(Originally printed in the Fall 2010 Issue of the MCOI Journal beginning on page 10)
Phillip Johnson is a leading spokesman and apologist for the Intelligent Design movement, and John Reynolds is a PhD and author of Three Views on Creation and Evolution. They have teamed up in this cutting-edge new book.
Books promoting Atheism are proliferating like toadstools. The newer books on Atheism are not quite like the old ones, and they are aggressive, “evangelistic,” and written in a “take-no-prisoners” fashion. Make no mistake; they are clearly an attempt to “convert” others to Atheism or badger the uninformed Christian into silence.
Johnson and Reynolds have a must-read (and easy-to-read) response to the current onslaught. The new breed of Atheists desire to be seen as intellectual, scientific Atheists, but they are at heart Darwinian and naturalistic. They want all religious belief discarded, as these beliefs are seen to be delusional and harmful. Johnson and Reynolds show the war is on! Like the old western movies (black and white films, of course), there is always a good guy who comes charging in on a white horse. In some fashion, Johnson and Reynolds are the guys on the white horses in their stand against the destructive New Atheism.
The authors of Against All Gods introduce us to Richard Dawkins who penned The God Delusion. Dawkins argues against Intelligent Design, that is, that the universe had an intelligent Designer. Dawkins’ arguments seem to be more philosophical speculation rather than hard science.
Consider some of the chapter titles to grasp more of the flavor of Johnson and Reynolds book:
1. Introducing the New Atheists
2. Harvard’s Aborted Requirement in Reason and Faith
3. Earth’s Distinction
4. The Darwinian Worldview
5. The God Hypothesis in Physics
6. The Obstacle of Old Books
7. A Wonderful Education
8. Christianity And Beauty
Believers everywhere need to wake up to the fact the New Atheism is like the war on terror. There is an avowed enemy thirsty for our destruction. Their agenda is articulated and clear on their end, and they are relentless. Johnson and Reynolds understand that.
Consider that Dawkins says to teach children about God is a “form of child abuse” (Against All Gods, p.18). However, in doing this, Dawkins really invites a God debate. Rather than ignore something he says does not exist, he simply fires up the other side. Is this an unintended consequence?
Dawkins is strident, harsh, and offers no pluralism in his anti-God crusade. He is frontal and in-your-face.
The authors Johnson and Reynolds state the purpose for their new book as follows: “… to explore how the issues raised by the new wave of scientific Atheism can and should be addressed in higher education and scholarship, …” They succeed admirably.
One of the ways they confront the issue is by asking relevant questions of scientific Atheists like Steven Pinker. For instance:
Dr. Pinker did not say whether the mind and its thoughts, including his own thoughts are nothing but the product of such physiochemical processes. If that were the case, we would have to wonder whether our vaunted rationality is an illusion produced by brain chemistry.1
Johnson and Reynolds get us to stretch our thinking. They have us consider that faith is not the sole domain of Bible believers. Many scientists have faith in naturalism and chance. The authors then proceed into a helpful discussion on faith and reason.
How about life on mars? How about life on other planets and the implications if life is ever found on another planet? What about all the other Star-Trek speculations and scenarios? On pages 39-47, Johnson and Reynolds offer a fascinating discussion of these questions and much insight. That chapter alone was worth the price of the book at least for me.
Within naturalism and among naturalists, skepticism prevails. The authors point out that though skepticism rules, it has never occurred to the naturalist to be skeptical of Darwin or Darwinism or to be skeptical of their skepticism. What a great thought. There is no equal-opportunity skepticism on the part of the New Atheists; it only runs one way. We used to call this blatant bias.
Darwin’s views are seen by Johnson and Reynolds as “universal acid” (p.54). They also point out it is not just the old Darwin that drives the New Atheism, but rather, it is the new “gene-centered” (p.55) gene-driven philosophy of Dawkins— genes are supposed to totally control all of us. This presumes we are not simply influenced by our make up, but rather, we are determined and driven by it. This new form of genetic predestination is questioned by our authors. If there is some kind of “God gene” (p.52) in our chemistry, might there also be a “Darwin gene” predisposing us to believe in evolution. I think though from a biblical perspective, it might rather be seen through the lens of a sin nature that really drives our depravity and God-denial as revealed in Romans 1. Of course, the New Atheists are into polemics and harsh charges rather than substantive discussion .
Will the New Atheism last? Johnson and Reynolds question the viability and durability of the new Atheism:
The examples of Marx and Freud show that a theory which is all-powerful in one generation can lose all its magic in the next. Sam Harris wrote The End of Faith. Perhaps the Darwinian metanarrative will come to an end instead.2
The God who does not exist (according to the New Atheists) is, of course, the God of the Judeo Christians. They say this “God does not exist” (p.19, 61) according to science. What is meant by the term science is hard to make out according to Johnson and Reynolds. When pressed, scientists have to admit that there is “… no adequate naturalistic theory to explain, for example, the origin of the first cell.”3
So, science is always to be believed even when it deals in speculation—especially if that speculation is anti-theistic. Chapter 5 then shows that science today at times may not be so scientific.
In chapter 6, Reynolds shows how communication is corrupted by the New Atheists, because they have so little understanding of the Bible and Christians. They have little understanding of Greek and Hebrew languages as well as lack of any training in hermeneutics. They lack any kind of understanding and appreciation of what the Bible has meant to art, science, literature, and philanthropy for centuries past. Atheists may not agree with the Bible; but with a predisposition to malign and mock Scripture rather than respect it, it is hard for meaningful dialogue to take place.
Dawkins calls the Bible “weird” and “cobbled together”4 which reveals no understanding whatsoever of the respectful handling and meticulous transmission of the ancient Scriptures. He seems totally unaware of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient language keys such as that of Ketef Hinnom (the finding of an 8th century BC Hebrew text from the book of Numbers). Dawkins is totally ignorant and creates straw men and distorted caricatures regarding the transmission of Scripture. Chapter 6 then gives us a crash course on hermeneutics detailing how we can approach the Bible and interpret it properly. This is another great chapter.
Chapter 8 is especially helpful as it deals with the charge that Christians and Christianity have done so much evil in history. The book points out: We must ask if Atheism has done any better? Communism and secular tyranny have slain its millions. The history of Russia and China alone are stark and vivid examples of what depravities and atrocities Atheism can produce. In the end, those who call themselves Christians and who do evil in Christ’s name are false Christians claiming the Name of One they clearly do not know or possess.
All and all, this is a great read. It breaks down into simple English and understandable vocabulary a number of usually technical arguments and makes it easy for the average reader. Anyone taking the time to digest the book will come away greatly informed and greatly profited with some “ammunition” under his or her apologetic belt.
G. Richard Fisher is now retired from pastoral ministry and lives in Pennsylvania and spends his time writing and conference speaking. Richard also serves on the Advisory Board of MCOI.
- Phillip E. Johnson and John Mark Reynolds Against All Gods: What’s Right and Wrong About the New Atheism, IVP Books, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2010, 26-27 ↩
- Phillip E. Johnson and John Mark Reynolds Against All Gods: What’s Right and Wrong About the New Atheism, IVP Books, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2010, 56 ↩
- Phillip E. Johnson and John Mark Reynolds Against All Gods: What’s Right and Wrong About the New Atheism, IVP Books, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2010, 63 ↩
- Phillip E. Johnson and John Mark Reynolds Against All Gods: What’s Right and Wrong About the New Atheism, IVP Books, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2010, 70 ↩