The Unknown God: Responses to the New Atheists
John Hughes, editor
SCM Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop special offer price £10.99
"THERE is no need to take the small coterie of polemicists known
collectively as the New Atheists particularly seriously." So writes
David Bentley Hart in the last of the nine sermons in The
Unknown God. It is one of the few statements in the book with
which to disagree.
Hart's point that the New Atheist gang is too philosophically
shallow, theologically ignorant, historically biased, and
scientifically partial to merit a response is understandable. Years
hence, they will no doubt be read as much as Toland, Tindal,
Collins, and Wooston, the terrors of the 18th-century deistic
scare. But they are taken seriously today, which is why Christian
thinkers should do the same. The all-star line-up for this volume
suggests that they already are, for which we should be glad.
The sermons in The Unknown God were preached at Jesus
College, Cambridge, in Lent term 2011 - a service of enormous
quality, though varying length, if the book is anything to go by.
They are witty, generous, and learned, and the volume manages to
avoid repetition, except in so far as most contributors note the
exhausting anger of the New Atheists.
Conor Cunningham spells out the ontological suicide of
ultra-Darwinism; John Cornwell cleverly combines the story of three
sets of brothers in talking about morality and imagination; Hart
rehearses the revolutionary impact of Christianity on the ancient
world; Hughes outlines what atheism owes Christianity; Tina Beattie
wrestles with scripture and suffering. The only real mistake that
the editor makes is to begin with Terry Eagleton, whose talk on
"Faith, Knowledge and Terror" is so good, learned, and genuinely
funny that the collection never quite reaches this dizzying height
Still, if one can get over the rather steep price to pay for a
book of about 100 pages, The Unknown God is a worthy
addition to anti-atheist library.
Nick Spencer is director of studies at the think tank