29 June 2011

A brief update

I had not forgotten Lewis S’ comments and am still replying to that. Unfortunately, the computer I use at home has broken down so I am having to write up in a nearby internet cafe, which is less than ideal. I am also considering breaking down the response into 4 separate posts as it is getting quite long as it is, and would not want to bore you.

In the mean-time, I shall let you have a brief window on my world; in particular, my world of train travel. Last week, I was sat on the First Crapital Connect train from Bedford to Brighton when it stopped about 300-400 yards outside a station. Nothing particularly unusual about this, we often get held up for a minute or two at a red signal. After 15 minutes of being totally stationary, the driver (who was the only staff member on the train) came wandering down through the carriages, informing each of them in turn that someone at the rear of the train had forced a door open and was having a cigarette. A few minutes later, he came wandering back again, towards the front of the train and said that it wasn’t someone having a smoke, it was in fact an electrical fire. The train would not be terminated at the next stop (which we could have comfortably walked to and from several times by now, had we been inclined to take a turn down the railway line), which prompted a number of people to stop him and make further enquiries. Now, I am not usually a fan of judging people on appearances, though it did seem that given the attire and tone of voice, that the majority of those who were holding up the driver, and consequently, the whole train and everyone on board, were stereotypical Telegraph readers. When we did eventually pull into the next station the exodus from the train was somewhat chaotic and it took a full 5 minutes to cross from one platform, under the underpass and up on the next one. So having left work shortly after 6pm, I was not able to get home until after 8pm – a delay of around 40 minutes.

On Monday of this week, we had the wrong time of sunshine. In Essex, the overhead power lines were drooping in the heat and so the “high speed” trains (I use the term very loosely here) were being slowed down so as to minimise the risk of the power lines being ripped off by the trains passing underneath. Somehow, but I know not how, this had a knock-on effect for the Sussex lines. Everything from central/north London passing through London Bridge was cancelled or delayed indefinitely. So I had to brave the underground. In spite of new air conditioning, the overcrowded nature of the line I was on meant that the temperature was 45 degrees centigrade (113 degrees Fahrenheit). My shirt was stuck onto my body and the sweat was not only dripping off my chin, but also the ceiling of the carriage. It was truly grim. I eventually made it to London Victoria, where the main concourse did not so much have be traversed as waded through, as there were hundreds of people milling about like the cast of Dawn of the Dead, wondering how they were going to get out of this ghastly city. I did manage to get on a Littlehampton-bound train where I was joined by a very peculiar pair of people. It seemed like a middle-aged man and his elderly mother. She had an Italian accent, and wanted to ensure that she could get to Bexhill, while he was very loud, tried to strike up a conversation with a very unfortunate passenger, where he claimed to be an Iranian nuclear scientist. I kept my head firmly in my book and tried to avoid eye contact with him, lest he try and engage me in conversation. I get uncomfortable enough having conversations with friends, let alone strangers who seem a sandwich short of a picnic.

Tuesday of this week saw the wrong type of lightning. There were massive thunderstorms all over the south-east. One lightning bolt even hit the control tower of Gatwick airport, disrupting flights. Another bolt hit a moving train, which backed up all the south-coast trains for several hours. I managed to get the last seat on the last train out of London, and even while we were still north of London Bridge, we had to leave people on the platform, as every carriage was rammed. At every stop, the atmosphere was close and it seemed like a fight was imminent, but where from, I could not tell. The driver of the train was encouraging people to breathe in, in order to allow the doors to shut. Once again, I tucked my head in my book, only looking up to see if there was someone elderly, pregnant or disabled who needed my seat. When it came time to get off to catch my connection (my trains do not take me directly home) it took a good 2 minutes to fight my off, while those on the platform, having seen how crowded the train was, were all the more eager to get on before those of us disembarking had finished doing so. I crossed platforms and saw that the next train I needed was half an hour away, having already been delayed for half an hour. So I thought “**** it, I’m getting a taxi the rest of the way.” Fortunately, just as I got to the taxi rank a bus pulled up which was going my way. So rather than spend £5 on a taxi, I only had to fork out £1.30. But all in all, I still would rather we hadn’t had to leave people in London when they were clearly desperate to leave.


