Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Book Notes: Gunning for God, Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target by John C. Lennox

Gunning for God is John Lennox' reply to the critique of religion in general and Christianity in particular which has been so loudly and trenchantly offered by writers such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and the late Christopher Hitchens. In chapter after chapter, analysing different aspects of their work, he finds their arguments flawed, their understanding of Christian belief skewed, and their use of evidence faulty. Lennox' most significant claim, however is that the New Atheists fail to live up to their own much-vaunted standards of objective enquiry, when it comes to matters of faith. Because they are led by a mistrust of religion which has spilled over into distaste and then blind-hatred, the New Atheist literature if filled with misquotations, misrepresentations and unsupported assertions, which Lennox exposes and dismantled with some relish.

For his part, John Lennox is a Professor of Mathematics at The University of Oxford, sometime lecturer in the Philosophy of Science, and someone who has publicly debated these issues with Dawkins and Hitchens. He also writes from distinctly Christian convictions - and wishes the reader to know why (contrary to the New Atheist assertions to the contrary) these form part of a seamless worldview with his science - and not in contrast or contradiction to it. This is where the book begins, but soon moves forward to consider things such as Hitchens' 'religion poisons everything' argument. Lennox ably demonstrates the historical silliness of this argument - and counters with the record of atheism, both in government and in the "wildly intemperate" statements about curtailing the freedom of belief and conscience that atheist writers such as a Sam Harris have made.

The latter half of the book focuses more on the Christian faith in particular, and deals in detail with some of the critiques of Christian theology which have been raised, such as the morality of the Bible and the doctrine of the Atonement (: Jesus died in our place to reconcile us to God). Here Lennox finds countless examples of (wilful?) misunderstanding of what Christians believe, and the construction and subsequent demolition of paper-tigers instead of careful argument, especially in the works of Dawkins, which he lambasts. Finally the book ends with a defence of the historically credibility of the central Christian claim that miracles occurred in Christ's life (engaging with Hume's argument), culminating in his resurrection from the dead.

This remarkably combative book pulls no punches, and demonstrates many of the flaws in the writings of Dawkins and co. concisely and aggressively. While no doubt Lennox would listen attentively if Dawkins were to be lecturing in his area of biological research, it soon becomes apparent that he takes a very dim view of Dawkins ability to comment meaningfully in the areas of philosophy or theology. 

Gunning for God, makes a strong contribution to this debate which has dominated so much public discourse about faith over the last decade. No doubt believers will be heartened by this book, and followers of Dawkins et al, very irritated by it. I hope that it gets widely read, and that people who have only read the New Atheist view of the world, will be prepared to engage with it, and that at the very least they will adjust their critique of faith, and tone down their invective in response.

Yet again, however we have a book from a Christian publisher without a proper index. While the endnotes are very full and detailed, a work of non-fiction should be properly indexed. If the publisher hopes that a work of apologetics like this is to be used in assisting in further discussion, then making the contents readily accessible through an index should be standard practice. 


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