Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists Are Missing the Mark

by | Jul 23, 2020 | Book Reviews

Professor John Lennox, a well-reputed mathematics academic at Oxford University, is a relatively new face entering the realm of Christian apologetics against New Atheism in comparison to Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig. His book Gunning for God has been a major success in providing a well researched, accessible, and easy-to-digest case against new atheism from the Christian perspective. Having debated the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, Lennox synthesizes his case from intimate engagements with new atheism on the grounds of science and philosophy. He clearly articulates the several problems associated with the reactionary force of new atheism as a total worldview while bravely defending the Christian faith. 

Lennox summarizes his thesis, “I propose in this book not only to deal reactively with atheist objections to Christianity, but also positively to present detailed evidence for the truth of Christianity” (15). His book can be thematically divided into three main parts, but not necessarily arranged in that order. The first theme involves discussing philosophical concerns raised by atheists such as the relationship between faith and reason (chapter 1) and miracles and science (chapter 7). The second theme covers sociological and historical claims raised by atheists against Christianity (chapter 2, 3, and 4). The third theme covers issues raised specifically against the Christian Bible (chapter 5) and doctrine (chapters 6 and 8). 

One of the most enjoyable parts in reading Lennox is his careful investigation of semantics. In one area he dedicates nineteen pages in clearing up how the word faith is being mishandled by atheists. After showing how atheists contrast faith, used solely with religion, while associating evidence only for science, Lennox clarifies, “The confusion arises from an idiosyncratic implicit, re-definition of ‘faith’ as a peculiarly religious term (which it isn’t) and that it only means a special kind of believing, that is, believing without evidence (which it doesn’t)” (39). He goes on to clarify that there are different types of faith, such as blind faith and evidencebased faith (41), but not all faiths are blind faiths (40). Quoting John Polkinghorne, his own teacher, Lennox exposes the grounds of science itself, which requires faith in the intelligibility of the universe (50). He remarks on this point, “Thus, faith in something that has not yet been proved still is, as it has always been, a prerequisite for scientific investigation of the universe. Shall we therefore accuse science of irrationality? Of course not!” (50). Lennox also exposes the philosophical incoherencies behind certain scientific views. He clarifies that physical laws are not creating agents, rather they are mathematical descriptions under certain conditions (33), and therefore theories and laws do not themselves bring matter/energy into existence (34). However, he remarks this is something to which atheist-scientists ascribe creative powers in order to avoid a divine intelligence (35). Lennox also highlights the blurring lines of physics and metaphysics in the speculative models of string theories and multiverses (36). 

Lennox does not shy away from selfcriticism while trying to understand nuances in the discussion of religious enterprises. He highlights generalizations to be a severe problem in literature against religion and theism, which completely removes needed sophistication from the discussion. In paraphrasing Keith Ward, he succinctly highlights, “The right question to ask is whether ‘this particular religion, at this stage of its development, is dangerous in this social context?’” (61). Lennox then goes on to show the difference between the values of Christianity as a religion, and the practitioners of Christianity who sometimes do the wrong things in the name of religion—nuances which atheists fail to acknowledge (65). He also raises valid points raised also by certain atheists. On the issue of labeling children the religion of their parents, a point raised by Dawkins, Lennox writes, “I therefore agree with Dawkins’ statement that to say that a particular child is a child of Christian parents is not the same as saying is a Christian child. She may become a Christian child if she becomes a Christian; on the other hand she may decide the other way” (71). Lennox also challenges atheism by highlighting activities done under the name of an atheistic worldview by Stalin and Hitler (89). In trying to elaborate the nuances of the blame game of violence, whether done by religion or atheism, he quotes Peter Singer and March Hauser, who aptly summarize the issue: “Neither religion nor atheism has a monopoly on the use of criminal violence” (91). 

On morals, Lennox does excellently well on elaborating Hume’s is–ought distinction in the context of biology and ethics. For example, he criticizes attempts to establish a scientific morality by catching out Harris on smuggling an unscientific prior in his category of well being (102). He also highlights the problems of accountability with view of moral behavior being gene determined (108). He gives an example of cutting babies for fun would just be DNA in action according to the atheist worldview (112). Lennox also tackles the issue of biological altruism within the evolutionary paradigm, arguing that this still offers no basis as to how genuine moral altruism is grounded and where it comes from (110), another way of saying morality cannot be grounded in biology. In the loss of a moral ontology in the atheist worldview he leaves the reader with a floating question, “If DNA neither knows nor cares and we dance to its music, how is it that most of us both know and care?” (114).  Lennox also tackles theological claims really well. He clarifies the noncontradiction between God’s justice and God’s mercy when he writes, “They [atheists] fail to see if there is no final judgment, then there is no such thing as justice” (134). Furthermore, on rebutting the claims of atheists of an all-watching God, with an a priori assumption of being a tyrant-like overseer in their view, Lennox asks: “Would they wish to live in a country where there was no police force watching over people . . . I think not. For it is common human experience that we need people to watch over us” (131). In furthering his argument he states that on atheist grounds, the suicide bombers of 9/11 will never face justice (136). He further points that, thought not strictly with a logical argument but rather an emotional one, “.atheism’s ‘solution’ to the problem of evil has got rid of something else— hope. Atheism is a hope-less faith. Indeed, by removing hope, atheism can be seen to make the suffering much worse” (136). Lennox then claims his final stake against atheism by providing an exhaustive analysis on the proof of resurrection of Christ, which lies at the heart of Christianity (chapter 8).1 However, this is where I believe Lennox falls short of perfection. In his account of the historicity of the Bible he doesn’t consider the counter evidence provided by authors like Charles Freeman, who wrote The Closing of the Western Mind (2005). Furthermore, Lennox doesn’t justify anywhere the coherence of the Trinity, which Reza Aslan in his book Jesus of Nazareth (2014) argues is assumed a priori by Christian historians and cannot be deduced from the Bible. Therefore there is a gap in Lennox’s argument between the historical evidence of the resurrection of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity. 

In summary, this book is one of the best confrontations against new atheism and provides a compelling case for rationally anchoring theism. This work will assure theists and doubly assure Christian theists. However, the biggest problem with the book is the absence of discussion of the very doctrine it calls to truth for: the Trinity. Therefore, while this work covers grounds for rationality of the attributes of God, miracles and nuances in the anthropological matrix of religious practices, I am afraid Lennox follows the subtitle of his book and misses the most important target himself.

About the book


By John Lennox.

Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2011. xxvi+222 pp. $15.95 (paper).

1 I would like to acknowledge before any critical assessment that as a Muslim reviewer, my views will be biased, though not unquestioned nor unexamined, and therefore I respectfully disagree with the Christian doctrine.