Book review: Why God Won’t Go Away

by Alister McGrath


McGrath comes out of the gates with guns blazing against the New Atheism. He’s a debater, having met Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitches in debates, and his competitive stance shines through. He refuses to meet atheists on their level, insisting that “faith doesn’t contradict reason, but transcends it.” Questions such as, “What are we all here for?” and “What’s the point of living?” are legitimate questions, and we’re right to seek answers to them, but science isn’t going to help.

There are three parts to the book:

Part I: McGrath discusses the New Atheism and its major proponents, giving a brief description of the work of Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, and Hitchens. The New Atheism, he explains, is about more than promoting disbelief in God. It’s about intolerance of religion completely. It is aggressive anti-theism. For many, the New Atheism has become arrogant and increasingly disconnected from the real world.

Part II: McGrath puts his research to work against the New Atheism, concluding that: (1) Atheism has simply failed to make its case that religion is necessarily and uniformly evil. (2) Belief is actually quite rational. Some of the arguments here are quite interesting, and I’m still contemplating their validity. (3) Science is inherently limited in what it can prove. McGrath quotes Stephen Jay Gould as saying, “Science simply cannot (by its legitimate methods) adjudicate the issue of God’s possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can’t comment on it.”

Part III: A short little section about the New Atheism’s future that’s worth reading if only for its humorous conclusion.

The book is definitely engaging, if a little frustrating because of its limited focus. Let’s be clear on what this book is not. It is not an argument for the existence of God. McGrath never once defines what he is defending–the entire point of the book seems to be to discredit the New Atheism–so I’m hoping this book was meant to lead into his 2011 book, Surprised by Meaning: Science, Faith, and How We Make Sense of Things. I’ll see about getting a review copy of that one.

In the mean time, I’m left hanging. If I reject atheism, what am I supposed to replace it with? There is, for me at least, a vast difference between accepting the possibility of a divine creator and believing in that creator. Then, there is a vast difference between believing in a creator and assuming the God of the Bible is that creator. Finally, there is a vast difference between believing that Bible writers have found God and believing that the Bible is the Word of God, endorsed by God Himself. So, we’ll hopefully see where McGrath goes with this in his next book.

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