The four key books that launched the aggressive attack on religion known as the “New Atheism” are The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins; Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel Dennett; God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens and The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris. Collectively, these four writers have been affectionately dubbed “The Four Horsemen of the Atheist Apocalypse” because they appeared to herald the final and inevitable demise of religious belief. This was the Final Battle and they had won. (Sympathisers wisely omitted Alistair Grayling’s The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism from the list because it is so toe-curlingly bad).
Since the publication of these hugely popular international bestsellers, however, there has been a growing interest in hearing the other side of the argument. How would religious believers respond to these full-frontal assaults? Are the heroic atheists right to be so confident in their supposedly unassailable position as defenders of the right and the true?
The debate rages on, but the celebrity atheists now find themselves on the back foot. The response has been measured, considerate and thoughtful but intellectually devastating. It is very difficult to see how the horsemen could recover their moral and intellectual integrity without willfully burying their heads in the sand or blocking their ears (which doesn’t do much for their integrity either).
Ironically, the meteoric success of the New Atheists may have re-awakened an interest in religion, and the books written in response to theirs, although far less of a publishing phenomenon, still have much greater sales than religious books generally have. The high quality of the writing and argumentation is also in stark contrast to the vituperative and condescending rhetoric of the New Atheists.
Contrary to the popular conception of the inevitable collapse of religion as a feasible option in the modern world, the following books, in my view, put the nail in the coffin of atheism as a tenable belief system. It is true that, as Dawkins quipped, Darwin made atheism intellectually respectable, but for those who take the arguments seriously, I predict that, as a consequence of these and other books on religion and atheism, it will be increasingly difficult to be an intellectually respectable atheist in the twenty-first century.
In no particular order, they are:
The Case for God: What Religion Really Means by Karen Armstrong; The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led me to Faith by Peter Hitchens (Christopher’s younger brother); Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies by David Bentley Hart; The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine by Alister McGrath; The Science Delusion: Freeing the Spirit of Inquiry by Rupert Sheldrake; There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed his Mind by Antony Flew; The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions by David Berlinski; Why There Almost Certainly is a God by Keith Ward; God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? by John Lennox; The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning by Jonathan Sacks and Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False by Thomas Nagel.
And four books on atheism by two former atheists and two avowed atheists:
God’s Funeral by A.N. Wilson; The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World by Alister McGrath; Reason, Faith and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate by Terry Eagleton and Seven Types of Atheism by John Gray.
John Gray is an atheist, but he has no time for the militant atheism of the New Atheists, as he makes clear at the start of the first chapter of his book:
“The new atheists have directed their campaign against a narrow segment of religion while failing to understand event that small part. Seeing religion as a system of beliefs, they have attacked it as if it were no more than an obsolete scientific theory. Hence the ‘God Debate’ – a tedious re-run of a Victorian squabble between science and religion. But the idea that religion consists of a bunch of discredited theories is itself a discredited theory – a relic of the nineteenth-century philosophy of Positivism.”
We need to move on from such left hemisphere dominated narrow mindedness. We need to move on from Positivism and Materialism, both fatally flawed, philosophically defunct ideologies. In my opinion, we need to move on from Atheism tout court.
Atheism, particularly the militant strain of it exemplified by the New Atheists, is inevitably a left brain view of reality. Only the right hemisphere can make room for the transcendent mystery we call “God”. Take away religion and you take away our main route to the right hemisphere, and ultimately to the very foundations of civilisation itself, which depend on holistic, embodied, right hemisphere consciousness. We in the West are presently running on the fumes of Christian civilisation and the cracks are starting to show.
The left hemisphere world of atheistic disbelief is populated by divas, demons, victims, addicts, muppets and muggles. The right hemisphere world of faith is populated by Mystics, Shamans, Warriors, Monks and Nuns, Philosophers and Kings and Queens, or at least by people with a sincere aspiration to embody these ideal types.
Next time you’re out on the town of a Friday or Saturday night, have a good look around you – which world would you say you’re in?