Today’s atheists and agnostics, like many of their precursors, usually claim that their unbelief flows from logic and science, whereas the religious worldview is based on blind or benighted faith. Arguments in favor of religion, they assert, are merely cases of subordinating reason to emotion. In Unbelievers, a history of atheism that focuses on Europe around the time of the Reformation, Alec Ryrie paints a very different picture. Nick Spencer writes in his review:
In reality, as Alec Ryrie shows in this short but beautifully crafted history of early doubt, unbelief was (and is) chosen for “instinctive, inarticulate, and intuitive” reasons just as much as is belief. [He argues] persuasively that unbelief was as much, if not more, about what people felt as about what they thought: in particular, a confluence of moral outrage and personal anxiety.
Beginning in the Middle Ages, termed an “age of suspicion” rather than of faith, Ryrie describes medieval skeptics as being like contemporary flat-earthers. They had no evidence to support their position, but practiced “a stubborn refusal to be hoodwinked by the intellectual consensus of their age.” . . . It wasn’t that philosophical ideas were altogether irrelevant. . . . It was that such thinking tacked with the wind, rather than made it. . . . As Ryrie writes: “Intellectuals and philosophers may think they make the weather, but they are more often driven by it.”