The discussion between believers and non-believers on the web is filled with sweeping generalities about atheists’ believing this and believing that. Atheists are guilty of it too. Unfortunately, lots of the people making these claims are not taking the time to actually find out what atheists have been arguing. As a result, the characterizations they are giving of atheist positions and arguments have little to do with reality. I’ve presented a long bibliography of the important sources of atheist thought in the last hundred years here: Atheism Bibliography. But I acknowledge that that is a substantial homework assignment. Nevertheless, if you are going to take this topic seriously, you need to work your way through the important works on the topic. A physicist couldn’t expect to follow what’s going on if she hadn’t read Feynman, Einstein, and Newton, after all. And a biologist couldn’t get by without Darwin, Mendel, and Gould.
So here’s a much shorter list of some essential works in philosophical atheism from the last 30 years or so. A few are articles, one is my overview of the field that’s going up at the Internet Encyclopedia (It’s posted here: Arguments for Atheism in the mean time.) And there are several book length topics. If you read these and understand the arguments, you’ll have a good handle on all the big issues and arguments in the field. The Rowe article from 1979 is the watershed presentation of the inductive problem of evil argument (and restated in 2006). To date, the strongest response that’s been given to it is pretty puny: we just can’t be sure if there have been instances of completely pointless suffering out there.
Drange, Theodore (1998b). “Incompatible Properties Arguments: A Survey.” Philo 1 (2), 49-60. On the web here.
- [A useful discussion of several property pairs that are not logically compatible in the same being such as: perfection-creator, immutable-creator, immutable-omniscient, and transcendence-omnipresence.]
Everitt, Nicholas (2004). The Non-Existence of God, London: Routledge.
- [Everitt considers and rejects significant recent arguments for the existence of God. Offers insightful analyses of ontological, cosmological, teleological, miracle, and pragmatic arguments. The argument from scale and deductive atheological arguments are of interest.]
Gale, Richard (1991). On the Nature and Existence of God, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- [Gale gives a careful, advanced analysis of several important deductive atheological arguments as well as the ontological and cosmological arguments, and concludes that none for theism are successful. But he does not address inductive arguments and therefore says that he cannot answer the general question of God’s existence.]
Mackie, J.L. (1982). The Miracle of Theism, New York: Oxford University Press.
- [Influential and comprehensive work. He rejects many classic and contemporary ontological, cosmological, moral, teleological, evil, and pragmatic arguments.]
Manson, Neil A. (ed.), (2003). God and Design, London: Routledge
- [Perhaps the best recent academic collection of discussions of the design argument.]
Martin, Michael (1990). Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.
- [A careful and comprehensive work that surveys and rejects a broad range of arguments for God’s existence. Particularly clear and structured. Many penetrating objections. One of the very best attempts to give a comprehensive argument for atheism.]
Martin, Michael and Ricki Monnier (eds.). (2003). The Impossibility of God. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Press.
- [An important collection of deductive atheological arguments—the only one of its kind. A significant body of articles arguing for the conclusion that God not only does not exist, but is impossible.]
Martin, Michael and Ricki Monnier (eds.). (2006). The Improbability of God, Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Press.
- [The companion to The Impossibility of God. An important collection of inductive atheological arguments distinct from the problem of evil. God’s existence is unreasonable. The only one of its kind.]
McCormick, Matt. (2009) “Atheism” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. forthcoming: www.iep.utm.edu.
- [A more detailed survey of the atheism literature and the families of arguments that have become influential in the 20th and 21st century, parallels this bibliography.]
Oppy, Graham (2006). Arguing About Gods, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press.
- [Main thesis: there are no successful arguments for the existence of orthodoxly conceived monotheistic gods. This project includes some very good, up to date, analyses of rational belief and belief revision, ontological arguments, cosmological arguments, teleological arguments, Pascal’s wager, and evil. He sees these all as fitting into a larger argument for agnosticism.]
Rowe, William (1979). "The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism," American Philosophical Quarterly 16, 335-41. On the web here
- [Very important work. Rowe insists that even if there are some natural or moral evils that God could have had a good reason for creating, there are instances of pointless evil that God could have prevented, then there is no God. And there are instances of pointless evil, such as the isolated suffering of a fawn burned in a forest fire. So it is reasonable to conclude that there is no God. This work provokes an enormous response in the modern literature.]
Rowe, William (2006). "Friendly Atheism, Skeptical Theism, and the Problem of Evil," International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 59, 79–92
- [Twenty five years after the publication of “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism,” Rowe elaborates on and summarizes the multitude of developments in the argument and his position.]
Schellenberg, J.L. (1993). Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
- [Schellenberg argues that the absence of strong evidence for theism implies that atheism is true. Important development of a new argument.]