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The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World Hardcover – June 15, 2004

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1St Edition edition (June 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385500610
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385500616
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,022,744 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Oxford University's McGrath has distinguished himself not just as an historical theologian, but as a generous and witty writer who brings life to topics that would turn to dust in others' hands. Here he explores the history of atheism in Western culture, observing that atheism seems to be succumbing to the very fate—irrelevance and dissolution—that atheists once predicted would overtake traditional religion. How did atheism ("a principled and informed decision to reject belief in God") become so rare by the turn of the 21st century? McGrath leaves no stone unturned, nor any important source unconsulted, in tracing atheism's rise and fall. Beyond the usual suspects of Marx, Freud and Darwin, McGrath surveys literature (George Eliot, Algernon Swinburne), science (Jacques Monod, Richard Dawkins) and philosophy (Ludwig Feuerbach, Michel Foucault), managing to make such intellectual heavy lifting look effortless. As a lapsed atheist himself, McGrath is a sympathetic interpreter, but he also relentlessly documents what he contends are the philosophical inconsistency and moral failures of atheism, especially when it has acquired political power. Yet believers will find no warrant here for complacency, as McGrath shows how religion's "failures of imagination" and complicity with oppression often fostered the very environment in which atheism could thrive. Indeed, he warns, "Believers need to realize that, strange as it may seem, it is they who will have the greatest impact on atheism's future." Readable and memorable, this is intellectual history at its best.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Secular intellectuals have been announcing God's funeral since the eighteenth century. But as McGrath surveys today's world, he finds faith in the deity alive and vigorous. Why did the apostles of atheism fail so spectacularly? With insights gleaned during his own years of religious unbelief, McGrath takes the measure of the titans of modern godlessness--including Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx--showing how these powerful thinkers convinced their followers that social and personal progress would accelerate once humanity surrendered its repressive beliefs in an illusory God. In acknowledging the remarkable success of political, psychotherapeutic, and scientific atheism, McGrath surprisingly traces part of that success to Protestant creeds that divorced sacred from secular, so rendering faith more vulnerable. But in the very triumph of atheism, McGrath discerns the causes of its collapse. For once in power, atheism delivered not enlightenment in utopia but rather barbarism in the gulag. Politically discredited and imaginatively exhausted, atheism has been forced into an astonishing retreat before advancing Pentecostal preachers and Christian fabulists. For readers trying to understand this unexpected reversal in cultural fortunes. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author

Alister E. McGrath is a historian, biochemist, and Christian theologian born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A longtime professor at Oxford University, he now holds the chair in theology, ministry, and education at the University of London. He is the author of several books on theology and history, including Christianity's Dangerous Idea, In the Beginning, and The Twilight of Atheism. He lives in Oxford, England, and lectures regularly in the United States.

Customer Reviews

If I were to recommend a book that an atheist should read, this would undoubtedly be it.
The Old Wise Man
As more of an intellectual movement than a mystical one, McGrath believes that Protestantism was especially vulnerable to atheism's arguments.
C. Price
He admits that there are no good arguments for the existence of God, but says atheism isn't based on reason either.
Christopher Hallquist

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

129 of 168 people found the following review helpful By C. Price VINE VOICE on August 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Allister McGrath's The Twilight of Atheism is a thought provoking book no matter what your background. This book is no polemic against atheism. McGrath only mentions arguments for and against God on a few occasions, and then only to set them in their historical context and show the rise and decline of atheist philosophy. And to be clear, by atheism McGrath means what many call "hard atheism." The deliberate, supposedly informed, affirmative belief that there is no God.

One of the strengths of the book is that McGrath does not hesitate to examine atheism as a cultural/philosophical development just as any other. That is, he examines the cultural factors influencing its development and growth. Though some atheists naively believe that atheism is simply a matter of applying logic and reason to see the obvious, this is an inadequate basis for explaining its origins and development as a philosophical movement. This does not deny the possible truth of atheism any more than examining the cultural and historical factors that facilitated the rise of Christianity necessarily negates the truth of Christianity. According to McGrath, one catalyst for atheist thought was the ongoing revolutionary attitudes across the board towards authority, including royal and ecclesiastical. Christianity was seen as part of an oppressive establishment and atheism was a "liberating" intellectual force. Religion, especially Christianity, was seen by many as an oppressive force and atheism was the vehicle of its destruction.

