Observations on life; particularly spiritual

John Lennox against the tide

Salmon swimming upstreamSalmon swim upstream to mate and lay their eggs in small rivers and shallow waters that protect them from predators and strong currents. In this post we look at someone swimming upstream against the tides of atheism.

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. Does the Christian faith stand up in our age of science and reason? In the movie John Lennox defends Christianity against the tide of atheism in academia. His statements are in italics.

The documentary movie "Against the tide" by Pensmore Films, 2020Contrasting worldviews

In 2006 Richard Dawkins published “The God delusion” which contends that a supernatural creator, God, almost certainly does not exist, and that belief in a personal god qualifies as a delusion, which he defines as a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence. John Lennox publicly debated Dawkins in USA in 2007 and in England in 2008.

Neither of us wishes to base his life on a delusion. But which is the delusion? Atheism or Christianity?

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.

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 and John Lennox before a debateJohn Lennox has been interacting with people who do not share his worldview. In his debates he aims to present a credible alternative to atheism.

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

Science and religion

Lennox claims that 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.

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?

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).

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?

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.

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.

All science depends on scientists believing that the universe is rationally intelligible. 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? I think it 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 that created itself from nothing. But this 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. The Marxist worldview was the only one allowed to be taught. They eliminated freedom of thought.

Biology

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.

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?

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.

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. So you cannot deduce atheism as a worldview from biology. And natural selection doesn’t explain the origin of life.

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 these topics; nor does it deal with the origin of life.

John Lennox on the obvious intelligence behind the genetic codeInformation

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.

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.

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.

John Lennox on sufferingCONSCIOUNESS AND SUFFERING

Consciousness

Why are we conscious human beings (with self-awareness and a complex mind)? So far this has defied scientific explanation.

Since consciousness has an immaterial aspect, it cannot have been produced by purely material processes.

Consciousness is more than ‘a firing of a billion neurons’ … They tell me that no one knows what consciousness is.

So where did it come from?

Well, I believe that the fact of us bring conscious human beings able to speak and think is a reflection of the existence of a God behind our universe who is Himself a conscious being. We are made in the image of God. But atheism gives us no explanation whatsoever.

And the evidence must be taken seriously. How else can we accept that our astonishing universe could explode out of nothing? How else can the wonder of life with its DNA instruction manual be explained? How else can we account for the mystery of human consciousness that prompts us to search for the deep meaning of it all?

I argue that there is evidence of the existence of an intelligent God behind the universe. But Christianity goes further, and it answers the question, who is this God?

You can also access John Lennox’s thoughts in his books.

What motivated me to write the book ‘Does science bury God’, was to demonstrate that it was perfectly possible to be a serious scientist and to believe in God. But then I wrote another book called ‘Gunning for God’, which shows why the new atheists are missing the target.

One of the ways atheists are gunning for God is to query God’s origin. “Who made God?” is at the heart of the book “The God delusion” by Richard Dawkins.

Atheists query God's originWho made God?

When you analyze the question, who or what created God? You are assuming that God is created. But that means we are not considering the God of the Bible who is uncreated. ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ (Gen. 1:1). But God Himself is not created. It is certainly a valid question for created things. I told Dawkins, ‘You believe the universe created you. Let me ask you your question. Who created your creator?’. And I waited a very long time, and I never got an answer.

But Christians may be accused of failing to find answers to one of the most challenging questions in the world. If there is a God, why is there so much pain and suffering?

Atheism can't solve the problem of sufferingPain and suffering

Discussing science and God isn’t going to answer this question. One of the main reasons I’m a Christian is that it deals with this question in a way that no other philosophy or religion does. The hardest problem I face as a Christian is the problem of evil and pain.

My niece getting a tumor at 22 that kills her. What do I say to my sister? We could argue for a long time about what a good God should-might-would-could have done. And we’ll get nowhere. So it seems to me there is another question that we can ask. Granted that life presents us with a double picture. We see some beautiful things. We see some ragged edges. We see hurt and pain. And we see joy. How can we come to terms with that? And it seems to me that there is no simplistic answer, but a window into an answer. And it is this. If it is true that Jesus is the Son of God, what is God doing on a cross? This is telling us that God hasn’t remained distant from the problem of suffering and pain but has Himself become part of it. The God who cares for this world so much that He entered this world. He coded Himself into humanity in Jesus Christ.

Christianity is geared into historyHISTORY

But how do we know that God came to earth in human form? Does belief that Jesus of Nazareth was God in human form pass the test of historical scrutiny? In this the rational thinking associated with science will still be our guide.

Did Jesus exist?

Christianity is not a mere philosophy; it’s geared into history and the only way to answer these questions is to get involved with history.

