Saturday, January 31, 2015

Lennox's 10, Part I

Written by reporter Heather Tomlinson, an article published a few months ago in Christian Today features Christian apologist John Lennox offering curt rejoinders to a series of statements that are critical of religion in general and Christianity in particular.

John Lennox is a professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, he is active in Christian ministry, and he has put in number of appearances in high-profile debates with critics of religion, including Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Michael Shermer. The article, titled Ten quick responses to atheist claims, appears to mingle Tomlinson’s own replies to the prompts sprinkled with little snippets by Lennox.

The article explains:
You don't have to read hundreds of books before you can discuss your faith with an atheist. Sometimes claims and questions that are just short soundbites can be answered just as quickly. At the London Evangelists' Conference yesterday, Professor John Lennox offered some quick responses to some common claims from atheists.
So “soundbites” are the offerings that Christian Today is happy to pass on from the professorial Christian apologist. (It’s an attention span thing.) As one might predict, the prompts to which Prof. Lennox responds are total soft balls. While many have been repeated in passing by atheists over the years, they don’t get to the heart of the conflict, which is faith’s opposition to reason. But an examination of the replies offered to the prompts may be instructive for those who might miss the deeper issues that are systematically washed over when apologetics takes the form of “soundbites.”

In this series, beginning with the present post, I will take a look at the prompts and the reactions which Christian Today has published. I will cover two items in each post, with a total of five entries in this series.

The first prompt is given as follows:
1) You don't believe in Zeus, Thor and all the other gods. I just go one god more than you, and reject the Christian God.
The article responds:
The problem with this idea is that 'gods' such as Zeus and Thor are not comparable with the biblical understanding of God.
They aren’t? Like the Christian god is supposed to be, aren’t Zeus and Thor also supposed to be superior to human beings and calling the shots in things that happen here on little ol’ earth? I’d say these are some rather ripe points of comparison.

Of course, they’re comparable in an even more fundamental respect: like the Christian god, Zeus and Thor are imaginary. Once this fact sinks in, we’re becoming ready to use our minds as adult human thinkers. This important fact seems to have slipped past Prof. Lennox.

The article quotes Prof. Lennox:
"There is a vast distinction between all of the Ancient near eastern gods and the God of the Bible," said Prof Lennox. "They are products of the primeval mass and energy of the universe. The God of the Bible created the heavens and the earth".
Actually, all of these gods – including the Christian god – are products of human imagination. This is fundamental, and the Christian god is no different from any other. Describing the Christian god’s alleged attributes or listing its supposed feats does nothing to overcome this elementary fact.

Lennox asserts that “the God of the Bible created the heavens and the earth,” but even this we must imagine. We do not discover this by looking outward at the world. We read about this in the Christian bible, but the contents of the Christian bible were produced by human beings. The source and origin of the writings we find in the Christian bible are human in nature. Are we to suppose that the human beings living in the Ancient Near East were incapable of imagining things? On what basis would we suppose this? Their writings give us no indication that they were philosophically predisposed to distinguishing that which is real from that which is merely imaginary. And we find today how prone human beings – including of course Christian believers – are to the habit of blurring what is real with what they are merely imagining. The Christian worldview itself, as a philosophical system, offers believers no guidance in drawing and maintaining awareness of this fundamental distinction. We cannot simply call this a trifling oversight. It’s a vital key to the whole delusion that is Christianity.

The second prompt is given as follows:
2) Science has explained everything, and it doesn't include God.
The article states:
Science cannot answer certain kinds of questions, such as 'what is ethical?' and 'what is beautiful?'
The implication of this statement is that the one making it does not have a scientific understanding of either ethics or aesthetics. But it certainly would not follow from a person’s rejection of the applicability of science to these disciplines that science therefore cannot apply to them. Indeed, what argument could be made on behalf of such a conclusion?
Science is essentially the systematic application of reason to some specific area of study. By stipulating that “science cannot answer certain kinds of questions” relating to ethics and aesthetics, the author is simply confessing that she refuses to apply reason systematically to these fields of inquiry, that reason is off limits once we get to questions about ethics and aesthetics. But why suppose that this is the case? No argument is provided here.

It is a scientific understanding of ethics which the world desperately needs, especially when it comes to the relationship between man’s nature as a biological organism and the values that make his life possible. Ethics, or morality, is a code of values which guides an individual’s choices and actions. Why suppose that reason cannot be systematically applied in informing, developing and shaping such a code?

All too often in debates between Christians and atheists, an unnecessarily narrow understanding of science is assumed. Science is understood in such exchanges to refer exclusively to the so-called “physical sciences” vis-à-vis controlled experiments in a lab, complete with spectrographs, centrifuges and Petri dishes. But in fact science as such is much broader than this. There are many scientific disciplines dealing with specifically human areas of inquiry, such as psychology, cognitive science, political science, etc. Again, if these disciplines are amenable to scientific study, why aren’t ethics and aesthetics?

To grasp fully the nature of the incompatibility between science and religious faith, we must first grasp the relationship between science and reason and also the inherent and indelible conflict between reason and mysticism. And to grasp fully these matters, a full understanding of the nature of reason – its metaphysical basis, its conceptual processes, its purpose and the reasons why man needs it – must be understood. But we surely will not find such understanding in the Christian bible, nor would we find it, I might dare add, in a debate between Professors Lennox and Dawkins.

