7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
This book should be required reading in every higher education establishment and beyond, even if we have to acknowledge that minds that are firmly closed will resist even the most powerful of intellectual crow bars.
In the beautifully lucid opening chapters Professor Grayling exposes the delusions involved in religious faith and the enormous damage caused by those in power who have used these delusions to gull, manipulate, torture and kill huge numbers of people throughout the centuries. By no means does he deny the extraordinary contributions to art, nor the psychological comforts that religion has afforded. Simply, he sets these against the price that has been paid and offers us the higher value of truth. Much of what is argued may not, in itself be new, but it cannot be said too often and Professor Grayling argues his case with style and conviction. The case against religion is incontrovertible. Here the author sweeps away the lame arguments that are still advanced to defend the indefensible. It is indeed a “boxing match with jelly”, but Grayling cuts through the amorphous with razor sharp logic.
The second section of the book, where Grayling takes on the ontological and cosmological arguments is denser, rather more of a challenge for the reader not trained in, or familiar with, the terminology and methods of academic philosophy. It is though well worth the effort, and here again the emphasis is on practical implications and not devoted to theoretical issues removed from our lives in the real world. We are still not far from the fire-breathing dragon in the garage and Twain’s maxim that “faith is believing what you know aint so”.
Education is a major area of attention, from the dangerous and anachronistic faith schools, for which politicians are responsible and for which we may all pay a heavy price, to the equally dangerous infiltration into schools of creationist/ID theory. There are, indeed, the most disturbing movements afoot back towards the pre-scientific world of superstition.
Equally lucid and cogent is Professor Grayling’s presentation of Humanism, a morality based not on unknowable hypotheses but on the simple recognition of the needs of others. In short on the value of kindness, not treating others as we would wish them to treat us but as individuals with their own separate and distinct needs. This is all the very antithesis of “I don’t like it therefore you are not allowed to do it”, so often the attitude of the religious establishment, particularly with regard to such issues as sex, pornography, drugs, all of which in the eyes and words of the religious seem to dominate moral indignation rather than landmines and torture, famine and the profits from the international arms trade.
One of the most potent sections of Professor Grayling’s book concerns the arguments for and against euthanasia. I find this one of the most eloquent - indeed moving - statements anywhere against the institutionalised cruelty of placing the so-called sanctity of human life – a sanctity given precious little importance in other contexts, such as war and punishment – above the quality of human life. Once more Grayling identifies the hypocrisy and deceit in the different moral attitudes to passive and active euthanasia.
If there is one area that I would like the author to have taken on, it is the vital threat of political correctness. What emerged from warm, liberal sympathies and a sense of righting much of the unfairness of modern society has become a very real threat to the liberties we have valued as free, democratic societies. When we reach a situation in which people may be imprisoned for giving expression to ideas that may offend or affront others, we have taken a sinister step down the Stalinist path. This concern seems to me a very real challenge to the humanism Professor Grayling espouses and to the public square to which he alludes more than once in his opening. A caveat, albeit, I think, a crucial one.
That apart, I cannot find words to give sufficient emphasis to the quality and importance of this book.
68 of 72 people found the following review helpful
There has been a growing concern, bordering on fear, of what religious groups have labelled "The New Atheism". The proponents upon which that label has been pinned are "Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris. A previous reviewer, full of Christian charity, hopes to discredit Grayling by casting him together with Dawkins and Hitchens, and claiming that Grayling does not introduce "enough interesting new ideas to satisfy someone who has read "The God Delusion" or "God is Not Great" (written by Dawkins and Hitchens respectively). That is neither a fair nor accurate statement - it is no different from saying that we should find that Rick Warren or any other Christian writer has nothing original to say if we have read the Bible. The allusion by that reviewer is also unfair and unkind to Dawkins and company. Although none of them had called himself a "New Atheist", nonetheless, it is no different from a Christian calling himself a "born-again Christian". Such descriptions can be used by all parties neutrally without aspersions of moral inadequacy.
In the general sense, anyone who thinks about life is a philosopher. Grayling is different only in that he makes philosophy his vocation; Dawkins is a scientist, and Hitchens was a journalist and writer. This is a deep, thoughtful book for intelligent, well-read, and open-minded people who are interested in knowing the case against religion. Grayling does more than that. In the second part of his book he presents an argument for Humanism, of which, contrary to the previous reviewer's claim, Grayling has a great deal to say. "Humanism", he says, "is the concern to draw the best from, and make the best of, human life in the span of the human lifetime, in the real world, and in sensible accord with the facts of humanity as these are shaped and constrained by the world. This entails that humanism rejects religious claims about the source of morality and value." As a word, "humanism" has a relatively short history but the ethical tradition it carries goes back in history "older by nearly a millennium than Christianity".
