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The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World [Hardcover]

Alister E. McGrath
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jun 2004

In this bold and provocative new book, the author of In the Beginning and The Reenchantment of Nature challenges the widely held assumption that the world is becoming more secular and demonstrates why atheism cannot provide the moral and intellectual guidance essential for coping with the complexities of modern life.

Atheism is one of the most important movements in modern Western culture. For the last two hundred years, it seemed to be on the verge of eliminating religion as an outmoded and dangerous superstition. Recent years, however, have witnessed the decline of disbelief and a rise in religious devotion throughout the world. In THE TWILIGHT OF ATHEISM, the distinguished historian and theologian Alister McGrath examines what went wrong with the atheist dream and explains why religion and faith are destined to play a central role in the twenty-first century.

A former atheist who is now one of Christianity’s foremost scholars, McGrath traces the history of atheism from its emergence in eighteenth-century Europe as a revolutionary worldview that offered liberation from the rigidity of traditional religion and the oppression of tyrannical monarchs, to its golden age in the first half of the twentieth century. Blending thoughtful, authoritative historical analysis with incisive portraits of such leading and influential atheists as Sigmund Freud and Richard Dawkins, McGrath exposes the flaws at the heart of atheism, and argues that the renewal of faith is a natural, inevitable, and necessary response to its failures.

THE TWILIGHT OF ATHEISM will unsettle believers and nonbelievers alike. A powerful rebuttal of the philosophy that, for better and for worse, has exerted tremendous influence on Western history, it carries major implications for the future of both religion and unbelief in our society.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 306 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday Books (Jun 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385500610
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385500616
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,767,277 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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A sympathetic and interesting guide to the intellectural and social landscape of the past 200 years or so. -- Church Times

Alister McGrath invariably combines enormous scholarship with an accessible and engaging style. -- Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

Gripping...impressive intellectual range -- The New York Times

Highly readable -- TLS

This is indeed a thought-provoking book -- BBC History Magazine --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Book Description

This bold and provocative book on what went wrong with the Atheists' dream is now available in paperback --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Is atheism always 'hard' atheism? 26 Jan 2010
This book is a clear and structured work, and will keep the reader interested throughout. but there is a fair bit to be critical of in the latter stages of the book, where Mcgrath brings us to mid-late 20th century atheism. Mcgrath only addresses 'hard' or 'affirming' atheism, not the sort of atheism that is just an absence of belief in God, but a firm rejection of God's existence. Also, his understanding of 'postmodern' and post-structuralist challenges to theism is poor, and, in trying to defend theism from its challenges, he claims that atheism is more unsettled by it. But that only applies to 'hard' atheism! Mcgrath also devotes a lot of time to activists such as Madalyn Murray O'Hair, yet influential thinkers such as Russell, Satre and Mackie get no significant attention at all.

So, in conclusion, its interesting, well worth a read, but the last few chapters should have been better.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By rossuk
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It is ironic that McGrath's book came out in 2004 shortly before the books by the New Atheists: Sam Harris (2004); Richard Dawkins (2006); Daniel Dennett (2006) and Christopher Hitchins (2007). Since then McGrath has published two books that deal with the New Atheism, 'The Dawkins Delusion' (2007) and 'Why God won't go Away' (2011). In the main 'Twilight of Atheism' covers the history of atheism in the two hundred years between the fall of the Bastille in 1789 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. As a work on history he does a competent job, understanding the past helps us understand the present, and gives us a hint about the future. It is one of the ironies of history that the early Christians were called atheists (atheistos) because they challenged the validity of the pagan religious system. He should have spent a bit more time discussing the Soviet Union as the world's first atheist state; it would have made a good case study of what happens when atheists have power. It would be interesting to see what comrade Dawkins would do if he had real power, e.g. how would he go about eradicating the 'religion' virus?