21 June 2011

Very brief update

A week ago, I was left a comment on an old post, Doubting Thomas and a scientific approach to theology. I am in the process of putting together a response, however it is quite lengthy and I have not had a lot of time to devote to it or to check cross-references. Some personal circumstances have also caused me to have less time than usual, so I apologise for the delay. I hope to get the post done by the end of the current calendar month.

18 June 2011

Reader's Digest

Welcome to another of my readers’ digests.

This has been under composition for a little while, so I apologise if some of the stories linked to seem a little out of date. This one is quite short and sweet.

I am always fascinated by how the mind works, and this story from the Independent shows what can happen when things go wrong. I can barely imagine what it would be like to wake up one day and suddenly find I had aged nearly 20 years. It certainly made me have a quiet think about what I’d like to do with my life.

In the world of particle physics, some scientists in Japan have claimed that neutrinos may vary from one form to another. The full paper is here. I remember when I went to the cinema to be subjected to the awfulness that was 2012, that I nearly fell off my seat laughing at the prospect of neutrinos “mutating” to heat the earth. While that still seems far more in the realm of fantasy, this research, if true, may go 0.1% of the way towards seeing that as a possibility.

There’s an interesting piece in the New York Times about a new book by someone called Simon Baron-Cohen (I wonder if he’s related to Sacha) on the science of evil. It looks like it could be a thought-provoking read, though it won’t be jumping to the top of my reading list. The NY Times article also has a link to an extract from the book, if you’re interested.

More science, here. This time a black hole may have been observed destroying a nearby star. The paper can be found here

Has a new particle been detected? Can’t find the paper reference for this one. If anyone has it, let me know and I’ll add the link.

Finally, there’s a lovely article here in the Indy about books, which you may have worked out are of particular interest to me.

16 June 2011

Book Review: No Logo by Naomi Klein

First of all, it has to be noted that I read the 10th anniversary edition, and cannot compare to the original edition, published in 2000. The book looks at the rise of brands and the way they have taken over various aspects of modern life. It is split into 4 sections:

No Space – where certain brands have attempted to make themselves ubiquitous, pushing competition to the margin
No Choice – where the companies behind the brands have gone out of their way to try and protect their brand and ensure that consumers have few alternatives to choose from
No Jobs – the impact on job security, conditions and the outsourcing of jobs to export processing zones (EPZs)
No Logo – a bit of a hodge-podge of topics, but broadly looking at the rise of anti-globalisation movements.

The book is surprisingly trans-atlantic. One trepidation I felt in picking the book up was that it was primarily a critique of north american corporate practices. And though this is true, it did not feel like I was reading about an alien culture. I suspect this, in and of itself, may be evidence of the kind of globalised culture that Klein is criticising.

The book does go into some depth on its topics, with plenty of references for further explanation on some key areas covered (e.g. The McLibel trial) which gives the book tremendous credibility. It is, however, also littered with emotively loaded adjectives, which made me a little uncomfortable, as it did not feel that I was always reading a balanced account. Later in the book, Klein describes the time she spent talking to sweatshop workers in one of these EPZs and from here it is clear where the emotional heart of her anger has come.

The book makes a compelling case for the anti-globalisation movement, with a due recognition (albeit only at the very end of the book) that this has, on occasions, led to unnecessary violence – a feature which seems to be more evident in the years since the book was first written. One thing is not is a resource pack for activists; Klein never tells the reader what to do or who to boycott. Rather, she shines a light (or maybe an X-ray) onto certain brands and leaves it to the reader's conscience as to what action they are to take.

