Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Books I Want To Write

Titles subject to change if I come up with something snappier...

Morality Without the Mystery

About a year ago I became keenly interested in the question, "What is morality, anyway?" When I began to dig into moral philosophy, I found — to put it nicely — too many answers. Not only do moral philosophers hold all sorts of opposing ideas, they have conflicting tests for what counts as acceptable answers about the nature of morality. It's a mess.

Why add to the mess? Unfortunately we can't just ignore moral philosophy because such questions are central to personal and political life. I have a lot of sympathy for Sam Harris' tactic of largely ignoring metaethics in favor of presenting a moral system which captures much of what we already think about moral goodness. But this has been tried before and it's still worth asking why we should go with one well-meaning solution over another.

I want to write a book that is accessible to an interested general audience, but also lays out my view in the proper philosophical terms, as popular level physics books do when they include the rigorous mathematics without requiring general readers to understand the equations.

Why Christianity Is Probably Not True

If I had blogged through the mid 00's, this would have been my main focus rather than metaethics. It's no longer a burning question because I've gone through the dialectic process long enough to put it to rest, unless something new comes up.

I want to write the book I wish I'd found way back when I first started to consider whether my Christian beliefs were mere culture or how the world really is.

Again, why add to a well-tread book category? As a skeptic of Christianity, I find most skeptical-of-Christianity books downright embarrassing. More than embarrassing: counterproductive. It's true that many Christians never challenge their beliefs by picking up a critical book, but what really concerns me are all the Christians who do make some honest effort to find out what unbelievers have to say...and find skeptics insisting — against secular history — that it's ridiculous to believe Jesus ever existed. That sort of thing.

My goal would be to present what I consider to be the best arguments against Christianity, without attacking the intelligence or good will of Christians in general. I'm not out to upset the lives and hopes of happy believers, so much as to engage with those interested in the critical question of truth and to show unhappy believers that there is reason to doubt.

The Useful Time Traveler: What To Know Before You Go

One of my favorite daydreams is to consider how I would explain some modern concept or bit of technology to, say, a renaissance scientist.

Last week I was reading Francis Bacon complain that he could heat things up with fire but didn't have any way to cool things down drastically. I could tell him about refrigeration, but explaining how it works would be much better. And if I wanted to explain that fire isn't really an element, it would be nice if I could explain what fire is instead.

It's amazing how many things we think we understand, but we can't explain except in the most superficial way. The time travel thought experiment is really a way to spark interest in the great wealth of practical and theoretical knowledge we take for granted in the age of 'someone else knows how that works.'


  1. I'd happily read any of these.

  2. Interesting how much our interests overlap. I wrote my anti-Christianity book (available from my blog via the "Essays" tab), and I agree that mythicists are annoying and counterproductive. I'm behind you on the metaethics, clearly. (No plans for a book, there, though.) The third idea had never occurred to me, but sounds good.

  3. Robert, your essay 'Questioning the Canon' is the best introduction I've seen that isn't book length. (And I have read most of the referenced and recommended material.)

  4. All those books sound nice. I had day-dreamed of the time-traveling idea, but never considered writing a book on it...

    It's a shame if there are no good books on why Christianity is false. I haven't really delved into such books - I intended to pursue "The Christian Delusion", by John Loftus, however. Is it one of those you'd consider "bad"?

    On my own "Books I'd Like to Write" list includes a book on naturalism (explaining what I do believe in, not just what I don't), epistemology (why I believe it), and history (hey, it's just interesting, and I find my people's - Jewish - history is probably distorted by religion, so I'd like a good secular-oriented book on that).



  5. @Yair,
    .."I intended to pursue "The Christian Delusion", by John Loftus, however. Is it one of those you'd consider "bad"?"

    The first paragraph of the first chapter begins with the conclusion that 'every argument in support of religion has been shown to be inconclusive or demonstrably false.' I'll let you guess what I think about that.

    I would definitely be interested in reading a secular history of Judaism.