24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2009
When you see a title like "The Future of Atheism," that purportedly features a dialogue between two different ideological starting-points, you might well expect just that--a dialogue. Sadly, the main title doesn't capture the general purpose of the book at all well. It would have been more honest to call it "The Future of Atheism is Bleak."
Upon a cursory read, it quickly became apparent that the book had an obvious ideological goal: To convince readers that a goodly number of contemporary philosophers find the atheistic/naturalistic stance (whichever and whatever that may be) to be intellectually indefensible. I give the book two stars because the editor does include the initial discussion between McGrath and Dennett, and because Fales' essay is, as other reviewers have noted, a genuine gem. The editor fails, though, to include any more polished follow-up essays by either cover author, and instead contains a number of rather out of place pieces by an assortment of Christian apologists, several of which (e.g. Moreland's) involve technical disputes in contemporary analytic philosophy which are sure to cause more confusion than clarity for a non-specialist audience.
The work has something of a Gotcha! feel. It promptly displays Dennett's name on the cover, but, beyond his informal debate remarks, contains very little to clarify the project of scientific naturalism and its relation to religion. Worst of all, it attempts to convey the impression that Dennett is a real outsider among the professional philosophical community; and while that is true in some respects (I don't get the impression that he's won over a huge number of adherents to his "theory" of consciousness), among the camp of practicing analytic philosophers, the Christian apologist camp is, despite some recent Plantinga-related growth, still the clear minority. To put the point somewhat more accurately, there are a large number of people in the philosophical community actively engaged in issues in naturalism and the philosophy of science who (professionally, at least) neither say nor apparently care much one way or another about religion, which is just what anyone would expect from a highly specialized, mostly secular community of experts.
The imbalance probably has something to do with the setting of the initial debate, the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum. Readers would do well to preview their wares at their web site.
For readers interested in the contents of the debate, I would recommend downloading freely available debates or debate transcripts featuring the speakers. (Notably, it appears that a number of previously available online mp3 copies of this debate have been deleted, no doubt in response to this book's publication.) Both Dennett and McGrath have widely debated the same topic, and their thoughts are but a google or you-tube search away. For readers who are genuinely interested in the outlines of a naturalistic approach to religious belief, Andy Thomson has an excellent talk about the ways in which religious belief makes use of regular (indeed, mundane) and well-studied cognitive processes. The talk is both informative and accessible in ways already mentioned.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2009
Blinn E. Combs' review (June 22, 2009) of this book is careful and accurate. I, too, had hoped to find a selection of agenda-free essays dedicated to exploring the respective territories of theistic and atheistic thought. A browse to the publisher's website, Fortress Press, which is the publishing ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, would have disabused me of that notion.
Except for Dennett's comments, atheistic thought is underrepresented while the majority of the contributions are theistic in escalating degrees of evangelical zeal. The dialogue between Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett in the book's subtitle forms a very small portion of the work.
The chapters following the McGrath-Dennett dialogue don't begin too badly. Keith Parsons' chapter, "Atheism: Twilight or Dawn?" seems balanced enough. And Evan Fales' chapter, "Despair, Optimism and Rebellion" openly states that it will not predict the future of atheism; rather he explores the three attitudes in his chapter title as he finds them in society and concludes with the question of whether God can see the face of suffering humanity and live.
After these few chapters, the all male Christian apologists more fully armored of God get to work. The rhetoric is cloaked in philosophical terms, but the writers' lapses into street language give their biases away. For example, "...[Thomas] Nagel's specific version of a dismissive strategy is a complete failure" (J.P. Moreland, page 132), while "Plantinga wisely focuses his arguments on a hypothetical population..." (J.P. Moreland, page 138). And "Dennett and his ilk" (Paul Copan, page 149). And "For all their huffing and puffing, naturalistic moral realists are mistaken..." (Paul Copan, page 160). And "...the new breed of aggressive atheists..." (Ted Peters, page 181).
For any reader looking for essays in which those with an opposing position are not represented by a few elliptical references but are fully permitted to speak for themselves, this is the wrong book.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2008
The initial part of this book is a transcript of a dialogue between Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett on the present status of atheism, including some questions from the audience at the event. This part is actually fairly short and the book then contains seven additional essays by various thinkers (mostly Christian), purportedly on the future of atheism but sometimes wandering off into other, although interesting, directions.
