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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gracious, incisive examination of the 'New' atheism., 23 Mar. 2011
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This review is from: Why God Won't Go Away - Engaging with the New Atheism (Paperback)
This book really cheered me up. Its just under 100 pages bar the index, but McGrath writes so well and with such insight and clarity that I felt I'd read a much longer book. I'll re-read it before putting it in the church library. His customary very broad background study has taken in a lot of time on the New Atheist blogs. He must have needed a few showers after that-he quotes examples of the routine use of abuse and shouting as a substitute for argument which is so characteristic of these places where like minded people meet to affirm each other's beliefs by expressing anger and hatred against Christianity.

Always the scholar, the author has studied the works of Harris, Dennett, Christopher Hitchens and Dawkins and their admirers carefully so others don't have to. Despite the personal abuse he has encountered, he remains objective and gracious, stressing that most atheists he knows are far more tolerant and reasonable then the ones this book is about.

Some of the quotes are disturbing. I knew that C Hitchens disliked Mother Theresa but hadn't realised he said he wished there was a hell for 'the b***h' to go to. Nor had I realised that Sam Harris has written in his book 'The End of Faith' that some beliefs were so dangerous it might be ethical to kill people for holding them. Harris has just written a book 'The Moral Landscape' to tell us why we don't need God to be good.

Detailed examination of the arguments and tactics of the subjects of the book exposes their lack of balance and intellectual rigour. Also there are interesting snippets of information, such as the very low turnout (average about 14) at the meetings of the London 'Brights' as some new atheists tried to title themselves. The attempt to re-brand the negative term 'atheist' as the positive 'Bright' has apparently fizzled out. Goings on at Richard Dawkins web site are considered, guaranteed to raise a smile. I won't spoil it for readers.

On the last page he mentions a young man who asked him to sign one of his theology books after a lecture. McGrath asked what had led him to study theology. He had been sailing through life completely uninterested in God, but after reading Dawkins 'The God Delusion' was so struck by its unfairness and lack of balance that he had started going to church to hear the other side, and, like former atheist Alister McGrath, found the reality so much more interesting than the parody that he became a Christian.

McGrath notes that the Dawkinists have punched above their weight by tactical use of the worldwide web, something I had noticed, but numerically they are still dwarfed by Christians, with (for example) Rick Warren's devotional book 'The Purpose Driven Life' outselling 'The God Delusion' by thirty to one.

'Why God won't go away' is well worth a read by anyone, Christian or not, who is fed up with the self-satisfied hectoring of the anti-God brigade and would like to see their claims to own the freehold on logic, reason and science critically examined. This is accomplished here by a powerful intellect who is as well qualified a scientist as Dawkins and has also seriously studied philosophy and Christianity.

McGrath is shaping up as a worthy successor to that other Oxford don who responded with informed and reasoned argument to the Christian-baiters of his day, C S Lewis. Like McGrath, Lewis was a former athiest and a well-read scholar with a brilliant mind, who became convinced by the evidence that Christianity was not merely the best way to live, but was actually true and indeed was supported by the best available evidence. Of course, people are not always persuaded by evidence, however good, and this is the sort of argument McGrath considers and gently but firmly turns against the Dawkinists.

This is not a book of Christian apologetics (see Lee Strobel for that) but a critical examination of the arguments and tactics of the New Atheists to expose their weaknesses. Job done.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 Apr 2011 10:28:15 BDT
B.O.B says:
From what it sounds like, this book takes a few examples of, I accept, deluded atheists (the 'brights') and somehow extrapolates those examples into claiming that all atheists are a 'self-satisfied hectoring' brigade. Equally, I could point any person to many religious organizations far worse than a group of atheists calling themselves the 'brights'. Humans discredit atheism sometimes, in the same way that humans discredit religion at times, but it is completely unreasonable to claim that this either discredits the arguments of Atheism or Religion, or to clump all atheists into the same 'self-satisfied' bracket. Since when did the New Atheists claim that all religious people were fundamentalist fanatics?

Furthermore, in a point similar to my first one, the fact that McGrath has received personal abuse from atheists again does not discredit 'Atheism' as a whole. Christopher Hitchens has had whole groups stating their wish that he dies a painful death from his cancer and then proceeds quickly into the burning fires of hell.

