Book Review: Is there an atheist morality? Craig Hovey, What Makes Us Moral? Science, Religion, and the shaping of the moral landscape: A Christian response to Sam HarrisThe Expository Times


M. Harris
Religious studies


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410 The Expository Times 125(8) construction of Christian identity, and it illustrates the process by which early Christian identity was conceived in ethnoracial terms. The focus of chapter six is even narrower, concentrating on the use of the term ‘Christian’ in 1 Pet 4.16. It is argued that this reflects one of the first stages of believers claiming the ‘identity-defining label’ of Christian.

The final chapter enters into the debate concerning how the letter sought to position Christian communities in relation to the wider society. Horrell argues that the attitude to the empire ‘is one in which resistance and conformity are combined in a nuanced yet clear position’ (p. 237). This is what

Horrell calls, ‘polite resistance’ (p. 238).

This is a rich and stimulating collection of studies. Taken together they help readers to think more deeply about issues of identity formation in early Christianity.


School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh is there an atheist morality?

Craig Hovey, What Makes Us Moral? Science,

Religion, and the shaping of the moral landscape:

A Christian response to Sam Harris (London;

SPCK, 2012. £9.99, pp. xx + 122. ISBN: 978-0281-06898-2).

There have been many critical responses from

Christian theologians to the tidal wave of opinions coming from the New Atheism. Most take issue with the way that New Atheist authors caricature religious belief in general. This short but helpful book takes a closer look at one issue in particular - morality - and at the views expressed by one particular author - Sam Harris.

The final subtitle of this book, A Christian response to Sam Harris, is exactly what you get. Less a free-ranging exploration of the main title (What makes us moral?), this book provides a thorough critique of the ethical thinking of the prominent New Atheist spokesperson, Sam

Harris, as found in his 2010 book, The Moral

Landscape: How Science Can Determine Moral

Values. According to Hovey, Harris puts forward the idea that reason and science provide us with a universal ethic that requires no input from religious teachings or values. In which case, religion is becoming more and more redundant as a source of answers to life’s ultimate problems. And to this, Hovey quite simply says of Harris, ‘He is wrong’ (p. ix). Much of the rest of the book represents an expansion of this rather blunt assessment.

Hovey begins by comparing Harris’s moral agenda with that of Nietzsche, the ‘old-time’ atheist. Nietzsche is far more challenging to answer than Sam Harris, thinks Hovey. While Nietzsche attacked Christianity from the bottom up, Harris unconsciously bases his account on moral values that Harris thinks come from reason and science, but which actually derive from his Western political, historical and religious heritage. This is why

Harris is ‘disappointingly conventional’ on moral topics (p. xiv). Hovey’s exploration of Harris’s thought throughout the book reinforces this point again and again, and leads to my only real misgiving about the book, namely that Hovey makes Harris out to be such an easy target for criticism that I found myself rather hoping for a return to the more substantial challenge of Nietzsche. Nevertheless, in answering the New Atheism, Hovey explores much of the basis of moral philosophy along the way in an immediate and accessible style.

Hovey’s final chapter, ‘A better (but strange) landscape’, departs from Sam Harris to explore a positive moral view based on the themes of incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection. Although

Harris is seldom mentioned in this chapter, it is probably the most powerful counter to his views, since it develops the strangeness and irrationality of Christian morality as exemplified by Christ, which is more concerned with ‘formation than information, more to do with what we become rather than what we know’ (p. 84). While the rest of the book provides a robust defence of the

Christian moral life, it is this chapter that shows why it is a life worth living.


School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh the unity of the BiBle in the

Promise-Plan of god

Walter C. Kaiser Jr, Recovering the Unity of the

Bible: One Continuous Story, Plan and Purpose at SETON HALL UNIV on March 29, 2015ext.sagepub.comDownloaded from