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.