This is a collection of essays on various topics related to religious belief by writers who are mostly not religious believers. Many of the writers were ex-religious believers and seemed to have some sort of longing for their previous beliefs, or were upset in some way that they could no longer believe. I found those sorts of attitudes uninteresting.

The 2 essays that were moderately interesting were by Simon Blackburn (a sort of personal hero of mine) and Richard Feldman, a professor of philosophy at the University of Rochester.

Blackburn explored the question of respect for religious belief. He told an anecdote about having been invited to dinner by a religious person, a person who knew that Blackburn was an atheist. The host then proceeded to ask Blackburn to participate in some minor way in a religious observance - he was asked to wear some kind of hat, or something. Blackburn refused, and says that the rest of the evening was pretty uncomfortable (as one can well imagine). From this story, Blackburn then explores the meaning of respect, and its application to religious belief and to religious practices (two very different things, of course). In the end he concludes that respect for religious belief should be no different than respect for any other kind of belief - it has to be based on the reason and evidence that lead to that belief, and it is simply wrong, or a misuse of the word ‘respect’, to respect beliefs for which there is no evidence. On the question of respect (in a different sense, meaning ‘toleration for’ or even ‘participation in’) of religious practice, Blackburn remains undecided.

Feldman wrote an interesting essay asking whether it is possible even in principle for there to be reasonable disagreement. That is, if I believe A and you believe B, and it cannot be true that A and B are both true (though perhaps both might be false), is it possible for us to have a reasonable disagreement. Is it possible for me, believing A, to say that you are reasonable to believe B? He sets out the rules of the game fairly well: assume that we each have access to the other’s evidence and reasons for the opposing belief, and suppose that we are able to mutually question and probe each other’s beliefs. In that case, if I continue to say that your belief in B is reasonable, can I still maintain my belief in A, or do I have to say that I must withhold judgment?



Book cover

Metadata Info

  • Title: Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life
  • Author: Louise M. Antony
  • Published: 2007
  • ISBN: 0195173074
  • Buy: Amazon search
  • Check out: Seattle library
  • Rating: 3.0 stars