Consider also the practical consequences of appealing to a faith-based belief as though it had the weight of a scientific explanation. If in explaining the process of photosynthesis, a botanist told his class of students something along the lines of "photosynthesis is just the name we give to the way God enables metabolism in plants," giving no information we've gained through scientific study of plants as to how the process of photosynthesis works, would anyone seriously believe that his students were scientifically enlightened by this? What genuine understanding of how things work can be gained by pointing to something which we can never scientifically investigate? Can Prof. Lennox answer this?

The article continues:
Even when it comes to questions about the natural world, which science does explore and can sometimes answer, there are different types of explanations for different things.
Of course: the systematic application of reason is context-bound, so we should expect different explanations for different things. Explanations having to do with the formation of coral deposits off the coast of northeastern Australia are going to differ in their specifics from explanations having to do with the formation of cloud layers over Stockholm. But both fall under the purview of reason. Why can’t ethics and aesthetics? Again, no argument is given for this. It's just asserted and we are expected to swallow it unquestioningly, as though it were an axiom of faith.

Prof. Lennox quips:
"God no more competes with science as an explanation of the universe than Henry Ford competes with the law of internal combustion as an explanation of the motor car," says Prof Lennox.
I guess this is intended to be cute, but it ignores a more fundamental point, namely that something that does not exist does not do anything in the first place, whether it’s competing, creating, commanding, etc. Only things that actually exist can actually do things. So of course we can agree: “God” does not compete with science because there are no gods to begin with.

But Lennox is also downplaying to an enormous extent the fact that at least some Christian apologists have been attempting to co-opt various fields of science ever since churchmen recognized that science poses a threat to faith. Typically apologists attempt to do this by selectively emphasizing some scientific facts (albeit while often distorting them) and ignoring or denying others at the same time. (For some delicious examples of this, see Ken Ham’s turns at bat in the Nye-Ham Debate.) Those who are seeking to defend Christianity while at the same time promulgating the myth that science and Christianity are compatible, undermine their own enterprise by beginning with the presupposition that the content of the Christian bible must be true and that any and every scientific discovery must be reverse-engineered in order to conform to that content. This is not how science works.

Also, in his statement Lennox ignores the violent clashes between science and religion in a variety of the physical sciences, such as biology, physics, geology and even astronomy, with the greatest intensity most obvious in the literature of the so-called “Young Earth Creationists.” Christians reject many findings of science – such as evolution, the age of the earth, the age of stars, even dating methods – simply because they conflict with what their religion expects them to accept in place of facts. Certainly Lennox is aware of these matters; he’s been involved in high-profile debates with atheists himself. But so casually he sweeps all of this under the rug in an effort to portray his faith as benign and innocuous, as though Christian beliefs were wholly compatible with everything we learn about the world through the application of reason. On the contrary, Christianity has historically opposed science to the point of frothing vindictiveness, and it requires the acceptance of claims which are impervious to scientific proof – e.g., miracles, demons, angels, heaven, hell, resurrections, etc.

Since the conflict between science and Christianity is in fact just one expression of the fundamental antithesis between reason and faith, it will always be present when Christians attempt to defend their worldview.

To be continued…

by Dawson Bethrick

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Blogger johzek said...

Heather Tomlinson is surely right about one thing when she writes, "you don't have to read hundreds of books before you can discuss your faith with an atheist." For sure, a lack of knowledge of what your own beliefs entail, let alone other beliefs or the complete lack of belief, has never stopped believers before.

I think an article entitled "Ten quick responses to the claims of all the other religions that have ever existed, exist now, or will exist in the future" should be the follow up, because after all, we atheists still comprise a relatively small percentage of the worlds population, and after we have been so easily disposed of by these soundbite answers shouldn't your attention then be focused on other beliefs. But we don't see articles like this because it baldly exposes the dishonesty going on here, and they know it.

January 31, 2015 6:39 AM  
Blogger Luiz Claudio said...

"It is a scientific understanding of ethics which the world desperately needs"
Saying that morality has nothing to do with reason is a just a way to avoid making the reasons for your morality explicit and putting them to the test of reality.

January 31, 2015 6:48 AM  
Blogger David Barwick said...

Excellent post! I'm excited for this series. I have long felt that John Lennox is a hack, and it's a relief to see someone capably take him to task.

Your remarks about science are also appreciated. I am consistently astounded by people who think of science as existing only in the lab. We are all performing science each time we make a reasoned effort to understand or discover some fact about reality.

February 03, 2015 3:58 PM  
Blogger 95BSharpshooter said...

If there is one trend that apologists always seem to follow it's the denial/evasions of a very young child who was caught doing something wrong.

February 07, 2015 4:19 PM  
Blogger 95BSharpshooter said...

Luiz Claudio said...

"... just a way to avoid making the reasons for your morality explicit..."


See my comments about evasions!

The squiring and squirreling is ALWAYS evident; thee can be no other result when you're coming from an entirely subjective position.

February 07, 2015 4:22 PM  

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