The introduction of the book was excellent in setting the scene and there was a real gem of a paper, by Evan Fales, that made me instantly turn back to its beginning and read it again.
I felt that there was a missing thread in some ways, that despite containing much interesting food for thought it wasn't particularly coherent as a whole, but it is an excellent resource for considering arguments for and against atheism and religious belief away from the shrill, shouty manner of some of the more well-known atheists and Christian apologists in the media.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2009
The future of Atheism is a great book. It is brief, thought provoking without going too far into the direction of technical philosophy, and well written throughout. The book is based on a 2007 conference given at the New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary, and includes the dialogue that occurred, as well as papers that were presented at the event. There are also a few papers included as a sort of postscript to the event. The introduction by Robert Stewart is to introduce the dialogue and occasionally introduce elements of the debate that he thought were either insufficiently covered or poorly argued. This is followed up by the discussion that forms the subtitle of the book and that is the discussion/debate between Daniel Dennett and Alister McGrath. Their talk was interesting throughout, cordial between the two gentlemen, and on occasion genuinely funny. Much of the debate hinged on the concept and explanatory power of memes, if you are looking somewhere to see the subject debated this is a good book to start with.
The book then takes the direction of a series of papers, usually alternating between an atheist and a theist.
Keith M. Parsons' article is a critique of Alister McGrath's work in the debate as well as his written work.
William Lane Craig presents his takes on the Kalaam and Leibniz versions of the Cosmological argument as well as the teleological, axiological, and ontological arguments. Much of this article is just a word for word reprint of the information contained in the third edition of Reasonable Faith.
Evan Fales' article is a well crafted treatise on what are the implications of how an atheist ought to behave in light of atheism, it was well written and builds masterfully, the other reviewer is quite correct that this is one of the stand out articles within the book.
Hugh J. McCann article is on how science and religion could be brought together in a sort of compromise to test miracles, but not religious experiences.
My personal hero J.P. Moreland responds to an argument by Nagel that rationality is a brute fact that cannot be understood in a naturalistic framework but exists there nonetheless.
Paul Copan spends a lengthy time on the axiological/moral argument as well as addressing the Euthyphro dilemma.
Finally, Ted Peters analyzes the New Atheists (or as he prefers evangelical atheists) claims about religion in general or that a new enlightenment could bring about a more peaceful utopian world.
A great, quick read with lots to reflect upon, for those interested in Philosophy of Religion and have some familiarity with the arguments (I think Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism was raised no less than three times in the articles) you will find much to enjoy here.
on February 5, 2015
In short: dont bother!
Even at a ridiculously low price, I am sorry that I purchased this book. What attracted me was the advertisement of a dialogue between Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett. Alas, this so-called dialogue was a mere 34 pages or so of the 212-page (that includes the notes and index) book.
I am sorrier still at having read the eight chapters that comprise the book. Not exactly a waste of time--about five minutes worth over all--but I should not have to read any book or article without having to sit at a computer and browsing the Internet for words and terms, many of which have been clearly made up to make the writers appear much smarter than the rest of us, if not smug in their postulating homilies. The book should have respected the interested "man-on-the-street" and provided a dictionary of terms as well as a brief anthology of the terms, theorems, and postulates bandied about freely as if everyone knows what the devil they are talking about.
I second another rater who stated that the title of this book is misleading. I go further: to use Lewis Carroll's description, the entire book is full of "jabberwocky." The publisher and the editor should hide their heads in shame for pulling such a sham on the reading public, calling this book "informational," when it clearly is not. It is not educational, and it definitely is not insightful of anything to do with atheism and/or theism.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2009
This book is a welcome civilized debate between Christians and Atheists. The articles are fascinating, well informed, and well written. McGrath and Dennett are well known and both lead their side well.
The supporting articles add greatly to the opening dialogue. The book is a great overview of the current best arguments for and against both Christianity and Atheism.
Needless to say no definite conclusion either for or against either side is reached. However what this book shows is that each side of the argument needs the other to stimulate and sharpen their own thinking. There are lazy default positions on both sides, none of which will be happy being challenged by the powerful thinkers in this book.
