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on 3 December 2005
An interesting and absorbing book for any scholar that thrives from hearing a unique take on faith. I believe that the above comment was written by the prejudiced for the prejudiced. Whether or not you agree with all the points he makes, it is an intelligent and eloquent insight into atheism.
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on 16 February 2006
As McGrath duly notes in the introduction to 'The Twilight of Atheism': "This book will not settle anything; but at least it can further discussion of one of the greatest issues of our time." Having studied Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Molecular Biophysics, before gaining first class honours in Theology at Oxford University, Alister McGrath is well positioned to provide a broad insight into any debate concerning religious belief. A one time Atheist turned Christian, McGrath has first hand experience of life on both sides of the fence.
Rest assured this book is not aimed at converting 'non-believers' but at dispelling the controversial notion that "religion is the world's greatest evil." McGrath achieves this by tracing the history of atheism and highlighting the flaws, not of atheism as a whole, but of the secularist movements that have tried to impose atheism. Contrary to the beliefs of some, by no means does McGrath imply that the fall of the Berlin wall was a result of atheism, although he does draw attention to the failures of oppressive systems that have inforced their doctrine upon the unwilling. McGrath explains that, like religious movements, secular-atheist movements have been marred by a history of atrocities. As such atheism can be considered no less evil than monotheism.
Clearly 'The Twilight of Atheism' is written from a Christian perspective, but McGrath does not attempt to con the reader into thinking otherwise. McGrath is sympathetic to atheists who "just ask to be left alone, getting on with their lives peacefully and Godlessly". He does however take exception to the "militant, awkward, and angrier" forms of atheism. Just as religion has oppressive factions, so does atheism. Both are unacceptable.
"The Twilight of Atheism" is undoubtedly more accessible to the Christian reader. However, given Alister McGrath's impressive, diverse, credentials, this book is a must for any peron interested in religious debate.
P.S. It is a supposition to believe that humans are born atheist. There is absolutely no proof to validate such a claim. Surely, if anything, a person is born agnostic.
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on 24 July 2007
The book starts with the introduction claiming that in 1960 half the world was Athiest! This raised an eyebrow I can tell you so I settled in for a good read. By the end of the 1st chapter I found out how he could make such an outragous claim... he has 2 definitions of Atheism, the original Greek and the more modern. Sadly I don't have my copy here to quote directly so to paraphrase these 2 definitions - the Greeks defined it as those against the state religion whereas we would normally take this to be those who don't believe in God which given the title of the book is the one I expected him to concentrate on.

The 1st half of the book is a scholarly, and apparanetly well researched peice charting the rise and fall of Atheism. However I would say that it's very poor indeed. By using the 1st definition of Atheism McGrath is able to describe the French revolution as a failed experiment in Atheism, which it wasn't. Indeed I recall at one point he all but places Churchmen in his Atheist category and so for me the general thrust of the book was underminded fatally. He switches seemlessly between the 2 defnitions throughout this half and you need to take a step back and really consider what he is trying to say- He talks of GS Eliots Atheism but from his writing I would call Her Deist that falls into his 1st definition. He can claim that half the world was Atheist in 1960 but to do so he's branding all those who live in communist country as Atheists, McGrath doesn't appear to beleive that is true considering he points out the large portions of believers these countries had at least until WW2.

The second half of the book seems to go off at a tangent in so much has he seems to have a few points to make but wanders round them, thought provoking but generally a poor read.

In conclusion I would say this book doesn't do what it says on the cover. It attempts to pass off anti religous work as Atheistic in the modern sense by using the archaic definition, if he'd stuck with the Greek definition he'd have a different book, probably very interesting too. There doesn't appear to have been enough material to justify a book based on the modern definition under the same premiss. His poor use of the words belief and faith also undermine his cause.

Now I've been very critical but there's some very thought provoking stuff in the final chapter or 2 that needs expanding on...
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on 8 June 2006
A great book with a most provocative title. It was indeed the title of the book that first drew my attention to it. And it didn't disappoint.

This is not a work of Christian apologetics, nor a polemic against Atheists. It is rather a highly readable survey of atheism: its rise and, as McGrath argues, its demise. In the process, the reader is treated to a history of European political thought and religion from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. McGrath explores, among other things, the ideological impact of the French Revolution and the Romantic movement, and the key ideas of philosophers like Feuerbach, Marx, Freud and Nietzsche. He also examines the diminishing appeal of religion (specifically Christianity) over the nineteenth century and its unexpected resurgence a century later. McGrath concludes that atheism's final failure is a failure of imagination, something that religion has been able to recapture from the twentieth century.

One won't necessarily agree with all of McGrath's conclusions. I personally find the connection he draws between atheism and the political violence committed under the Nazi and Soviet regimes slightly tenuous. Athesists may well find his entire premise wholly offensive. Yet his thesis is on the whole well-written, well-argued and supported by an impressive amount of knowledge of the history of ideas over the last two to three centuries. Alister McGrath is of course a highly qualified commentator on the issue, being a professor of historical theology, a prolific author, and an incredibly erudite man. He was once an atheist and is now a conservative evangelical Christian.

This book should interest atheists and theists alike.
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The Twilight of Atheism: The rise and fall of disbelief in the modern world, by Alister McGrath, Rider (Random House), 2004, 320 ff.