McGrath's overview of this period, and his closer examination of such atheists as Freud and Marx, is very helpful and makes the above points well.
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83 of 115 people found the following review helpful By Steve Jackson on July 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Alister McGrath is a moderately conservative Evangelical theologian who was born in Northern Ireland. After a period of atheism, he became a Christian and is now one of the most prolific theologians in the world. In this book, he traces the rise of atheism from the time of the French revolution to its gradual decline in recent years.
Prof. McGrath is a good storyteller. Along with a discussion the seminal thinkers of atheism such as Nietzsche, Freud, Marx and Feuerbach, we get a political, historical and social overview of the entire movement. For example, Prof. McGrath discusses recent political issues such as the turbulence of the 60s and Madeline Murray O'Hair's crusade for atheism. While this book is no substitute for more detailed studies on atheism, it provides a historical and political background that other studies generally don't.
Prof. McGrath is, as I said, an incredibly prolific author. He has probably written, edited, or revised over 15 books since 2000. Because of this, it would appear that a few too many errors and editing problems creep into his books. For example, Robert Ingersoll is described as the "great atheist" when he was the "great agnostic." The former Episcopal bishop of Newark is not James Spong, but rather John Spong. The same quote from Augustine appears twice within a few pages, etc. In spite of these defects, THE TWILIGHT OF ATHEISM is an enjoyable work.
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17 of 23 people found the following review helpful By fondfire on May 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover
McGrath, who has often shown a preoccupation with the refutation of atheism as a philosophical position (particularly as presented by Richard Dawkins), sets out an extended (though peculiar) account of the history of atheism in this book and speculates about its strengths, weaknesses, and future as a point of view in Western and world culture.

Much of the book is devoted to an idiosyncratic account of the history of atheistic thought. The French Revolution is portrayed as the first atheistic event in history, though McGrath does hedge enough to make it clear that atheism is neither the true cause or result of it, besides the fact that by all accounts not many of the revolutionaries actually were atheists (as Deism was much more common and many people retained some sort of belief in Christianity even as revolutionaries). He goes on to account for the development of atheism in philosophy and other disciplines, giving particular credit to Feuerbach, Marx, and Freud, though commenting that their explanations of the genesis of atheism require a circular reasoning of beginning with the assumption that there is no god. He spends a chapter dismissing the idea of a conflict between science and religion (as McGrath is not a creationist or "intelligent design" proponent; he seems to endorse Gould's idea of "non-overlapping magisteria") and then proceeds to give a much more idiosyncratic view of the development of atheistic thought.

He stops to mention George Eliot, a largely positive figure in the history of atheism. Otherwise, he prefers to spend the most time on personally repulsive individual atheists, such as the perversions of AC Swinburne, the appalling personal details of the life of Madalyn Murray O'Hair, and the totalitarian Joseph Stalin.
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81 of 115 people found the following review helpful By Conrad Knauer on October 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
By the time I finished Alister McGrath's "The Twilight of Atheism", I had identified several major problems with it. These often flow into one another, but can be summed up in three major points; in no particular order:

(1) This book is apologetics ("the branch of theology that is concerned with defending or proving the truth of Christian doctrines"). Far from being a fair study of the history of atheism in relation to the religions of the world over time, its written by a 'former atheist' with a (primarily western and Protestant) Christian audience in mind. There is a disturbing tendency by the author to allow his apologetics to color his interpretation of historical events to the point of revisionism.

(2) It uses an improper definition of "atheism." This is perhaps the most surprising. The standard dictionary definition will be along the lines of "a lack of belief in the existence of God or gods." McGrath denies this and seems to think it means something like 'the active rejection of, or rebellion against God and religion'. But this is more properly 'ANTI-theism'. Consider in this light his pronouncement that "Atheism is ultimately a worldview of fear [...] largely derivative, mirroring the failings of the churches and specific ways of conceiving the Christian faith." (P. 274) When you realize that atheism and antitheism are not the same thing, it knocks a lot of the wind out of the main premise (that atheism is in its twilight). Antitheism perhaps, but not necessarily atheism. He also curiously refers to atheism as a religion quite a few times. The famous rejoinder to this, of course, is that 'atheism is a religion like bald is a hair color'.
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