Another deeply felt entry on two divergent, yet ultimately compatible, ways of engaging the world and understanding reality.

The New Atheists have it all wrong, insists McGrath (Science and Religion/Oxford Univ.; C.S. Lewis—A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet, 2013, etc.).

Instead of delving deep into the classic proofs for the existence of a cosmic intelligence—cosmological, ontological, or theological arguments—the author concentrates on the basic errors of atheism. McGrath’s particular nemesis is The God Delusion author, Richard Dawkins. Those who rely solely on science for all the answers forget that scientific “facts” are not fixed but change with new information and new thinking. Though Charles Darwin’s insights remain intact, social Darwinism, after all, has had its day. Not so long ago, the Big Bang supplanted the steady state theory of the history of our universe, and the sun no longer revolves around the Earth. That has been scientifically established. Many of McGrath’s arguments for faith are based simply on “widely agreed” notions and “growing consensus.” He asserts that there are “strong indications that religion is something natural.” To understand the mechanics of the world, writes the author, we should ask the scientists; for ethics and meaning, we must turn to philosophers and theologians. Defender of the faith McGrath seems to consider his own Christian belief the sole representative of all religious faith—though the only Scripture he directly quotes is from the Hebrew book of Psalms. Much more ecumenical and accessible is Jonathan Sacks’ wonderful The Great Partnership (2012), which tackles many of the same existential topics. McGrath’s entry isn’t light reading, however, and close attention may provide new questions and yield nutrients for further thinking for adherents of both camps. Despite the declarations of religious fundamentalists or fundamentalist New Atheists, each path has a place in humanity’s search for knowledge and understanding.

Another deeply felt entry on two divergent, yet ultimately compatible, ways of engaging the world and understanding reality.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-07792-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015



This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955


A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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