Reflections on Earlier Readings: Lennox*

Now that the holidays are upon us and there is some time for reflection. I will take this opportunity to blog about some of the fine books I have read the last half a year or so. There are four books in particular that I enjoyed immensly:

  • Robert Coleman’s “The Mind of Christ”
  • Stephen Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell, DNA Evidence for Intelligent Design”
  • Ajith Fernando’s “The Call to Joy and Pain”
  • John Lennox’s “Gunning for God, Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target” 

I will start with Lennox since his book is freshest in my memory. He’s also one of my favorites. He will be a real treat to hear when he comes to Xenos Summer Institute in the Summer! (Although of all the books I read last year, Fernando’s is the one I recommend most).

John Lennox is a professor of Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at University of Oxford. He’s famous for debating Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens in the past few years on various topics related to Christianity and Atheism (which are well worth a listen). The impetus for this book is  to elaborate on many of the arguments made and argued against in some of those debates. He specifically addresses the attacks on Christianity made by the “four horsemen” of atheism: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Danniel Dennet, and Sam Harris as well as others — including Stephen Hawking who has recently claimed there is no room for God in his new book “The Grand Design” coauthored by Leonard Mlodinow (p. 6).

The best thing about reading a John Lennox book (see earlier blogs on Lennox’s “God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God”), is that it is just a very enjoyable read. Lennox presents his arguments in a very understandable and humble way. He is also quite humorous. Two things particularly stuck out to me in reading this book: (1) Lennox makes clear the lack of evidence for atheistic arguments against the existence of God — which really amounts to hypocrisy on their part since they are about evidence and (2) the silence of the atheists when presented with the evidence for Christianity (even thought they clamor for evidence). The former point has been made by many apologists over the years; however, Lennox presents us an updated version as well as critiques of the New Atheists from many other atheists (old atheists?) who expose the futility of the New Atheist’s claims.  The latter point I though was most stimulating. He was not arrogant or demeaning, but he called for the New Atheists to actually address the evidence concerning morality, their skewed sense of history, the actual person and teaching of Jesus (as opposed to the straw man of “religion”), and His death and resurrection. It showed me that when talking to people about this that we do have solid ground to stand on and we should not shrink back — yet with humility and the hope that some will actually listen — i.e., 1 Peter 3:15. 

The first part of the book I found most enlightening. Lennox addresses the issues of faith and reason and the New Atheists claims that religion is a poison. For part of this, Lennox draws from many secular sources to repudiate the claim that Christianity is a poison. I was particularly struck by Lennox’s quote from atheist journalist Matthew Harris (The Times, 27 December 2008):

“Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts… In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts… The rebirth is real. The change is good… Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.”

Lennox turns the tables somewhat and asks the question, “Is Atheism poisonous?” One of the aspects of this book that I found most fascinating was the viewpoint of people from Eastern Block former-Communist countries (where I believe Lennox has spent a great deal of time). The viewpoint from these folks is yes, Atheism is poisonous! Communists thought they could get rid of god and retain value for human beings … but they were wrong. As one of Lennox’s Polish friends says:

“Dawkins has lost contact with the realities of twentieth-century history. Let him come here and talk to us, if he is really open to listening to evidence of the link between atheism and atrocity. (p. 82)”

I think the quote from David Berlinski sums it up well:

“And as far as we can tell, a very few of those carrying out the horrors of the twentieth century worried overmuch that God was watching what they were doing either. That is after all, the meaning of a secular society.” (p. 85)

But Dawkins go so far as to say that he doesn’t believer there is an “atheist in the world who would bulldoze Mecca — or Chartres, York Minster or Notre Dame” (p. 85). But Lennox aptly quotes Professor Richard Schroder from Berlin:

“Cathedrals are too high for bulldozers. In the Soviet Union under Stalin and in the German Democratic Republic under Ulbricht they used explosives instead”

The next part of the book turns more specifically to morality: “Can we be good without God?, Is the God of the Bible a Despot?, Is the Atonement Morally Repellent?” being the titles of the middle chapters of the book.  The discussion first centers around whether or not there is any foundation or rationale for morality in Atheism. Whether it’s Sam Harris’ view that science can determine human values, E.O. Wilson’s view that “morality” is an evolutionary adaptation, or Dawkins view that we can rebel against our selfish genes one is left with not very satisfying arguments. What about Social Darwinism and the superiority of the white race? What about eugenics? Why do we all know that it is wrong to take advantage of those less fortunate than us? As Lennox states:

“… the New Atheists do not appear to have taken on board the fact that their atheism removes from them not only their liberal values, but also any moral values whatsoever. Consequently, all of the New Atheists’ moral criticisms of God and religion are invalid not so much because they are wrong but because they are meaningless.” (pg. 110)

