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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 12 April 2015
Lennox is an Oxford Mathematician and a Christian. He has a style of writing that I enjoyed and I can thoroughly recommend this book. The book is essentially in two halves, I should say sections as the split is more like 2/3 and 1/3. The first is a deconstruction of New Atheism and draws on both the published works of the likes of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens; and, also on public debates between the author and Dawkins and, separately, Hitchens. The deconstruction is essentially a “glass houses” argument and as an atheist I agreed with much of Lennox’s analysis. The second half of the book concentrates on miracles and the resurrection of Jesus. I found the chapter “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” the most interesting and thought-provoking, despite it being largely Christian orthodoxy.

Before a more detailed review I should make it clear that whilst I’m an atheist I am no fan of New Atheism. I have read Dawkin’s “God Delusion” and Harris’ “Letter to a Christian Nation” and found them vulgar and derivative. Lennox makes several references to a symposium called “Beyond Belief: Science, Reason, Religion & Survival” organised by The Science Network in 2006. This was essentially a New Atheist “love-in”. All the lectures are available on line and in amongst the diatribe there are some more considered discussions. There was actually a second symposium “Beyond Belief: Candles in the Dark” in 2008 which is much more balanced and has more scientific rigour. In total, there is five days’ worth of lectures. It has been some time since I listened to them but I did make my way through them all. This is a lengthy review and I have tended to focus on the touch-points for me as an atheist. This not so as to misrepresent the book; but, to highlight the areas where I either agreed or disagreed with Lennox. I recommend this book to other atheists.

Anyway, back to Lennox’s book. I found the first section to be very much a “tit-for-tat” with lots of quotes from the high priests of New Atheism followed by Lennox’s critique. This does lead to some degree of repetition but I didn’t find this to be too annoying. However, the nature of this type of approach is that the arguments tend to be partial and I was surprised by a number of omissions. For example, the discussion on morality omits Kant’s categorical imperative. However, Lennox makes a number of charges stick, not least that New Atheism argues against its own caricature of religion and not the true nature of religion. More significant is the charge that New Atheism fails to apply its own scientific approach to its analysis of religion. I have to say I did find some real substance in Lennox’s arguments and as a mathematician myself I was drawn to Lennox’s logical style. I enjoyed some of the semantic arguments.

Lennox’s argument is initially semantic and he makes several references the Oxford English Dictionary for the definitions of faith, belief, delusion etc. It could be argued that this is “point-scoring” and that popularised discourse by its nature uses imprecise language. However, I think Lennox makes a serious charge. Scientists that in their own field have rigorously defined taxonomies and ontologies should apply the same rigour to their New Atheism and they don’t. Although Lennox, too, is not always rigorous with his language. As a mathematician he will know of Frege’s work on quantification and know that the statements “God does not exist” and “There is no God” are not equivalent. Nevertheless, the hub of Lennox’s argument is that atheism is itself an expression of faith – faith in the scientific method, faith in the regularity of the universe, faith that that regularity will continue indefinitely so that everything in the universe is explainable by science. All I can say is “absolutely correct” – I agree entirely with Lennox’s analysis, atheism is a belief system.

Lennox’s next charge is that New Atheism is, in its own right, a form of extremism that fails many of its own tests. Again, I can only agree with Lennox. Lennox asserts that there is a clear line of sight from the Enlightenment to the atrocities of the 20th century via the works of Nietzsche, Marx et al. Further, New Atheism is wilfully ignorant of the intellectual atheism underpinning the atrocities of Stalin, Hitler and Mao. Lennox cites many quotes from New Atheists about the eradication of religion that are as extreme as those professed by despots. But here is the interesting thing. Lennox accepts the atrocities of “Christendom” but makes the clear statement that those atrocities may have been in the name of Christ but were in no way an expression of the message of Christ. Religious extremists pervert and distort the true nature of their religion. By Lennox’s own analysis New Atheists are extremists and so we should allow that they are perverting and distorting the true nature of atheism. Of course, the difficulty here is that the “true” nature of religion is contained in its Torah, Bible, Koran etc. But what is the true nature of atheism? On what grounds can we say that New Atheists are extremists but other moderate forms of atheism are not? I do find the “bad people do bad things” defence of Stalin etc. to be too simplistic. However, I also think it is too simplistic to argue that atheism leads inexorably to totalitarianism.

