Having not read a serious atheist book in a while, I decided to have a swing at Guy P. Harrison’s “50 reasons people give for believing in a God”. According to his Amazon page, Harrison is journalist and ex teacher. He has degrees in history and anthropology, and has travelled extensively both as a journalist and as a travel writer. It looked promising. However, despite an admirable and unique approach, I don’t really see a point or a market for it.
The book is presented in “question and answer” format, Harrison begins all fifty chapters with a common reason that theists give for believing in their various gods, and then spends the rest of the chapter debunking the assertion. But don’t worry; it isn’t a book with fifty “straw man” arguments. Most of us, if not all of us will be familiar with all fifty reasons. I surely was. In fact, Harrison is marketing this book as a non-confrontational book. He claims he is respectfully taking on fifty common theistic arguments that he has encountered on his studies and travels. But in reality, it is a bit wishy-washy. Stuck in no-mans land.
For an atheist, Harrison’s book is actually quite boring and tedious. Sure, it is very well written, I will give you that, but it provides nothing new. Anyone who has read a few books on atheism, such as those written by Hitchens, Harris or Dawkins, will have encountered most of the “reasons” and arguments that Harrison presents. Possibly in more detail to boot. Some of the insights and personal stories Harrison imparts are somewhat interesting. He is very well travelled and very learned, but, again, it’s nothing new and nothing that can’t be found on YouTube or in earlier books. I launched into the book with a vigour, but by about reason (chapter) 20 I had lost all chuff, and was all but forcing myself to continue. Only the interesting stories and good writing allowed me to continue. It’s just nothing new.
Furthermore, for theists, or for those who are wavering, the book is far from a non-confrontational approach to the topic. Granted, it is incredibly tame compared to the likes of Dawkins, but that isn’t really saying much is it? This is a very sensitive topic, and, to be fair, I doubt I could come up with a more tame way of broaching the argument. But, regardless, I would never suggest this book to my mother. I doubt she would speak to me again. As with many atheist writers, myself included, you can just feel the pomposity and intellectual smugness that is behind each word. It is not confrontational, and yet it is. There are a lot of good points, and I wish more theists would read this book, but I would not suggest it to any of my religious friends except for those who are all but out the door. The exact people who, like the atheists, would probably have encountered all the arguments before and would therefore be bored.
The book’s blurb states: “In this unique approach to scepticism regard God, Harrison concisely presents fifty commonly heard reasons people often give for believing in a God and then he raises legitimate questions regarding these reasons, showing in each case that there is much room for doubt.” It certainly accomplishes this feat. But I can’t think of anyone I would suggest this book to. It’s a very good book, very well argued, very well written. But I just can’t think of anyone who would want to read it. I kind of wish I hadn’t.
Author: Guy P. Harrison
Pages: 354 (Paperback)
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Josh’s Rating: 2/5
Originally posted @ Sakalabujan Magazine