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The Truth Behind the New Atheism: Responding to the Emerging Challenges to God and Christianity
The Truth Behind the New Atheism: Responding to the Emerging Challenges to God and Christianity
by David Marshall
Edition: Paperback
59 used & new from $0.01

26 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A voice of reason in a heated, often-angry debate, July 27, 2009
First, I was surprised by the number of harshly negative reviews. Overall, I felt the book offered a sound and well-considered rebuttal to the attacks coming from "the New Atheists" themselves. In spite of the claims I see in some reviews, when all is fairly considered, I still feel Marshall has done his homework. The only thing that seems clear to me is that quite a few readers on both sides of the debate don't want to entertain any sort of argument against their own worldview. But why not? Anyone wanting to develop a fair and thoughtful worldview should be willing to listen to sound arguments against it.

Personally, if I had to recommend a good book that offers sound arguments against my faith, I would have to say that Carl Sagan's "The Demon Haunted World" gave me much, much more to think about than the vitriol found in books by Dawkins, Hitchens or Harris. In fact, it was Sagan's book that provided insights that caused me to critically re-examine my own faith. Obviously, Sagan didn't change my mind, but his arguments did change the way I look at my beliefs.

What I particularly liked about this book was that I instantly felt a strong kinship with the writer, who sees past the surface layers of American civil (and often uncivil) religion. He seems to yearn for the return of a more intellectually rigorous Christianity, one that can examine and address the flaws found within, but without tossing out the baby with the bathwater. He also puts up a sound defense of the faith by addressing the most common arguments against it, such as the Inquisitions, the Crusades, witch burnings, etc. The New Atheists use these events as grounds for attacking Christianity's track record, while ignoring (and often glossing over) the acts of godless men such as Stalin, Pol Pot, Chairman Mao and others, whose atheism and belief in natural law led them to butcher over 100 million innocents in the 20th century alone. As Marshall points out, the total deaths from just an average day in the reign of Joe Stalin resulted in more murders than the three centuries of the Inquisition combined. Belief in "natural law" doesn't have a track record to be proud of, and Marshall points out the atrocities that have arisen from societies dismissive of belief in God. If our behavior is the result of evolution as Dawkins claims, please give me another dose of God.

Overall, I found the tone respectful and the arguments sound. I was particularly impressed with the author's approach to the scientific evidence. I am still amazed how many people feel that the issue of origins has been settled; "settled" in the sense that although the issues aren't explained by science, there's no reason to doubt it all happened naturally. If you only read Dawkins, you might buy into that consensus view, but if you're a student of scientific discovery and truly agnostic, you know that all the major issues surrounding our origins (the Big Bang, the first cell, arrival of multi-cellular life) are far from solved. Simply accepting the idea that "since we're here and we don't believe in God, it had to have happened naturally" may work for some, but doing so is a dismissal of critical thinking. Accepting the evidence gaps as "unknowns" doesn't imply you have to believe in God by default, it's simply a good way to approach the facts. In spite of my beliefs, I try to view the evidence this way myself, and keep emotions out of it (doesn't always work, but I try). Understanding how physical processes run the Universe doesn't automatically support or "prove" naturalism, or disprove God. I think this is the point Marshall is trying to make in his assessment of the scientific evidence, and I was surprised at the response to it from readers holding the opposing viewpoint.

As the author points out, there are real evidence gaps in the origins story, and it's entirely possible that as we learn more, the gaps may widen more as well. Blindly insisting that science will fill them is to adopt a faith position, a position not yet supported with any hard facts. Science very well may find some answers, but they also may remain forever beyond the reach of scientific inquiry. I also wonder why people have such a hard time accepting the possibility of a creator. It would change nothing about scientific discovery, as the laws that govern matter and energy are constants. It would force a paradigm shift in our thinking, however, and I suspect that few people like to have their worldview challenged. Personally, I like having mine challenged, as it forces me toward more critical thought.

I enjoyed this book very much, and would recommend it highly, in spite of the claims that it's not well-researched or well-argued. I simply disagree with that assessment; you're free to make your own call. I also think it should be read as a companion to "Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins' Case Against God", which deals specifically with Dawkins' arguments in "The God Delusion."
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 12, 2012 10:36 AM PDT

Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth (Princeton Science Library)
Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth (Princeton Science Library)
by Andrew H. Knoll
Edition: Paperback
Price: $29.95
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tough read for a science buff without a background on the subject, but still enjoyable and informative, July 22, 2009
Although much of the scientific language is beyond the scope of my eduction (most people's, I'd guess), this is still an excellent book to read if you are only going to read a single book on the subject. I've read many more, but still recommend this the most, as it presents the information in a manner that is accessible to readers with an above-average scientific bent. It's clearly not a book for a beginner, and does require a lot of background knowledge. As such, if you're not a biology professor with some miles under your belt, this book will not be entirely accessible to you.

I particularly enjoyed his take on the origins of life. He's a cautious writer, and doesn't overstep the boundaries of good science and go off on wild speculative jaunts when writing about something so contentious. While mentioning several promising studies, he doesn't claim that any one offers any slam-dunk evidence, and even offers up a suggestion to the scientific world, saying something to the effect of "keep those ideas coming, as we could use as many minds as possible on this particular subject." His lack of dogma and drama on the subject was welcomed. Reading Knoll's account is refreshing after reading some of Richard Dawkins books, the likes of which I now avoid.

