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The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to…

The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God

by Peter Watson

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1642114,268 (3.72)2
Explores the way atheism has evolved, deepened, matured, and gained unprecedented resonance and popularity as it has sought to replace an unknowable God in the afterlife with the voluptuous detail and warmth of this life, woven into art, philosophy, science, and a rational, secular morality.



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How has the cultural shift away from theistic beliefs been reflected in literature, art, and philosophy? Historian Peter Watson provides a painfully detailed response to this question. Admittedly, I ended up skimming a lot, well, most of this book after the first 200 pages. The overall insight I inferred from all of the minutia presented here is that there must be some kind of instinctive human aversion to uncertainty about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. Abandoning one seemingly nonsensical explanation leaves a kind of vacuum that makes a person susceptible to other, often equally nonsensical, explanations. Watson provides an historical account of several of these (although, oddly, not the most succinct: 42). They are like examples that demonstrate a conclusion that Watson never explicitly states (not that I noticed, but I did skim most of the book)—Humans are extremely good at creative rationalization and fooling themselves. ( )
  DLMorrese | Aug 23, 2017 |
I found the author's "The Modern Mind" and "The German Genius" two of the most satisfying books I've read in recent decades. "The Age of Atheists" is not, for me, in the same category. Perhaps the problem is that the people and cultural and intellectual movements in this book are less recognizable by a general reader. But somehow this book simply does not have the flare and excitement of the two books mentioned above. ( )
  Illiniguy71 | Nov 22, 2016 |
Showing 2 of 2
Science uncovers new, often counter-intuitive facts, while as Peter Watson puts it in his new book The Age of Nothing: How we have sought to live since the death of God, literature and poetry “clarify … thoughts we have almost had, that we wish we had had.”
added by tsangal | editProspect, Alasdair Craig (May 1, 2014)
“The Age of Atheists” frequently makes for an exhilarating ride through the cerebra of disparate men (few women feature here) who have tried to fashion a Godless yet nonetheless ordered and sustaining worldview. It is a topical book, to be sure, but also one that will stand the test of time as a masterful account of its subject.
The Age of Atheists will likely stay confined to certain intellectual circles: The casual philosopher, the dogmatic non-believer, the coffee-table book collector. But insofar as its argument represents a broader pathology in contemporary conversations about belief, this book matters. Most people form their beliefs and live their lives somewhere in the middle of the so-called "culture divide" that outspoken atheists and believers shout across. The more these shouters shout, the more public discourse veers away from the subtle struggle of the average person's attempt to be human.
added by tsangal | editThe Atlantic, Emma Green (Mar 14, 2014)
In many parts of the world at present, there is no sign of religion dying away: quite the reverse. Yet Watson is not mistaken in thinking that throughout much of the 20th century “the death of God” was a cultural fact, and he astutely follows up the various ways in which the Nietzschean imperative – the need to construct a system of values that does not rely on any form of transcendental belief – shaped thinking in many fields.
added by tsangal | editNew Statesman, John Gray (Mar 13, 2014)
A history of modern atheism—what did Voltaire say to Diderot? what did Comte mean to Mill? who was Madalyn Murray O’Hair, anyway?—would be nice to have. The British popular historian Peter Watson’s “The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God” (Simon & Schuster) could have been that book, but it isn’t.


The problem is that godlessness as a felt condition is very different from atheism as an articulate movement. Watson doesn’t distinguish clearly, or at all, between the two, and so his book manages to feel at once breathless and long-winded—much too rushed in its parts and too diffuse as a whole. Even his chronology of ever-growing disbelief seems off.
added by tsangal | editThe New Yorker, Adam Gopnik (Feb 17, 2014)
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The drive to make sense out of experience, to give it form and order, is evidently as real and pressing as the more familiar biological needs. - Clifford Geertz
We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched. - Ludwig Wittgenstein
Thinking out how to live is a more basic and urgent use of the human intellect than the discovery of any fact whatsoever. - Mary Midgley
Man cannot stand a meaningless life. - Carl Jung
Life cannot wait until the sciences have explained the universe scientifically. We cannot put off living until we are ready. - José Ortega Y Gasset
This book is dedicated to Guislaine Vincent Morland and to Nicholas Pearson
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By summer of 1990 the author Salman Rushdie had been living in hiding for more than a year.
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