One drawback of the book is that the level of detail included means that the page count is pretty high. Personally, I think the case could have been well made enough in a 300 page book, rather than the roughly 500 page volume (almost a tome, but not quite) we now have. For that reason, though I didn't skip any of it, I did think on more than one occasion “OK, Naomi, you've made your point. Now please stop beating me over the head with extra examples.” The sad thing is, though, the book could probably have been twice as long and still not dealt with every pertinent issue.

10 years on, some things have changed, but No Logo is still relevant as portal through which to see the vacuity of global brands.

15 June 2011

Book Review: The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis

I had my own particular reasons for choosing to read this book. There was a recent loss in the family and I had heard that this, along with A Grief Observed, were excellent books with which to help one find some perspective.

It is very important to remember when reading this, as with much of Lewis' apologetic work, that this is a layman's view, not a theological treatise. Lewis acknowledges this from the outset and makes reference to it at various points throughout the book. I have to admit, the start of the book was not what I was expecting at all. I thought the whole thing was purely a look at theodicy, though Lewis doesn't really get going on this until the second half of the book, when having spoken a little about 'pain' he then distinguishes between the physical triggering of nerve impulses and the more emotional aspect of anguish or despair, the latter of which is what is then meant when Lewis talks about pain.

Lewis opens with a discourse on the nature of omnipotence. I found it immensely helpful, as Lewis managed to enunciate what had previously been only half-formed thoughts in my own mind and on this section I found myself in near total agreement with him. Interestingly, Lewis doesn't quite pose the problem of pain in the wording commonly found today: “how can a good God allow suffering?” Instead, he states it as “If God were God, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.”

Lewis' view is to gain an understanding of the terms used in the above statement which is more meaningful than those used in everyday language. So having looked at what it means for God to be described as omnipotent, he then goes on to examine the nature of 'goodness' before he discusses human wickedness and the Fall, with their respective roles in pain.

At all times, Lewis gives a 'tight' argument; that is, it is not easy to summarise and every step in the train of thought must be carefully followed. So I did find myself having to go back and re-read pages on quite a few occasions. I would recommend that each chapter be read in one sitting, as it is difficult to pick up the trail if you stop mid-way, though each chapter is self-contained and gives plenty of food for thought.

Lewis ends the book with a look at hell, pain in animals and heaven. At no point does Lewis give a concise one-liner as the answer to the problem of pain. To do so would be pithy and fail to do justice to the weight of the problem. Rather, the whole book is his answer. There were some aspects which I found quite enlightening, though I did not agree with it entirely, particularly his chapter on heaven.

From a personal perspective, it did seem a little cold. While I understand The Problem of Pain was written before his wife died, with A Grief Observed written shortly afterwards, there was little I could find here that was of help at a time of need. So I think this is better read at a time when you are not facing personal tragedy, but probably beforehand.

14 June 2011

Reader's digest

Hello again

Busy week, this week, so I don’t have much time to write my own material. So please find below a selection of recommended reading that I have come across. Some of it is new, some old, but all of which I find interesting. I hope you do too.

A new, private university is to be set up in London, charging fees of £18,000 per year. While this has been reported in a few media circles along similar lines (outrage at the privatisation of education and the exorbitant fees) I think The Church Mouse has hit the nail on the head with the real agenda. The only surprise in the coverage is that I’ve yet to come across anyone who thinks the idea has been nicked from Jamie’s Dream School.

Sometimes I wonder if these are made up, but apparently a formula for making a home-made bomb was replaced by a cake recipe. What I really want to know is how good were the cakes?

In the world of science, news reached me about anti-matter. I’ve been interested in anti-matter since I was a teenager and have spent many hours pondering its existence and properties. Unfortunately, I lack the necessary equipment to be able to conduct meaningful experiments with it. Fortunately, the folks at the Large Hadron Collider don’t have so many limitations as I. They have been able to contain some anti-matter for 1,000 seconds. For the laymen’s article on this, visit the BBC, but for the hardcore among you, the paper is freely available on arXiv (though it is large and takes a while to download on a broadband connection)

Not a new article to read by any long stretch of the imagination, but worthwhile nonetheless. This is something I’ve had renewed interest in of late. I’m still working my way through NT Wright’s Christian Origins and the Question of God series (albeit that I cheated by starting at volume 3. I’m currently about a third of the way The New Testament and the People of God, and the follow-up, Jesus and the Victory of God is sitting on my bookshelf, looking very inviting. This, combined with the reaction I got from some quarters to my review of Thomas O’Loughlin’s book about the Didache, has prompted me once more to look at the Jesus Seminar and its critics, amongst whom Wright is almost unquestionably the most prominent.

