Thursday, February 12, 2015

Lennox's 10, Part II

In this blog entry, I continue my examination of Oxford Professor and Christian apologist John Lennox’s reactions to common objections to Christianity.

This is the second entry in this series. The first entry can be found here:
In the present entry, I consider Lennox’s reaction to the third and fourth claims which he considers, namely that “science is opposed to God” and “you can’t prove that there is a God.”

The third prompt which Lennox considers is given as follows:
3) Science is opposed to God.
The article responds:
There are certain conceptions of a 'god' that might be opposed to science, but not the Christian God. There might be certain kinds of 'gods' that are invented to explain things we don't understand, but they're not Christian.
According to this response, it all depends on whom you ask whether god-belief is compatible with science. Some gods are, but other gods aren’t. And of course, the Christian god is conceived here, when its relationship to science is explicitly considered, as an innocuous by-stander that would never get in the way of any fact-seeking scientist.

But don’t be fooled by this feigned innocence. The Christian god is a shape-shifter, changing its form and characteristics every time it’s re-imagined. In one moment, the Christian god is out about its business of creating galaxies and performing miracles, raising people from the dead and turning water into wine, thus thwarting what scientists take to be laws of nature and causing objects to act in contradiction to their natures, by sheer force of will. In another moment (forgive me for recalling this Far Side cartoon), the Christian god is just an idle spectator, causing no interference, just minding its own business, having set everything we observe – including those very laws of nature themselves – in motion when it created the universe, again by sheer force of will, like the watch-winding god of the deists which stepped away for the rest of eternity. In other words, it all ultimately depends on how one imagines “God” from moment to moment, and also on when its devotees choose to assert its active presence.

The real question, which is not considered in the article, is whether or not appealing to the alleged activity of supernatural beings (which are available to the human mind exclusively by means of imagining them) can have any scientific value when it comes to explaining phenomena existing in the actual world. Presuppositionalists, for example, insist that one cannot “account for” the uniformity of nature without appealing or presupposing, if only implicitly, the god of their worldview. In such cases, it’s clear that believers are affirming their god “to explain things we [allegedly] don’t understand,” in which case apologists are explicitly seeking to exploit something that is not understood as a means of making room for the god they imagine and giving it a function to serve. The same is the case especially in the sphere of morality (everyone from Greg Bahnsen to William Lane Craig and beyond argues that morality can only make sense if there’s a god behind it issuing commands and functioning as some kind of “standard”) as well as in matters of knowledge and an individual’s purpose in life. The prevailing undertone to all of this amounts to, “We cannot account for these thing by means of our ‘unaided reason’, so they must point to [the Christian god].” The path to establishing a god as the source of all these vital things is supported by inability an ignorance through and through.

Against this, one might argue that Christians did not invent their god specifically to explain the uniformity of nature, for example, thus salvaging the statement affirmed above. But this would be mere point-missing trifling. We have to keep a broader perspective in mind here. The ancients who originally invented gods to explain things (e.g., the existence of the universe vis-à-vis Gen. 1:1) had no explicit philosophical grasp of the notion of a nature that is uniform throughout; indeed, one could argue, given their belief in miracles, that uniformity was at best tentative and far from absolute (cf. Brian Knapp, “Induction and the Unbeliever” in The Portable Presuppositionalist; for details, see here). And yet, the presumption that nature is uniform with itself is non-negotiable in science. So somehow science needs to be artificially brought into alignment with the ancients’ blindly-groping mystical speculations, as if the two were compatible with each other, which they are not.

The article quotes Prof. Lennox:
"If we're being offered a choice between science and god... it is not a biblical concept of god," said Prof Lennox. "The biblical God is not a god of the gaps, but a God of the whole show. The bits we do understand [through science] and the bits we don't."
Then why are apologists continually appealing to things that we (allegedly) do not understand as though they warranted their god-belief? What Lennox ignores is that god-belief rests on faith - i.e., blind acceptance on appeals to authority to fill the vacuum of ignorance left gaping in an individual’s mind when he accepts the premise that he cannot know anything for certain. It is in this way that radical skepticism is the ultimate starting point for theism as such. A mind which has renounced its own efficacy in the project of discovering and validating knowledge in firsthand fashion is a mind which has renounced its own ability as a faculty of knowledge in the first place. And religious devotion demands precisely this. Just as the gospel stories have Jesus saying “not my will, but thine, be done” in his famous words of self-resignation (cf. Luke 22:42), Christianity (and every other religion) requires the believer to adopt the attitude of, “not my mind, but yours, oh Lord!”

Such an attitude is diametrically opposite to the self-confidence in one’s own rational faculties on which science hinges philosophically. Science requires at minimum that a human thinker recognize and accept his own mind as what it is: a form of consciousness capable of applying to reason to objective input, identifying the objects it observes firsthand, and drawing conclusions in logical, systematic fashion from the data considered. A mind which has renounced itself is incapable of doing this. Thus, by its very nature, religion is opposed to science as such. Either Lennox is pretending to ignore these facts, or he hasn’t given these matters the kind of mature consideration they need.

