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Official Poll - Freethought Book for Nov. & Dec. 2007 
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Post Official Poll - Freethought Book for Nov. & Dec. 2007
Official Poll

Freethought Book for Nov. & Dec. 2007

The following are our Freethought book choices for November and December of 2007. If we jump on this polling process right away we might be able to have our books selected and the new forums created earlier than the end of October. This would be optimal.

I am in a hurry right now and will not be posting the full polling instructions here. Later tonight I hope to come back and edit this post to add in the instructions. If you're new to BookTalk please read any of the recent 'Official Poll' threads for our past polls, found lower down in this forum, for an explanation of our voting rules and process.

I will also edit this post and add book descriptions later.

If you already know the rules and voting procedure feel free to cast your votes now. In fact please do. We are way behind due to the forum migration and it would be very helpful to get this poll underway as quickly as possible.

These are our choices...

Book 1: God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens

Book 2: Natural Atheism by David Eller

Book 3: Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person's Answer to Christian Fundamentalism by David Mills

The poll will run for 12 days so please vote now!



Wed Oct 10, 2007 11:01 am
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No interest. Which, I know, sounds snarky, but if the point of the polls is to guage interest as much as it is to choose books, then logging a lack of interest serves at least that purpose.



Wed Oct 10, 2007 3:33 pm
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Ditto. I would have had interest in David Mills book, but I read that already. That said, if it wins...I will see about pulling it out (the BOOK people) and joining in.

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Wed Oct 10, 2007 3:43 pm
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David Eller's book is the best book I have read on the topic to date. I would like to read it again. I think this book would be the most informative and discussion driving with the best and most logical arguments out of the three. I think Hitchens would be good to drive traffic and have an engaging discussion. We could always wait for the paperback on Hitchens since we have already waited this long. I have read Mills as well, good book but short. This might work well for only a two month discussion. Essentially, I favor Eller due to it being the best book I have read on the topic and also not being just another "new Atheism" flame session against Christianity.



Thu Oct 11, 2007 6:16 am
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Ditto for me about disinterest in all the suggestions. I don't want to be snarky either, and usually just don't say anything if the texts don't interest me. But Mad's point above convinced me to let you know that I'm still looking, I'm just not interested in the choices. I'll probably eventually read Hitchens' book, just because he is so entertainingly snarky; I just don't think I'll have much to say about it afterwards.



Thu Oct 11, 2007 7:50 pm
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There were ridiculously few books suggested this time.



Fri Oct 12, 2007 8:45 am
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Chris, just to clarify, my "you" was meant in general, to the group who reads this, it wasn't directed at you specifically. Next time I'll write y'all to be more clear.

Things have been slow here all around. And with the switchover, there've been other distractions. I'm wondering



Fri Oct 12, 2007 10:21 am
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Since I'm not planning to participate in the discussion, I won't cast a vote for any of the selections.

I own and have read all three books. For what it's worth, I think Eller's book is far and away the best of the three.

George


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Sun Oct 14, 2007 9:21 am
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I'm open to suggestions. Rose has a good point. Maybe we approach the next two months, November and December, a little differently than usual.

I don't have the time right now to create a thread about this situation, but later tonight I will give it a try. I would like to start advertising BookTalk soon, but I need for people to land on BookTalk and have a clear idea of our purpose. All visitors that get confused and walk away are a waste of money for us.

So what can or should we do during Nov. and Dec. 2007 to stimulate discussion? One book only? Maybe we create a new suggestion thread and only do 1 book in Nov and Dec.?



Sun Oct 14, 2007 11:38 am
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You've solicited opinions, so while I'm not sure my will win me any points, I'm giving it anyway.

It seems to me that part of the reason interest in the freethought discussion is on the wane, at least among long-time contributers, is that we're not getting enough variety in our diet. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, most of our current options here are about atheism specifically, most of the books we've chosen in the past ditto.

I understand that you're trying to promote atheism with this site, but it may be that the available books that are most obviously about atheism simply aren't diverse enough to keep us from tedium. And the fact of the matter is that a book need not even mention atheism in order for it to be of importance to the atheist community or of interest to atheists.

