The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World by Alistair McGrath is a book that deserves to be read. The author maintains that the “rise and decline of atheism is framed by two pivotal events, separated by precisely two hundred years: the fall of the Bastille in 1789 and that of the Berlin Wall in 1989.”
McGrath skillfully guides readers through a detailed tour of intellectual thought and demonstrates the corresponding rise and decline of atheism.
Part One: The High Noon of Atheism
Part one includes an excellent overview of the French Revolution. Voltaire and Marquis de Sade are given special consideration and given special credit in the rise of atheism in France.
McGrath explores the intellectual foundations of atheism in Marx (God as an opiate), Freud (God as an illusion), and Feuerbach (God as an invention).
Atheism is seen through the eyes of science with a superb overview of atheism’s advance primarily through the pen of Charles Darwin. McGrath demonstrates the rise of the so-called face value dichotomy which has contributed to the rise of secularism: “Science proves things, whereas religion depends on the authoritarian imposition of its dogmas, which fly in the face of evidence.”
Part Two: Twilight
The second half of the book picks up on the theme that Nancy Pearcey has so skillfully described in her book, Total Truth, namely the bifurcation of the sacred and the secular. McGrath surveys the history of intellectual thought up through the Protestant Reformation and discusses the shortcomings of Protestantism.
Next, McGrath narrows his study to the birth of modernity and demonstrates that “atheism was [and is] perfectly suited to this rational and logical worldview.”
Postmodernity grew out of modernity, which according to McGrath seriously “undermines the plausibility of atheism.” The reason: “Postmodernism is a cultural mood that celebrates diversity and seeks to undermine those who offer rigid, restrictive, and oppressive views of the world.” And since atheism proves an incredibly intolerant worldview, the prospects of its growth do not bode well given the presuppositions of postmodernism. McGrath suggests the reason for the incompatibility of atheism with postmodernism: “For postmodernity is intolerant of any totalizing worldview, precisely because of its propensity to oppress those who resist it” (which in the final analysis excludes atheism).
The book concludes by discussing the “fading appeal of atheism.” McGrath discusses the shortcomings of this hopeless worldview and leaves the reader wondering what the future holds. The author maintains, “Western atheism now finds itself in something of a twilight zone.”
The Twilight of Atheism is a welcome addition to an ever-increasing list of books on apologetics, worldviews, and evangelism.