John Lennox against the tide in science
It has been said that our culture no longer has a use for God. Professor Stephen Hawking, University of Cambridge, claimed that the universe invented itself without a creator: “The universe can and will create itself from nothing. It is not necessary to invoke God”. But Professor John Lennox, Oxford University, disagrees: “The universe is best explained by the existence of a purposeful creator. All competing claims lack explanatory power.” But does the Christian faith stand up in our age of science and reason?
This post is based on the documentary movie “Against the tide” by Pensmore Films, in which the actor Kevin Sorbo interviews Professor John Lennox to test belief in God. It looks at the existence of God in the age of science. In the movie the tide of atheism in academia is represented by statements by Peter Atkins, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Stephen Hawking, Christopher Hitchens, Laurence Krauss, Michael Shermer, Peter Singer and Stephen Weinberg.
In 2006 Richard Dawkins published “The God delusion”. John Lennox publicly debated Dawkins in USA in 2007 and in England in 2008. And in 2009 Lennox published, “God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?”.
Richard Dawkins: “The scientific enterprise is an active seeking out of gaps in our knowledge, but religion teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding”.
John Lennox: “Neither of us wishes to base his life on a delusion. But which is the delusion? Atheism or Christianity?”
Richard Dawkins: “John Lennox is a scientist who believes that Jesus turned water into wine. That is profoundly unscientific.”
John Lennox: “My faith in Christ as the Son of God is no delusion. It is rational and evidence based. We can speak of being convinced beyond reasonable doubt.”
Richard Dawkins: “Darwin for the first time in history gives us a good account of how we all got here. Luckily we have been selected by nature to survive”.
John Lennox: “What divides us is not science. We are both committed to it. What divides us is our worldviews – his atheistic, mine theistic and Christian.”
Richard Dawkins: “When you drop a stone it falls to the ground and you as a scientist will explain that by gravity. You wouldn’t dream of saying there must be a God pushing it down”.
John Lennox: “I don’t understand how you manage to get God and science as alternative explanations”.
John Lennox was fascinated with C S Lewis. He read all of CS Lewis’ books before he went to Cambridge University to study mathematics. Lewis grew up as an atheist, but on the basis of logic and evidence, he moved from being an atheist to be a committed Christian. He became a Christian by investigating the evidence.
John Lennox has been interacting with people who do not share his worldview. In his debates he aims to present a credible alternative to atheism. He has faced views such as the following.
“Religious explanations, although they may have been satisfying for many centuries are now superseded and outdated”.
Richard Dawkins: “Religion teaches us to be satisfied with not really understanding”.
“Religion is the most common form of superstition”.
“But what is faith? Faith is just believing in something for which you have neither rational arguments nor good evidence”.
Christopher Hitchens: “I don’t believe there was a prime mover. I don’t believe there was a first cause of a divine kind. I think we have better and further and brighter explanations for the origins of things.”
But Lennox says, “I believe in the exact opposite. God, far from being a delusion is real. He has revealed Himself through the universe and the Bible and supremely in Jesus Christ His Son who is Lord and God incarnate.” There is evidence that God exists and the Christian faith is true. In this movie they follow the evidence as it is seen by John Lennox.
Science and religion
Telescopes in Radcliff Observatory at Oxford University were used to study astronomy and help sailors navigate the world’s oceans. This information was reliable because the stars were subject to laws. Scientists didn’t make the laws, they merely discovered them. The observatory has an elliptical stairway that was inspired by the elliptical orbits of the planets, which were discovered in the 17th century by German astronomer Johannes Kepler.
But the conflict isn’t between science and faith in God. Atheists can do brilliant science and Christians can do brilliant science. It’s more about their philosophy and their prior commitment.
Sam Harris: “We can be sure that religion and science are on a collision course”.
Stephen Hawking: “No one created the universe and no one directs our fate”.
Daniel Dennett: “I think that religion is the single most dangerous threat to the search for truth. It treats irrationality as a wonderful thing”.
Richard Dawkins: “What science has now achieved is an emancipation from that impulse to attribute these things to a creator. And it’s a major emancipation”.
