Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group
Imagine There's No Heaven

Imagine There's No Heaven

How Atheism Helped Create the Modern World

Mitchell Stephens

St. Martin's Press


The historical achievements of religious belief have been large and well chronicled. But what about the accomplishments of those who have challenged religion? Traveling from classical Greece to twenty-first century America, Imagine There's No Heaven explores the role of disbelief in shaping Western civilization. At each juncture common themes emerge: by questioning the role of gods in the heavens or the role of a God in creating man on earth, nonbelievers help move science forward. By challenging the divine right of monarchs and the strictures of holy books, nonbelievers, including Jean- Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot, help expand human liberties, and influence the early founding of the United States. Revolutions in science, in politics, in philosophy, in art, and in psychology have been led, on multiple occasions, by those who are free of the constraints of religious life. Mitchell Stephens tells the often-courageous tales of history's most important atheists— like Denis Diderot and Salman Rushdie. Stephens makes a strong and original case for their importance not only to today's New Atheist movement but to the way many of us—believers and nonbelievers—now think and live.


Praise for Imagine There's No Heaven

“[The] story of atheism as an articulate movement. We learn an enormous amount about figures censored out of history, and about the persecution that freethinkers suffered until shockingly recently. His martyrs fill our hearts; his heroes inspire….moving.” —The New Yorker

“Stephens provides an intriguing take on a topic that has sparked much discussion and will surely spark more to come.” —Publishers Weekly

“Provocative, deeply researched and enlightening.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The only thing new about the New Atheists are the names. As Mitchell Stephens reveals in this gripping narrative history of atheism, many brave souls have come out of the atheist closet over the centuries to challenge the religious dogma of their day, and many paid the ultimate price for so doing. We all stand on the shoulders of these giants so artfully brought to life—along with their ideas—in this important contribution to the burgeoning literature on unbelief.” —Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, and author of The Believing Brain, and The Science of Good and Evil

“An intriguing book, presenting a magnificent cast of characters who helped shape modernity. It helps us all measure even those we disagree with most in terms of their creativity and moral worth rather than what they do, or do not, believe.” —Jonathan Israel, Professor of History, Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton University

“Imagine There’s No Heaven is a landmark study of the role played by atheism and other forms of religious doubt in the development of Western civilization. Mitchell Stephens strides through history as deftly as he steps across disciplines, uncovering a dramatic chronicle of unbelief as a goad to innovation that centuries of more devout scholarship tended to obscure. This book invites atheists to celebrate — and others to acknowledge — the outsized role that unbelievers have played in shaping the West.” —Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry magazine, and editor, The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief

“Mitchell Stephens' new book "Imagine There's No Heaven" is smart, evenhanded, and full of personality. He has a great eye for the important details, which is particularly evident in his evocative portraits of individuals, such as Sartre and Camus. Deserves to be on every skeptic's bookshelf and we can hope it reaches many among the faithful as well.” —Jennifer Michael Hecht, author of Doubt: A History.

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Mitchell Stephens

Mitchell Stephens is a historian and journalist who has been researching the history of atheism for a decade. A professor of Media Studies at New York University, he has written for The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Chronicle of Higher Education, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsday, Chicago Tribune, and Los Angeles Times, and has appeared on NPR. Stephens is also a member of the working group on Secularism of the Center for Religion and Media at New York University and is on faculty at the "Beyond Belief" program at the Center for Inquiry at the University of Buffalo. He lives in New York City.

Mitchell Stephens

Richard Moulton

From the Publisher

St. Martin's Press

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