Book of the Month: August 2011

Why God Won’t Go Away

Why God won't go awayBy Alister McGrath (SPCK)

If Richard Dawkins didn’t exist, Alister McGrath might well have wanted to invent him – or someone very much like him, at any rate. For it is when the big-brained theologian with an occasional propensity for dryness engages Dawkins, and his militant atheist contemporaries, that he is at his best. In this volume, McGrath is witty, well-informed and extremely sharp-witted – everything that Dawkins is himself credited as being.

In fact, the evolutionary biologist isn’t McGrath’s only interlocutor in Why God Won’t Go Away. The theological heavyweight also turns his attention on Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett – thinkers who, with Dawkins, have been called the ‘four horsemen’ of the apocalypse; or the so-called atheist revolution, at least.
And, as McGrath skilfully demonstrates, reports of the revolution have been rather over-stated. New atheism might not quite be dead and buried, but it is certainly faltering.

Part of the problem, McGrath asserts, is that an intellectual position derived from opposition and resistance to a particular worldview (i.e. a religious one), as new atheism is, lacks its own foundational basis. Or, to put it another way, once the deconstructive tactics of new atheism have been revealed as inadequate, its lack of substance becomes problematic – because, under scrutiny, you find there is nothing left.

McGrath certainly does a fine job of identifying the failure of many arguments commonly propounded by Dawkins and his cronies. As an academic discussion, then, the book more than satisfies.

But it is when McGrath traces the breaking down of militant atheism as a worldwide movement – as reflected in dwindling attendance at new atheist, or ‘Bright’, gatherings, and public fallings-out over the internet – that this book comes alive. Here, we see McGrath engaging in the debate in a lively, relevant and often scathing fashion. The result is compelling.

So this is a fine volume – slim enough to read in a single sitting, and written in a lucid, humorous, journalistic style. I commend it to anyone who is frustrated at the conceptual
and moral bankruptcy of new atheism. And even if you’re not, give this book a go. You might just find your opinion adjusts as you work your way through it.

 

Reviewed by Tim Gibson, STETs

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