Grayling discusses specific topics under chapter headings such as "Humanism and the Ends of Life". The religious tend to lean in favour of what they call the "pro-life" position in respect of issues such as voluntary euthanasia or physician-assisted death as well as abortion. He explains, clearly, and in detail, why the religious attitude represents "an egregious example of the `I don't like it therefore you are not allowed to do it' mentality which is what makes moralism of that kind so profoundly objectionable." He offers a fresh and practical suggestion for those who fear that mistakes might be made in the voluntary euthanasia process - that is, by creating a medical sub-division of anaesthesiology where specialists can work within the framework of law and under the supervision of a hospital ethics committee.
There are many fresh ideas that the reader can find in this clear and accessible book. Not only will he find good reasons to reject belief in any supernatural deity, but he will find that that is a much sounder basis for behaving ethically and living morally, something many Christians believe is impossible without God. Grayling shows that, in fact, it is impossible with God. He shows why "the world is far more consistent with the existence of an evil deity than a good deity". Citing Amos 3:6, "Does evil befall a city, and the Lord has not done it?" and Isaiah 45:5 "I make peace and create evil; I am the Lord who does all these things", and Job 2:10 "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" Even so, as Grayling reminded us, the Anglican Church has since 1996 abolished the idea of Hell as a place of eternal punishment. Now, the Church of England says that hell is just "the absence of God". Other Christians disagree with the COE position, which therefore makes it terribly difficult to know what to believe about God.
If you enjoy this book you might like Mark Roncace's "Raw Revelation: The Bible They Never Tell You About", and also Lawrence Wright's account of the creation of the Church of Scientology in "Going Clear".
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Many individuals have settled their beliefs about religion while many others, including myself, have experienced much doubt throughout life. Those with unsettled views probably have a larger tendency than others to gravitate towards philosophy, which tries to examine and assess broad questions about life and experience. In his new book, "The God Argument: the Case against Religion and for Humanism" (2013), the philosopher A.C. Grayling examines and rejects arguments in favor of religion and religious belief and opts instead for an outlook on life based on humanism. Grayling is professor of philosophy and master of the New College of the Humanities, London. Grayling has written more than 30 books, many of which involve questions about religion and humanism. He is a "public philosopher" in that he writes for lay audiences as well as for technically trained philosophers and addresses questions of immediate philosophical impact as opposed to what are sometimes termed technical questions for specialists. In addition to addressing religion and humanism, Grayling has written studies of Descartes, Berkeley, and Wittgenstein.
The goal of the book is less to change minds than to articulate the reasons which, for Grayling, lead to the rejection of religion and theism. Equally important, Grayling wants to show that the lack of theistic belief does not lead to a meaningless, ethically random life. The case Grayling makes for humanism is as important to his project as the case against religion. Accordingly, the book is in two broad parts, the first of which is titled "Against Religion" while the second is titled, "For Humanism".
Religious belief involves intellectual questions but it also raises questions of emotion, psychology, history and more. Thus, in the first part of the book, Grayling engages in a broad discussion of the origins of religious belief, historically and for the individual, and of the role religion has served for its believers. Speaking broadly, Grayling sees religion as arising in a pre-scientific world view when people tried to explain phenomena on the basis of mind or intentionally-based behavior rather than as the operation of laws of nature, including physics, chemistry, and biology. He sees religion as having great personal uses for people in providing forms of consolation, meaning, and ethical standards; but he also sees religion as wreaking more harm than good in the form of intolerance and hatred, ignorance, superstition, and the undue supression of natural and proper human desires including, in particular, sexuality.
Grayling explores these factors and then turns to an examination of various philosophical arguments that have traditionally been offered for theism, including the argument from design and the ontological argument, and finds them wanting.
The best part of the discussion consists in Grayling's formulation of the question: determining what "religion" and "god" mean. Religion, for Grayling, is a "set of beliefs and practices focused on a god or gods," a definition that excludes Theravada Buddhism and Confucianism, among other possible candidates. In a telling passage, Grayling points to the difficulty of engaging with religion due to to the shifting character of concepts of God. He writes:
"[C]ontesting religion is like engaging in a boxing match with jelly; it is a shifting, unclear, amorphous target, which every blow displaces to a new shape. This is in large part because the religious themselves often do not have clear ideas, or much agreement among themselves, about what is meant by 'religion', 'god' 'faith' and associated concepts. And this is not surprising given the fact that these concepts are so elastic, multiple, and ill-defined as to make it hard to attach a literal meaning to them."
