Adherents to new atheism say that religion is irrational, evil, violent, and should not be tolerated. Their movement is “an enthusiastic advocation of atheism and a seething criticism of both religious belief and cultural respect for religion.”
Alister McGrath’s new book, Why God Won’t Go Away, isn’t his first response to the new atheist rhetoric. Besides other writings, he has also engaged in several public debates with the group’s most prominent leaders, including Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.
McGrath knows his subject. He’s read the books of the leaders (Dawkins, Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett), and he reads the blogs of their faithful followers. Having been an atheist himself, McGrath, who is now a prominent evangelical theologian, understands the reasoning of both sides and has much to contribute to the conversation.
McGrath quotes leading scientists, philosophers, more reasonable atheists, and new atheists themselves, to show that new atheism is often dogmatic, bitter, and irrational. Two examples will suffice. In a televised interview, Christopher Hitchens declared Mother Teresa “a fanatic and a fundamentalist and a fraud,” said “millions of people are much worse off because of her life,” and that it was “a shame that there was no hell for her to go to.” Sam Harris, speaking of religion, said that “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.” Who, may I ask, are the fanatics?
The New Atheist’s main arguments against religion are religious violence, reason, and science. McGrath, with skill and wit, uses their own arguments against them. This is not something that they’re prepared for, so they seem to be changing tactics. One new atheist blogger wrote: “I’m beginning to believe the best we can do is to just shout at them, ‘You’re stupid, you’re idiots, you’re morons!’”
McGrath’s is a small book, but it’s probably the only one I’ll read on the subject. Few thinkers, including scientists or more thoughtful atheists, take the rants of these angry fundamentalists seriously, and the movement as a whole does seem to be “running on empty.”
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Thomas Nelson: 2010