The decline of atheism - fact or fiction?
By Howard A. Jones

The author of this book is Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford and he is a prominent evangelical Christian. His verbal duels with Richard Dawkins over the science and religion debate soon became legendary. McGrath would very much like the message in the title of this book to be true, but what is the evidence?

First, some statistics. From data that are readily accessible on the Internet, figures show that Church attendance in Britain and North America is steadily in decline. The number of those who regularly attended church in the USA in 1968 stood at 1.6 million but by 2006 this figure had fallen to less than 900,000. In Britain, the situation is even more marked where between 1980 and 2009, church attendance has fallen from 12% to 6% of the population. This doesn't look like atheism in decline to me, if atheism is to be linked to disbelief in Jesus Christ as God incarnate!

However, the dictionary defines atheism as disbelief in any kind of god or supernatural spirit. Belief in the God of Christianity may well be in decline, as the above statistics suggest (thereby contradicting McGrath), but the rise of the New Age movement and a worldwide increase in spirituality, linked to pagan and eastern religious philosophies, would suggest that belief in a universal spirit as divine might support McGrath's proposition: 33% of Americans now regard themselves as spiritual but not religious (Internet data).

The core of McGrath's contention about atheism in decline rests on the scientific discoveries of the 17th and 18th centuries which suggested that a Creator, Designer God was superfluous -all could be explained by science. This view of the antagonism of science and religion (or, at least, theism) still tends to be prevalent amongst the life scientists who regard any notion of God as a return to vitalism. However, the physical scientists and psychologists tend to endorse the view of a creative intelligence and interactive cosmic spirit that some regard as divine. If this is regarded as decline in disbelief, then McGrath's hypothesis is supported.

This is an interesting book with much fascinating factual material. It gets less convincing when it starts arguing the significance of these developments. There is an excellent Bibliography for further reading and a detailed Index.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK.
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on 29 December 2004
This is a conservative book which argues for religion. It suggests that atheism has had its time. What the author does is to concentrate on an analysis of the consequences of theism and atheism - not the issue of God's existence. The book does cover a lots of ground, but the detail is often a mask for the lack of argument. Given the author's reputation and profile, this is a weak book.
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on 17 December 2007
This is a typical McGrath book - well written, informative and clearly argued. He demonstrates clearly the weaknesses and strengths of the atheist position. However I think that its strength (its simplicity) is also its weakness. The thesis that atheism is now fading and 'religion', particularly Christianity in its pentecostal forms, is resurgent is attractive but not convincing. Statements are made which I would like to see more evidence for. In particular chapter eight on 'Protestantism and atheism' is to my mind weak. IS it really the case that Calvin for example 'desacralised nature'? That the Reformers took away the idea that it is possible to experience God in the patterns of day to day being, whilst Catholocism did the opposite? Did Protestant writers really think in terms of God as a divine mechanic? Did religious images really help the uneducated to learn about their faith rather than keep them in superstitious fear and bondage? Did Protestantism encourage the notion that ' God was absent from human culture and experience'? Perhaps this is all true of a particular kind of liberal Protestantism but to say the least, it is questionable if it is true of Protestantism per se.

Having said that - this is an excellent book. Well worth reading. It provides food for thought, lots of information and is easy to read. HIghly recommended.
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on 10 March 2007
This book came out a few years ago but having just read it I found myself wondering how I ever got by without it. Alister McGrath gives an enthralling account of 'the rise and fall of disbelief in the modern world'. He bookends a 200 year 'atheistic golden age' with two critical events from European history - 1789: the storming of the Bastille and 1989: the fall of the Berlin wall, "The fall of the Bastille became a symbol of the viability and creativity of a Godless world, just as the fall of the Berlin Wall later symbolized a growing recognition of the uninhabitability of such a place."

As a non-academic who might potentially be scared off by a book by a professor I found McGrath's style very accessible whilst remaining very thorough. Probably the main reason I became hooked this book was because on almost every page I felt I was learning something new. When I use the word learning I don't mean just factual knowledge, no, this book has helped me hugely in understanding and making sense of the world we live in - and my place in it. For me the Twilight of Atheism became the Twilight of Ignorance having filled many of the gaps in my historical knowledge.

The book's Everest is probably the section on Post-modernity, which sets out the new context of contemporary pluralism. The age of empires is over. History has shown that neither religious nor atheist regimes can be trusted with absolute power - it corrupts absolutely and leads to brutal and oppressive outcomes. The viability of our existence is proportional to the measure of our ability to co-exist. Maybe we can?
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on 20 January 2005
Atheism has come to mean simply a lack of belief in God (A-theism). As such it is fairly widespread in Western society. But this book reminds us that until recently it was a positive affirmation (AtheISM) that Mankind will be Improved by Throwing Off the Shackles of Religion (etc..) and that this idea has almost completely collapsed, largely because AtheIST societies (esp. the former Soviet Union) turned out to be disasters. Complaining that he doesn't give arguments for the existence of God is beside the point - that's not what this book is about. It shows the collapse of Atheism as a positive belief system. After publication, the UK census showed that the number of self-declared Atheists was under 11,000, compared to 37M Christians in the UK and 360,000 "Jedi Knights".
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on 10 January 2008
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. The fantasy is here propped up with poor research, flaky arguments and a liberal sprinkling of falsehoods. Very poor work.
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