I’ve never read a book by an author who works across the street from where I work. Peter Boghossian, the author of A Manuel for Creating Atheists is a professor at Portland State University and its campus borders my workplace on two sides. Knowing Boghossian could be walking near my building at any given time throughout the day, reading his book was like reading something written by a neighbor you’ve never seen, let alone met. Therefore, as reading experiences go I’d have to classify this one as being, well, charming.
But what to do with a book that some readers could find anything but charming? Let’s be honest, a book written by an avowed atheist created specifically as a how to manual for other atheists to “deconvert” religious believers might not be everyone’s cup of tea. How on earth then do I write favorably of such a book when knowing that more than several of my loyal readers are deeply religious? And what about those readers, who aren’t religious per se, but profess some sort of spirituality or low-key, laissez-faire religious outlook on life?
Years ago, I read of an advertising executive who made a name for himself during Madison Avenue’s golden age. In his opinion, in order to be successful in advertising one must always assume one’s audience is intelligent. I firmly believe all readers of this blog are highly intelligent. Therefore, if I praise this book and give it my recommendation, I do so my audience’s intelligence in mind.
Unlike some atheist books out there, Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists isn’t an anti-religious manifesto. It’s about engaging people who believe in things not supported by decent evidence. According to Boghossian, it’s not so much what these people believe but why they believe it. It’s the process they’ve employed that’s brought them to this current state of belief that’s the real issue. By using teaching techniques like the Socratic method one can help these individuals recognize their beliefs are flawed and in need of reevaluation. Once new evidence and new ways of critical thinking are introduced challenging their enclosed and restricted belief systems, deep and lasting change can occur. But it all starts with asking the right questions.
That is why I liked this book. The same intellectual tools Boghossian uses to challenge the foundations of religious belief can also be used to combat the shaky evidence and reasoning behind medical and dental quackery, crackpot conspiracy theories and pseudoscience. I’m also looking forward to applying the lessons learned from this book to deal more effectively with some of the challenges that plague the modern workplace, like magical thinking and poor decision-making. Bold and uncompromising, I found A Manual for Atheists rich in content and delightfully applicable. (Christopher Johnson, cofounder of the Onion called it “a book so great you can skip it and just read the footnotes.”)
I recommend this book to all readers no matter what their religious persuasions might be. I would especially challenge religious individuals to read this book. If, after reading this book you find your faith intact then you’ve lost nothing and quite possibly emerged with a faith that’s stronger. However, if after reading it you find yourself questioning your beliefs then you probably know, in all honesty, it was necessary. Regardless of our religious beliefs, I believe all intelligent people want to know the truth. Therefore, I highly recommend A Manual for Creating Atheists.