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"The rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated", Mark Twain
on 23 September 2011
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. In some ways this book would have been much better if it was published three years later to take into account the New Atheism, but then I guess that the title would need to be changed.
So, you guys who want an atheist Utopia. It has been tried and tested, and found wanting.