Next Lennox addresses the accusations against the God of the Bible. I particularly liked his discussion of the Caananite invasion in Joshua (pp. 119ff). He makes an excellent point: “the Bible does not seem to be embarrassed in juxtaposing a discussion of the lofty morality of “love your neighbor as yourself” with the comand to invade the Cannaanites, even though this action seems to conflict with the Bible’s own understanding of justice” because “the action taken … was morally  justifiable”.  He then goes through the Scripture and points out that:

  1. The action is exceptional to the Bible
  2. The action is regarded as a judgment of God on the evils of the nations
  3. God was patient for several centuries
  4. It was not based on a sense of national moral superiority
  5. The nation Israel was not to regard itself as God’s favorite who could do no wrong

But to Dawkins (and Nietzsche as Lennox shows), there is no such thing as justice with atheism.  But as Lennox points out “atheism has not got rid of the suffering and the evil… Moreover, atheism’s “solution” to the problem of evil has got rid of something else — hope… Human conscience and desire for justice are not a delusion. It is the atheism that denies ultimate justice that is the delusion.” (pg. 130).

This naturally leads to the Cross. Is there an afterlife?  Because if there is, justice makes sense and so does why Jesus had to rise from the dead. Atheists ignore this because they assume miracles do not exist (David Hume) and there is a lack of evidence (Bertrand Russell). But before Lennox addresses the evidence he continues with the moral theme as it pertains to the Atonement which Dawkins regards as “vicious, sadomasochistic and repellent” (p. 137). Lennox points out that the problem here is with sin. Atheists have no category for sin and it threatens their naturalistic worldview. However, as the Bible portrays, sin is like a cancer — a real problem and not just some “morbid preoccupation” (p. 138). Christianity also offers a real diagnosis and solution — neither of which are offered by Atheism. Atheists mock doctrines like the atonement and original sin but really cannot provide a better explanation for the depravity in the world — or really any explanation. In addition the Scriptures they mock they distort, misread or take out of context that I think someone having taken Basic Christianity could easily refute. The issue really comes down to understanding what true forgiveness entails and the mystery embedded in the hypostatic union: that the God of the universe had to become a man and die in order to pay for all of our sins.

Perhaps this discussion of atonement, original sin, and the need for forgiveness is best reflected in the response of G.K. Chesterton when he answered the question what was wrong with the world in the London Times (p. 140):

Dear Sir,

I am.

Yours faithfully,

G.K. Chesteron

The last section of the book focuses on miracles in general and the resurrection in particular. I will spend the least time here because this has been covered by many and this is getting to be  a long blog. However, Lennox points out Hume’s inconsistent reasoning against miracles and that he essentially assumes what he wants to prove, i.e., circular (p. 166). Hume’s arguments against miracles is simply a belief from his worldview (that the natural is all there is) and not a consequence of scientific investigation (p. 172).  In fact the uniformity of nature itself is baseless without a creator God!

The chapter on the Resurrection is excellent. It is most interesting to see the appeal of the New Atheists back to Bertrand Russell’s response when asked by God as to why he didn’t believe in the death and resurrection of Christ: “Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence” (p. 174). Lennox shows that Russell, nor the New Atheists, really engage the substantial body of evidence that exists supporting Christianity. I appreciate Lennox’s frustration:

“It is very difficult to know how to proceed with people who, on the one hand, insist that we examine the evidence they claim in support for their views and who then, on the other hand, clamour loudly for our evidence, and peremptorily dismiss what we offer to them.” (p. 177)

Lennox then goes through much of the lines of evidence for the resurrection starting with the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts. He then considers the cumulative evidence of the four issues surrounding the resurrection: (1) the death of Jesus, (2) the burial of Jesus, (3) the empty tomb, and (4) the eyewitnesses (p. 184). He presents considerable evidence from Christian as well as non-Christian sources as to the validity of these historical events which prove the resurrection of Christ as best anyone can prove anything given what is known. This is well worth the read and so much information is given here and sources to do deeper study that you will have to, and you should go through it yourself. I think the final sentence of this section is illuminating:

“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. The silence of the New Atheism on this matter tells its own story”. (p. 209)

In the concluding chapter, Lennox critiques Dawkins Dedication at the beginning of The God Delusion where he cites a quote from Douglas Adams The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

“Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”

But Lennox finds it “incomprehensible and rather sad that he presents us with such an obviously false set of alternatives: the garden on its own, or the garden plus fairies. Real gardens do not produce themselves: they have gardeners and owners. Similarly with the universe: it did not generate itself. It has a creator — and an owner.” (p. 214)

“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. 215).

Amen.

* Gunning for God, Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target – John Lennox, (Lion Hudson plc, Oxford, England: 2011)

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