The Soviet Union tried power to eradicate religion, but it did not work. This is a lesson from history, but it failed, which is evident to us all. Some have argued that he deals with hard atheism, but why should McGrath soft peddle on this issue? I was particularly intrigued by the biography of Madalyn Murray O'Hair (1919-1995) who was responsible for removing prayer and the bible from state schools in the USA, she was a hard line atheist, but her arguments were not very good, much the same as the New Atheists. If people object that McGrath is dealing with hard atheism, then I suggest that this is nothing when compared with the vitriol of the New Atheism.
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51 of 65 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing 8 Mar 2006
By A Customer
This book was very different from what I expected. While the author clearly states he is a christian who was previously an atheist, this does not read as an attempt to convert or as a religious book.
The book is really a study of atheism as a social phenomenon, considering those factors that have tended to favour atheistic outlooks and those that have not. The message I came away with was that the rise of atheism had much more to do with the prevailing social environment than with evidence for or against the existance of God.
The author seemed very sympathetic to atheists as a whole, with the exception of irrational extremists, like 'Dawkinsian' fundamentalists. It is interesting that the language of extremists, whether religious or atheistic, tends to be similarly intolerant and aggressive.
I did not agree with all that the author wrote, but it was always informative, and proved an enjoyable read.
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3.0 out of 5 stars beware of bias 4 Jun 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Covers a wide historical period and well researched and huge reference list. Makes assumptions about understanding ofdefinitions and terms. Makes some very broad statements which are irritating. Whilst many of the issues are fairly presented the authors underlying assumption is that atheism has had its day Whilst the book appears .academic; it lacks some real rigor when it comes to conclusions. It concentrates of the intellectual manifestations of atheism and in particular the Christian religion. I feel it lacks a world view - what about Athiesm in Islam or Hinduism.
It is worth a read but beware of the assumptions and bias
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22 of 30 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Narrow view of history 2 Dec 2006
By D. Bird
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In this book McGrath sets out an analysis of the development of atheism over the last few hundred years. According to McGrath, atheism is an `empire of the mind' motivated by a rebellion against the Church which has been seen as an authority.

McGrath starts his book with an analysis of the meaning of the word `atheism'. Contrary to our modern usage, the ancient Greeks used the word to identify people who did not believe in the gods of Athens. This meaning of the word was carried forward into the early Christian age, which is why the pagans accused the early Christians of being atheistic.

Nevertheless, McGrath stubbornly tries to uphold this outdated definition because it useful to him. Most people now think that atheism identifies people who don't believe in a God. It would seem, therefore, that everyone is born an atheist because we are born without a belief in God.

It is not possible to attribute the state of agnosticism to a child because that child would have to acknowledge the limitations of our experience in order to be defined as agnostic. Think about it. If an Eskimo is approached by a Christian and told that there is a God, we cannot retrospectively say that the Eskimo had been an agnostic before introduced to the concept of God, but rather, he lacked a belief altogether. The Eskimo would have to give a reason why he did not uphold a belief in God in order to be called an agnostic, and normally that involves a reluctance to uphold any unempirical beliefs.

Accordingly, McGrath with his nasty conception of atheists as rebels thinks that in order to be an atheist you have to state it clearly that you are against any theistic religion. But this poses a problem when we go to analyse people's position in history.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating and balanced critique of atheism
I thought this book was very stimulating and provided a balanced contribution to understanding the development of atheism as a cultural world-view. Read more
Published on 6 May 2012 by HamzahF
4.0 out of 5 stars Good scholarly account
Another good book from McGrath among his many on this subject. Well researched and written, yet accessible and readable by anyone. Read more
Published on 12 Sep 2011 by Sid Bonkers
4.0 out of 5 stars The decline of atheism - fact or fiction?
The Twilight of Atheism: The rise and fall of disbelief in the modern world, by Alister McGrath, Rider (Random House), 2004, 320 ff. Read more
Published on 5 Dec 2009 by Dr. H. A. Jones
4.0 out of 5 stars A Necessary Critique
As a global overview of the course of atheism as a dominant worldview this book succeeds well. The cluster of assumptions that, in the author's assessment, underlie modern atheism... Read more
Published on 23 Feb 2009 by Dr. J. Garvey
1.0 out of 5 stars The Fall and Fall...
This book begins with a potted history of the rise of atheism, then falls into a load of atheophobic nonsense. Read more
Published on 18 Nov 2008 by Tufty
5.0 out of 5 stars Convincing, readable and highly recommended.
This is a splendid book. Drawing effortlessly on McGrath's erudition, it presents, with compelling style, the history of modern intellectual development. Read more
Published on 9 Oct 2008 by Dr. G. Pryce
1.0 out of 5 stars Very poor scholarship
McGrath takes the prize for expecting his readers to simply take his word for things. He repeatedly asserts that atheism is declining worldwide. Is he right? No way to tell. Read more
Published on 18 April 2008 by C. Bathgate
4.0 out of 5 stars Religion, atheism and the battle for imagination's soul
This is a bravely-titled `history of an idea', which makes the claim - contra Dawkins, Hitchens, Sam Harris et al - that atheism as an intellectually credible worldview has had its... Read more
Published on 16 Feb 2008 by Jeremy Bevan
1.0 out of 5 stars Unconvincing
Just as much religion is wishful thinking projected large, so the 'fall of disbelief' is wishful thinking on the part of this convert to superstition. Read more
Published on 10 Jan 2008 by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Typical McGrath
This is a typical McGrath book - well written, informative and clearly argued. He demonstrates clearly the weaknesses and strengths of the atheist position. Read more
Published on 17 Dec 2007 by David Robertson
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