Book Review for Atheism on Trial: A Lawyer Examines the Case for Unbelief, by W. Mark Lanier
Attorney and biblical scholar Mark Lanier just released a powerful new book, Atheism on Trial: A Lawyer Examines the Case for Unbelief. This latest book is part of a three-book project following after Christianity on Trial (IVP, 2014) and coming before a future volume Lanier has in the works on world religions.
Lanier has spent almost four decades in courtrooms across America arguing landmark cases in pharmaceutical, medical, and antitrust cases. Throughout his brilliant legal career, he has also put his degree in biblical Hebrew and Greek from Lipscomb University to great use teaching a weekly Bible class of over eight hundred, founding the Lanier Theological Library as one of the leading private theological libraries in the country, and hosting conferences for leading biblical scholars from around the world.
Lanier beautifully combines his love for Scripture and his passion for the law into a powerful argument for the existence of God in Atheism on Trial. He actually wrote this book with five of his friends in mind—all lawyers who deny the existence of God.
“He actually wrote this book with five of his friends in mind—all lawyers who deny the existence of God.”
The book begins with the reader in the jury box as lawyer Lanier makes his introductory remarks, a legal primer to help lead a jurist to the end-goal: the truth. Lanier explains the difference between direct evidence and circumstantial evidence, and gives examples of each from his past cases in the law. He then goes on to describe how important the issue of credibility is when considering evidence—giving a spell-binding example of how this played out in one his past jury-cases.
He closes his legal primer with a conversation on the burden of proof and then announces the goal of the book will be to use the “rules of logic, common sense, and fair play, to examine the tenets of atheism, agnosticism, and scientific materialism” (p. 9) from the Christian perspective he lays out in the second chapter. It is Lanier’s definition of “proof” that distinguishes this work from so many others, and in it this book contributes to the current field of scholarship in helpful ways.
Lanier first takes aim at atheism by distinguishing it from agnosticism and theism. He then makes a convincing argument (based on an asbestos case he once argued) that atheism cannot meet its own burden of proof—it cannot prove a negative. He reviews the work of the supposed “Four Horsemen of the New Atheism” and points out they offer no substantive proof that God doesn’t exist; at best they merely tear down reasons for believing in God. In the following chapter Lanier then summarizes the atheist arguments against God and assesses each.
“They offer no substantive proof that God doesn’t exist; at best they merely tear down reasons for believing in God.”
Lanier follows up his assessment of atheism with a review of agnosticism and its arguments as well. Lanier offers some helpful visual charts to help the reader-jurist understand the different worldview separating agnosticism from theism (a belief in God). Using the scales of justice, Lanier asks each reader to weigh the evidence for a worldview with and without God while considering weighty issues such as morality, beauty, justice, human dignity, and significance.
Honoring his “fair play” pledge, Lanier also introduces the great challenges to the case for God. Lanier does not shy away from “The Problem of Suffering”, instead, he devotes one of his richest chapters to the topic. He follows it up with a helpful consideration of the hiddenness of God and how to assess seemingly unanswered prayer and feelings of abandonment by God.
The book builds towards its conclusion examining issues of scientific materialism. This section will be very helpful to modern readers wanting to engage in a thoughtful dialogue about faith, reason, science, and a biblical worldview. Unafraid to venture deep into the faith and science dialogue, Lanier follows with a chapter devoted to Evolution. Here Lanier lays out the various possibilities and allows the reader to weigh the evidence and arrive at an evidence-based conclusion.
“Lanier allows the reader to weigh the evidence and arrive at an evidence-based conclusion.”
Lanier’s “Closing Argument” invites each reader-jurist to follow the evidence. Decide whether life is basically a sack of chemicals designed by time and chance—or whether life is designed by a divine decision reflecting a measure of its creator. Decide whether life is arbitrary or filled with divine purpose. Decide whether morality is relative, or part of a conscience granted from a creator.
Lanier challenges each of us to weigh the evidence, deliberate upon the arguments, then embrace the worldview that makes the most sense.