Your review gives me the feeling that McGrath has written a fantastically one sided account of this debate, and I am sure I would be offended if I read it (not that I will)

By the way, it's exceptionally rich to comment on poor turnout in these london atheist gatherings, given the huge decline in turnout to church services as the people become less god-fearing.

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Apr 2011 19:43:16 BDT
JonG says:
Like you, I haven't read the book - yet, at least. However, I know from other works by McGrath on the subject that your presumptions are unlikely to be accurate, and that he is certainly unlikely to lump all atheists in with the "Brights". I am afraid that the image given in many popular books by Some atheists does present a caricature of religious people and present it as representative. Dawkins' TV series "The Root of all Evil", much of which material went into "The God Delusion" interviewed some strange people, yet the interview with a scientifically-literate Christian - McGrath himself - ended on the cutting-room floor. Admittedly this probably had much to do with Channel 4's editorial motivations, but it was Dawkins' name on the credits, so he cannot complain if people decide that He is the one portraying the fundamentalist fanatic as typical.
Perhaps I am wrong and this book differs markedly from some of his others, but as you are clearly open-minded enough to be suspicious of the polemics of some atheists, I would encourage you to take a step further and give this book a fair read. I doubt that it will convert you - I doubt that that is McGrath's aim anyway, but it may make you re-examine some assumptions that you had never even recognised as such. We all benefit from having assumptions challenged, which is why I still read Dawkins, increasingly distasteful as it may sometimes be!

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Sep 2011 09:38:08 BDT
Thanks for the response B.O.B.

You have criticised me, and McGrath, for things neither of us have said. Of course the bad behaviour of one or several people cannot disprove an argument, but if a particular form of bad behaviour (once we define 'bad') characterises many members of a group and seems to arise naturally from their core beliefs, then it does cast them in a bad light and may, in the case of ethical values, point to a fundamental flaw at the root of their beliefs. Dawkins certainly uses this kind of argument in The God Delusion and elsewhere. And very selectively, showcasing the hateful bigot Fred Phelps but ignoring the massive relief and development work done by Christian Aid, Cafod, TEAR fund etc, etc

I am perplexed at why you should think it stange that a Christian theologian, responding to sustained, blistering, one sided attacks on Christianity, should write a 'one sided account'. Are you familiar with the concept of a debate in which ONE SIDE puts its case and then the OTHER SIDE responds? McGrath is responding in a debate, of course he's being one sided. And Dawkins isn't?

Whether he is fair, accurate or correct are matters which can be discussed, exactly as with Dawkins, C Hitchens, Dan Dennet and Sam Harris against whose arguments he is quite legitimately exercising a right of reply on behalf of a very large community of believers. Why are you sure that you would be offended if you read the book? I can understand an atheist disagreeing with an argument, but why would you be offended by a reasoned argument? Or is it part of your core beliefs that there can be no reasoned argument for Christianity or against the New Atheism? I hope you don't share Sam Harris' assertion which I quote from McGrath's book above that 'some beliefs are so dangerous that it would be ethical to kill people who held them.' ? Obviously atheists like Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot believed this and took it to a logical conclusion.

Your last point is equally odd. McGrath gives a average number attending 'Brights' gatherings-14. In the book, he says that any small church that could only attract those numbers would fold. In my small village of Botley, yes, church attendance is not what it was 100 years ago, but at least 50 people (including myself) attend the village C of E church each week, often more. Many others travel to more dynamic churches, like King's Community Church in nearby Hedge End which has recently completed a £3.5 million new 1,000 seater auditorium to accomodate growth.

Atheism is still a small, if vociferous, minority in this country. As McGrath points out in this book, which I highly recommend to any open minded sceptic, Christianity is not dying.

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Jun 2014 21:58:22 BDT
george scott says:
"so that others don't have to" says it all. I have read several of McGraths books, as well as those of Dawkins, Hitchins etc, and have found a great deal of difference between what e.g. Dawkins writes, and what McGrath says he writes.

What do you make of the fact that McGrath claims that Leviticus 25 prohibits slavery on compassionate grounds, (read all of Lev 25) that the two nativity stories are complementary, and that the two lines of descent of Joseph are o.k. because one is the maternal line - again, check these for yourself - there is more, but these should do for starters?!
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