See here, for his comeback on the methodology of the Jesus Seminar and a collection of their writings. To be honest, I don’t know how seriously these guys are taken these days, as it has been over a decade since the publication of JVG and the linked article. I don’t hear much about them in the mainstream press and if they are evident on the blogosphere, it must be in a different sector to the one I peruse.

Sticking on the theme of NT Wright, I stumbled across this the other day. It is a curious blog which denounces Wright as a “wolf” and on the surface appears very conservative and fundamentalist (in the modern sense of the term) . Yet, unusually, it doesn’t seem quite as bleating as some other “false teacher” sites I have come across. Wright himself is quoted quite a lot, though I myself have not yet had sufficient time to read the full catalogue of all his writings, so cannot tell if he is being quoted out of context.

The blog makes quite a lot of reference to New Perspectives on Paul, an idea which I have heard of though know precious little about. I am well aware that Wright has written a few books on Paul in the build up to volume 4 in his Christian Origins series, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, currently due for publication in 2012. From what I can gather, this is to be the magnum opus in the New Perspectives movement, though at the moment I choose to concentrate my own theological focus on Christology, rather than Pauline soteriology.

Finally, to end on a lighter note (possibly), what is the best way to reduce the emission of methane in the atmosphere? Well, according to one Australian gentleman, you need to get in either a jeep or a helicopter and shoot camels!

7 June 2011

My personal take on the "New Atheism"


The purpose of this blog post is to clarify what I understand by the term “New Atheism” as has been banded about by various writers and commentators over the last few years. This is very much just a collection of thoughts that, by the process of writing, I am seeking to put in some sort of order myself. This is not intended as a critique on the movement (if indeed there really is such a thing), nor is intended as either an attack or defence of any group or individual. As ever, if you think I have made any factual errors then please correct me, and if you disagree with me, please let me how you disagree with me, so that I may have some food for thought. If you take any offence at this, it is unintended and I shall seek to clarify as far as possible any points which may have been poorly worded.

Before publishing this post, I did send this off to an atheist blogger who has written more about this than I. In respect of his wish to not have our conversation published verbatim, a paraphrase of his response is included as an afterword.


This has come about from my recent reading of Alister McGrath’s recent book, “Why God Won’t Go Away: Engaging With The New Atheism.” Though it happened more out of coincidence than design, I also read Richard Feynman’s The Meaning Of It All recently, and some of the contents of this book and RPF’s take on the interaction of science prompted me to consider how his view of the relation between religion and science differed from some of the modern views.

The key question

To my mind, the key question must be “What is the difference between an atheist and a New Atheist?” In McGrath’s book, he doesn’t give a particular definition of what a New Atheist is or how they are demarked from other atheists. In the chapter on what’s new about the New Atheists, he talks about anti-theism (more on that in a bit) and spends a fair proportion of the chapter on the Brights. He refers to the 4 key texts (as he sees them) and draws from these a general ethos that typifies the approach, which is then further exemplified by a wider online community. But maybe it need not be so black-and-white. Are human beings not free to believe what they want? Though it may be helpful in terms of understanding how groups interact to be able to put labels on them, humans are far more than the sum of all the adjectives we can apply to them.

In my reading, I have never come across a statement of (dis-)beliefs of New Atheism which has wide acceptance. Neither in the form of a creed, or even a more corporate mission statement. I think perhaps the reason for this may lie in the idea that such statements are only needed for affirmative viewpoints, rather than negative ones. In this, I recognise I may be at odds with some atheists who would consider their worldview to be perfectly positive, but merely with an absence of one or a few factors that are otherwise present in another person’s worldview.