As Knoll weaves his way through the search for the earliest life, through the appearance of multi-cellular life, to the surprising burst of diversity in the Cambrian, he does so with a wonderful writing style that is rare in this type of writing. Often, while reading books of this nature, no matter how fascinating, I find myself fighting off fits of "readers narcolepsy." Most science writers, while well-prepared with their subject matter, tend to be pretty average writers. Knoll bests this trend with a style that reveals his still-fresh wonder at everything, and this enthusiasm translates into a very enjoyable and readable book.

I'm not in a position to question or dispute anything he says, so I'll leave that to the pros in the same field. I simply trust his qualifications and the recommendations of his colleagues in the same field, and trust that they're right. Simply put, if you're looking for an enjoyable, thorough and infinitely readable book on the origins and proliferation of early life, I recommend this one highly. You might not understand some of the detailed points he makes, but the book does trend toward a broader, more accessible theme, and you'll end up with a much better understanding of the early life than if you hadn't made the effort.

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
by Carl Sagan
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.89
308 used & new from $1.50

7 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dogmatically building a case for science as the foundation of modern reason, July 12, 2009
I enjoy reading Sagan precisely because he's a lucid and interesting writer who clearly has little use for religious thought. I also believe that as a person of faith in general, and as a follower of Judeo-Christianity in particular, it's healthy for me to consider sound arguments against my point of view. To develop a rational basis for any beliefs, people need to be willing to hear rational arguments against them, and this book is a good place to start.

My problem with this book is that Sagan uses a number of arguments that can cut both ways, but he completely fails to acknowledge (or chooses to ignore) this fact. As an example, he claims that the easiest person to fool is yourself, particularly when you're completely sold on a point of view. He then falls victim himself. He also encourages us to develop a great B.S. detector, but then fails to engage his own. For me, this point was the primary flaw in the book, which I otherwise enjoyed very much.

In spite of the fact that I do believe in God, I also must agree with Sagan when he discusses the examples of flawed religious actions based upon corrupted faith. There's little ground for argument here...religion has clearly been used as an excuse for all sorts of bad things, and needs to be exposed as such. But what he fails to discuss is the fact that these misguided actions (by Christians, for example) are not condoned or encouraged in any way by the faith itself, but are in fact examples of corrupt faith, not sound faith.

He also attacks (quite correctly) the actions of charlatans and scam-artists who manipulate and abuse undiscerning people of faith who blindly listen to them. To some degree, I feel as though people who don't use their minds and their reasoning abilities deserve what they get, but I also feel for them. Not everyone has the ability to defend themselves against such action. It's not a perfect world, and some people do deserve our compassion.

I also take issue with his claim (and the claims of many other supporters of naturalism) that science has all the answers. I'm not referring to established scientific data, but Sagan's basic claim that all reason is based upon a scientific foundation, and that the limits of science are the limits of reality. The conditions that existed prior to the singularity that was the Big Bang is a good example of a reality beyond the current scope of science...something clearly existed prior to that event, but it's beyond the realm of scientific inquiry. Any competent theoretical physicist would shy away from the idea that the limits of science are the limits of reality, as it's too easy to provide examples to counter it.

I don't make the claim that the existence of a realm beyond scientific inquiry somehow proves God. But the knowledge that there is something beyond those limits is clearly lost on Sagan, and as a result, his argument becomes scientifically dogmatic at times, and almost religiously so. Even more interesting, and perhaps somewhat poignant, is that at one point in the book he even discusses how he feels we should be treated should there turn out to be a God. It's almost as though he pleads his cause, then hedges his bet. What's up with that? For me, this slight pause in his argument showed a side of Sagan I hadn't seen before, and offered a glimpse of spirituality in a man who claimed to have no use for it. For me, this was the most fascinating passage in the entire book.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 18, 2010 9:50 AM PST

God According to God: A Physicist Proves We've Been Wrong About God All Along
God According to God: A Physicist Proves We've Been Wrong About God All Along
by Gerald L. Schroeder
Edition: Hardcover
37 used & new from $7.26

63 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Redefining the nature of God, and getting it right, July 12, 2009
I loved this book in spite of the fact that it wasn't what I was expecting. I've read all Schroeder's other books about the harmony between science and the Bible, and expected this to be yet another take on his increasingly well-honed arguments. The author's insights seem to grow and mature with each book, and although this book opens with the usual discussion on origins, it quickly becomes a book about theology and how we've all incorrectly defined God over the millennia.

For anyone who's been paying attention, there has always been a big gap between the somewhat vague, "feel-good" conceptual God of western culture, and the God we find within the Bible (when we take the time to actually read it in its entirety). In this wonderful book, Schroeder does a beautiful job of repairing this harmful breach of understanding. One of the single most important points he makes is showing that the God who's under attack from "The New Atheists" is this conceptual, cultural God that we've invented, but the God of the Bible is far more consistent with the God we encounter on a daily basis, a God who is capable of omnipotence, but has chosen to give us far more control than many of us are prepared for.

This is a God who never attempts to micro-manage our lives, and who often allows us to do all sorts of horrible things to each other because this is the same God who has given us dominion over the earth, and often lets us stew in our own juices when we foul up. This God, whom we actually find in the Bible, is a far cry from the micro-managing God put forth every day on TV programs and espoused from prosperity gospel pulpits.

It's a healthy and good thing to examine our beliefs, and Schroeder does an excellent job of encouraging us to look beyond our comfort zone so that we might bring reality into alignment with our perceptions. I think it's time that western theologians addressed this issue with much more force, and this book is a great place to begin the argument. This is more than an important is also a very profound book and I hope it reaches a wide audience in the years to come.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 15, 2016 5:18 AM PDT

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