Seven Types of Atheism

by John Gray, Allen Lane, 170pp, £17.99

In his best-known book, Straw Dogs, the political philosopher and career misanthrope John Gray whittled away at our most cherished liberal beliefs as he sought to undermine almost 2,500 years of Western thought. By the book’s end, little was left standing: man is brutal; life is terrible; the idea of human progress is mere pernicious optimism.

It is true that much of the 20th century was an unpleasant surprise. Not only Auschwitz, but also the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Stalin’s Russia, showed how far man could go in his misuse of technology.

Even HG Wells, with his uncanny gift of scientific foresight, could not have predicted the Islamist attack on America on September 11, 2001. The assault only confirmed Gray in his anti-humanist, anti-liberal argument that man is not moving forward at all through the centuries. “We may well look back on the 20th century as a time of peace,” he wrote with characteristic dark relish.

Gray’s new book, Seven Types of Atheism, upbraids Richard Dawkins and other “unthinking liberals” for their pretence of atheist omniscience. The world is not necessarily as the neo-Darwinists insist it is, Gray argues, because science is not and never has been about certainty. Much of what passes for scientific knowledge today is as open to doubt as the miraculous events described in the Book of Genesis.

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