The considerations Grayling identifies make "religion" and "god" elusive targets. Educated religious believers frequently have far different views than the majority of people who attend houses of worship. And those believers who disagree with "fundamentalism" frequently "cherry-pick" among doctrines, disregarding those they find offensive and substituting, sometimes in a dogmatic way of their own, a more "liberal" point of view. I sympathize with Grayling's discussion of this situation. He tries to address it by mounting a broad-based attack on theism, in terms of the existence of god and of the value of god as a means of explanation in morality, physical causation, or anything else.
In the second part of the book, Grayling defines and makes the case for humanism. He says:
"In essence, humanism is the ethical outlook that says each individual is responsible for choosing his or her values and goals and working towards the latter in the light of the former, and is equally responsible for living considerately towards others, with a special view to establishing good relationships at the heart of life, because all good lives are premised on such. Humanism recognizes the commonalities and, at the same time, wide differences that exist in human nature and capacities, and therefore respects the rights that the former tells us all must have, and the need for space and tolerance that the latter tells us each must have."
Grayling proceeds to give a broad discussion of how an individual may choose the pattern of his or her life and work towards its meaning under a humanistic outlook. He also offers what he admits are his own points of view on a broad range of social issues, including the distribution of wealth, feminism, gay rights, vegetarianism, euthanasia, regulation of drugs, and more. His views tend to be well on the liberal range of the social spectrum.
The book is provocatively and elegantly written. Grayling writes with a commendable passion and fervor as he seeks to engage the reader in the process of thinking issues through to a conclusion. I share much of his approach. In my view, "humanism" and more generally "philosophy" are terms almost as elusive and shifting as "god" and "religion". Grayling's "humanism" has many attractive features, but its emphasis of individualism and choice of goals speaks primarily to a certain type of educated, modestly well-to-do individual with a degree of leisure in a developed country. And Grayling's arguments for social and political positions do not seem to me in all cases to be required by a humanistically based ethics. Perhaps individuals have other options between the religion that Grayling critiques on the one hand and his humanism on the other hand. The works of the American philosopher John Kekes, for example, show a secular thinker with a social ethics that differs markedly from Grayling's.
I mentioned that Grayling has written about Descartes and Wittgenstein. In the book under discussion, written for a law audience, Grayling perhaps does not fully flesh out philosophical underpinnings and arguments. He offers a short and rather perfunctory chapter titled "knowledge, belief, and rationality" on the difficult host of questions that philosophers describe as epistemological. I am not sure from this work alone, but Grayling appears committed to a strong view of rationality and proof and to a representational outlook with which many philosophers would disagree. The outlook is broadly that words and thoughts somehow "mirror" reality. And so, when the word "God" is used, it refers to an existing being or to nothing at all. Some philosophers would reject this outlook and allow for the possibility of a "God" that is not an existent "thing" or a "being". Also Grayling seems to me to privilege scientific forms of explanation and he adopts what is close to a verificationist theory of meaning. He writes, "[r]eligious claims are, accordingly, irrefutable because untestable; and by this criterion are therefore meaningless." The trouble with this is that verificationism has a long philosophical history. If theological claims do not pass verificationism, many other types of claims that people would now want to give up do not pass it as well.
Grayling could reject these forms of critique or he could restate his position to meet them. I think his discussion, rejecting a representationalist theism is valuable. The book is liberating, challenging, and worth reading by those readers emeshed in religious questions.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 9 May 2014
Those who believe religion has done more to damage than to benefit civilisation will find their conclusion convincingly vindicated by this book, whilst agnostics will surely be converted by it to atheism. Apologists for religion, if persuaded to read it, would find every argument for their belief in a supreme omniscient being, even the much admired faith, utterly demolished. At the same time, they would be shown how we can have the positive aspects of religion without its "divisions, hatreds and torment" through humanism. The lessons of this book could have profound benefit for mankind if absorbed properly. A.C.Grayling should be essential reading, especially for those concerned with educating the next generation.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 18 May 2014
This is another book that would make the world a better place if everyone read it. As Mr. Grayling states in his book, humanism is not against most people who subscribe to religions or other belief systems as they were brought up in them as children or turned to them out of need. These people genuinely think that their beliefs in mythologies are truths. However, through this book, Mr. Grayling clearly shows that humanism can much better answer the moral and ethical questions humans face today. There's no need to be afraid of reality.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 12 June 2014
Many religions claim that they provide hope. In this book Grayling first demolishes the so-called proofs of the existence of a god then sets out a humanist alternative. I came to this book knowing that I would get the first bit and interested in what he might have to say in the second. The first half is lucid and thorough. The hope comes in the second half when he sets out the case for an atheistical morality. This works for me.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 17 May 2013
Not for the intellectually faint-hearted, this terrific book ticks every conceivable box you could imagine when it comes to de-bunking the notion of theism...of whatever hue. The chattering classes will have their dinner parties much enlivened by the controversies it unleashes and many will be the ensuing debates. I particularly like the section where Grayling knocks into a cocked hat Bertrand Russell's assertion that he could not 100% assert that fairies do NOT live at the bottom of gardens or that elfs and pixies do NOT come out at night to sprinkle dew on the flowers. Prof. Grayling's refutation of this proposition is extremely illuminating. I suppose the essence of his `message' is that one can enjoy the beauty of, say, a flower, the happiness evoked in a child's smile or the inspiration received from the `arts', without the need for a third party ie a God.
