“Gunning for God” Review, Part Six

Chapter 6

Chapter 6 discusses the New Atheists’ contention that the Christian doctrine of the Atonement is morally repellent. Here again Lennox points to a failure of scholarship by the New Atheists, because their attack on the doctrine begins from a superficial caricature of it and not from informed study (p. 145). Lennox then spends the rest of the chapter discussing what misunderstandings may have given rise to the caricature, and defending the doctrine.

Chapter 7

When they contend that miracles are impossible, Dawkins and Hitchens approvingly cite the argument put forward by David Hume in the 18th Century – see, e.g., (Dawkins, 2006, pp. 116-117) and (Hitchens, 2008, p. 148). Hume had said, “A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience as can be imagined.” However, as Lennox shows and cites philosophers Alfred North Whitehead, Anthony Flew and John Earman in support, Hume’s argument is unsound.

Of course, not all sceptics cite Hume in their arguments against the reality of miracles, so Lennox also considers alternative arguments and shows they are equally fallacious. The case is too complex to summarise easily in this review, as is also the case against Hume’s argument, but it is easy enough to follow in the space given it inf “Gunning for God”.

Lennox concludes the chapter by quoting and affirming something said by C S Lewis, “If Naturalism is true we have no reason to trust our conviction that Nature is uniform. It can be trusted only if quite a different metaphysic is true.” He then adds to it his own words, “[I]f one admits the existence of a Creator in order to account for the uniformity of nature, the door is inevitably open for that same Creator to intervene in the course of nature” (Lennox, 2011, p. 182).


“Gunning for God” Review, Part Five

Chapter 5, “Is God a Despot?” considers the hatchet-job which the New Atheists attempt on the Christian religion in particular.

Early in the chapter, Lennox gives further telling examples of Dawkins’ abandonment of proper academic procedure. Firstly, he counterpoises a statement from Dawkins, “No one takes their morality from the Bible” against one from the atheist intellectual Jürgen Habermas, “Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it” – cited in (Lennox, 2011, p. 117).

Is Jürgen Habermas a “no one”? It seems that Dawkins dismisses anyone who has an opinion contrary to his own as a “nobody”. This is not a good advertisement for his academic integrity. Nor is it if he has simply never heard of Habermas – a sweeping statement like “No one takes their morality from the Bible” needs to be supported by a rigorous survey of pertinent sources if it is to have academic validity.

In the second example, Lennox considers Dawkins’s argument that Leviticus 19:18, “You …shall love your neighbour as yourself,” was simply a command for Jews to love other Jews. In support, Dawkins – who is not a Bible scholar – cites another man, John Hartung, who is not a Bible scholar either but a doctor of medicine, an anaesthetist. If either man had taken the time to read to the end of Leviticus 19 or had consulted an expert scholar, they would have discovered they were wrong, because verse 33 says, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself.” (Lennox, 2011, p. 118).

Lennox comments, “There is no doubt that moral questions do arise in connection with the Bible that need to be addressed; but it will not help us in the least if that analysis is based on unscholarly, ill-informed, and incorrect views of what the Bible actually has to say” (p. 119). In the remainder of the chapter, he discusses some of those moral questions and suggests answers.

“Gunning for God” Review, Part Four

Chapter 4 argues against the contention that definitive grounds for a system of morality can be found even if God does not exist. Philosopher David Hume pointed out in the 18th Century that you cannot draw a moral conclusion (an “ought”) from factual statements about what is. To do so is to commit a logical fallacy, a category error.

Theists like Dostoievski (“If God does not exist, then everything is permissible”) know that Hume was right, and many atheists like Jean Paul Sartre and Jacques Monod have resigned themselves to the truth of what Hume said. However, that has not stopped other atheists from trying to find some sleight that will evade the force of Hume’s original insight. Even Hume himself tried!

Lennox therefore addresses arguments that have been put forward by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Michael Ruse and E.O. Wilson and others, and shows that in each case their arguments depend on an unacknowledged non-scientific premise and/or a contradiction of other propositions they have also asserted.

Lennox is able to conclude rightly that “the invective of the New Atheists against the morality of the Bible is invalid, since their atheism gives them no intellectual base for moral evaluation of any sort.” (p. 117).

