Lennox's 10, Part I
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.
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 problem with this idea is that 'gods' such as Zeus and Thor are not comparable with the biblical understanding of God.
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".
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.
Science cannot answer certain kinds of questions, such as 'what is ethical?' and 'what is beautiful?'
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.
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.
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