Four Stars out of Five
Dense reading, as one would expect of philosophical discussions. To fully appreciate the topics argued, one must be willing to read slowly and carefully. (The tiny font didn’t help.)
The upshot of Williams’ argument is that modern neo-atheists vary little from the logical positivists of Lewis’ day, so matching their arguments (or evasions) is relatively easy. It might have been organized better; many repetitions of the same statements by multiple sources, presumably to document having covered the water front.
Williams claims the neo-atheists lost the debate then and now because they largely refuse to debate. The non-existence of god is one of their opening assumptions–just as is their unproved assertion that only scientifically measurably phenomena exist–consequently there is little engagement on the Argument from Reason or the Problem of Goodness. Provocative and quotable statements abound on both sides, but like many modern political debates the two sides often talk passed rather than at each other.
One obvious error among the neo-atheists is their dismissal of Lewis as the author of children’s books. In fact, Lewis’ education and day job included the study and instruction of philosophy. The fact that he was also once a militant atheist should demand a close hearing. That he put seeking truth above a particular creed led him through his somewhat serpentine path to the foot of the cross.
The reader is cautioned about taking Williams’ selection of statements by the neo-atheists at face value. Long practice suggests that adversaries seldom select the best material to represent their opponents’ position. Because I was primarily interested in Lewis’ statements on the various subjects at hand, this book addressed my interests well.
Neo-atheists clearly divide on the question of transcendent good. Most affirm the existence of objective good and bad, separate from the existence of a god. Some, like Richard Dawkins, admit, “The universe has no mind, no feelings and no personality; so it doesn’t do things in order to hurt or please you. Bad things happen because things happen. Whether they are bad or good from our point of view doesn’t influence how likely they are to happen … Unfortunately, the universe doesn’t care what people prefer.” (I don’t accept the proposition that there’s no value, beauty or truth in the universe.)
The best compliment I can make is that, immediately upon finishing the text, I turned to front and started in again. (I even ordered a print edition, so I could highlight and mark it.)
“Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”