Without wanting to get bogged down in semantics, I propose that we let any disagreements there be put aside for now, in favour of obeying the Monty Python cloud god’s instruction to “Get on with it!”

The 4 manifestos

In McGrath’s book, he identifies 4 books as the key texts on which the New Atheism is based. In other words, they each act as a kind of manifesto. They are:

The End of Faith – Sam Harris
The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins
Breaking The Spell – Daniel Dennett
God is Not Great – Christopher Hitchens

Here, I must make a confession. I have not read any of them in full. My extent of reading these texts consists of reading extracts in other publications (usually reviews and counter-arguments) and one or two chapters in full, though not very recently. This is not because I refuse to read them, but merely because they are low on my priorities. If anyone thinks that I would do well to read them, then please feel free to buy one or all of them for me! However, I would present you with an equal challenge. That if someone wants to challenge my Christianity with these books, then you must allow me to buy you a book which may challenge your atheism. I think that’s only fair.

However, whilst acknowledging that I am not totally au fait with all their arguments, I do not consider myself ignorant of their views either. I have read plenty of other writings of theirs and watched debates or interviews in which they feature. In this respect, my order of familiarity is as follows:

1. Dawkins
2. Hitchens
3. Dennett
4. Harris

Science and timing

If there are no clear boundaries between an ordinary atheist and a New Atheist, are there are at least characteristics which may commonly be found in one but not in another? This is where McGrath comes back into the picture, as the central part of his book deals with the 3 key features he sees as being distinguishing: 1) the notion that religion is inherently evil; 2) that religion is incompatible with rationality and 3) that religion is incompatible with science.

McGrath gives an overview of why each of these 3 premises is at best, doubtful; at worst, false. My thoughts on these are summarised in my review of McGrath’s book. Of the 3, the one I am most interested in the supposed incompatibility with science. The main reason for this is because I specialised in science during my formative years, culminating a mathematics degree which included a large amount of physics. So as a Christian, when someone states that science and faith are mutually exclusive, I do tend to raise something of a quizzical eyebrow.

In his brief history of New Atheism, McGrath cites 9/11 as being one of pivotal moments in shaping the New Atheism. Sociologically, I think this a valid point, though in terms of the science argument, there is one interesting thing he fails to mention, and this seems not to have been particularly picked up on by any apologists that I know of. That was been the timing of the publication of The God Delusion with respect to the death of Stephen Jay Gould. Here, this is only my opinion, based on my view of events. This is where Feynman comes into it, as mentioned earlier.

In his lectures of 1963, which were transcribed and published as The Meaning of it All, Feynman (who, elsewhere, identifies himself as an atheist) states that he sees no conflict between someone being a scientist and having a religious belief. This is a similar line that was adopted by Stephen Jay Gould, the prominent evolutionary biologist and palaeontologist who sadly died somewhat prematurely in 2002. His notion of Non-Overlapping Magisteria (Noma – nothing to do with Nooma video series by Rob Bell) has been highly influential, if not universally agreed upon, in the understanding of the science-faith relationship.

Dawkins seems to be opposed the Noma idea (Google “Dawkins on Noma” and you’ll get the idea). The trouble is, Gould was a heavyweight figure, not only as a communicator like Dawkins, but also as a leading thinker in his field, which was dangerously close to Dawkins’ own research areas. It is one thing to fight critics like Terry Eagleton, Alister McGrath or Mary Midgely, but to take on Gould could have been seriously damaging for Dawkins, had The God Delusion been written while Gould was still around.

“New Atheism” as a sociological label

As people, we love to stick labels on others and try to understand groups of people by clumping them together. I think the label “New Atheism” is just another example of this. There may be great differences in the approaches and emphases between, say Dennett and Harris, yet they are still labelled as New Atheists. If we stay look at the other side of the coin, a term that is used quite frequently is “religious fundamentalist.” I don’t know of anyone who defines themselves as such, nor am I aware of a firm definition which segregates religious fundamentalists from other religious people. Yet I do see that there are elements of society where this description is apt, in spite of its hazy meaning.