Some people like Richard Dawkins say that science links to atheism. But Lennox says the exact opposite. This needs to be decided on the basis of the evidence.
Where did the universe come from?
Peter Singer: “We do not need to believe in God to explain the universe. Belief in God doesn’t really help us”.
Stephen Weinberg: “I think that we are incredibly lucky winners in the cosmic lottery”.
Stephen Hawking: “You don’t need a God to create it. The universe is the ultimate free lunch”.
The cosmos is generally accepted by scientists to have had a beginning. And if there was a beginning to space/time, that raises the big question. What caused it? Once there had been nothing but somehow the ingredients for everything that would ever be came into existence via the “big bang”. This is consistent with the beginning of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).
Richard Dawkins: “I find it deeply unimpressive that the Bible can be said to predict the big bang. There are only two possibilities. Either the universe began or it has been here forever. Just two possibilities. To get one of them (right) is not really that impressive.”
John Lennox: “At least it got it right!”
So the universe had a beginning, but what did it come from? Current scientific wisdom says it came from nothing. But how do you get something from nothing?
Richard Dawkins: “We understand biology, but we don’t understand cosmology. In a sense cosmology is waiting for its Darwin”.
John Lennox: “So there are two views. One says that God created it all and the other says that nothing created it all. So its God or nothing. Why there is something rather than nothing is a huge question today. If you abolish the transcendent God and try to get a universe from nothing, it’s absurd.”
Laurence Krauss: “Because something is physical, nothing must be physical especially if you define it as the absence of something”. This is nonsense! Krauss says that “nothing is a colloquial term that means many different things to many different people. There’s empty spaces. Not only will something come from it, something is required to come from it. And so science has just changed the definition. People may not like that, but I call it learning.” But this isn’t science or logic. It’s foolishness, not science. It’s what happens when a brilliant mind rejects the possibility of a creator.
Philosopher David Albert says Krauss is dead wrong. “If what we formerly took for nothing turns out on closer examination to have the makings of protons and neutrons and tables and chairs and planets and solar systems and galaxies and universes. Then it wasn’t nothing and it couldn’t have been nothing in the first place.”
Lennox believes that the universe comes from nothing physical, but it doesn’t come from nothing. It comes from a creator God who is not nothing. The universe had a beginning, it wasn’t always there. And it came from nothing physical.
All science depends on scientists believing that the universe is rationally intelligible. It can be understood by the human mind in terms of mathematics maybe. Why can the universe be understood by human minds? Why are we able in mathematical language to formulate the laws that describe how the universe works? C S Lewis put it this way, “Men became scientific because they expected law in nature”. Mathematical order. Rational minds that could discover it. Is this all coincidence? I don’t think so. The reason that mathematics adds up is because there is a creator God as the Bible claims.
Here’s the explanation. There is an intelligent God behind the universe, which accounts for its rational intelligibility.
Recent scientific investigations are uncovering fine-tuned forces in the universe that support life on earth. Take the position of the earth in the solar system. A little closer to the sun and we would burn up. A little further away and life as we know it would be frozen out of existence. This is just one of many fine balances in the universe essential to life on earth. You don’t need to understand the detail to get the point. If you change the basic constants of nature by a tiny little bit, the universe would collapse in on itself. The universe is designed to have intelligent life on earth. This points to a creator. A finely tuned mathematically precise universe that mysteriously and suddenly came into existence is a challenge for atheism to explain.
Stephen Hawking said that God isn’t necessary to have any sort of existence. He believed in a self-designing universe. He said, “Because there is law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing”. The law of gravity implies that gravity exists. Would there be a law of gravity if there was nothing for it to act on? Like inventing a bank account without the existence of money. So this means that matter exists. He doesn’t explain where the law of gravity comes from. How could it create itself from nothing if it didn’t already exist? So Hawking’s statement is nonsense.
