A Short History of Atheism

Issue section: 
(353)

Gavin Hyman, I.B. Taurus, £14.99

The blurb gives the impression that this short history of atheism is favourable to its subject - if less crude than Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens.

However, the more you get into the book the more it becomes clear that the author intends the opposite - to provide a defence of the Christian religion. Gavin Hyman claims that you can't judge theology in the scientific terms we associate with modernity. That's because theology speaks of different things, using a language that is valid in its own terms.

He supports this with long quotations from Terry Eagleton, who seems here to move dangerously towards a postmodern notion of "truth". Could you justify astrology, for example, on the same grounds? Hyman's argument, for all its sophistication, boils down to saying that god is a mystery that cannot be limited by notions of the rational.

Of course, the case for atheism put by Dawkins and Hitchens is flawed by elitism. They see religious people as irrational and stupid. They don't understand that you can't eliminate religion by superior argument. You can only do so by tackling the material causes that underpin it.

Socialists welcome into our ranks all those - believers included - who want to struggle against the system. But they hold to a materialist (rather than atheist) understanding of the world.