Perhaps the conclusion of this book is that the future of Atheism is about as good or bad as the future of Christianity.
The perspective of this book is very much Western world, and in future I suspect the Islamic world will want a strong foot in the debate too.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2009
Though not without its flaws, Stewart (the editor) has assembled an excellent collection of essays in addition to the central exchange, which is well-managed and productive. Stewart and Fortress Press (the publisher) come from the theist standpoint - the latter being a publishing house of the Evangelical Lutheran Church - yet there's an honest attempt to engage with, and avoid misrepresenting, the positions of atheist critics. One does sometimes get the feeling that McGrath wants to debate Richard Dawkins rather than his actual interlocutor, but he's too serious a thinker not to tailor his commentary directly to Dennett's points once the real exchange begins. Dennett, as usual, offers a much better (and less stridently uncomprehending of belief) atheistic perspective than most of his compatriots.
There's an interesting criticism of Christian ethics that I'm not equipped to evaluate but suspect to be somewhat irrelevant to most Christians' experience of morality informed by faith. William Lane Craig's update to traditional proofs of God's existence in response to modern criticisms strikes me very much as an unconvincing set of question-begging patches. Even where they (apparently) fail, however, the essays seem highly illustrative of where modern theology stands relative to reasoned unbelief in the 21st century West.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2012
I have just had a most depressing experience. I have read the views of Daniel Dennett in the exchange between him and Alister McGrath (The Future of Atheism: A Dialogue, pages 17-49) which forms the first part of the book The Future of Atheism.
(I must ask for the indulgence of the reader, if I limit myself now to reviewing, not yet the whole of the book, but only the first part, which defines the purpose of the book. I shall add comment on the other parts of the book, and possibly modify my rating, in due course.)
The opening contribution, by Dennett, is surely the most irrelevant, rambling, nonsensical set of foolish statements that I have ever read. And this is from a writer who has an international reputation as a philosopher. The opening film clip which he refers to sets the tone for the rubbish which follows. Absolutely nothing that Dennett says does anything to establish a case for atheism, or to describe or seriously discuss the case for or against religion. Visitors from Mars are just another example of the trivialities which pour from Dennett's mouth. Again, "Here's a riddle: How are spoken words and folk songs like squirrels, rats, pigeons, and barn swallows? The answer is: these species are not domesticated species, but they have evolved to fit the human environment ... They've evolved to co-exist with us. ... Some of our ideas are like that too ... similarly the wild memes of religion were fortunate to get themselves domesticated because they acquired stewards ... Religions are brilliantly designed" (p. 25). And (p. 21) "We can reverse-engineer religion the same way we can reverse-engineer cows and television sets and just about any complex thing you see".
All of the above are simply ludicrous comments which should be laughed out of court.
But even worse is that Dennett goes on to base his (totally foundationless and unproven) nonsense explicitly on the idea of the Dawkins-invented MEMES. I cannot understand how any intelligent person can give one second's adherence to the total nonsense of the idea of MEMES. Dennett says on page 24: "It's ideas ... that hijack our brains - replicating ideas. Ideas that we rehearse and think about, and decide that we like, pass them on to somebody else, who pass them on to somebody else. These themes are what Richard Dawkins call MEMES. Dawkins, who wrote `The Selfish Gene' in 1976, introduced the idea that cultural items had an evolutionary history too. ... it [a meme] has got a shape that permits it, when it gets in the right place [we are not told where or what that right place is] to provoke its own reproduction by the replicating machinery of a cell. And Dawkins's brilliant idea was that ideas can do that too ... Independent of whether they are good for us, whether they are true, whether they are false, they [MEMES, I think Dennett is talking about] are fit in the biological sense because they have lots of offspring that have lots of offspring that have lots of offspring". I protest against this corruption of language and logic and science. All that Dennett says here, and Dawkins before him, is complete bunkum, piffle, rubbish etc. ad infinitum
Dennett goes on to repeat this nonsense in his second contribution, after Alister McGrath made his first contribution. I really cannot believe that Dennett can be serious, or, even harder to believe, that he is or why he is taken seriously by the academic community. On pages 36 and 37 Dennett goes on and on making unbelievably foolish statements about memes. I can't quote them all. But, for example, "WORDS ARE MEMES (italics in text). Words are memes that can be pronounced. They're passed on by copying, they spread; they have histories; and they've evolved ... Words are memes. If you're baffled about whether memes exist, just ask yourself if words exist. If you think words exist, then the case for memes is pretty clear". This is ludicrous, shameful, a carbuncle on human intelligence. Gentle reader, following this rambling from Dennett, have you gained any idea of what or where a MEME is? Is it purely immaterial? Is it a collection of atoms? In what shape or form does it exist in the `mind' before it `replicates'? How does it `replicate? Is anything whatsoever explained about the MEME?
