This is a book that I would recommend to anyone who read Richard Dawkins recent controversial work, The God Delusion. Although the author of this book, John Blanchard, approaches from the other side of the argument than does the better known Dawkins, both managed to come up with books that are balanced and easily accessible to readers which ever side of the debating fence they sit on. In the preface to his next book "Is God Past His Sell By Date?" Blanchard confesses that his original plan had been to write a fairly small book intended for atheists, agnostics and others with serious doubts about the existence of God. He claims he failed in his remit and the finished tome ran to over 650 pages and went far beyond the scope and depth that he had in mind. He may feel that he failed in his intentions but the resulting work is a brilliant look at the philosophies and myriad thought processes that challenge the existence of a Christian God and the counter arguments that defend one.
Like Dawkins you know from the outset the conclusions that Blanchard is going to reach, but again like Dawkins it is the journey that he takes you on to get there rather than the final realisations that give this book a broad appeal. I always think it is important to read both sides of any argument and in this case this is the perfect follow up to Dawkins and Christopher Hitchin's recent works, it matters not weather you agree with its over all thrust, it is however important to understand its thought process and is a necessary read for both atheistic types playing devils advocate as well as the converted how want an understanding of the development of the theological sparring that has taken place throughout history. In short all you need is a broad mind and you are away.
Although ultimately it is a defence in the belief in God, specifically a Christian God, there is a wealth of historical, philosophical and theological mileage to be found between its covers. In an attempt to know its enemy it traces the development of atheistic and agnostic thinking from the Golden Age of Greek philosophy right up to modern thinkers such as Bertrand Russell and specifically pinpoints the influence of the likes of Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Camus and Sartre on the shaping of such philosophies.. Darwinian evolutionism is put under the microscope to uncover what Blanchard sees as weaknesses both in the original works as well as the neo Darwinism of its contemporary exponents such as Peter Atkins.
The book takes time to examine what it sees as fundamental flaws in nine world religions and fourteen major cults as well as the secular thinking of Humanism and its off-shoots. The area of the book that I found most appealing was the arguments for religion and science not being the enemies that many take them to be and that there is a counterpoint of compatibility to be found, an argument that will appeal t readers of Paul Davis and Chet Raymo. Finally it examines the more abstract theological debates such as how an all powerful god can allow evil and suffering in the world.
Now I must admit that there is quite a lot in this book that I don't agree with, but as I said at the beginning the conclusions themselves are not always the important part of books such as this, understanding the debate is more important. This is not a that sets out to brow beat unbeliever with evangelical arguments, it is a book that tries to gently nudge you into new debates. That, in my opinion is where it wins out over many books originating from the faithful flock. Whilst many on that side of the fence are happy to write books that look to belittle and attack what they see as erroneous and alternative thinking, what Blanchard does, is to present counter arguments or question weaknesses in theories without forcing anything down the readers throat. That maybe why this book has a wide appeal, a fact borne out by the fact that it has been printed in forty languages and sold nearly fifteen million copies.
You may not agree with all, much or any of the points made by the book, but between the arguments there is so much background information relating to the development of Western thought that it is still a very worth while read, no matter what your beliefs. Sit it on your bookshelf in a prominent place along with The God Delusion and if nothing else it will provide an interesting starting point for conversation when people come round. For my money though it is destined to be a classic on the subject.