Monday, October 10, 2011

Book Review: "Why God Won't Go Away" by Alister McGrath

In the past 10 or 15 years, a new breed of atheist has sprung onto the scene. With Christopher Hitchens somewhat at the front of the pack, this group of atheist thinkers seem to be more about anti-religion thought than they are truly atheistic in nature. It reminds me of the phrase that I once heard someone say about these neo-atheists (I think about Richard Dawkins, but I could be wrong): "There is not a god, and I hate him."

I like Alister McGrath. He thinks well and deeply, and has a great way of taking that deep thinking and making accessible to the public at large. In this book, McGrath dissects the writings of the 4 leaders of the new atheist group: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. And instead of the same old apologetic critiques of atheism, he puts out some great initial thoughts on counteracting the new atheist arguments against God and religion.

If you're looking for a book that dives deeply into the arguments for theism, with all the nitty gritty details, this probably isn't it. But for the average church-goer, this is a great primer on the basics of new atheism and the arguments to counter that teaching.

Probably the most important thing I can say about McGrath's book is that it is full of love. Not wishy-washy stuff, but genuine love and concern for these 4 men and the others who follow them. He knows them personally in some cases, prays for them with what appears to me to be sincerity, and truly wants to get to the truth. That alone makes the book unique and worthwhile in our vitriolic era.

The book is in 3 sections: a description of "new atheism", a discussion of 3 core themes to engage new atheism about, and a little look at what he sees as the future of new atheism. As I already said, the first section is not an in-depth philosophical examination, but meant for the average church goer, and as such does a great job introducing us to the common themes, elements and players on the new atheism stage.

The real value of the book is in section 2, where McGrath explores what the new atheists say about the Christian religion's history in 3 areas: violence, reason, and science. McGrath is honest--truly much idiocy has been done in the name of religion, and even in the name of Jesus. But he also looks at the things done in support of atheism, which certainly isn't any better of a track record. In fact, both of these support the biblical truth of innate depravity within human beings. We are bound by evil in many cases, regardless of how religious or irreligious we might be. One quote: "Maybe it's not that religion corrupts humanity but that a corrupt humanity creates a look-alike religion." (p. 92)

One great quote from the science chapter: "If science is hijacked by fundamentalists, whether religious or antireligious, its intellectual integrity is subverted and its cultural authority compromised." (p. 108) And in praise of science, McGrath says "science is about giving us reasons for believing that certain things are true, while at the same time insisting that we realize that future generations my rightly want to challenge those beliefs. That's why science is so successful: it's willing to change its mind in response to new evidence." (p. 115)

We all must be looking to how new evidence changes what we believe. We believe in an unchanging God, but not in an unchanging understanding of him. May he enlighten us with all truth because of our hope in him (Ep 1.17-18).