So the long term suggestion is that you approach the Quarterly Freethought Selection from a slightly different angle. The Non-Fiction Selection is usually about gathering information from reputable sources and discussing what we didn't know before. The Freethought Selection can be re-oriented to deal with books that are more about presenting a particular argument then about presenting information. Just about every book that we've covered so far fits that qualification, but making it explicit allows us to broaden the range of books that we read.

I'm not suggesting that we balance the atheist books with theistic arguments. That might alleviate the tedium for a quarter or two, but ultimately we'd be reading and talking about the same topic, just from a different point of view. No, this suggestion isn't worth much unless it gets us to the point where we can consider arguments that aren't directly related to the god question, but which are worth bringing before the freethought community.

In the short term, my suggestion is this: Let's quickly settle on a book that isn't just about atheism and give that solution a trial run. I'm going to make three suggestions. They won't be suggestions from the original thread -- those obviously weren't considered appropriate -- and I'm looking for books on the basis of their potential for discussion pieces, not in order to push any particular perspective. I'm also shooting for variety within the bookends outlined above.

And incidentally, I'm going to follow each suggestion with my reasoning for why they fit in as freethought selections -- it would probably be a good idea to make that a formal part of the suggestion process.

Being Good: A Short Introduction to Ethics, Simon Blackburn
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When faced with an ethical dilemma, should we seek solutions that offer the greatest good or happiness to the greatest number of people? Are there any universal laws or principles by which ethical conduct should be governed? From what sources are ethical principles derived? Cambridge philosopher Blackburn addresses these and other questions in this straightforward introduction to ethics, a companion to his Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy. In part one, he considers seven subjects religion, relativism, evolutionary theory, egoism, determinism, unreasonable demands and false consciousness "that seem to suggest that ethics is somehow impossible."


My rationale: Since I've joined this site, there's been a recurring motif of morality, how it isn't the exclusive province of religion, how it developed evolutionarily, and so on -- it's obviously a concern for the atheist community. For all that, we rarely seem to be on the same page about what issues are at stake. Reading a book like this, one that gives some consideration to what ethics is and how we deal with it, ought to provide us with a framework for future discussion. I don't know much about Blackburn or where he stands on the issue, but I have skimmed enough of the book to know that his style is accessible and that he gives a broad survey of the issues modern ethics puts before us.

Logic: An Introduction to Elementary Logic, Wilfrid Hodges
Quote:
If a man supports Arsenal one day and Spurs the next then he is fickle but not necessarily illogical. From this starting point, and assuming no previous knowledge of logic, Wilfrid Hodges takes the reader through the whole gamut of logical expressions in a simple and lively way. Readers who are more mathematically adventurous will find optional sections introducing rather more challenging material.


I know, I know: logic? How exciting! But it's something we presume to do everytime we log onto BookTalk, so it certainly couldn't hurt us to address the discipline as though it were something important to the community. I've given Hodges book a cursory scan: it's lucid and very readable. As for something to discuss, my suggestion is that, in conjunction with reading the book, we look for newspaper articles that give us the opportunity to test the book's topics against current events.

Responsibility and Judgement, Hannah Arendt
Quote:
This first volume in a new series of her unpublished works, comprising a delightful constellation of articles and essays taken from class and public lectures, centers on that unfinished project's theme. The book begins with a piece addressing the controversy around Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem, re-examining the arguments regarding the "banality of evil" and responding to criticisms and misinterpretations with a delicate exploration of the imperative "It is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong." Arendt often quotes Faulkner's aphorism "The past is never dead, it is not even past," and in other pieces here, her highly original ideas about what constitutes justice yield seemingly paradoxical answers to vexing questions. The section on racial integration, "Little Rock," while arguing against Brown v. Board of Education, makes a parallel case for equality in marriage that speaks to current debates about same-sex marriage and the recent establishment of an independent Muslim school in France. "Responsibility under Dictatorship" and "Coming Home to Roost" will speak to a certain audience about the current political climate, while the chapters on morality are very erudite works on the role of ethical concepts in the history of philosophy that will feed an already ravenous secondary literature market on Arendt. More than anything else, the work's commitment to forthright thinking as a primary political duty, and its lucidity on dangers and deferral of responsibility inherent in received opinion, ensures its relevance to any representative democracy.