The second half of the book trumpets the Case FOR Humanism as a way of living and is equally rational in its approach. Indeed, rationality and logic infuse everything Grayling discusses...and his `general knowledge' is truly astounding.
Having said all that, I feel the book `fails' to this extent: the converted need not be `preached' to (although they will, after reading this, have many more `slings and arrows' to add to their `outrageous' arsenal!) and the `none so blind...' will simply do verbal, emotional and illogical gymnastics to justify their continued adherence to their religion in spite of NO constantly empirical data confirming the existence of a controlling `entity' whom we must worship, to whom we must give praise, to whom we may ask for `favours' and who, at the end of our life `judges' us, as a consequence of which we are `rewarded' or `punished'.
All-in-all, however, the acuity of his vision and the unrestrained meticulous attention to the rational make this one of THE most thought-provoking books I have ever had the privilege to read. A page-turner it most assuredly is NOT but the rewards for serious consideration of, and reflection on, A.C.Grayling's `The God Argument' are exquisitely multifaceted.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 9 January 2014
This book is written by an academic, but it is accessible by any intelligent lay person. I particularly found the second section on ethics very interesting.
Grayling sets out the meaning and practice of ethics in a persuasive way which fed into the search for the meaning of life and how it can be lived for the benefit or self or others.
I have recommended this book to friends and students.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
I found this book to take a while to build a head of steam - but once it got going it was rather good.
The book itself is divided into two equal sections - titled (with wonderful clarity) "Against Religion" and "For Humanism". In these section the author lays out what he considers to be the problems of religions - with a longish section on what classes as a religion - and how these problems could be rectified through the use of a more humanistic system of values.
If you are interested in the current (and seemingly intensifying) debate between the theist and atheist positions either of these sections will be of interest - and if goes without saying they will be more interesting to those already in the second of these groups.
There was an excellent section that explored the inability of some people to see that atheism is not a position based on the opposition to God - but on a lack of evidence. This is compared to stamp collecting - where no one thinks that none stamp collectors have some for of opposition to stamps - they just fail to see any evidence that they are interesting. The point being, that atheism is not based on a position in relation to God - but rather in relation to evidence.
At times - and disappointingly most of these are near the start of the book - you can find phrases that goes something like this "If you have studied any logic it will be clear that ......." - well I have not, and often it wasn't. These phrases were largely responsible for the slow start in my opinion. The author is clearly I high powered academic, and seems to have forgotten that such a description does not apply to everybody who reads his books.
The tone in the book is far less acerbic than that of Richard Dawkins, but it is no less effective at pricking holes in theist rhetoric.
I doubt many people of a religious nature will read this book, which is a shame, because it shows how an argument can proceed without the need for name calling.
Highly recommended - but you may need to "push on through" some of the early chapters.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 31 March 2013
Having read most of the other 'New Atheist' writers (such as Dawkins, Stenger, Harris, Hitchens, etc), I was concerned that this would just be another re-hashing of the same old arguments. While there is some duplication, I found that Grayling's perspective as a philosopher gave these arguments a fresh feel.
My favourite part of the book is the second half where he presents a case for living a good life without god/religion. It's wonderful to read such a positive view of the ethical life that encourages the reader to research and think for themselves!! (Rather than take his word for it!) His view of the ethical life is one we can all actually live by which makes it all the more valuable!
I like how he sets the discussion in the context of the history of philosophical thought in various areas (namely the history of ethical thought). This helps to set the humanist view within the broader context of history from antiquity to the enlightenment down to the present day.
I would strongly recommend this book as it contrasts beautifully with the likes of Dawkins who (whilst a wonderful writer) doesn't deal quite so well with the philosophical questions- in my humble opinion at least. (Both authors are great though!) :)