As an aside, I do not think that the term fundamentalist is very close to its original meaning – those who subscribed to the ideas of the magazine The Fundamentals. For example, anyone who does not subscribe to the theory of evolution is often labelled as a fundamentalist, yet the writings of that particular magazine endorsed the work of Charles Darwin though they rejected the philosophical (over-?) stretching of his biology into a more general reductionism – which is the approach favoured more by Dennett with his “universal acid.” And since The Fundamentals was a Christian publication, it certainly then does raise interesting questions on the precise meaning of the term “Islamic fundamentalism” as is also often heard these days.

So with that in mind, does McGrath’s apparent unwillingness (or inability) to define New Atheism render his arguments null and void? I would propose not. Maybe, in time, those adherents to Dawkins & co. may adopt the terminology as their own – much as followers of the Jewish sect known as The Way later adopted the pejorative term Christ-ian. So who is a New Atheist? Well, I would be perfectly happy for it to be a self-defining term; if you want to call yourself a New Atheist, so be it. However, I find the main theme running through anything that is identified as New Atheist, is anti-theism. So rather than put forward either of the statements “I do not believe there is a God” or “I believe there is no God,” anti-theism has a more strident aim (some might say evangelical) of ridding the world of religious belief. Whether this be by force (as McGrath highlights in Harris' condolence of violence towards believers) or by persuasion, that is up to the individual. This view does actually crop up in McGrath's book, in pages 23-26. However, it does get rather drowned by the rest of the chapter and his critique on the Brights. Where I then disagree with the use of the word “New” is that this more aggressive form of atheism does not appear to be new. I have met and spoken with many people for whom the “four horsemen” simply put into print what they had been saying for many years previously.


I'm not a fan of sticking the New Atheist label on anyone who hasn't put it on themselves. By the use of the term, it seems to divert attention away from the real issue, which is the discussion of the claims to truth by advocates of and adherents to different worldviews. Where two worldviews differ, I believe each side should be able to provide a defence for their position, reasons why they do not agree with another’s and also that it is at least courteous to listen to one another's views, learn from them and, if necessary alter one's own views based on such discussions. Where anti-theists and religious fundamentalists alike fail, I believe, is in their apparent dogmatism which leads to an unwillingness to engage.

There is nothing so frustrating as trying to have a civilised conversation over a game chess, when you are in a room full of people shouting at one another with their fingers in their ears and pretending that that is a meaningful and productive conversation.

Afterword: A response from an atheist

As mentioned in the introduction, I did ask a knowledgeable atheist to give this a once over, in order to help eliminate any unnecessary errors or misunderstandings. What follows below is his response, though as he did not wish for a verbatim quotation, I have edited it a little. Any misinterpretations are therefore due entirely to me. Here is what he had to say:

The term "New Atheist" is rejected by some atheists, who claim the media did it. However, the term "New Atheist" is very much warmly accepted by some of the New Atheists. Notably Victor Stenger, if I recall correctly, and Dawkins himself.

There is also a separation that is sometimes made between the thought leaders in the field and those who follow them. The fans of the New Atheists have no generally accepted overall name. Some prefer to call themselves atheists. Others very happily self-identify with the "New Atheism" label. There is also the term Gnu Atheists for the fans, especially the American ones; see
this blog post of mine for details.

Others still happily self-identify with the
Gnu Atheist and the New Atheist labels; notably Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, Ophelia Benson and Russell Blackford.

The separation between New Atheism and atheism in general is a pronounced anti-theism on the New Atheism side.

You make an extremely interesting observation about the death of Gould in relation to the timing of the success of the New Atheist movement. It doesn't go as far as you hope, but it is definitely a factor.