I sort of think this one speaks for itself. Arendt is a fascinating writer who has made a major impact on the modern intellectual climate (it was she who coined the phrase "banality of evil" in discussing the trial of Adolph Eichmann), and this collection of essays ought to make for a better discussion piece than some of her longer, more concentrated books -- not least of all because the range of topics covered here will allow us to cover a lot of ground.

If you don't like those suggestions, it would be more expedient to just suggest three of your own, rather than start another round of suggestions. I think we can dispense with the full democratic method for one round, in the interests of moving things along, so long as we feel confident that we'll get back to it next quarter.

Hope that helps.



Tue Oct 16, 2007 9:36 pm
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Great post, Mad. Taking Freethought discussions back to the basics of philosophy might not be a bad idea. Ethics and Morality are especially big topics around here and most books on Atheism invariably bring up these issues. I most enjoyed my ethics course at University that utilized selections from direct source instead of using a survey textbook, but an accessible intro book might be a good spring board for discussion. Logic is definitely a subject I have long wanted to further explore. I know just enough to get me into trouble ;) I generally avoid some basic pit falls of poor argumentation, but I definitely need a more detailed review of the subject to better present views. I found this list of philosophy books through one of the books Mad suggested above. These would all make good selections for a reading. I am of the opinion that arguing about metaphysics is pointless because in the end, many arguments have no practical application regardless of which "side" or argument is "right." But more applicable philosophical issues such as logic and morality and ethics do have a major influence on how people go about their lives. Not suggesting abandoning the current reading but these are great ideas for the next voting period.



Thu Oct 18, 2007 9:02 pm
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Post None of the above
I'm not interested in reading a book about atheism. While I've been an atheist for the last 20 years, it's not a topic that I care to learn more about. A book should teach me something I didn't know before or provide new insights, and there are many books on my bookshelf that sound more appealing.

Considering how widespread that attitude seems to be, could you add other books to the list of options?



Sat Oct 20, 2007 5:35 pm
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I agree. I'm tired of hearing the same arguments against religion over and over.



Sat Oct 20, 2007 6:37 pm
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riverc0il wrote:
Great post, Mad. Taking Freethought discussions back to the basics of philosophy might not be a bad idea. Ethics and Morality are especially big topics around here and most books on Atheism invariably bring up these issues. I most enjoyed my ethics course at University that utilized selections from direct source instead of using a survey textbook, but an accessible intro book might be a good spring board for discussion. Logic is definitely a subject I have long wanted to further explore. I know just enough to get me into trouble ;) I generally avoid some basic pit falls of poor argumentation, but I definitely need a more detailed review of the subject to better present views. I found this list of philosophy books through one of the books Mad suggested above. These would all make good selections for a reading. I am of the opinion that arguing about metaphysics is pointless because in the end, many arguments have no practical application regardless of which "side" or argument is "right." But more applicable philosophical issues such as logic and morality and ethics do have a major influence on how people go about their lives. Not suggesting abandoning the current reading but these are great ideas for the next voting period.



Ditto. I am for learning more about some basic concepts that can help us better in future discussions.

Mr. P.


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Sat Oct 20, 2007 9:05 pm
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I have no problem with broadening the type of books discussed in the "freethought" category. It's probably a good idea, especially if we take up topics that are basic to understanding how human nature appears to work, etc.

However, I will note in passing that for all the complaining about the lack of activity in the "Freethought" selections, in the year or so I've been active here, the freethought books have generated far more posts than those in the non-fiction category. That seems to be true even when we weren't talking about Dawkins' The God Delusion. If the problem were the one we keep hearing about, I would think the numbers would back it up--i.e. there would be more activity in the non-fiction category and less in the freethought category, not the other way around.

Chris, maybe it would be helpful if you could tell us what the track is. Has activity increased or decreased over the history of the discussion group? I'm not talking so much about month to month variations but overall trends. Do the numbers support the idea that "Freethought" books, as we have been selecting them, do worse than others?

George


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[i][b]mere atheism: no gods


Sun Oct 21, 2007 8:43 am
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