Alister E. McGrath, in Richard Dawkins, C.S. Lewis, and the Meaning of Life, constructs a pithy look at the titular question through the lenses of two of the most famous (or infamous, depending your leanings) thinkers of the last century.
This short volume features four chapters about, respectively, why meaning matters, reasoned belief, whether there is a God, and what human nature is. C.S. Lewis and Richard Dawkins almost could not be more far afield in their answers to these questions, but McGrath does a good job integrating thoughts of each of them into the text so that readers can understand some of the answers they gave.
What may surprise readers at times is how Dawkins’s views effectively take to extremes some of Lewis’s cautions. For example, Dawkins is highly critical of myth and the notion of letting it control our lives. But Lewis isn’t an ignorant fool simply because he was a Christian. Lewis himself offers cautions regarding the way that myths can lead to stigmatization and false beliefs (13). On another extreme, Dawkins purports to believe that science is proof and effectively nothing else is. But Lewis notes that the very concept of proof is illusive even on some physical questions. Do we need to discount the possibility of any true beliefs simply because we cannot prove them?
What is perhaps most interesting is the very brief synthesis of thought McGrath offers near the end, where he notes that while these thinkers disagree sharply on the meaning of various questions, they agree that there are problems in the way of pursuing human goals and that there are limitations on human nature. For Dawkins, the primary thing in the way, so to speak, is our own genetic and evolutionary past, to which we may be dancing whether we want to or not. For Lewis, the captivity of sin has engulfed us and prevented us from pursuing goals.
Ultimately, McGrath leaves the questions open ended at the close of the book. What he accomplishes in Richard Dawkins, C.S. Lewis, and the eaning of Life is to get readers to consider these deep questions and perhaps how they may relate to each other. He also opens up avenues for further exploration.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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