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

By: Alister McGrath
Thomas Nelson Publishers (2011)
Review By: Eric Wood
Alister McGrath is one of the finest theological and apologetic minds of this generation; holding the chair of theology, ministry and education at King’s College in London. McGrath, a former atheist himself, has a keen interest in discussing questions of faith with atheists – hearing their objections and demonstrating the reason behind his beliefs. He has frequently debated leading atheists in public forums.

In his new book, Why God Won’t Go Away, McGrath turns his intellect and insight toward the movement known as New Atheism (a specific movement that goes beyond a simple denial of the existence of God to the nearly militant destruction of such a view), revealing it as “a hopelessly simplistic view that cannot be sustained in the light of subsequent scholarly research” (page 6). That is one of the beauties of this author – he is a Christian and a scholar, when much of modern media and general public opinion would suggest one should be one or the other.

By way of introducing “the four horsemen” of New Atheism, McGrath traces a very brief history of the movement highlighting some key figures and literature. This sets the scene for the quick and militant rise of the New Atheist movement which followed the devastating terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The key spokesmen within the movement used this event as an example of the irrational and violent end to which any and all religion leads. McGrath uses this backdrop to provide a brief summary and critical analysis of the writings of the four most popular authors of New Atheism – Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchins. He offers scientific and philosophical evaluations of their work and positions.

Having addressed the key proponents of the movement specifically, McGrath then turns to the chief arguments they bring against faith – namely, 1) religion leads to violence, 2) reason shows belief in God to be irrational and 3) science should be the main (or perhaps only) determining factor of truth.

After effectively walking the reader through these arguments and handily refuting them, McGrath gives a final look at where New Atheism goes from here. Before closing the book, he provides 3 pages of selections for further reading on New Atheism, atheism in a more general sense, and criticisms of and responses to New Atheism from both Christian and secular viewpoints.

This was a fantastic read. It is a short book, but even though one can run through it quickly, it provides a great overview and analysis of the movement of New Atheism, key arguments against this movement, and an arsenal of resources for further study. I highly recommend this book.

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