While atheism and naturalism constitute the majority view in contemporary academic philosophy, the general public is often less aware of some of the best philosophical resources for explicating and defending these views. Below is a list of resources (some introductory and some more rigorous) for getting a general overview.
Humanism: A Very Short Introduction (by Stephen Law): Short and sweet, secular humanist philosopher Stephen Law provides an introduction to the tenets and philosophy of secular humanism. This little book is great for getting started, and for conveying to others what secular humanists believe in quotable-size form. Some of the book has been utilized here on Civitas Humana in our post “Clarifying the Relationship between Naturalism and Secular Humanism,” which elaborates on Law’s view that secular humanism does not require naturalism, though the two are often joined.
God Doesn’t; We Do: Only Humans Can Solve Human Challenges (by James Lindsay): Religion has historically served as a tool for answering problems that humans were once unable to solve. In the modern age of science and information, however, such supernatural solutions have become antiquated and are less philosophical defensible. In this book philosopher James Lindsay defines the classical conception of God, refutes theological arguments for theism, and makes a call to action for humans alone to solve our problems. At the end, Lindsay further discusses how morality and even spirituality are compatible with a fully secular life.
The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life After Death (by eds. Michael Martin and Keith Augustine): Death is not a subject that most of us are happy to think about, and it is a bit bold to place a book like this so early on this list. Secular humanism, however, is a philosophy about overcoming the fear of death and a finite existence. Bear in mind, too, that editor Michael Martin published this book when he was age 83, just a couple months before he passed away, living up to this book’s central message. This volume provides a wide range of essays refuting multiple religions’ views of the afterlife. It likewise assuages fears about death and demonstrates how humans can live a good life, even if it is not eternal.
Understanding Naturalism (by Jack Ritchie): Science has discovered that many phenomena once deemed supernatural–such as the human mind–are actually material and physical; however, metaphysics and conceptual analysis in philosophy often require a different skill set to explain. How can mental states, for example, be reducible to or supervenient upon physical states? Can science explain why we should study science, or does philosophy have a role in justifying scientific norms? Philosopher Jack Ritchie travels down many of these rabbit holes in this resource designed to provide understanding of the philosophy of naturalism.
Sense & Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism (by Richard Carrier): Part of the appeal of world religions is that they provide an easy, “take off the shelf” answer to many of the toughest questions in life. Religious explanations, however, tend to be superstitious and are not the most philosophically defensible. Naturalist philosopher Richard Carrier provides an alternative worldview in this book, defending the position of metaphysical naturalism on questions of epistemology, cosmology, ethics, aesthetics, and much more. The book likewise provides additional bibliographies in each chapter for further reading.
Naturalism and Normativity (by eds. Mario De Caro and David Macarthur): Science is an empirical method that tells us what “is” true about the physical world. Can science, however, tell us what we “ought” to believe or how we “ought” to behave? Since scientific naturalism argues for the view that science is the primary epistemology for providing a “big picture” explanation of reality, can it answer such normative questions? Exploring the view of liberal naturalism, the authors in this volume seek to carve a philosophical space between scientific naturalism and Platonic supernaturalism, when providing a secular basis for explaining normativity.
Contemporary Materialism: A Reader (by eds. Paul Moser and J.D. Trout): Physical materialism is the dominant ontological view in contemporary academic philosophy. Different physicalist philosophers, however, hold to a wide range of different interpretations and arguments for physicalism. Bringing together leading philosophers of mind and epistemology, such as Daniel Dennett, Jaegwon Kim, and Paul Churchland, this volume explores different interpretations of physicalism, from reductionism to non-reductionism to eliminativism, and so on. It’s a rigorous read, but also highly valuable for getting immersed in the complex philosophy of materialism.
Physicalism and Mental Causation (by eds. Sven Walter and Heinz-Dieter Heckmann): Our primary experience of reality is conscious, subjective, and experiential. By studying the human brain through our senses, we have also discovered that it is a purely physical object. How does one bridge the gap, however, between mind and machine? How does the observation of the physical brain explain our own subjective experiences? Bringing together essays on multiply realized properties, mental causation, phenomenology, and many other issues, this volume explores the diverse analytic philosophy behind explaining mental causation in terms of physicalism.
Dot, Dot, Dot: Infinity Plus God Equals Folly (by James Lindsay): If the universe is infinite, how could time have passed through an infinite series of points to reach the present moment? Or, if the universe had a beginning, shouldn’t it have had a cause? In this book mathematician James Lindsay explores the philosophical concept of infinity, addressing issues such as whether than can be actual or only potential infinities, whether perfect circles exist, and whether mathematics is a human construct. In doing so, Lindsay makes a powerful case against the appeals to infinity used in many theological arguments for God.
God and the Multiverse (by Victor Stenger): The multiverse theory is now a leading view among professional cosmologists about the origins of our universe. Once, religion proposed that our planet was at the center of the universe, designed by a creator. Then, science discovered a much broader universe. When the Big Bang was discovered, theologians tried to posit it as the new creation point for God’s involvement. Now, the multiverse theory has questioned whether the cosmos is actually not much larger, possibly infinite. Physicist Victor Stenger explains the multiverse theory in this book to a general audience and shows how it has little place for divine involvement when properly understood.
The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning (by Victor Stenger): How does one explain the anthropic coincidences that our universe has just the right combinations of forces and elements to produce life and thinking minds? Wouldn’t such an arrangement be highly improbable and suggest some form of intelligent design? Physicist Victor Stenger refutes the notion of fine-tuning in this book, by addressing many of the fallacies behind the alleged improbabilities of our universe’s cosmological constants, as well as the notion that life with other arrangements of forces and elements would be highly improbable.
Normative Ethics (by Shelly Kagan): What provides the basis for “right” and “wrong” behavior? Are there criteria that can be used to sort good from bad, or is it all a matter of opinion? In this book leading philosopher of ethics Shelly Kagan explains and explores normative ethics. Kagan discusses issues such as the harm principle, consent, consequential ethics, and deontology, providing a secular groundwork for normative ethics. Kagan has likewise defended his views in a debate against theologian William Lane Craig on whether God is necessary for morality, which can be viewed here.
The Moral Wager: Evolution and Contract (by Malcolm Murray): Is immorality truly more profitable than moral behavior? Do I have any incentive to be good, especially if there is no creator commanding me to? Philosopher of ethics Malcolm Murray explores contractarian ethics in this book, delving deep into game theory, and particularly the question of whether morality is a safe wager. Murray concludes that it is not always rational to be moral around immoral people (providing a justification for self-defense, war, and other non-altruistic behaviors, in certain circumstances), but that it is generally rational to be moral around other moral people (providing a basis for a transparent and equitable society).
Philosophy as a Way of Life (by Pierre Hadot): This book is not about secular humanism or naturalism, and instead focuses on how philosophy was practiced in the ancient Greco-Roman world. Nevertheless, Pierre Hadot explores the concept of philosophy as a way of life, rather than just abstract belief. To many today, philosophy seems like an arcane discipline that asks obscure questions unrelated to ordinary life. In antiquity, however, many embraced philosophy as a sort of religion. In the modern world, religion is on the way out. What will fill its place? Perhaps we have a little to learn from the ancients in embracing philosophy as a way of life.