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199 of 214 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Book of the New Atheist Movement, September 26, 2009
This review is from: The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason (Paperback)
I consider this book by Victor Stenger to be the best book that summarizes and expands on the arguments of the New Atheists (NA's) between the years 2004-2009. There is no other book like it. Any serious attempt by future writers to summarize the movement and/or criticize it must deal with this one written by one of the NA's themselves.

If someone had been hiding in a cave during these years and knew nothing about the NA's this would be the only book needed to understand it. The NA's mainly critique religion from a scientific perspective since they think science has a great deal to say about it. And they don't give religion much respect since: "Faith is always foolish and leads to many of the evils of society" (p, 15). The NA's thinking is best depicted by Stenger's often repeated phrase, that "absence of evidence is evidence of absence when the evidence should be there and is not" (p. 58).

According to Stenger the NA's "preach a more militant, in-your-face kind of atheism that has not been seen before, except with the abrasive and unpopular Madalyn Murray O'Hair" (p. 25). Summing up the books written by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, his own book, and Christopher Hitchens he concludes: "The atheist argues that empirical science and reason are the most reliable tools we have to determine truths about the world. The reason we trust reason and science, and have no trust whatsoever in religious arguments, is that science and reason work in understanding the world and making it a better place for humanity while religious argument leads universally to dismal failure and untold suffering" (p. 41).

In my opinion this book is even better that his previous one, "God: The Failed Hypothesis." Of course, he is never better than when discussing science in chapters 3, 4, 7, 8, and 9. When it comes to the design argument for God's existence Stenger writes: "Any Christian, Jew, or Muslim who accepts evolution, as do most scientists of these faiths, must be confronted with the fact that, according to the conventional interpretation, the human species is an accident" (p. 99).

In this book the author answers such questions as: Can science study the supernatural?; Is science based on faith?; Can we trust our minds?; Do science and religion conflict?; Can science disprove God's existence?; Is any God consistent with science?; and, Do we need religion for morality? He also deals with questions like where the laws of the universe came from, the nature of the mind, and whether there is a soul. He even provides the reader with a scenario for the origin of the universe.

Stenger takes a good hard look at the so-called atheist atrocities and the Christian atrocities too. For Christians who argue that suffering can be redemptive he writes: "What was the redemptive value of the Crusades or the Black Plague or the Holocaust? What is the redemptive value of one child dying of leukemia or millions of children starving to death? The redemptive value would have to be enormous to justify the huge amount of suffering involved in those events" (p. 141).

Stenger seems to be aware of all of the important recent books coming from both atheists and Christians during this time period and he responds to all of the major criticisms of the NA's. There are at least a couple of notable exceptions, though. He didn't know about my book published in 2008. [*sigh*] But he's told me it will be mentioned in a reprint and in a second edition when that happens. [*Hurrah*] And he didn't mention David Eller's two books, "Natural Atheism" (2004) and "Atheism Advanced" (2007).

This book is a great summary of the debate during these years and it further expands and argues on behalf of atheism. Highly recommended. If you're interested in the New Atheist movement then this is essential reading.


I'm the author of "Why I Became an Atheist," and the edited book, "The Christian Delusion."
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Showing 1-10 of 70 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 26, 2009 12:52:32 PM PDT
Samphire says:
Small typo. It should read "God: The Failed Hypothesis".

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 27, 2009 2:35:16 AM PDT
Got it. As soon as I saw what you wrote I looked over at my bookshelf and realized I got the words mixed up. Thanks.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 27, 2009 7:27:41 AM PDT
KC James says:
Loftus, since Stenger equates atheism with science (after all, its all about science and reason according the the books cover, give us an example of something, given your "control beliefs" that would FALSIFY your atheism. (I am sure you understand that something that can not be falsified, even in principle, is not science.)

Even in principle.

I submit that you can't, but try and give me an example.

I will show you are wrong.

Posted on Sep 28, 2009 10:13:57 AM PDT
John: Frankly, the book is awful. It often reads like a series of notes written in the margin of books Stenger has only half read (mine, less than half), and in some cases, less than half understood.

But I'll explain when time allows.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 28, 2009 4:15:26 PM PDT
Saganite says:
I'm inclined to agree. I'm disappointed. And I LOVED God: The Failed Hypothesis (and liked fairly much Quantum Gods). But they were written in a descending order of quality, with "New" the worst of the lot. I like Stenger, he's contributed a lot, he's certainly made me much more sophisticated when it comes to arguments about fine tuning and so forth, but this is a weak entry. OK, it does digest some of the best of folks like Harris and Dawkins, and provides some feedback on what their critics have said. But I don't see that any real, systematic effort went into it, and it comes out anemic. And John, we've had this discussion before and I don't mean to drag it out again, but Eller's books just don't belong in the company of those by you, Barker, Hector Avalos, Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, Paulos, etc. Part of what makes the New Atheism a movement is that it has some popular appeal...it's rationally rigorous, yes, but it's out of the closet and into the light. While I have no doubt that Eller's a nice guy and all, that book of his you rave about is nothing like the ones at the fore of the New Atheism movement.

Posted on Oct 6, 2009 2:47:53 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Mar 9, 2010 1:06:25 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 6, 2009 3:00:15 PM PDT
Thanks John. The best philosophical defense of the theistic God is "The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology." And the best apologetical defense of Christianity is probably Michael Murray's "Reason for the Hope Within." Neither of them suceed, but since you asked. ;-)

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 22, 2009 6:43:21 AM PDT
mostserene1 says:
John, thanks for the richly insightful review. I have read every one of Stenger's books and will now order this one.

On a side note, I ordered your own book several months ago, but was eventually informed by Amazon that it was completely unavailable. I'll keep looking for it.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 22, 2009 9:18:21 AM PDT
It's available now. Just search for it.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 22, 2009 9:22:04 AM PDT
mostserene1 says:
Sorry for the lack of clarity, but it was your first book I wanted. I got an e-mail from amazon saying they would keep trying to find it, but that it was currently unavailable. BTW, I enjoy your posts on Commonsense atheism.
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