Wednesday, April 19, 2006

New Books - The End of faith / Dawkins' God

Sam Harris
The End of faith: religion, terror, and the future of reason
Free Press, 2006, 200 HAR

Alister E. McGrath
Dawkins' God: genes, memes, and the meaning of life
Blackwell, 2004, 261.55 MAC

The role of religion is an issue of increasing social and political significance in modern society and has been the subject of renewed debate due to contributions from a number of recent books, films and television programs. From the 'Living as a Muslim' episode of Morgan Spurlock's 30 Days series, to Richard Dawkins' own two-part Channel 4 investigation Can you believe it?, and the recent documentary feature film The God who wasn't there, religion is controversially yet unquestionably under the media spotlight.

Sam Harris' The End of faith and Alister McGrath's Dawkins' God are two books attempting to tackle the intellectual foundations of the debate from vastly opposing view points. McGrath, who featured in an RSA lecture in March 2006 debating Daniel Dennett and the ideas put forward in his book Breaking the spell: religion as a natural phenomenon, seeks to defend religion by providing the first book-length response to Richard Dawkin's influential attempt to explain religion by scientific means. Combining scientific analysis and theology, McGrath is particularly convincing is his attack Dawkins' theory of memes.

Sam Harris by contrast provides a more sociological analysis of the effect of religion on modern society and what he considers to be the great conflict between faith and reason. He highlights mankind's willingness to suspend reason in favor of religious beliefs, seeking to explain this human tendency even when those beliefs are often used to justify harmful behavior and sometimes heinous crimes.

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