Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Alister McGrath has been causing a few more ripples recently than professors of historical theology from Oxford tend to do. The reason is his recent book, The Twilight of Atheism, which my CADRE colleague Chris Price has commented on over at the CADRE blog. McGrath himself has penned an article for the London Spectator (free registration required) which outlines his ideas while also letting us know his next project is aimed squarely at Richard Dawkins.

The Twilight of Atheism declares the philosophical argument too close to call, but points out that atheism has been losing the propaganda battle due to the failure of avowedly atheistic societies. Furthermore, those who have painted atheism as progressive and rational have found it hard going to give any good reasons for atheism over secularism (where the state is neutral as far as religion goes rather than promoting its lack). Nowadays, western atheists tend to call themselves secularists while trying to subvert secularism to their own ends (witness efforts to outlaw religious schools in the UK or close down ethical debates on science). David Aaronivitch, one of Britain's wisest columnists (although still pretty ignorant about religion), nearly understood this in his article about McGrath in the Observer (ignore the headline which is just editorial).

Still, what I want to know is what McGrath thinks about neuroscience, the subject I'm thinking about at the moment. His opinion is relevant as he has a degree in molecular biology. Perhaps the McGrath's book on Dawkins will tell us this rather than just beating up Dawkins' rather weak philosophical stance. I don't want to be told Dawkins is wrong - I want to see answers to the arguments Dawkins would have made if he had actually understood the issues.


jack perry said...

There was a recent review of McGrath's book in our local newspaper, the News and Observer. The reviewer took a rather dim view of the book. I forget the details.

Out of curiosity, does McGrath cite Dostoevsky as an atheist? The reviewer twice mentioned that Fyodor Dostoevsky was an exponent of atheism; it was the first time in my life I had heard the notion. I've since spoken with a Russian about it, and she concurred with my opinion that Dostoevsky was a Christian, and it seems the majority of writers I can find generally agree with me, but I'm wondering if the reviewer was simply following McGrath, or just throwing in a name.

Layman said...


Thanks for the plug.

The book does seem to be garnering plenty of attention "under the radar" in the US at least. The amazon reviews just keep rolling in, and I've seen plenty of interest on other discussion boards. I suspect part of the success of the book -- measured only in terms of generating interest in the subject -- is that it discusses the origins and progress of atheism without being overly polemic.

It's also made me interested in reading some more McGrath. I'll be interested in his next book as well.

Regarding the other Comment, I'll try and look up tonight what McGrath has to say about Dostoevsky.

Anonymous said...

Is atheism growing in the United Kingdom?

Is theism growing in Iraq?