Prof. Lennox continues:
"Among many leading thinkers, their idea of god is thoroughly pagan. If you define god to be a god of the gaps, then you have got to offer a choice between science and god."
Lennox misconstrues the point of contention between religion and science. It is not atheists who “define god to be a god of the gaps.” Rather, it is apologists who seek to exploit gaps in our knowledge as somehow pointing to the gods they have imagined. This is most obviously evident when apologists come to the table armed with essentially nothing more than a series of pre-conceived questions which are intended to stupefy non-believers. For example, “How do you account for [X]?” “How do you know [Y]?” “Where did [Z] come from?” Etc. The entire strategy is to rout out any hint of ignorance on the non-believer’s part and characterize that ignorance as essentially a consequence of not believing in the god which the apologist has enshrined in his imagination, or at any rate for subscribing to a worldview which does not seat the imagined deity at the center and source of everything. So I’m afraid Lennox’s response to this issue rings quite hollow, and deafeningly so.

The fourth prompt is given as follows:
4) You can't prove that there is a God.
The article responds:
This kind of statement ignores that there are different kinds of 'proof'.

Really? How many kinds of proof are there? And what distinguishes them from one another? And how is the statement ignoring these (alleged) distinctions? If apologists are not going to anticipate such questions and address them when they assert the existence of distinctions, they probably shouldn’t even go down this path to begin with.

Proof involves logically reducing that which is not perceptually self-evident to that which is perceptually self-evident. Just point to the facts that substantiate your claim and be prepared to explain how they actually substantiate the claim in question. Why do apologists have difficulty with this time and time again? Why do apologists find it necessary to assert distinctions that they are not willing to identify and explain?

Here’s Professor Lennox:
"Can you prove that there is a God?" asked Prof Lennox. "In the mathematical sense no, but proving anything is very difficult. The word proof has two meanings. There's the rigorous meaning in maths that is very difficult to do and rare. But then there's the other meaning – beyond reasonable doubt".
Lennox is obfuscating here; he’s trying to find refuge in ambiguities and technicalities which would never have such importance as he gives them if he were confident that he could preset a legitimate proof that the god he imagines is real. Let me emphasize: if god-belief were compatible with reason, Lennox would have no need to flee into such rabbit holes – he would be able to demonstrate such compatibility. But since reason and god-belief are in fact wholly incompatible, Lennox finds it necessary to put up smokescreens.

Proof is a process; it involves the explicit demonstration of logical relationship between premises and observable facts, and it requires uncompromising adherence to reason. It might help if theists simply show us the steps that they took to come to their conclusions, assuming they took any steps in the first place. If there are steps to be identified, then they should identify them and be willing to let others draw their own analyses on the work they present. After all, that is what genuine scientists do; it’s called “peer review.” But if there are no steps to begin with, then on what basis can their “conclusions” be accepted as knowledge? There is no basis for their “conclusions” – they haven’t drawn any conclusions at all. What’s most likely the case is that they began with mystical premises from the very start, and “reasoned” from these to what they present as “conclusions.” But their “conclusions” were guaranteed all along. That’s not science, nor is it anything resembling a rational proof. It’s pure faith - the very opposite of reason and science.

Then again, if Lennox has difficulty proving things, this does not imply that there is a problem with proof as such or with proving legitimate truths. Nor does it imply that asking for a proof is the wrong approach. It may be that he is confused on the nature and purpose of proof, or he may hold to positions that are not susceptible to proof. Of course, it could be some combination of these. But such a situation would not obviate the role of proof in the validation of one’s understanding of the world. Far from it!

The article continues:
That's the kind of 'proof' we can present: arguments to bring someone beyond reasonable doubt. For example, rational arguments such as those from philosophers Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig, the personal experience of Christians, and the witness of the gospel accounts in the Bible.
All of these options share a fundamental defect in common: they leave us with no alternative but to imagine the god they claim to be “proving.” If someone presents a series of premises which are said to prove the existence of the Christian god, for example, and I still have no alternative but to rely on my imagination to contemplate the god whose existence is said to be thereby proved, what actual progress towards knowledge has been achieved? Blank out.

Similarly with appeals to personal experience: if a Christian tells me that he’s “moved” by some “indwelling” supernatural spirit which has allegedly taken up residence within him someplace (in his brain, in his mind, in his soul, or what have you), I acknowledge that I can imagine that this has happened, but how does the believer demonstrate that he is not merely imagining this? Again, blank out.

Also, should we not consider the personal experience of people who used to be Christians but have since rejected Christianity? Why or why not?

When we get to “the witness of the gospel accounts in the Bible,” this is like pointing to a Harry Potter novel to “prove” that Harry Potter the wizard actually exists. A story does not prove itself true by merely existing as a story. Also, appeals to the bible overlook the numerous problems internal to the New Testament record as well as countless defects within the Old Testament. There’s ample literature on this and a good number of posts devoted to exposing some of these problems right here on my blog. An informative resource that’s relatively brief would be Earl Doherty’s book Challenging the Verdict, which provides a penetrating “cross-examination” of the “witnesses” interviewed by Lee Strobel in his book The Case for Christ. Readers may also enjoy my recent blog entry Fringe Outliers or Pioneering Trailblazers?

I understand that apologists think they can smooth over many of these problems, but in the end all they really offer is artificial harmonization. So their efforts are, in the final analysis, utterly worthless. And what exactly are they defending if not the demand that individuals sacrifice their minds in subservience to primitive mysticism? Here we have another resounding Blank out!

To be continued…

by Dawson Bethrick

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