“Gunning for God” Review, Part Three

Chapter 2 and chapter 3 have a kind of symmetry, with chapter 2 asking, “Is religion poisonous?” and chapter 3 asking, “Is atheism poisonous?”  Lennox shows in chapter 2  that when mounting their case against religion, “the New Atheists undermine their own case… by lumping all religions together indiscriminately, as if all religions were equally guilty of the charge of fomenting dangerous behavior” (p. 60). Then Lennox shows in chapter 3 that they are equally unobjective and unscholarly in the way they dismiss as irrelevant all the atrocities carried out by atheistic regimes on the 20th Century.

It is not just Christian commentators like Lennox who find fault with the New Atheists’ scholarship regarding religion and religious history. I have already mentioned the opinion of David Sloan Wilson, but there are others, too.

  • Lennox notes that Britain’s Prospect magazine described Dawkins’ book The God Delusion as “incautious, dogmatic, rambling and self-contradictory” – this even though the magazine had earlier voted Dawkins a world-class intellectual (p. 60).
  • Even Sam Harris, who is ordinarily included as one of the New Atheists, dissents from the group on this point, writing, “Christians often complain that atheists and the secular world generally balance every criticism of Muslim extremism with a mention of Christian extremism… Our Christian neighbours, even the craziest of them, are right to be outraged by this pretence of even handedness, because the truth is that Islam is quite a bit scarier and more culpable for needless human misery, than Christianity has been for a very, very long time” and (earlier) “There are very few of us who lie awake at night worrying about the Amish” – cited in (Lennox, 2011, p. 60).

Some non-Christian commentators have also contradicted the New Atheists’ position regarding the relationship between atheism and atrocities.

  • Peter Singer and Marc Hauser have written, “…the conclusion is clear: neither religion nor atheism has a monopoly on the use of criminal violence” – cited in (Lennox, 2011, p. 91).
  • John Gray, “not an obvious friend of theism”, writes, “The role of the Enlightenment in twentieth-century terror remains a blind spot in western perception” – cited in (Lennox, 2011, p. 92).

If Hitchens and Dawkins had studied the available sources and scholarly works with academic impartiality, this is some of the evidence regarding Christianity that they ought to have considered, but did not:

  • The New Testament itself would have shown them that “Christendom is not the same as Christianity, “ and “Christendom’s violence was not Christian, for the simple reason that it was diametrically opposed to what Christ himself taught” (Lennox, 2011, p. 63).
  • Tolerance and Violence, a comprehensive work by German historian Arnold Angenendt could have shown the New Atheists that they have not only got Christ’s teaching wrong, but they are also guilty of misrepresenting the subsequent history of Christendom (Lennox, 2011, p. 68).
  • Studies like those carried out by David Sloan Wilson and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Lennox, 2011, p. 74) and also by the American Journal of Public Health show, on the basis of huge volumes of data, the “advantageous effect of religious belief and spirituality on mental and physical health” (Lennox, 2011, pp. 76-77).

Lennox concludes chapter 2 by aptly quoting Noam Chomsky: “I think the sharpest turn away from reason is among the educated intellectuals who advocate reason and blame others for turning away from it. If we can’t even reach the level of applying to ourselves rational standards of the kind that we apply to others, our commitment to reason is very thin” (Lennox, 2011, p. 62) and in his conclusion to chapter 3 Lennox says, “The New Atheists do their best to show that violence, cruelty, and war lie at the heart of Christianity, but have nothing whatsoever to do with atheism…. [But] investigation of the teaching of Christ and the teaching of the aforementioned anti-religious ideologies of the twentieth century shows the exact opposite to be the case” (p. 93).

“Gunning for God” Review, Part Two

My previous post gave an overview of “Gunning for God.” Now, some highlights from Chapter 1, “Are God And Faith Enemies Of Reason And Science?”

In this chapter, Lennox shows that when the New Atheists are discussing faith, they do not go to the standard reference works and use the definitions found there. If they had, that would have to acknowledge that belief and faith are cognate ideas and that both – in the standard definitions – are evidence-based. Instead, they use an idiosyncratic definition by which they “define as faith what most people would think of as blind faith” (p. 55).

