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Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and…

Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from… (original 2003; edition 2004)

by Jennifer Michael Hecht

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8421316,681 (4.25)71
In this sweeping history, Jennifer Michael Hecht celebrates doubt as an engine of creativity and as an alternative to the political and intellectual dangers of certainty -- Just as belief has its own history featuring people whose unique expressions of faith have forever changed the world, doubt has a vibrant story and tradition with its own saints martyrs, and sages.… (more)
Title:Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emil
Authors:Jennifer Michael Hecht
Info:HarperOne (2004), Paperback, 576 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:philosophy, atheism, history of science, UR

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Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson by Jennifer Michael Hecht (2003)



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As long as gods have existed there have been people that doubt their existence. This is true for all cultures in which gods have thrived. Most of the reasons for the existence of a god or godlike being boil down to the fact that people didn’t know a lot about the natural world. Lightning and thunderclaps, tornadoes and hurricanes, earthquakes and solar eclipses; many of the natural phenomena that we understand or take for granted were feared by the ancients. Of course, since gods are argued to be human creations, they took on human shapes and human emotions.

Take the Greek Pantheon for instance. All of the gods and goddesses are frivolous and capricious, changing their support of whomever they please on a whim. Zeus sleeps around, Hera is noted for being terribly jealous, none of the gods in that pantheon take any interests in human affairs. They are childish and indolent, sitting around being immortal. Why should we worship such gods? This is what a lot of doubters argued. This point is the same for many of the texts that survived.

Through this wide swath of history, we are treated to some philosophy and how they dealt with the doubt that lives in men’s hearts. Thus, this book is a history of both belief and doubt, focusing mainly on the doubt. Jennifer Michael Hecht spares no tenet or creed to get to the bottom of the opposite point of view. The Greeks are where we start, followed by the Ancient Jews, the peoples of Asia, Rome, and so on until the first century. Then we start to get heated up with the Martyrs of Doubt, victims of the Inquisition and so on.

The really interesting part comes along with the innovations of Jesus. How did he innovate belief and doubt? Well, he turned religion into something that lacked reason I guess you could say. All you needed was to believe, even if it made no sense or had any basis in reality. Faith became everything. Remember the story of “Doubting Thomas?” I mean, I would probably want some kind of evidence that someone rose from the dead as well. Even those weren’t just the thoughts and teachings of Jesus though. Early Christianity was influenced really heavily by Paul of Tarsus, Augustine of Hippo and several other historical figures.

So anyway, this book is really captivating and a joy to read. Reading about historical atheists and the arguments they gave demonstrate that there is really nothing new under the sun. In the same vein, all of the arguments for the existence of God are the same as well. It mostly points to the complexity of ‘creation’ and how it couldn’t possibly have come about by chance. I still say you need proof for that sort of thing. Hearsay and gossip aren’t enough. ( )
  Floyd3345 | Jun 15, 2019 |
A marvelous, dense, but readable history of religious doubt, from the earliest writings to the 21st century. I've been working on this for about 10 months, carrying it around on my Kindle and inching along, giving me plenty of time to digest between readings of other books. It's well worth the effort and has a large bibliography I plan to use frequently. Covers Greek, Roman, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim doubt, among others, with Buddhism, of course, beginning as a religion of non-theists. There's lengthy discussion of the various schools of doubt, as well as analysis of our America's Founding Fathers, many of whom, especially Jefferson, were doubters or downright non-believers and specifically worded the Bill of Rights to ensure that religion would never again intrude on our politics. If only.....

Given the current international situation, with fundamentalism as a core issue, I was delighted to find mention of the modern author Ibn Warraq (a pseudonym), an ex-Muslim who wrote "Why I Am Not a Muslim" and who castigates Western society for not subjecting Islam to the critical method, as Christianity and other religions have been, and instead being afraid to criticize it. Something to think about. ( )
1 vote auntmarge64 | Nov 9, 2015 |
This does sound interesting.
  AlCracka | Apr 2, 2013 |
Every year on my visit to Taipei I buy a book of philosophy at the Eslite bookstore - as a kind of homage to how wonderful their selection of philosophy titles is (even if they no longer stock French and German originals along with Chinese and English translations). I was considering Habermas' latest collection of pieces from Verso, as well as a Isaiah Berlin on Romanticism, but then decided on this - just because I thought it would look good on my bookshelf. I have to say I am utterly charmed by the introduction and first chapter. Big ideas, lightly put across. Superb writing.Have to say I hate the subtitle though. Bad addition by agent or published. Doubt: a History would have been just fine.
1 vote Katong | Apr 16, 2012 |
Finally, a very good historical exploration of the roots of doubt. The author pieces together a history of the world's most prominent freethinkers since the beginning of recorded history, and does a wonderful job with a difficult task. In addition, she is a good writer, and the prose flows smoothly. ( )
  Devil_llama | Apr 16, 2011 |
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Like belief, doubt takes a lot of different forms, from ancient Skepticism to modern scientific empiricism, from doubt in many gods to doubt in one God, to doubt that recreates and enlivens faith and doubt that is really disbelief.
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