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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Dictionary Of Atheism, Skepticism, & Humanism by Bill Cooke (Prometheus Books) In the tradition of Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary, and Joseph McCabe’s Rationalist Encyclopedia, this accessible dictionary addresses the contemporary need for a reference book that succinctly summarizes the key concepts, current terminology, and major contributions of influential thinkers broadly associated with atheism, skepticism, and humanism. In the preface, author Bill Cooke notes that his work is intended "for freethinkers in the broadest sense of the word: people who like to think for themselves and not according to the preplanned routes set by others." This dictionary will serve as a guide for all those people striving to lead fulfilling, morally responsible lives without religious belief. Readers are offered a wide range of concepts, from ancient, well-known notions such as God, free will, and evil to new concepts such as "eupraxsophy." Also included are current "buzzwords" that have some bearing on the freethought worldview such as "metrosexual." The names of many people whose lives or work reflect freethought principles form a major portion of the entries. Finally, a humanist calendar is included, on which events of interest to freethinkers are noted. This unique, accessible, and highly informative work will be a welcome addition to the libraries.

The author, Bill Cooke is the International Director of the Center for Inquiry, a visiting assistant professor of philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, the editor-in-chief of the periodical The Open Society, senior editor for Free Inquiry, a skeptical quarterly that debunks the claims of religious fundamentalism; and the author of The Gathering of Infidels: A Hundred Years of the Rationalist Press Association, a history of an important British humanist publishing house; and A Rebel to His Last Breath: Joseph McCabe and Rationalism, a study of the influence of the dissenting ex-Roman Catholic priest who championed rationalism, antisupernaturalism, skepticism and common sense throughout his long career. Cooke’s entries in this volume rarely hold back from editorializing, if not plain preaching, about clear-eyed, transparent rationalism, and hold no truck with religious thought of any stripe. He champions the appellation of “secular humanism” which he assumes is progressively more rational and scientific than the older forms of “religious humanism.”

But we need to be clear here, the purpose of this dictionary is advocacy, the strongest case advocacy of the freethought tradition of atheism, rational skepticism, and humanism as a set of interrelated moral values that supports scientific inquiry, human rights, and social, political and economic equity in human communities.  As such the volume is a treasure trove of well-defined and pertinent concepts relevant to the humanist tradition especially in its secular stripe.

In a few months Prometheus Books will be issuing the second enhanced edition of the Encyclopedia of Unbelief.  The first edition was a landmark compendium and history of the chief concepts, movements, and persons in the long tradition of freethought and unbelief that is too often left in the murky shadows of our official histories, tainted as they are with establishmentarian biases of the ruling elite and official status quo religion.  This reviewer is looking forward to seeing how the last 30 years of freethought dissent measures up to the increasing clamor and clashing of religious orthodoxies, be they Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, or primordial.

Other Pages of Interest

Albert Eustace Haydon, 1880-1975