Atheism for Beginners A Course Book for Schools and Colleges by Michael Palmer


Atheism for Beginners A Course Book for Schools and Colleges by Michael Palmer

'Hurray for Michael Palmer!' is how Michael Martin, the distinguished American philosopher, greeted Palmer's The Atheist's Primer (Lutterworth, 2012). Atheism for Beginners, by providing a 'coursebook for schools and colleges,' differs from its predecessor in being designed specifically for teachers and their students. Yet, although different in focus and format, the intention remains the same: to reinstate the importance of philosophy within the debate about God's existence and to act as a corrective to the largely Darwinian criticisms levelled against religious belief by Richard Dawkins and the so-called 'new atheists'. So, in Palmer's lively history of atheism, extending from the ancient Greeks to the present day, we meet the enduring philosophical arguments against God and the great literature in which they are expressed. Atheism for Beginners is user-friendly and presumes no special grounding in philosophy. Throughout assistance is given by numerous aids to learning: there are exercises, marginal notes, essay questions, bibliographies and a glossary. Also provided are fourteen short biographies of famous atheists. In these respects Palmer follows the format first presented in his widely-read Moral Problems of 1991, long established as a core text in the teaching of philosophy. In Atheism for Beginners, Palmer covers the main atheistic arguments, discussing issues such as creation, morality, evil, miracles and the motivations of belief. Particular attention is paid to the work of Hume, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, with a special chapter devoted to the development of 'disproof atheism'. Atheism is often criticized for being unduly pessimistic: that without God there is nothing to look forward to, no life after death, no final righting of wrongs and no hope of salvation. But this, Palmer argues, is 'a slander against the atheistic outlook'. He concludes, therefore, on a positive note, explaining that happiness and personal fulfilment are to be found in the very materialism that religious belief rejects.


The style is clear and approachable, and the reading doesn't require specific knowledge of the philosophical field. [...] The aim is to teach students how to think logically in order to make them able to critically judge various theistic/creationist/fatalistic arguments that religions advance in their support and don't let them be deceived by logically incoherent and slanted reasoning. [...] The last chapter is particularly interesting as it deals with recent developments of disproof Atheism ... by contemporary philosophers as Alfred j. Ayer, John N. Findlay, Michael Martin, Nicholas Everitt, etc. Enrica Rota, L'Ateo, Number 4, July 2013 'It is this balanced and careful writing that makes this book so useful. As a repository of much information about philosophers and a very clear statement of their views with careful referencing to their writings it will be of use to teachers of courses in the philosophy of religion at all levels in schools and colleges as well as to students.

.31, No.2, Spring 2014 Palmer's offering is a first and a welcome contribution to both secular and religious education. [...] Atheism for Beginners is exactly what it claims to be - a textbook for instructors and students. It is an extremely good one at that. I would also suggest that it is also helpful for clergy, church leaders and lay people interested in learning more about the lives and thinking of friends and neighbours claiming to have no belief. Michael K. Jones, United Church of Canada, in Theological Book Review (tbr), Vol. 25, No.1, 2013

About the Author

A former Teaching Fellow at McMaster University and Humboldt Fellow at Marburg University, Dr Palmer has taught at Marlborough College and Bristol University. For many years Founding Head of the Department of Religion and Philosophy at the Manchester Grammar School, Dr Palmer is also the author of the best-selling textbook Moral Problems as well as of the two-volume textbook The Philosophy of Religion. More recently he has written The Atheist's Creed (2010) and The Atheist's Primer (2012). His work has been translated into many languages.

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Book Info


238 pages


Michael Palmer
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Lutterworth Press an imprint of James Clarke & Co Ltd

Publication date

28th February 2013



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