Lennox next considers how morals can be derived in an atheistic framework. He makes much of Hume’s “you can’t get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’”; and, since science deals with the ‘is’, any attempts to derive an ‘ought’ will always fail. Similarly, attempts to explain morality in evolutionary terms are also flawed – citing our compassion for “the handicapped, the weak, the ill and the aged” as contrary to the evolutionary imperative to secure the survival of the strongest of the species. Whilst agreeing with much of Lennox’s analysis I did find that the argument from compassion asserts an a priori determinism that is inconsistent with the a posterior operation of survival of the fittest. Through-out the book, Lennox makes much of the fact that New Atheists fail their own test – but morality derived from God is also problematic at the genetic level. The Bible may tell us what is right from wrong but where does the drive to obedience come from? Is it inherited either genetically or via social convention? Lennox likes to invert New Atheism in on itself and the resulting arguments become somewhat semantic. Here, Lennox argues that since New Atheism is unable to provide either an absolute or relativistic moral framework it is impossible, on either analytical or synthetic grounds, for it make any meaningful criticism of religious morality. Essentially, in the absence of a moral framework the statement “religion is bad” has no meaning. This is a valid logician’s argument but this is a zero sum game – Kant has shown that there are no ontological proofs of God’s existence either.

Lennox then considers the atheist caricature of the Old Testament God as a despot and uses the Canaanite invasion and God’s direction to commit genocide as an example. Lennox makes a semantic argument that the command to kill ‘all’ Canaanites doesn’t actually mean “all”. But the main thrust of the argument is that this demonstrates that the God of love is also a God of justice and that God was both punishing in the Canaanites for centuries of decadence and setting an example for future generations of Israelites. I have never really agreed with the New Atheist deconstruction of Biblical events. If there is no God, the Bible is a revisionist account of historic and/or mythic events. I cite Karen Armstrong here who has written a number of well-balanced books on a range of religions. I take her view that the Bible represents a tradition of thought over a number of centuries and that therefore arguments and understanding are developed and refined. What I found more interesting in this chapter is Lennox’s analysis of justice in an atheist world. The quotes the nihilism of Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky’s “If God does not exist, everything is permissible”. He also quotes Dawkins’ assertion that the universe is governed by impersonal laws that do not discern good and evil and hence provide no justice. However, Lennox does make a leap from a cold unfeeling universe to cold unfeeling humankind. He does entangle moral wrong doing (sin) with law-breaking. Given that western legal systems are inextricably linked with Judaeo Christian ethics then the entanglement is understandable. However, Lennox does seem to envisage an atheist society as one without even basic laws.

Lennox is much concerned with the fact that injustices in the mundane atheist world will not be rectified in a Final Judgement. His central thesis is that there will be final justice for everyone. The idea that injustices will not be rectified seems abhorrent to him. Of course the Final Judgement is an article of faith and, to my mind, does not offer any compelling argument against the unfairness of our mundane existence. Nevertheless, he does present a readable account. If I can indulge in caricature for a moment, Lennox does present a sort of “cosmic conservation law” in which for every sin there must be accompanying forgiveness. If as a result of Original Sin our individual sin does not die when we die, what happens to all the accumulated sin when humankind returns to its pre-Fallen, sinless, state? Humankind is unable to satisfy this law though its forgiveness alone – because we have committed too many sins. Hence, Jesus’ role in taking on the sins of humankind and removing sin from the world. What struck me was not the message but Lennox’s logical approach. Given the axioms (The Fall, Original Sin, Redemption) the argument is logically compelling. As an atheist I, of course, reject the axioms.

Lennox next considers miracles and seeks to deconstruct the observations of David Hume. I am no Hume scholar, but I did think that Lennox confused analytic (a priori) with synthetic (a posteriori) statements. For example, Lennox uses the example of smoking causing cancer to counter Hume’s assertion that events are connected rather than causally linked. The statement “smoking causes cancer” is clearly a synthetic/empirical statement as it expresses a conditional truth. The necessary, a priori, statement is “smoking always causes cancer” which is demonstrably false. Lennox also confuses the uniformity of the laws of nature with the uniformity of experience. It is well known that even simple non-linear systems can admit chaotic solutions. Lennox quotes C.S. Lewis a number of times and indulges in Lewis’ predilection for analogy. The problem with arguments from analogy is that they are always flawed at some level – they are earthbound examples (e.g. a thief stealing money from a drawer) that do not require a supernatural explanation and, hence, are fundamentally unconvincing as arguments for the supernatural. Lennox is highly critical of Hume but I found Lennox’s argument that we need the laws of nature to know that a miracle has happened to be essentially a restatement of Hume that there must be uniform experience to the contrary for a miracle to be a miracle.

