What were the first books you read in favor of skepticism/atheism?

This is a "poll" of sorts, just for my own curiosity. I read many books on my path from believing in the Christian god to atheism, but the two that stand out most in my memory are "Why I am not a Christian" by Bertrand Russell and "Atheism: The Case against God" by George H. Smith. I still enjoy both books (though Smith's blatant libertarianism is annoying) and I'm wondering what other people read as they "saw the light" so to speak.

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I'd also have to say the Bible was the first book that made me question religion in general. Actual atheist/skeptical material was the Portable Atheist by Christopher Hitches. I really recommend the book to anyone who is looking for any sort of skeptical/atheist material but not looking for a specific author.

It contains authors such as: Lucretius, Benedict de Spinoza, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Mark Twain, George Eliot, Bertrand Russell, Emma Goldman, H.L. Mencken, Albert Einstein, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and even more!
Mr. Loftus' book there sounds very intersting! :)
"God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" by Christopher Hitchens
I'm going to have to go with 'The Emporer's New Clothes' by Hans Christian Anderson. Someone gave me the picture book version for young readers when I was about six and at once I totally identified with the theme of the book. When people talked about god or Santa, I knew instinctively that those characters were as fictional as the emporer's new clothes. I didn't know what an atheist was nor had I even ever heard the word but I understood that adults have make pretend friends too.
I think the first books I can remember reading which contributed to my atheism were in the first semester of my first year at University. I think I was a growing atheist probably more akin to an agnostic at that stage, but crucially I wasn't a materialist. There was still room in my thoughts for non-material 'stuff' outside of nature' that I just unquestionably assumed was there. In reflecting on this period in my life, I think what died within me and awoke my atheism was a realisation that I was a materialist and ultimately dissatisfied with my topic - Philosophy - as able to provide explanations. That's when I became reinvigorated and re-interested me in science (having had all desire driven out of me by school - something I deeply regret now) and well things just went from there really.

But the first two books I can clearly recall that set me off down this road were:


Descartre's Meditations that contains amongst all 'I think therefore I am' - which doesn't mean what people generally, and science fiction writers especially, think it means - the Ontological argument for why God MUST exist.) I found this curiously unpersuasive and I think it must count as the first time I was presented with an argument for why Gods exist rather than just the assumption, and naturally it failed. Intellectually I think that moved me towards atheism. I've still yet to hear a convincing argument.

At the same time, I was reading Existentialism and Humanism by Jean-Paul Sartre.
I had very little grasp of the historical and cultural background to humanism and was equally ignorant about most of the religious excesses in Europe over most centuries, so was being introduced to this idea of taking humanity as the object of serious study for the first time and reading it without preconception.

I ended up writing my undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations on Sartre.

Existentialism and Humanism which is actually a transcribed lecture is relatively informal compared to weighty tomes like Being and Nothingness, here Sartre rapidly expands on his thought - which now I am more schooled in the the history and intellectual heritage's after many more years spent reading - I can see better now the cracks and queriable parts of Sartre's philosophy. Nevertheless it was through Sartre I thhink that I was first made aware of the contradictory nature of assuming God's existence and also, prefiguring Christopher Hitchens talking of a 'Spiritual North Korea' was I grasping that Gods place an extraordinary (literally) barrier to an all important concept to Sartre - Human freedom.

Existentialism and Humanism contains enlightening passages such as this - and I suspect these largely awoke me to my own feelings of disbelief though I doubt I could have named and enumerated them then as I can now:

"The existentialist is strongly opposed to a certain type of secular moralism which seeks to suppress God at the least possible expense. Towards 1880, when the French professors endeavoured to formulate a secular morality, they said something like this: God is a useless and costly hypothesis, so we will do without it. However, if we are to have morality, a society and a law-abiding world, it is essential that certain values should be taken seriously; they must have an a priori existence ascribed to them. It must be considered obligatory a priori to be honest, not to lie, not to beat one’s wife, to bring up children and so forth; so we are going to do a little work on this subject, which will enable us to show that these values exist all the same, inscribed in an intelligible heaven although, of course, there is no God. In other words – and this is, I believe, the purport of all that we in France call radicalism – nothing will be changed if God does not exist; we shall rediscover the same norms of honesty, progress and humanity, and we shall have disposed of God as an out-of-date hypothesis which will die away quietly of itself. The existentialist, on the contrary, finds it extremely embarrassing that God does not exist, for there disappears with Him all possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven. There can no longer be any good a priori, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. It is nowhere written that “the good” exists, that one must be honest or must not lie, since we are now upon the plane where there are only men. Dostoevsky once wrote: “If God did not exist, everything would be permitted”; and that, for existentialism, is the starting point. Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist, and man is in consequence forlorn, for he cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself. He discovers forthwith, that he is without excuse. For if indeed existence precedes essence, one will never be able to explain one’s action by reference to a given and specific human nature; in other words, there is no determinism – man is free, man is freedom. Nor, on the other hand, if God does not exist, are we provided with any values or commands that could legitimise our behaviour. Thus we have neither behind us, nor before us in a luminous realm of values, any means of justification or excuse. – We are left alone, without excuse. That is what I mean when I say that man is condemned to be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet is nevertheless at liberty, and from the moment that he is thrown into this world he is responsible for everything he does."
Carl Sagan - Demon Haunted World
I'm half-way through DHW now...
Excellent book and the first thing I read on scepticism too.

I'm yet to actually read a book on atheism specifically. The first will be God is Not Great, which I will get started on a soon as I finish The Ancestors Tale - so in about 500 or so pages time!

Nice thread. I will be adding several people's recommendations to my future reading list.
I did not really need any literature to wean me from religion, but as a teenager I read Russell's "Why I am not a Christian", Mark Twain's "Letters from the Earth", Freud's The Future of an Illusion--these are the ones I can remember right now.
"The Jesus Mysteries" helped cinch the deal for me. I find it entirely probable that Saul/Paul was the actual founder of Christianity as a gnostic form of self-awareness and later generations steered it down its mysogonist, trinitarian, borrow from the pagan religions path. But the Bible(s) themselves, no two use precisely the same language, were as "persuasive" to me for their non-supernatural origin as any other book. IF they represent the divinely inspired word of God, they should be reasonably consistent, easy to understand, and contain neither contradictions nor support for slavery; the subjugation of women; and genocide, to name but a few problematic areas. Finally, The God Delusion put the last nail in the coffin.
1) bible
2) god delusion
3) breaking the spell
The DaVinci Code. Don't laugh! I read it, got out my bible and was amazed what was in there (being brought up religious, I never really did read the bible, it was preached to me so why bother). The more I found out, the more I wanted to learn. Since then, about 4 years ago or so, I've read God Is Not Great and attended a seminar at the U of M where Richard Dawkins spoke on the purpose of purpose. A lot of people assume that I lost my faith after I lost my son to SIDS. I lost my faith because I simply cannot believe in something that isn't real.

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