A Short Review of Stokes’ How to Be an Atheist

How to Be an Atheist

Mitch Stokes is a Christian philosopher, whose main thesis in “How to Be an Atheist” is that skeptics tend to be selectively skeptical towards religion, while not being sufficiently critical of (or consistent in) their own beliefs.


– Lots of great quotes from atheist writers and philosophers highlighting the tension between naturalism and (say) scientific realism, moral realism, cognition, free will, etc…

– This book made me want to read Hume. Much of modern skepticism can be traced back to him and -at times- he seems to have done a significantly better job wrestling with objections than modern thinkers.

– Stokes is absolutely correct in identifying the naive optimism of many modern skeptics. Anyone who identifies as a “skeptic” or a “free thinker” needs to make sure that they are truly engaged in reason and critical thinking, rather than simply absorbing uncritically the attitudes and ideas of their peers.

– The writing captures Stokes’ voice well. It’s quirky, filled sly allusions to Scripture and pop culture.


– Stokes plays the “I’m a skeptic too” card a bit too often. He’s a Christian, not a skeptic and there’s an element of trust and loss of autonomy in his worldview that is anathema to most skeptics. If Christianity is true, then this isn’t a problem, so Stokes should just be up-front about it.

– Stokes explicitly defines some terms in unusual ways. For example, he uses ‘moral nihilism’ to encompass ‘moral relativism’, ‘ethical subjectivism’, ‘moral skepticism’ and he uses ‘atheism’ and ‘naturalism’ interchangeably, even while recognizing that the former does not entail the latter. For a philosopher, this tendency is odd and I found it distracting.

– He chooses Sam Harris as his primary conversation partner in his section on naturalistic ethics. Wat? Because he cites philosophers like Nielsen and Sinnott-Armstrong, choosing a non-philosopher (and one who has been criticized as harshly as Harris) to be representative of this view is like whaling on the Science Olympiad captain in a game of dodgeball.

– The book’s structure can be haphazard. At times, I had trouble figuring out exactly where we were, what had been resolved, and where the argument was headed.


Overall, I was mildly disappointed by the book, perhaps because my expectations were too high. It’s filled with great quotes, tackles important issues, and is -in my opinion- correct in its central thesis. But I think the execution could have been better.