Lennox does appear to make an uncharacteristically poor reading of Hume’s miracle maxim. Briefly this states that we should only believe a miracle if the likelihood of the miracle being true is greater than the likelihood that the testimony is false. This has actually spawned a large number of academic papers and attempts to prove the statement using probability theory. Anyway, Hume refers to the “greater miracle” meaning either the miracle or the testimony. But Lennox interprets this as a separate “bigger miracle” that is needed to explain the first miracle. This seemed an odd error in an otherwise balanced book – maybe I have misunderstood Lennox, but I did read the paragraph several times. Lennox also makes the common mistake of comparing miracles with sudden new scientific discoveries or theories that completely break the prevailing orthodoxy. For example, before Einstein it was believed that light travelled through ether and respectable scientists (e.g. Michelson and Morley) were performing experiments that attempted to detect the ether. Thanks to Einstein we know why they failed. Lennox’s comparison fails because the new science explains phenomena in a better way than the old and leads to results and experiments that can be reproduced in laboratories around the world. Miracles do not meet either of these criteria.

So, to the chapter on Jesus rising from the dead. As I said at the start of this review, I found this chapter quite compelling. The attacks on New Atheism were kept to a bare minimum and were along the lines of “how can they dismiss history without studying it first”. Again, I can only agree with these sentiments. Lennox attempts to establish certain truths (e.g. the women found the tomb empty) from within the biblical record and then proceeds to interpolate a narrative that vindicates the truth of the entire biblical account. I found this reminiscent of Frank Morison’s “Who Moved the Stone”. What spoiled this a little for me was at the end, Lennox felt he had to explain how the risen Jesus could appear in bodily form to the disciples after penetrating a locked room. So we have the analogy with Flatland and the higher dimensions of string theory. I’m not sure why Lennox felt he had to explain this event in natural terms and not others. I have to say that I am not an adherent of the Jesus Myth Theory but I am yet to read an atheist text that satisfactorily accounts for the rise of Christianity based upon the life, death and disappearance of an earthbound Jesus. I am aware of the ferment of opinion in early Christian Church and that much of what is now orthodoxy was not established until 325CE. So, whilst I enjoyed Lennox’s retelling of the resurrection, I was not convinced of its historicity. I do adhere to Bertrand Russell’s celestial teapot argument – the burden of proof lies with Christians to ‘prove’ the resurrection, not with atheists to disprove it. But that sounds like a New Atheist cop-out.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 29 April 2015
It's an unusual library of many quotes from other writers, both critical of Christianity and replying to that. It works, by putting them all together conveniently in one place. Lennox is maths professor who has done public debates with Dawkins. The book's mission is for a believing scientist to show how the bleak "new atheism" is closed minded towards evidence. It is not at all confined to Dawkins, it answers several atheist pens of present and past. Not only with Christian answers: pleasingly he quotes and builds on the neutral John Humphrys' chiding of the aggressive atheists too.

Fair minded readers can celebrate that a book has been published on the Christian side that argues reasonably without bullying. That said, it is a gap in his argument that he does not mention the moral problem of fear based religion, either in the his answer to whether religion is harmful, or in his defence of the atonement idea. He defends theism without showing why he then needs to accept, and be an apologist for, the superstitious blood atonement nonsense. At least he skilfully gives a liberal sounding take on it, as a kind spirited instrument for making moral relationships with God work.

Book is more likeable as a resource, including for his full quote of Dawkins's view on that, than for his own response to it. Yet his response also makes the book valuable, because he finds he has to reject the simple, and I have always found unjust, line of one-sided forgiveness that Christianity is often associated with. He apparently disagrees with turn the other cheek. He shows some appreciation of the unavenged victim's position, that all too many Christian ministers determine to reject admitting exists. This has a particular interest coming from a writer from Northern Ireland. But then he finds this the only way to hold together his atonement theology, maybe an inadvertent insight not quite intended to give us in a book of answers to atheism!

He conveys a thought on the nature of forgiveness that is a challenge to some Christian pictures. He does not see any healing effected by just glibly letting go of personally damaging wrongs. He objects that it amounts to saying the damaged does not matter and the sin was okay. So do I. To create any healing process requires that repentance exists in exchange for forgiveness. This has a particular interest coming from a writer from Northern Ireland. He illustrates it mainly from hurt relationships. He says "a great deal of unnecessary pain" has been done by urging victims to forgive one-sidedly and go on taking more. I am always thankful whenever any book raises this. I was hurt by a minister using the glib one-sided idea cynically against a situation's justice.