Between 1976 and 1989 Lennox visited East Germany and Soviet countries that were extremely communist. They put atheism into practice. So he could see an atheistic culture in operation. It was totalitarian. Christians were prohibited from gaining higher education. The Marxist worldview was the only one allowed to be taught. They eliminated freedom of thought. Their goal was to fully annihilate intellectual independence. But their version of atheism made them intellectually weak.
Atheism relies heavily on the belief that the science arising from the work of Charles Darwin has made God redundant. Today’s atheist scientists emphasize the power of science alone to explain the natural world. They vigorously oppose the idea that the glory of God is shown in the natural world.
Richard Dawkins: “Before Darwin came along it was perfectly obvious that even if evolution happened there must be some guiding force to tell animals or plants how they ought to evolve. Natural selection is a blind force”.
Peter Singer: “I don’t think we need any miraculous views about how life gets going”.
Peter Atkins: “It didn’t need to be crafted. One day there was an invasion of a cell by a bacterium. They found that they could reproduce more effectively. So they exploded across the biosphere.”
Almost every natural history museum has Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution as a focal point. So how much of a threat to belief in God is Darwinian evolution?
John Lennox: “Biological life presupposes a fine-tuned universe that is needed for life. So no argument about evolution can threaten the fine-tuning argument that points towards God.”
Charles Darwin’s most famous idea is evolution by natural selection. It was his attempt to explain why there are so many species on planet earth. Darwin concluded after many years of studying plants and animals around the world that all had come from a common origin. One original cell. He believed the differences we see in species today are explained by an accumulation of small random changes that has taken place over long periods of time. Where those changes have a negative impact, the species may not survive. Where the changes are beneficial it is as if nature had selected that species to thrive and develop. An accumulation of multiple random changes has led to great variety in the natural world.
John Lennox: “That’s frequently the heart of the anti-God argument. But the existence of a mechanism, such as natural selection, is not an argument against a designer of the mechanism. In most phenomena there are several levels of explanation. For example, why is the water boiling? The scientific answer is that heat agitates the molecules of water in the kettle and gets it boiling. But another explanation is that it is boiling because I want a cup of coffee. Those are two different kinds of explanation. One is scientific and the other is in terms of an agent. But the explanations don’t conflict. They complement one another. And both are necessary. So you cannot deduce atheism as a worldview from biology. As Darwin saw, natural selection doesn’t explain the origin of life. To do anything it assumes that life already exists.”
John Lennox: “Even if you accept the whole evolutionary paradigm, it depends on their being a fine-tuned universe. And that fine-tuned universe raises very big questions as to the origin of the universe. Evolution doesn’t deal with that; nor does it deal with the origin of life.” Richard Dawkins agreed that those are separate points and vastly major points.
So neither our life-supporting universe nor the origin of life are explained by evolution.
John Lennox: “The dominant view is that life is produced by some unknown unguided natural (material) process. But at the heart of all life is the genetic code – the longest word we have ever discovered 3.5 billion letters!” Those letters constitute our DNA. A code that with apparent intelligence directed the development of every human being from conception to becoming fully equipped for life. The exact sequence of the letters makes us human beings. Small variations make us the individuals that we are.
John Lennox: “We have this phenomenally sophisticated information processor which is the cell. Am I to believe that this information processing capacity simply came about by the laws of nature and random processes? I find this impossible to believe. How can rationality come from irrationality? And mind from matter. The DNA code is a word. Unguided material process no more account for the DNA code than the physics and chemistry of paper and ink can account for the words in a book.”
Words communicate information. The words are physical and material. But the meaning they carry is not.
John Lennox: “The idea that the universe has an intelligent creator who can create information makes far more sense to me than the atheistic materialistic view that cannot account for any amount of information whatsoever”.
Atheism says that nothing created the universe! Or the universe created itself. That’s nonsense! And it can’t account for the origin of information like DNA.
The universe is best explained by the existence of a purposeful creator like the God of the Bible. The fine-tuning argument points towards God. So Christian faith does stand up in our age of science and reason.
The content of this post comes from the documentary movie “Against the tide” (2020), which looks at finding God in an age of science.
In the next post in this series, we look at “John Lennox against the tide in suffering”.
Posted, July 2021