Michael Ruse is a well known philosopher, currently at Florida State University. He writes that his book is ‘one that tries to lay out dispassionately the issues surrounding atheism, the arguments against it and the arguments for it, its critics and its supporters’ (p.4).
He writes as an atheist, yet claims that he is ‘intensely religious, in the sense that these questions about God and the ultimate meaning of life are very important to me’ (p.5). He aims to persuade us to agree with him.
The book is an overview, but with the connecting theme that, for both supporters and critics alike, atheism is ‘an intensely moral issue’ (pp. 6, 254). It is ‘a matter of you as a person, what you believe and what you should believe … how you should live your life, how you should act towards others, and the roles of you and others in society’ (p.254).
The first half of the book discusses the history of atheism. Ruse raises pertinent criticisms and admits some current gaps in the atheist case. In the second half, he presents his arguments against Christian teaching and the Bible.
Is it an important book for Christians to read? Certainly, if you want to know what atheists think about religion, particularly from an author who is much better informed than the New Atheists. Ruse also tries (at least in the first half of the book) to be balanced and fair.
The second half of the book, where Ruse argues against Christian teaching and the Bible, is far less satisfactory. He criticises the New Atheists for not being properly acquainted with either Christian theology or the philosophy of religion, yet shows that he has only a shallow understanding.
His bibliography is quite impressive, so I wonder how much of the Christian literature he cites he actually studied. He points out that the New Atheists’ arguments are neither new nor decisive. Yet the same applies to his own material. The arguments he raises are well known to Christian scholars and have been regularly discussed and answered (including in the literature he cites!).
Ruse is much better than Dawkins, Harris, Dennett or Hitchens, but there is still a long way to go to justify the claim that this book is ‘what everyone needs to know’.