“Gunning for God” Review, Part Eight

Chapter 9 of “Gunning for God” contains Lennox’s final reflections on the material he has been discussing.

According to the Bible, God reveals his existence to all people in two ways – through the created world and through our moral conscience. For those who have access to the scriptures, a third way is added, namely, the revelation of God which they contain.

The New Atheists lock the doors irrationally against the first. “They openly confess that they are not prepared even to listen to arguments that go outside the bounds of their naturalism. Of course it is honest of them to say that they have decided to imprison themselves inside the small world of their naturalistic castle. But whether that attitude is reasonable, or whether there is a world outside that they have put beyond their own reach, is of course quite a different matter” (Lennox, 2011, p. 229).

As cited by Lennox, Oxford philosopher J. L. Mackie, an atheist, admitted: “If there are objective values [of morality], they make the existence of a god more probable than it would have been without them. Thus we have a defensible argument from morality to the existence of a god.” (Lennox, 2011, p. 229). The New Atheists fail in the attempt to find a naturalistic ground for morality, but remain irrationally resolute against finding it in God.

Lennox does not discuss any further here the New Atheists’ rejection of Biblical testimony, but it is obvious from the previous chapter that they lock the door against this possibility, too. They do so by their question-begging refusal to accept as a reputable authority anyone who does not share their own naturalistic presupposition.

Lennox’s closing words are these” “Atheism has no answer to death, no ultimate hope to give. It is an empty and sterile worldview, which leaves us in a closed universe that will ultimately incinerate any last trace that we ever existed. It is, quite literally, a hope-less philosophy. Its story ends in the grave. But the resurrection of Jesus opens the door on a bigger story. It is for each one of us to decide whether it is the true one or not” (p. 231).

“Gunning for God” Review, Part Seven

Having discussed and shown the weakness of arguments against miracles in general, Lennox turns in chapter 8 to arguments against the reported resurrection of Jesus.

He quotes Richard Dawkins, “Accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension are about as well documented as Jack in the Beanstalk”, and Christopher Hitchens who speaks of, “the highly questionable existence of Jesus”, and criticises them for seemingly not  having consulted any reputable ancient historian.

The quotation from Hitchens comes from page 114 of “God is not Great“, and indeed Hitchens does not seem to cite any specific authority for his statement, simply asserting on the next page “The contradictions and illiteracies of the New Testament have filled up many books by eminent scholars, and have never been explained by any Christian authority except in the feeblest terms…” (Hitchens, 2008, p. 115). To anyone immersed in the field of Biblical scholarship, that is laughably untrue.

Dawkins, though, seems to be relying on the work of Professor G.A. Wells, and Lennox is too peremptory, I think, in dismissing Wells just because he “is an Emeritus Professor of German”, writing out of his field of primary expertise. I think that Wells made a reasonably scholarly attempt in his discussions of the historicity of Jesus, even though in the end his reasoning is faulty and his conclusions cannot be sustained. Dawkins should indeed have read more widely, though, for Lennox goes on to cite several reputable authorities who have a very different opinion than Wells, Dawkins and Hitchens – Ed Sanders of Duke University, Christopher Tuckett of the University of Oxford, and Gerd Thiessen, a leading German New Testament historian. And, of course, he could have listed dozens of others.

Hitchens and Dawkins are equally remiss in the “authorities” to whom they turn to support their view that the Bible is unreliable. Hitchens cites satirist H. L. Mencken (Hitchens, 2008, p. 110), and Dawkins cites Bart Ehrman, Robin Lane Fox and Jacques Berlinerblau and then asserts, “…reputable biblical scholars do not in general regard the New Testament … as a reliable record of what actually happened in history” (Dawkins, 2006, pp. 121-122). They are inevitably guilty of begging the question by designating as “reputable” only those authorities whose work is shaped by the same naturalistic presuppositions as their own.

Over against the circularity of those authorities, Lennox summarises the very great evidence that the Biblical texts are highly reliable, and cites in support the opinions of Sir Frederic Kenyon (a leading authority on ancient manuscripts) and Bruce Metzger, Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary (Lennox, 2011, pp. 190-194). And, again, he could have listed dozens of others.

Lennox completes the chapter by discussing the evidence for the historical reliability of the evidence for the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, and ends with this paragraph:

“The reader will note that there have been relatively few references to the New Atheists in this section on the resurrection. There is a simple reason for that. For all their vaunted interest in evidence, there is nothing in their writings to show that they have seriously interacted with the arguments, many of them very well known, that we have presented here” (Lennox, 2011, p. 223).

“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)