God and the New Atheism: A Critical Response to Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens. By John F. Haught. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008. 156 pp. $17.00 (paper).
A Reasonable God: Engaging the New Face of Atheism. By Gregory E. Ganssle. Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2009. 165 pp. $24.95 (paper).
In recent years, there has been an increase in the literature that explicitly argues for the embrace of atheism over any form of religion. This has been deemed the "new atheism" and includes authors like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett. This group has spawned a directed, heated reaction from many theistic theologians, philosophers, and scientists. Such are the two works reviewed here.
Haught and Ganssle share many similarities in their approaches to confronting the thought of the new atheism. Both center their argument on critiquing the approaches embraced by the likes of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens. Haught and Ganssle address the problems of the new atheism through an analysis of recent writings but they try not to offer any constructive, theological guidance by focusing almost exclusively on critique. Thus, the texts take a very negative tone.
Haught's text follows a series of questions that are ultimately put forward by the "new atheists" and thus addresses them on their own ground. By doing this, much of Haught's argument is meant to show the ultimate inadequacies of his interlocutors. He begins by noting that the new atheism is not entirely new and that its atheism is quite weak. Haught believes that this school of thought is rehashing the arguments already put forward by the eighteenth-century likes of David Hume and his followers. He also notes that the atheism of Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, and other modern existentialists is ultimately more robust and offers a more thorough challenge to religion. With this analysis in place, he turns to responding to questions that are explicitly asked by the new atheists. He deals with questions of how theology actually matters, whether God can be hypothesized, why people believe, and why people are good. Throughout his discussion he critiques the embrace of naturalism and "reason" by the new atheists by arguing that naturalism is simply one more interpretive scheme that gives a kind of reason for our use. It is not that atheism is more reasonable, just that it uses a different kind of reason. For Haught, when one uses the reason of naturalism to analyze theology, religion, and/or God, then one is ultimately going to come to naturalistic conclusions. His discussion of the questions posed by the new atheists shows the assumptions that they make and then critiques their conclusions based upon these assumptions. And, in a difference from Ganssle's text, Haught makes an explicitly Christian and theological move in his last chapter, ultimately beginning to point a way forward for thinking through some of the issues of religion and science through a robust theology of Jesus Christ.
Ganssle tries to remain as neutral as possible by saying that he does not favor one monotheism over another in the text (although his examples are almost exclusively from Christianity) and that he simply wants to repeat what His interlocutors have already said and then critique them. …