I will be happy to write a review of Alister McGrath's book, once it arrives (I've ordered it). While I very much like McGrath as a person, I find his work on New Atheism is not comprehensive enough. You also miss the main success of the New Atheist movement is their MORAL argument against religion, i.e. in effect they are saying religion is incompatible with morality (i.e. you think science or rationality, but the underlying message is morality). Those counter-attacking the New Atheists have never really managed to deal with that one well. The only ones who have dealt with it well are atheists and agnostics (
Josh Rosenau, me, Jim Lippard, etc.)

Keith Ward wrote a book which I think dealt with this better than McGrath. Keith Ward, "
Is religion dangerous?" The problem is, Ward didn't manage enough take-home soundbites or any follow-up campaign, so he did not garner a very broad following.

I like McGrath, but I find his promotion of Christianity actually undermines his defence of religion against the New Atheists.

3 June 2011

Book Review: Why God won’t go away by Alister McGrath

Now, as you may well know, I’m a bit of a fan of Alister McGrath’s writings, though this was the first new book of his that I’d read since Mere Theology. So I was quite keen to get hold of this relatively new book from him, in which he seeks again to lock horns with the so called “four horsemen:” Harris, Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens.

It has to be noted the book is quite short, so I was not expecting an holistic argument proposing why God won’t go away, and I upon reading it, my expectations were fulfilled. Instead, what we have is a book that pulls at some of the loose threads in modern atheistic writing and thinking, going someway (but not all the way) to unravelling the most popular arguments against God and religion. The book is one-sided, but then again so are the books which McGrath critiques. So I think that there probably is a balance to be found, though I have yet to find a writer who has done so skilfully (and here, I not offering my services – I know my own limitations). He doesn't really get onto the reasons “why God won't go away” until the last 5 pages of the book. So while the main title may be misleading, the sub-title of engaging with the New Atheism better denotes what the book does. McGrath takes on some of the challenges that are levelled at religious belief and practice. His key tactic is to undermine the basis on which the argument is made, often by holding up a mirror to atheism itself and hoping, like a lumberjack, that once its base has been hacked away somewhat, that the argument will fall under its own weight.

Personally, I found the critiques insightful, powerful and effective. However, I can easily imagine that not all readers would concur with me on this front. To that end, I think this book deserves a serious and considered response, though I fear one may not be forthcoming. If anyone does know of a reasoned response to McGrath’s apologetic work, please let me know, as I would love to read it.

In rough outline, McGrath states what he understands to be the characteristics of New Atheism and how it arose, before going on to look at 3 key assertions made by the movement, giving counter-arguments along the way before finally giving an appraisal of the state of New Atheism and where its potential future may lie.

In his overview of each of the 4 main figureheads of New Atheism, McGrath does give credit where it is due and is not at all dismissive of the critiques of religion given. His analysis is both concise and insightful, showing up areas of lax thinking on the part of those concerned.

On the downside, McGrath does, at times, fall into the same trap that some of those he disagrees with have also done, by not being precise. In particular, the definition of New Atheism seems to be lacking. He references its beginnings as a term, and makes reference to its ideology and aims, but not once does he actually define what it is. Yet at the same time he is critical of these “New Atheists” for not being precise about the terms “religion” and “God.”

The other downside for me, and this is true of some of McGrath’s other apologetic writings, is that he states the case against one side, but does not do very well on positing the case FOR Christianity. To be fair to McGrath though, he does acknowledge this and points the reader to 3 books, including Simply Christian by Tom Wright and The Reason for God by Tim Keller – both of which I have read and would highly recommend to you.

One interesting revelation in the book is that in order to research New Atheism, McGrath seems to prowl around some atheist blog sites. Most notably, Richard Dawkins own website (though I concur with McGrath that its name as a site for Science and Reason is a gross misnomer) and heathen hub – the latter of which I have some familiarity with, as I have at times conversed with the gentlemen (with an awesome hat, it has to be said!) who runs the site.

The book concludes with a nice little story about the balance of arguments. I asked the publishers if I could copy it here, though my request has been met with silence.