Friday, July 29, 2011

Book Review: Why God Won't Go Away

The New Atheists want a religious-free society, falsely believing that a world without God would be a world without violence. Strange, then, that one of the major proponents of New Atheism “argues that ‘some propositions are so dangerous it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them . . .’” (p. 10; quoting Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, pp. 52-53). Hitler and Stalin would be pleased.

Author Alister McGrath refutes the New Atheism philosophy in Why God Won’t Go Away, an engaging, straightforward book that examines the controversial tensions between religious beliefs and science, faith and reason. His narrative is conversational; his tone respectful. Though the book is relatively short, it’s well-researched. (Just flip through the endnote section and bibliography.) He writes with the authority that comes from numerous debates with atheists, old and new, reading widely on the topic, and monitoring New Atheist blogs.

Throughout the book, McGrath expresses his respect for views different than his own. He also shows how New Atheists often cherry-pick the examples they use to “prove” their arguments.

One example: Timothy Dwight (1752-1811), a Christian writer and president of Yale, “opposed smallpox vaccinations. For [New Atheist Christopher Hitchens] this is typical of religious people. They’re backward-looking fools . . . Religion poisons all attempts at human progress. The specific example confirms the general principle” (p. 29).

McGrath points out that Hitchens is right. Dwight did oppose smallpox vaccinations. But Hitchens neglects the “specific example” of Jonathan Edwards, the great preacher and president of Princeton, who “had died a few decades earlier in 1758 after receiving the vaccine. As a strong supporter of scientific advance, Edwards was committed to this new medical procedure and wanted to demonstrate to his students that it was safe” (p. 29).

This is an enlightening and entertaining book that demonstrates, through reason, that faith is alive and well. God isn’t going anywhere.

(Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson, Inc. I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions I expressed are my own.)


Karen said...

Deep book. I love the title-no matter what we do/think, God is still here.

Laura@OutnumberedMom said...

I do want to borrow it, Johnnie. Sounds really good!

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