sheiman the author was able to present an insightful and educational look into how religion has played an influential role in shaping human history particularity in the western world, and also how it has been mostly a positive one. While Mr. Sheiman himself clearly states that he is an atheist, he is also an "aspiring theist" though explains why he remains in the position he is in. Nevertheless, he can understand, appreciate, and even respect what religion gives people as I do and its inherent valve it consists of overall. He delves into issues such as finding life's meaning not in the typical sense of what we do professionally or how we live personally, but rather to seek why there is existence at all and what sort of role and purpose one has in the cosmic scheme of things if anything at all. Of course the meaning of life varies from person to person, therefore there is no universal answer to this specific question. However, if there has been any institution that exults and elevates humanity to greater levels of spiritual and cosmic worth which we seek in different ways for what Mr. Sheiman calls "Transcendental Spiritual Reality" it has been religion as he explains and I humbly concur with him on this issue. Almost everyone including those who are secularist( like myself though I'm not an atheist) seeks this whether one believes in a god or not.
Mr. Sheiman even goes into how religion as an institution as been effective in upholding ethics to the highest standard while explaining people can be good without religion, there is a profound difference between innate goodness that had been discovered from the findings of Harvard Psychologist Marc Hauser who has argued that people do have an innate sense of right and wrong. However, Mr. Sheiman says that while this may be scientific discovery does have validity, is has been religion that has been the moral and ethical bridge that connects innate goodness of being manifested through actual behavior for the most part. This being from chapter 2, also contains statistics from various sources that religious organizations give more charity then those of secular ones. He also provides empirical data from numerous studies that have shown that religion has been a powerful catalyst in helping people to recover from illnesses, preventing depression, suicide, substance abuse, and other things like those that do harm to someone from chapter 4. In chapter 5 is perhaps my favorite so far in terms of how religion has been a contributing factor of righteousness to promote human rights and progression of science contrary to the contentions of militant atheists who cherry-pick the worst historical events that involves religion. Science emerged as a result of religious aspirations to know that there was a reason and purpose for why the universe and nature is here, and therefore science didn't continue to grow because of a few so-called enlightened thinkers who revolted from religious dogma. Instead, most of the vast majority scientists throughout history were religious as Mr. Sheiman argues who've made great achievements because of their religious convictions. He also goes into a variety of other issues that surround religion, such as the spectrum between religious and secular fundamentalism which clearly is indicated by the way Sheiman explains how both are equally detrimental, therefore religion is not always to blame for extremism all the time. Also how in my favorite chapter "Militant Atheist's abuse of science" where Sheiman addresses how the problem between science and religion is not the case, but rather of religion versus what has been called "scientism". This specifically refers to how the militant atheists literally misuse science to make it deliberately that science is strictly atheistic and incompatible with religious insight which Sheiman makes a great rebuttal that this is invalid. I personally appreciate how he talked about that which I haven't seen any atheists acknowledge that and how especially scientific reductionism makes one feel to be nothing more than the sum of their biological parts as described by prominent scientists like Frances Crick and EO Wilson. The last three chapters discuss how religion and science are not contradictory, but rather complementary to each other in terms of one obtaining knowledge of the natural world, and the other to find the meaning and purpose with such knowledge that is discovered. Also how both reason and faith are not in conflict, but rather are intertwined for both science and religion as he explains thoroughly and persuasively.
Finally, the last chapter as to whether life itself has a purpose existentially speaking beyond what we as individuals give it. This is of course a fundamental question we all ask each other and ourselves from time to time and some of us find the answer and some don't or just keep looking for it. He uses an acronym called CARL meaning chance+accidents+randomness+luck+ not in reference to evolution itself which is far from random, but rather to the origins of both life and the universe being truly being accidents ( which I myself I'm very skeptical about). Also he proposes what he calls "intelligent design without intelligent divine", that I don't really agree with, but can nevertheless respect and appreciate for what Sheiman is trying to say in terms of trying to find a middle ground so to speak between religious literalism and scientific materialism. In closing, I must say that this has been a great read that clearly displays that not all atheists are dogmatic, militant, or intolerant towards theists or religious belief itself. I just hope one day we can as human beings can get passed our differences whether one is a theist, deist, agnostic, or an atheist, and judge each other for who we are not for our positions as mentioned. I truly admire and appreciate Mr. Sheiman as to leveling the playing field in showing that despite religion's shortcomings and dark side, it does have a good and benevolent side to it as well. While I myself am a formal Christian, I did for sometime have my own disdain for religion because of certain doctrines and beliefs that for me seemed to not make sense and just became disenchanted with it. But nevertheless, these days I make the personal endeavor to try to look at the good religion does have since I don't have the inclination to engage in a hate-feast towards it since there's enough of hate and intolerance in the world as it is. I just hope whoever reads this will consider what Sheiman has to offer regardless of what the more popular atheists who consistently denounce religion always say. It always helps to keep a balanced perspective on such issues like this along with keeping an open mind about it.