Friday, March 20, 2009

A Primer on the New Atheism

Richard Dawkins. Christopher Hitchens. Sam Harris. Daniel Dennett. You may or may not know the names, but chances are if you've had a discussion about God with an atheist in the last few years you know their ideas. Their bold and confident pronouncements against theistic belief - and largely Christian belief in particular - have topped bestseller lists and influenced countless people. Their ideas have become so pervasive among atheists that I can almost see them coming before a conversation begins. Their movement, often referred to as the "new atheism," is a cultural reality that any serious Christian needs to pay mind to. I recently finished a book that would be a good tool for someone who wants to do just that, Al Mohler's Atheism Remix.

The book is a short and quick read (I knocked it out in two sessions of about a half-hour each), and not spectacularly deep in its analysis, but it does an excellent job of introducing the reader to these men and their ideas. I'm pretty confident that a person who didn't know The God Delusion from War and Peace could read Mohler's book and emerge with a good foundational understanding at the ideas that the new atheists are advancing. One of Mohler's many talents is his ability to shape his communication to fit his audience (as anyone who's heard him preach at both a seminary convocation and a local church knows full well), and he presents his material here in a way that's not dumbed down but that also doesn't require a collegiate course in theology and philosophy. The book's accessibility makes it perfectly suited for the curious layman.

However, its accessibility is a limitation as well as a strength. For those who are already familiar with the new atheists, there's not a whole not of new material here. Mohler summarizes who they are and what they believe, then lays out the cultural consequences of their ideas (another great talent of his) and provides some basic responses from across the theological spectrum. Honestly, as much as I enjoyed the brief treatment of McGrath and Plantinga's responses, I would have liked to see more in depth analysis from Mohler himself. However, that's just simply not the aim of the book. I don't think he's trying to teach a graduate course on the matter, but to offer an introduction to a challenge that will have a huge impact on a generation of believers. If you'd like to understand and begin to think about the new atheism, Mohler's book would be a great place to start. If Dawkins, Hitchens, and the like are old-hat to you, then you'll probably want to take a pass here.

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