Atheists: The Origin of the Species

Julian Baggini in The Guardian:

AtheistsLike new Labour, so-called New Atheism did not just replace the old variety but, for a while at least, almost totally occluded it. Atheism is now sometimes discussed as though it began with the publication of Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion in 2006. To put these recent debates – or more often than not, flaming rows – in some sort of perspective, a thorough history of atheism is long overdue. The godless may not at first be pleased to discover that the person who has stepped up to the plate to write it comes from the ranks of the opposition. But Nick Spencer, research director of the Christian thinktank Theos, is the kind of intelligent, thoughtful, sympathetic critic that atheists need, if only to remind them that belief in God does not necessarily require a loss of all reason.

Spencer's story is designed to illuminate our present, so he understandably restricts himself to western Europe from the late middle ages onwards. It is a compendious though not definitive account, which shows why atheism is not simply the natural result of the rise of scientific knowledge, and religion a simplistic vestige of more ignorant times. Spencer rightly points out that, far from being enemies of religion, science and rationality were often most enthusiastically championed by men and women of faith. Locke and Newton were, for instance, both profoundly motivated by their Christianity.

More here.