Recently the rise of New Atheism has changed the long time relationship of atheism and religion existing side by side. Since 9/11 atheists have been arguing that religion is irrational and dangerous. Many bestsellers have been written in the last decade promoting an aggressive form of atheism. While the “old atheism” had a sense of “let's exist side by side,” the New Atheism has an intense anger against religion, which is held to poison everything. (31)
Yet belief in God will just not go away! “Numerically, far more people believe in God today than ever did in the past.” (86) It is a dilema to atheists (who comprise about four percent of Americans, a 2007 survey found). (36)
McGrath addresses the arguments promoted in the works of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. He reviews their popular works, revealing their faults.
Harris set the tone and ridiculed religion. Dawkins added a more aggressive critique, declaring faith to be fundamentally irrational. Of Dawkins McGrath says, “It's easy to argue that atheism is better than Christianity: you only need to ignore the good side of christianity and the bad side of atheism...” (14) Dennett tried to offer evidence that would destroy faith. Hitchens added his passionate anger toward religion.
McGrath addresses in detail the arguments of the New Atheists. The three core themes of New Atheism include its critique of religious violence, its appeals to reason and to science as the foundations of rational belief.
The author reminds his readers of the heritage of the Soviet Union, “the world's first officially atheistic state.” (65) Accountability to no higher authority than the secular state resulted in violence. New Atheists ignore or try to explain away the atrocities.
McGrath takes the atheists' arguments to their (unintended) end. If there is no God, we have no one to blame for human evil except ourselves. (81) The result is that “humanity appears to be rather less rational and moral than the New Atheist worldview allows.” (84)
The author also addresses science and the fact that science doesn't “prove” anything. Science deals in probabilities. “We can give ... good answers that we believe can be justified from the best evidence at our disposal. But we can't give a final answer because we know that what scientists believe today may not be what scientists believe in the future.” (101) Science is so successful because “it's willing to change its mind in response to new evidence.” (102) (As a scientist, with a BS in physics, I heartily agree with McGrath regarding science. Finally, a philosopher who understands what science can and can't do.)
It would seem, says McGrath, that religion is a characteristic of human nature. It is not going away.
The author knows atheism, having grown up atheist in Northern Ireland in the 1960s. Now he is convinced Christianity makes more sense.
McGrath has done an excellent job in answering the new Atheists and their arguments. His work is the best I've read on the subject to date. It is short and concise and would make a great book to give to your atheist friends. For those who would like to investigate the subject further, McGrath has provided three pages of suggested further reading.
This book is being released May 17, 2011 so mark your calendar to get a copy. I read an advanced reading egalley provided by Thomas Nelson Publishers, for the purpose of this review.
Thomas Nelson Publishers, 132 pages.