The God Argument: The Case against Religion and for Humanism: Books

By Cohen, Martin | The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE, March 21, 2013 | Go to article overview

The God Argument: The Case against Religion and for Humanism: Books


Cohen, Martin, The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE


The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and For Humanism. By A.C. Grayling. Bloomsbury, 288pp, Pounds 16.99. ISBN 9781408837405 and 9781408837429 (e-book). Published 14 March 2013.

The promise that A.C. Grayling makes to us is to thoroughly examine "all the arguments offered in support of religious belief" and to do so not "acerbically" but calmly. Strange, then, that he starts by thanking various "fellows in the cause", such as (guess who) Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and cheeky Peter Cave. The word "cause" is revealing of the mindset, even if the next line strikes an unconvincing note of inclusivity, offering, like a poorly structured sermon, "that every generation must travel its own road, but with the hope of arriving at a destination further along than its predecessors". Perhaps a wiser thought and a better metaphor would have been: every publisher must produce its own book explaining the same points about religion, but with the hope that each sells more than its predecessors.

This book, however, is supposed to be different - a philosophical examination of the arguments. That is perhaps why it is called The God Argument. Or perhaps the publisher came up with the name after Grayling submitted it. Although it is full of arguments in one sense: what philosophers call ad hominem ones directed at "religious apologists". Thomas Aquinas, Leibniz and no doubt the local vicar would all fit into this group - but not, it seems, Buddhists or followers of Confucius, as these "are philosophies". Which means that they are all right.

Religion, as presented here, has negligible philosophical content. Rather it seems to consist of hanging homosexuals, beheading or stoning to death adulterous women and subordinating "women and children" in Bible Belt America. "Throughout history, the religion-inspired suppression of women has robbed humanity of at least half of its potential creativity and genius." We're only on page two, by the way, of this exemplification of "calm rationality", as a review from the Church Times promises on the back cover.

But it doesn't seem very philosophical to me. Indeed, although Grayling accuses "supporters of religion" of making lots of silly, elementary errors of logic, doesn't he himself commit the fallacy of affirming the consequent?

If religion is an evil influence on people, then people's minds will be addled and lots of bad things will result. (First premise.)

People's minds have been addled and lots of bad things have resulted. (Second premise.)

Religion is an evil influence on people. …

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