The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason by Victor Stenger

Many critics of Victor Stenger's writing have accused him of taking one basic set of arguments and writing a dozen different books using them. While there is undoubtedly some overlap between his books (and some with more commonalities than with others), I can understand where this critique comes from. I felt that way, somewhat, after reading Quantum Gods after having read God: The Failed Hypothesis. This book, just released this month, falls somewhere in between those two in my view. Not as good as Failed Hypothesis, not as mediocre as Quantum Gods.

Stenger kicks off this book with a look a the current state of New Atheism, and specifically, he discusses the recent success of new atheist books by Harris, Dawkins and others. He reviews a few points, counterpoints, and rebuttals to some of these arguments, leaving this first section as a nice overview of the state of popular bibliographic atheist/theist discourse.

The middle parts of the book are more a scattershot look at some of the key arguments made by New Atheists, with chapters on evolution, suffering, and evil. Many of these arguments have been made countless times elsewhere, and while I've personally read better treatments, Stenger brings a reasonable summation of his views and those of others, such as Bart Ehrman.

The rest of the book falls off track for me. Stenger launches into a large section which loses the narrative of the earlier chapters. While I love science and religion being brought together, Stenger seems to drift off to one of his lectures and forgets to keep the reader engaged.

From there, the shift into a study of Eastern philosophy (as suggested in Sam Harris's book The End of Faith) drags the book into territory best left out. Stenger examines various philosophical ideas and ideals and finds that many of the non-dogmatic, less-theologically based philosophies, such as Buddhism, can offer a great deal of 'spiritual guidance' without the dangerous burdens of dogmatic religion.

As in Harris's book, I feel this mushy, metaphysical subject matter is best left out. Stenger should have returned to a more in depth look at the current dialogue between atheists and theists. This for me is an excellent area of study which as been largely underrepresented. Stenger does leave a 'what is to come' chapter for last, but by that time, he's lost the plot.

Stenger is always an engaging writer, although his direction can sometimes leave the reader feeling a bit confused. What starts off as a strong look at niche of current public discourse devolves into a rehashed science-religion argument which then re-devolves into a feel-good look at Eastern philosophy. To repeat, for me, it was better than the plodding Quantum Gods but not as focused and successful as Failed Hypothesis. Three and one-half stars.

(posted on my blog: davenichols.net)

Tags: Anti-theism, Atheism, New Atheists, Reason, Religion, Science, Skepticism, Victor Stenger

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Thanks for the review!

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