Jesus of Nazareth died at Jerusalem and what happened next changed the world. Do historians agree that Jesus existed?

They do indeed. There is scarcely one who would doubt the existence of Jesus. And this gives us marvellous confidence because many of these historians are quite skeptical about the details of Christianity. But they can confirm many of the things that are claimed of Him. What He said and did. Even Richard Dawkins when I debated him had to concede that Jesus actually existed.

The interesting thing is ancient historians, whose job is to investigate the rationality of history, are agreed on it.

The apostle Peter is one of the most important eyewitnesses in reporting the facts about Jesus. There is pretty strong evidence that he was the main source of the gospel of Mark. So eyewitness testimony is the key thing here.

There is a strong connection between the gospel records and eyewitnesses. Men like Peter who saw and heard things that are among the most astonishing experiences in human history. Experiences that are challenged by 21st voices of skepticism.

Remains of pagan shrines at Caesarea PhilippiWho is this man, Jesus?

In the midst of many pagan religions and temples at Caesarea Philippi Jesus asked His disciples, ‘Who do men say that I am’. He was inviting them to consider what other people are saying. And that tells me that Christianity is not just a matter of blind faith for following. Jesus wants us to think about what other people say. I’ve been doing that all my life. Listening to what people are saying, especially about Jesus. Because the central issue is, ‘who do you say that I am?’ Peter said, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’. If Peter was right, the implications are immense.

Within a few minutes of Peter’s response, Jesus said to them all, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem and I’m going to be crucified’. It was that bit of the program, that Messiah should have to die for the people’s sins that Peter didn’t understand. He saw Jesus about to be crucified and people were pushing, ‘You were with this man’. And he was terrified. What’s going to happen? It was a very human response. And it’s honestly reported in Mark’s gospel. We can regard Peter as an extremely reliable eyewitness.

What about spectacular events in the life of Jesus?

Did the events alleged to have occurred in the life of Jesus actually occur? The transfiguration was an event without parallel. But does it overstretch credibility in a scientific age?

How could Peter be sure that he was following the right person? Jesus led Peter, James and John up a high mountain. There He was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white. Whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses who were talking with Jesus (Mk. 9:2-4).

What it tells us is that although in this world Jesus was rejected, there is another world above this world where He is its center, its sun, its source of energy and power.

This was to convince them that the eternal world is real. And what happened up there influenced Peter deeply (2 Pt. 1:16-18).

This event is denied by atheists because if science can’t prove it, they claim it must have never happened.

Certainly, materialism denies it. But science doesn’t necessarily lead to materialism. What we have here I believe is the intersection of two worlds. This world isn’t the only one. They came together for a brief moment and the disciples got a glimpse into that eternal world.

How can a scientist believe the miracles that Jesus was said to perform? They can’t be explained by science.

I’m not committing intellectual suicide by believing these miracles. Atheist scientists will deny them. But the irony is that they then expect us to believe things that they themselves describe as miraculous. For instance, the universe emerged from nothing. Mind from mindless matter. These things to me are extremely implausible unless you are prepared to involve the supernatural dimension. Atheism is a very strong faith.

When people say that it is antiscientific, I don’t think it is antiscientific at all. Science cannot say that miracles do not occur. It can say they are highly improbable. But no one is claiming that these things occurred by natural processes.

Frequent miracles would nullify science. Because in order to recognize what the New Testament calls a miracle (a special act of God), you must be living in a universe that has regularities and that we recognize them. Scholars have a term for it, paradoxa erga (baffling works) because they baffle people, especially atheists. But they need not baffle if we believe that Jesus is the Son of God. And the historical evidence for these so-called baffling works is as strong as the evidence for anything else that Jesus said.

Why did Jesus die?

The question is, is all this really necessary? Why can’t God, if He wants to forgive us, just forgive us?

If we were to do as Dawkins says, it would be like a judge in a court saying, ‘You’re forgiven. You can just go’. Society would completely collapse into anarchy. All of us know that when we do wrong, something needs to be done to put it right. God’s not going to say, ‘that doesn’t matter’. It does matter. And I know that I personally need forgiveness. And this is the big question, ‘how can the holy God forgive me?’ I haven’t even lived up to my own standards, let alone God’s standards. At the heart of Christianity is this message, He lifts the burden from my shoulders. He took the penalty of sin upon Himself on the cross and I can go free. And He can declare me to be right with God. To me this is everything.

The central message of the cross is that Jesus died to bring us forgiveness and to give us a relationship with God.

At Jerusalem Jesus Christ was crucified and resurrected - view from Mt of OlivesWhat about the crucifixion?

