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Challenging Dawkins and the New Atheism

The likes of Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion, 2006) are both aggressive and eloquent in their scorn for religion of all kinds, but particularly Christianity. More than a few Christians have wobbled in their faith as a result of the strident claims of what has been dubbed the New Atheism. Happily, several competent Christian scientists and writers have produced books challenging Dawkins-type ideas, and this is one of the best. It is: Gunning For God: Why the new atheists are missing the target by John C. Lennox (Lion Hudson, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-7459-5322-9).  

Lennox is a Christian academic, primarily a mathematician, but with a strong interest in the relation between science and religion, which he teaches at Oxford University. He has come out smiling from several widely-publicised debates with atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens—and has enabled many Christians to see that the atheists’ arguments and claims don’t in fact stand up to scrutiny. His book develops some of the key arguments and counter-arguments in a non-technical, readable manner.

But he is not purely negative in his approach. As well as countering the atheists’ arguments, he takes a positive role in presenting detailed evidence for the truth of Christianity on issues like the resurrection, miracles and the atonement. The chapters are:

If you’re a thinking Christian—as we surely all ought to be—this book is one for your reading-list.

The New Atheism is a belief system which, ironically, provides a classic example of the blind faith it so vocally despises in others.  (p15)

The objective of the New Atheists is not simply to complete the process of secularization by banishing God from the universe; but it is to put something in place of God. And it is not simply that society should replace God with something else; it is that science should do so.  (p20)

Stephen Hawking’s inadequate view of God could well be linked with his attitude to philosophy in general. He writes: “Philosophy is dead.” But this itself is a philosophical statement. It is manifestly not a statement of science. Therefore, because it says that philosophy is dead, it contradicts itself. It is a classic example of logical incoherence.  (p31)

We all know how to distinguish between blind faith and evidence-based faith. We are well aware that faith is only justified if there is evidence to back it up.  (p41)

Faith is essential to science. Indeed, even after all their successes, if scientific research is thought to be still worth pursuing, scientists have to believe in the rational intelligibility of the universe as their fundamental article of faith or basic assumption. Scientists are all people of faith, in the sense that they believe that the universe is accessible to the human mind.  (p49)

Michel Onfray’s view seems as patronizing as it is false: “Better the faith that brings peace of mind than the rationality that brings worry—even at the price of perpetual mental infantilism.” It is a classic example of the universalized false antithesis that abounds in New Atheist literature.  (p51)

Atheism undermines the very rationality that is needed to construct or understand or believe in any kind of argument whatsoever—let alone a scientific one. Atheism is ultimately nothing but one great self-contradictory delusion.  (p54)

This rather blatant inconsistency, in expecting non-atheists to discriminate between atheists while the New Atheists themselves resolutely refuse to do the same with religious groups, does nothing to enhance the intellectual credibility of the New Atheist message.  (p61)

Although the New Atheists’ charge against Christendom for its violence may well be justified, their charge is not valid against the teaching of Christ himself. Christendom is not the same as Christianity.  (p64)

The crimes of secular philosophies of the so-called enlightened twentieth century are far greater than the crimes of the Inquisition. It would seem fairly obvious that the New Atheists try to focus attention on the latter to divert it away from the former.  (p70)

The New Atheists say little or nothing about the immense positive contribution that Christianity has made to Western civilization.  (p73)

The irony is that Christianity originally gave the world its universities that educated the New Atheists. It was Christianity that provided the hospitals and hospices that care for them, and that undergirds the freedoms and human rights which allow them to disseminate their ideas.  (p74)

The New Atheists resort to desperate measures in their attempt to draw a line between the atrocities of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, and the atheist philosophy they espoused.  (p85)

In light of his own statements, one wonders by what intellectual contortions Dawkins can persuade himself that his atheism is not a belief system—his faith shines out too clearly.  (p86)

One aspect of human social and moral behaviour that evolutionary theory has always found difficult to account for is altruism.  (p109)

Attempts to ground ethics in biology seem as doomed as the efforts to construct a perpetual motion machine.  (p111)

It is clear that whatever it is that tells you what you ought to do, when your instincts are delivering conflicting advice, cannot itself be an instinct.  (p111)

If there is no eternal base for values external to humanity, how can Dawkins’, Hitchens’, or anyone else’s standards be anything but limited human conventions: ultimately meaningless products of a blind, unguided evolutionary process? Thus, far from delivering an adequate explanation for morality, this particular New-Atheistic acid dissolves it into incoherence.  (p113)

If DNA neither knows nor cares and we dance to its music, how is it that most of us both know and care?  (p116)

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. Their criticism is as meaningless as they say the universe is.  (p117)

According to the Bible, human beings are special: every man and woman is made in the image of God and therefore has infinite value. The importance of this teaching cannot be over-emphasized, since it lies behind and energizes the values that most of us hold to be inviolable—in particular, our Western concepts of the value of each individual human life, of human rights, and of gender equality.  (p120)

If death ends everything then the biblical worldview is false; and, since there is therefore no ultimate justice for anyone, any further discussion of the destruction of the Canaanites (or of anyone else, for that matter) is pointless.  (p138)

Surely a God who is all-powerful could have prevented all this horrendous evil and suffering, simply by creating human beings incapable of doing evil? Well, he could surely have made beings like that. But they would not have been human beings, would they?  (p140)

There are no simplistic answers to the hard questions thrown up by human suffering. The answer that Christianity gives is not a set of propositions or a philosophical analysis of the possibilities—it is, rather, a Person who suffered.  (p144)

Richard Dawkins correctly recognizes that the atonement is the “central doctrine of Christianity”, but he regards it as “vicious, sadomasochistic and repellent”. The sad thing about this reaction is that atheism, by its very definition, has absolutely nothing to offer here. It leaves us in a broken world without a glimmer of ultimate hope. Yet, in spite of the hopelessness of their position, many prominent atheists content themselves with crude, dismissive, and puerile caricatures of the very message that, for centuries, has brought hope, forgiveness, peace of mind and heart, and power for living to multitudes of ordinary men and women.  (p145)

History is littered with disastrous attempts to establish an earthly paradise without facing human sin—and those attempts have usually added immeasurably to the burden of human misery and suffering.  (p146)

The ancient world knew the law of nature as well as we do, that dead bodies do not get up out of graves. Christianity won its way by dint of the sheer weight of evidence that one man had actually risen from the dead.  (p175)

When a miracle takes place, it is the laws of nature that alert us to the fact that it is a miracle. It is important to grasp that Christians do not deny the laws of nature, as Hume implies they do. It is an essential part of the Christian position to believe in the laws of nature as descriptions of those regularities and cause-effect relationships built into the universe by its Creator and according to which it normally operates. If we did not know them, we should never recognize a miracle if we saw one.  (p176)

Even when scientists speak of the uniformity of nature, they do not mean absolute uniformity — especially if they believe in singularities like the Big Bang.  (p182)

I know of no serious attempt by any of the New Atheists to engage with the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  (p187)

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. The silence of the New Atheism on this matter tells its own story.  (p226)

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