For Dennett and Dawkins, atheism, religion, belief in God, morality, culture, anything that material atoms can't explain, is a MEME. The religious believer is often accused of inventing a GOD OF THE GAPS to explain any reality in science which seems to the believer to be beyond cosmology or biology to explain. Without going into the details of this very interesting question, what is abundantly clear is that Dawkins and Dennett invent a MEME OF THE GAPS for whatever their crass materialism cannot explain.
I also want to add a point about which I feel very strongly. In the present Dennett/McGrath debate, the word `religion' occurs very frequently. In spite of the difficulty of giving a comprehensive and universally-accepted definition of religion, in this debate, and quite generally, this difficulty leads to the abandonment of any attempt at all to provide some idea of this key human belief and activity. I think that that is a crippling mistake. I develop this point in my review of the book `An Introduction to the Philosophy of religion', by Brian Davies, to which I respectfully refer the reader. I quote a passage from my review. In answer to my own question as to whether we should hesitate to say anything detailed about what a religion is, I say: "No, and no [to such hesitation]. St Thomas Aquinas identified Aristotle simply as `The Philosopher', so we know what a philosopher is: Aristotle, or someone who shares something of the qualities of Aristotle (thus for example Aquinas himself). In exactly the same way, we know what religion is: we have an outstanding example in the Christian religion founded by Jesus Christ (and for me it is in fact Roman Catholic Christianity), and secondarily, other movements that share more or less fully in the qualities manifested in the Christian religion and its founder. In other words, we have a perfect paradigm of what religion is: its sources, its personalities, its beliefs, its historical context". I go on to say that even Davies, regrettably, "never even begins to introduce this point". I fault McGrath, therefore, equally with Dennett on this point, that there is no SERIOUS discussion of `religion' in their debate.
Let me close for now by saying that although I approve in general of Alister McGrath's contribution, and his politely expressed disbelief in MEMES, I must fault him for being so tolerant of Dennett, and for saying so often that of course what Dennett has to say is interesting, serious, and worth considering. I say: Nonsense. (Later: perhaps I should modify this, and say that though of course Dennett refers to the main issues, his proposed solutions are always nonsensical.) It is high time for sensible people to call the rubbish of the `New Atheists' by its right name, which is, rubbish. It is one thing to concede to the New Atheists the right to believe what they want; but they should never be allowed to talk their nonsense without sensible people being allowed to exercise their right in turn to clearly tell the New Atheists that their New Atheism is, intellectually, rubbish.
If the debate was put to a vote, did anyone at all support Dennett's pathetic and abject case?
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2013
Esse livro me serviu de inspiração para escrever alguns textos no meu blog DeusILUSÃO. Não foi exatamente o que eu esperava, mas traz um texto bastante interessante sobre o tema.
0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2012
Being an avid follower of the works of Dennett, I looked forward to reading more in the line of "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" and "Breaking the Spell", which, according to the book's blurb, is what we would be reading. What we actually get is one discussion between Dennett and McGrath followed by a collection of essays promoting religion. It seems to me self evident that it is not necessary to dupe atheists into reading pro-religious texts. Unlike the average religion follower-whatever that might mean-the vast majority of atheists/agnostics/skeptics/secular humanists are familiar with holy texts in order to be prepared for discussion with the faithful. We read them voluntarily: this cheap 'con' by Stewart (and his publisher) does nothing to improve the image of those who claim morality is in the possession of only the holy. Perhaps Commandment number 9 should be revised.