Let’s investigate the claim that Jesus was crucified and then resurrected. Although most histories agree that Jesus existed, what do they think of the crucifixion?

They also largely agree about the fact of the crucifixion. Of course, we have the evidence on the New Testament documents. We also have the evidence of the Jewish historian Josephus, the Syrian philosopher Bar-Serapion, and the Roman historian Tacitus. So we’ve got a lot of lines of converging evidence.

What about the resurrection?

How would you ever prove that Jesus was resurrected?

It’s very interesting, historians are again agreed on the following things. Jesus was crucified and laid in a known tomb. And then a few days later the tomb was found to be empty. And now the question that needs to be answered is ‘Why?’

We need to remember that you can’t get a proof like in mathematics, where proof is obtained by starting with a group of axioms and a logical system. Instead, we get pointers and evidences so that we can come to a conclusion beyond reasonable doubt.

The gospels report multiple claims that Jesus was seen alive after the resurrection. Is it possible that the resurrection was like a hallucination?

It is a suggestion that many people have made. But it doesn’t really stand up to the evidence. Who were these people who claimed to see Jesus? Thomas was a born skeptic. Matthew was a hard-headed tax collector. But even more importantly, people usually have hallucinations about something they are expecting. The disciples were not expecting to see Jesus again. When they saw that He was going to go through with the crucifixion, they forsook Him and fled. We don’t hallucinate about things we are not expecting.

So the hallucination theory is unconvincing, but what about conspiracy? What if the disciples or someone else removed the body to give the impression of resurrection?

That has no explanatory power. Why would they do that? They would then go on to preach in public that Jesus was raised knowing that it was a complete lie. Resurrection possesses unrivalled explanatory power of what went on 2,000 years ago in this area in Jerusalem.

The resurrection story is the scene of the most extraordinary story in all of history. Naturally the gospel writers give it prominence. But each gospel gives a different version of the events. In Luke’s account there were two angels at the tomb, in the other gospels there was one. In John’s gospel Jesus appeared to Mary in the garden, but there is no such reference in the other accounts. Could this be a weakness at the very heart of the evidence? Whose account do you believe?

Well I‘d like to challenge the assumption underlying the question. If you have reporting, even today, by four witnesses of the same events, there will be variations. But what any jury would be asked to decide is whether, despite the differences, there is unanimous agreement about the central fact. As there is. The fact that we have four accounts actually enhances the veracity of the story rather than taking away from it. We mustn’t miss that most important fact here, that they all agree that Jesus rose from the dead.

The rise of Christianity is based on the resurrection.

Is there anything out there that would cause you to change your mind?

Could you change your mind?

Of course. I open myself up to questioning. I want to be certain of this stuff. Asking questions about what I believe. And taking very seriously what my critics say to me. I would say that that process over 50 years has strengthened my faith immeasurably.

I’ve stood against the tide because of my deep conviction that Christianity is true. I’ve discovered that it has also encouraged many to see that there are answers to these big questions and they too can form part of the ranks of people who stand with me against the tide.

At stake is the reality of the world beyond or not.

Once you are open to the fact that science doesn’t tell us everything, that this world is not all that exists, there’s something more. Then you begin to open your mind to the possibility that there is another world. We’ve got it all upside down! I believe that Christianity is true. The more I question, the more I’ve felt the answers are solid. I believe that Jesus rose from the dead. Death is going out to a greater world, not to a lesser world. And the hints given to us in the New Testament fill my mind with a thrill and expectation. Roll on eternity! It’s bigger and better in the future.

Conclusions

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.

Human beings able to speak and think is a reflection of the existence of a God behind our universe who is Himself a conscious being. Since consciousness has an immaterial aspect, it cannot have been produced by purely material processes.

If there is a God, why is there so much pain and suffering? God is not remote from pain and suffering. Jesus came to experience pain and suffering and died to relieve His followers of pain and suffering. This happens in God’s timing, not ours.

The veracity of historical accounts is established on the basis of beyond reasonable doubt, which is the legal standard of proof that applies in criminal matters.

Historians agree that Jesus existed. And there is extrabiblical evidence of His crucifixion. But the resurrection can’t be explained as a hallucination or a conspiracy.

The historical evidence for the spectacular events associated with the life of Jesus is as strong as the evidence for anything else that Jesus said. They are evidence of the divine power of Jesus and the existence of a world beyond the physical.

Acknowledgment

The content of this post comes from the documentary movie “Against the tide” (2020), which looks at finding God in an age of science.

Posted, July 2021

Also see: John Lennox against the tide in science
John Lennox against the tide in suffering
John Lennox against the tide in history

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