Many of his conclusions he derives from clashing with the philosopher Hume. He shows how ethics can never be concluded only from physical facts. He shows with poetic justice how faith's opponents totally take a faith position of their own, that physics will continue to work the same as observed so far. Whence he leaves us with the happy thought that observed regularities by unguided nature do not disprove intentional miraculous events.
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57 of 75 people found the following review helpful
on 7 November 2011
As a non-scientist I have failed in my attempts to read Richard Dawkins books and the books of those refuting his claims and restating Christian beliefs effectively. This book by John Lennox has helped me enormously to gain an understanding of the essential aspects of the science v religion debate. His arguments are clear and convincing; his academic status is beyond question and yet a non-scientific layman is able to read this book and learn from it. Excellent.
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on 14 August 2015
John Lennox has been defending the logic of the Christian position and challenging the assumptions of the New Atheists for some time now in a very gracious and often restrained manner. This book is much more strident and passionate and demonstrates a real sense of disbelief that those who call themselves scientists can argue as they do.
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89 of 119 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 29 September 2011
I first met John Lennox through his two debates with Dawkins; he was OK but not brilliant. Then I got his book God's Undertaker which was excellent, in that book he deals with the science issues in the current debate with the New Atheists. Then he published a short but stinging critique of Stephen Hawking's book (The Grand Design), who has now thrown his hat in with the New Atheists.

In this book Lennox also deals with the arguments of the New Atheists. It is based on his lectures/debates in the past few years. This book will be hated by the New Atheists and loved by Theists. The New Atheists have very loud mouths; but very poor arguments. Lennox continues to dissect their arguments in this book. Chapter headings are:

1. Are God and faith enemies of reason and science?
2. Is religion poisonous?
3. Is Atheism poisonous?
4. Can we be good without God?
5. Is the God of the bible a despot?
6. Is the atonement morally repellent?
7. Are miracles pure fantasy?
8. Did Jesus rise from the dead?
9. Final reflections.

The book is also endorsed by Alvin Plantinga, a leading Christian philosopher.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 2 May 2014
An excellent clearly written rebuttal of the 'wackier' ideas of R Dawkins, C Hitchins et al on the subject of Christian theology & the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus Christ! Lennox holds degrees (from Oxford University) in Maths, Philosophy & Science etc and like Alistair McGrath has debated ably with the 'new' atheists on the above issues. He has also written a companion book (from a Maths & Science perspective) called 'God's Undertaker' which is equally impressive. A 'must' read for thinking Christians everywhere!
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on 4 April 2015
Lennox shows up R Dawkins and others as having a bankrupt philosophy concerning atheism. Intellectually stimulating reading but not difficult to follow for most readers.
Recommended reading for those who wish to see the fallacy of Darwinism.
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on 20 October 2015
Everyone should read Johns books a real treat. But best of all listen to John speaking, He really appeals to men who have their eyes shut and ears blocked. He speaks Truth with humour.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 24 March 2013
I can say little more than my headline except to add that John Lennox also includes a strong, logically-reasoned argument for the reality of Jesus' resurrection which could also be usefully shared with the more open agnostic.
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 18 December 2012
So these past few weeks I've been reading from both sides of the story - Dawkins/Hitchens/Dennett etc, and Craig/Lennox/Platinga etc.

This book isn't massive, but it is solid. Not a lot of fluff talk.

Good points on the dangers of unwarranted generalisations when it comes to religion - grouping the peace-loving Amish with Islamic extremists etc.
Critique of warning against "mild and moderate religion" and then expecting a discrimination between mild to moderate atheism.
Critique of equating organised Christendom, and things humans are responsible for, with God himself.
Points on the Christian faith itself repudiating violence + religious exploitation etc.
Don't forget the 20th century
Very solid point on moral groundings, and the apparent incongruity between Dawkins claim that evil does not exist, then reprimanding a number of things he considers evil.
Smart bit of David Hume.
And Dawkins Old Testament exposition - makes clear a number of blunders.

There's a bunch of other stuff in there, all quite good. This book should be read more than once, take a few notes.
It draws from a range of sources, getting in there with Neitzsche, Sartre - all the good stuff.

It's not even expensive, get yourself a copy.
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