The Agnostic Reader

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Overview

Agnosticism — the philosophical argument that it is impossible to know whether God exists or not — has been the point of view of many distinguished thinkers from the 19th century to the present. In contrast to atheism, which asserts that God does not exist, agnosticism holds that reason and the best scientific evidence do not allow one to reach a decisive conclusion regarding the existence of God.

This reader prints selections of some of the most profound and pioneering ...

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Overview

Agnosticism — the philosophical argument that it is impossible to know whether God exists or not — has been the point of view of many distinguished thinkers from the 19th century to the present. In contrast to atheism, which asserts that God does not exist, agnosticism holds that reason and the best scientific evidence do not allow one to reach a decisive conclusion regarding the existence of God.

This reader prints selections of some of the most profound and pioneering discussions of agnosticism over the past two centuries. Beginning with early formulations of the agnostic perspective by Thomas Henry Huxley (who coined the term agnostic), Bertrand Russell, and others, editor S. T. Joshi shows how agnosticism received a strong boost in the later 19th century from the so-called higher criticism of the Bible. Selections from Edward Burnett Tylor, Arthur Schopenhauer, Robert G. Ingersoll, and Edward Westermarck made a strong case that religion was a natural product of primitive development and that the Bible was the product of an age of scientific ignorance and superstition.

By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Christianity in Europe was in a state of decline among the intellectual classes. The writings of W. E. H. Leckey, Leslie Stephen, and Walter Lippmann show that leading commentators were openly pondering a European society in which Christianity was a thing of the past.

The increasing success of the natural sciences during this same time period supported the agnostic viewpoint by accounting for phenomena on a natural, rather than a supernatural, basis. Selections from John William Draper, Albert Einstein, Isaac Asimov, and others demonstrate the scientific respectability of agnosticism.
Finally, selections from such thinkers as Frederic Harrison, H. L. Mencken, and Corliss Lamont emphasize how living with agnosticism can be intellectually and morally satisfying, even exhilarating.

Overall, The Agnostic Reader shows how agnosticism can provide a framework for living with courage and dignity.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"With his usual knowing discernment, S. T. Joshi mines the literature of two centuries to distill a peerless overview of the agnostic stance. He presents agnosticism complete, in all of its many variants and as championed by its most eminent defenders. Like Joshi's reader on the closely related field of atheism, The Agnostic Reader squeezes between two covers the most brilliant writings devoted to this significant and controversial topic."
Tom Flynn
Editor of Free Inquiry magazine and The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief

"The essays here, grouped under headings like 'Agnosticism and Science,' 'The Deficiencies of Religion' and 'The Agnostic Way of Life,' make persuasive arguments in favor of an anti-dogmatic acknowledgement that it is impossible to ever know the truth about matters concerning God and the soul ... [a] wonderful collection."

Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591025337
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 8/28/2007
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 666,994
  • Product dimensions: 5.36 (w) x 8.31 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

S. T. Joshi is a freelance writer, scholar, and editor. His books include The Unbelievers: The Evolution of Modern Atheism; Documents of American Prejudice; In Her Place: A Documentary History of Prejudice against Women; God’s Defenders: What They Believe and Why They Are Wrong; Atheism: A Reader; H. L. Mencken on Religion; The Agnostic Reader; What Is Man? and Other Irreverent Essays by Mark Twain and The Angry Right: Why Conservatives Keep Getting It Wrong.
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Table of Contents


Introduction     11
Some Overviews
Agnosticism and Christianity (1889)   Thomas Henry Huxley     23
Agnosticism (1889)   Edgar Fawcett     51
Why I Am an Agnostic (1929)   Clarence Darrow     70
What Is an Agnostic? (1953)   Bertrand Russell     79
The Critical Study of Religion
The Life of Jesus Critically Examined (1835)   David Friedrich Strauss     95
Primitive Culture (1871)   Edward Burnett Tylor     115
About the Holy Bible (1894)   Robert G. Ingersoll     134
Christianity and Morals (1939)   Edward Westermarck     143
Agnosticism and Science
History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874)   John William Draper     169
The Pre-Darwinite and Post-Darwinite World (1877)   Moncure Daniel Conway     194
Science and Religion (1941)   Albert Einstein     212
In the Beginning...(1981)   Isaac Asimov     219
The Deficiencies of Religion
The Christian System (1851)   Arthur Schopenhauer     233
The Ethics of Religion (1877)   W. K. Clifford     242
Christianity and Civilization (1914)   Charles T. Gorham     256
Christianity in Decline
Rationalism in Europe (1865)   W. E. H. Lecky     273
Are We Christians? (1873)   Leslie Stephen     283
The Twilight of Christianity (1929)   Harry Elmer Barnes     309
God in the Modern World (1929)   Walter Lippmann     330
The Agnostic Way of Life
Secularism the True Philosophy of Life (1879)   G. W. Foote     347
On Happiness (1927)   H. L. Mencken     362
The Ethics of Humanism (1949)   Corliss Lamont     368
Further Reading     385
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