on 27 July 2015
Gavin Hyman's work is both weighty and easy to read. It is not a polemical work, there is no atheist or Christian bashing - simply a narrative told from a slightly different but highly sophisticated perspective. His readings of Descartes and Newton in particular, were just brilliant - showing how modernity restructured the popular mindset in such a way as to turn god from the almighty omnipotent Yahweh to the fragile and mischievous tinkerbell (destined to disappear the moment you stop believing in him.)
It is much more of a study book, (though lively and well written) than most contemporary books on atheism/Christianity (which are often very poorly researched). It is written from a Christian perspective but issues a serious if implicit challenge to Christians (was their god invented in the 17th century?) Equally, it is perhaps too quickly dismissed by atheists who prefer the tried and tested cliched histories of atheism. This book adds something genuinely new to the debate and is definitely worth the read.
on 27 October 2011
This book is both an excellent and a disappointing one, and both in a profound way.
First, the kudos: We get a lucid and intelligible presentation of the relevant intellectual discourse within the western Christian thinkers. The conceptualization of God, the argumentations for Belief and Disbelief, the disputations of Theism and Atheism from T. Aquinas to R. Dawkins from are clearly and forcefully sketched.
The main tenet of the book is that there is a deep and mutual connection between modernity, religion and atheism. The advent of modernity brought with it a transformed conception of God, making Him an object of thought and reasoning, in sharp contrast to the medieval idea of God as the primary cause of all beings, beyond the grasp of human understanding. It is this modern theism against which atheism - equally a modern creation - defines itself. And the more that religion adapted itself to modern epistemology, the more vulnerable it became to atheist assault. Descartes' failed attempt to prove the existence of God through logic, Locke's effort to provide empirical evidences to Religion, Kant's positing The necessity of God on praktische Verunt - led inevitably to Nietzsche proclaiming the "Death of God" and to Feuerbach and Marx denouncing religion as fake. Theologians attempting to accommodate (Christian) religion to modernity only weakened the already cracked citadel of Theism, and then came the nineteenth century with its scientific discoveries (especially but not solely, Darwin's theory of evolution), biblical criticism and humanistic moralism and transformed atheism from a deviant intellectual steam to a widespread and probably preponderant persuasion.
Coherent and penchant as this treatise is, it is my view a limited one. Religious belief, we all know, is global human phenomenon. Likewise, the relatively new appearance of widespread disbelief should be addressed beyond the sphere of western Christian arena.
In the same token, regarding the history of atheism solely or mostly as a philosophical - theological project missed a very important part of it. Most (probably all) creeds offer their "client" a "bundled product" comprising, inter alia and in variable proportions: transcendental revelation, historical narrative (often going back to the creation of the world), eschatological prediction, moral principles, legal code, certain claims or statements about the physical world and - perhaps most importantly - certain promise to existence after death.
The reference to God as entirely spiritual entity without factual content -proposed by some "post-modern" theologian - is a retreat and escape of a Religion that that cannot hold its ground against any logical or empirical argument, rather than a return to the true source (that never existed to the common believers); And one would expect that it shall make religion irrelevant for most people. The author rightly notes in the very last paragraphs of the book that such a "solution" will not answer the atheist's rejection of God.
This, however, is not what happens: Many cling to their faiths, defying logic and experience. The persistence of Belief is a global human phenomenon, encompassing eastern creeds like Hinduism and Buddhism as much as all the "Abrahamic" religions, and thus can not be discussed within the frame of Christianity western philosophy. Religious belief is a universal human phenomenon and so must be disbelief, even as its inception was in the west.
The really interesting question is: Why is a lingering human need for "religious commitment and practice" (especially the former, as the second may be just a socially driven one). Is this persistence of Belief just a manifestation of an instilled cultural conditioning, or does it point to some deep "religion quest" ingrained in the human mind?
This inquiry, admittedly, belongs to the realm of Anthropology or Psychology rather than to Philosophy (and certainly not to Theology). One looks for a different "History of Atheism" to address it.
on 16 January 2013
The main thesis of the work being that Modern Philosophy, Modern Theism and Atheism(as a modern phenomenon) are intrinsically linked, and the author examines the historical dimension of this and also what it may mean for the future as we move into post-modern thought. I felt it impossible to tell if he author is a Theist, Atheist or Agnostic which was a good sign for the impartial nature of the work. This book gives a well developed, yet concise account of the philosophical origins of modern Atheism and also of modern Theism and of the role modern Philosophy (really from Descartes on but he also mentions the scholastic philosophy when directly involved) has played in this. I think some philosophical knowledge would be useful for reading this book but I don't think it is essential.