Lennox shows to the contrary that, when one begins from the standard definitions of faith and belief, Christian theism and modern science are alike evidence-based belief systems, and he brings to light some of the fallacies that Hawking, et al, perpetrate as they seek to make the real world conform to their false definition. Examples include:

  • Logical incoherence from Hawking (pp. 31-32) and from Hitchens (p. 42)
  • An important category error (p. 32)
  • Hawking wrongly sees the monotheists’ God as merely a “God of the Gaps” posited to explain those things that science cannot yet explain and he believes that the theory of creation and consequent illusion of design he has put forward plugs the final gaps and so does away with God. However, ‘the very theories he advances to banish the God of the Gaps are themselves highly speculative and untestable’ (p. 35) (emphasis mine). Lennox cites physicist Paul Davies concerning Hawking’s M-theory: “It is not testable, not even in any foreseeable future”. Physicists Frank Close and Jon Butterworth express similar opinions (p. 37). Hawking has replaced the “God of the Gaps” with a scientifically untestable theory – hardly a coup de gras against theism!
  • Begging the question – that is, taking as a premise the very thing that the argument is supposed to prove (p. 48). Here, Lennox refers specifically to an article by A.C. Grayling, but the same fault could be found in any of the New Atheists when they use their own idiosyncratic definition of faith to argue against theism.

The irony of their illogic is that “the New Atheists’ view of the origin of the human cognitive faculty gives them no ground for the faith in science that they cannot do without. Indeed, their reduction of human thought to neurophysiology is ultimately nihilistic and destroys the possibility of truth, thus undermining the validity of all arguments including those of the New Atheists” (p. 56)

“Gunning for God” Review, Part One

Who could see “The Theory of Everything” and not appreciate Stephen Hawking’s resolute courage? Nor could anyone with the slightest insight into his scientific achievements fail to admire his genius. Nevertheless, as John Lennox painstakingly shows in “Gunning for God” (Lennox, 2011), Hawking and fellow-atheists Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Michael Onfray, et al, abandon objectivity and academic rigour  and are guilty of repeated logical fallacies and failures of scholarship in their writings against theism.

Many people have been swayed in the direction of atheism because of the great prestige of Hawking and Dawkins. However, there is a logical fallacy that is known as the “appeal to authority”. It happens when someone who is a recognised expert in one field of knowledge makes a pronouncement in an area of knowledge in which he or she is not an expert, and people accept the pronouncement uncritically because of the speaker’s fame. Hawking is an expert in cosmology and theoretical physics, and Dawkins is an expert in evolutionary biology and animal behaviour, but when they write their attacks on religion they are venturing into fields of philosophy and ethics that are outside their special expertise. They therefore are likely to make mistakes in what they say, and anyone who relies on their opinion is in danger of falling into the “appeal to authority” fallacy.

We should recognise, though, that it is possible in principle for someone to write accurately about a field that is outside his or her personal expertise. To do so, they need to research the work of people who are known authorities in that field and back up their own writings with frequent, footnoted references to the works of those experts. They must also make themselves familiar with any disagreements between the experts and acknowledge those differences when they write. They must not simply quote the experts whose opinions they most like and ignore the rest.  Hawking and Dawkins have the intellects and the academic training that ought to have enabled them to do exactly that, but “Gunning for God” makes it plain that they did not  and so, in their anti-theistic works, they have produced compendia of nonsense,

It is not just Christian writers who have come to that kind of conclusion. Lennox quotes biologist David Sloan Wilson, an atheist: “When Dawkins’ The God Delusion was published I naturally assumed that he was basing his critique of religion on the scientific study of religion from an evolutionary perspective. I regret to report otherwise. He has not done any original work on the subject and he has not fairly represented the work of his colleagues” and “he is just another angry atheist, trading on his reputation as an evolutionist and spokesperson for science to vent his personal opinions about religion.” (Wilson, 2007), cited in (Lennox, 2011, p. 73 & 75).

Lennox’s writing is easy and enjoyable to read. I hope you will read “Gunning for God” for yourself to get Lennox’s full, carefully footnoted case against the New Atheists (as he calls them).

In future posts I will also note some of his main findings, chapter by chapter.

Lennox, J. (2011). Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target. Oxford: Lion Books.

Wilson, D. S. (2007, July 4). Beyond Demonic Memes: Why Richard Dawkins is Wrong about Religion. eSkeptic.