“Why God Won’t Go Away, Is the New Atheism Running on Empty?”
Alister McGrath divides this book into three parts. The first is an over view of the “New Atheism” that reads like an obituary for the movement. In fact one wonders as not much has been heard from “the four horsemen” :Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett in the last year or so. Well, Dawkins I guess is trying to start a parochial university for atheists in London, so may be it isn’t quite dead yet.
In any case, that part of the book gives an overview of the movement, who it’s players are, and what distinguishes it from the “Old Atheism.” Essentially showing the difference to be that the New Atheism is militant, delusional, arrogant, and quite dogmatic especially in its mission to convert people.
The second third of the book deals with the meat of the issues raised by the “new” atheists. It takes on the Issue of Religion and Violence, Rationality and Belief, and the question of Proof in science. Alister McGrath makes note that atheists have shown themselves to be just as violent, indeed the New Atheists think there may be reason to exterminate those with religious beliefs they disagree with! 50 some years since the Holocaust, and we seem to have learned nothing. But then it is Christianity that teaches that life is sacred, not atheism. But if we are just going to go around killing people who don’t agree with us, because of their religion how different are we from Muslim Terrorists?
When it comes to the rationality of belief, Alister shines. He shows that even where science is concerned there is a great deal that is accepted on faith with little to no empirical evidence to back it up. Science is actually supposed to be neutral when it comes to value and judgment. But the New atheists make it a religion themselves. This chapter is but an introduction to the philosophical debate concerning what is and isn’t rational, and the nature of faith and reason. But it is a good introduction.
Alister also shines when it comes to an investigation of what science is and is not, and what the boundaries are concerning it. Proof is elusive in today’s world. Alister himself holds a degree, in Science and knows what he is talking about.
In the end, Alister asserts that man has shown himself to be as much a religious animal as a political one, and therefore Man will continue to be religious. He ends with a couple antidotes concerning how the New Atheism has actually brought the question of God back into the public square.
The book is more or less a popular survey. It does not go into great detail concerning the arguments for Christianity, nor does it do a lengthy detailed critique of the Atheist arguments. What it does do, and I might add does well, is introduce people to the arguments and critiques giving basic outlines for them and referencing people to further reading should they want it. There is a place for such books. Even if it just scratches the surface, it show that the new Atheism has far from the last word on the subject of God.