Has science buried God? Report from the Dawkins/Lennox discussion

This week, on the 21st of October, Richard Dawkins and John Lennox came together at the Oxford Museum to discuss science, atheism, and the Christian faith. Both represent significant voices in the debate about the existence of God and the claims of science; with Dawkin’s The God Delusion and Lennox’s God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?

The event was hosted by Fixed Point, and for those that are interested you can grab a DVD or CD of the debate from their website (they are currently offering a £2.50 discount on pre-orders).

The RZIM trust has summarized some of the discussion (thanks to Aaron McAleese for sending this to me) and I thought I would quote some the comments because it sounded like a lively and interesting discussion between the two scientists. The whole report is over three thousand words, so I have not included everything. If you want the full report, you can email me for a copy at jason@thinkingmatters.org.nz.

Has science buried God?

The debate was a fascinating exchange which revolved around the ideas of truth, the intelligibility of the universe, the reliability of history, the importance of the resurrection, whether or not God has any place in science, and issues of morality and purpose.

The debate involved a conversation between the two speakers, followed by a question and answer session and then finished with concluding remarks from both sides. Because the speakers were cross-examining one another, it meant that the topics that they spoke about swung quite considerably.

Dawkins started by saying it depends which god you are talking about. He said there were three types of gods:

i) Einstein’s poetic metaphor.
ii) The deist god. Dawkins said there was a “reasonably respectable case for a deist god”, but it was not one he believed in.
iii) The thousands of other gods including Yahweh, Zeus and the Christian God.

Dawkins said he knew what God Lennox believes in. He said Lennox is a scientist who believes God actually turned water into wine (changing the proteins and structure of the water) and who walked on water. He said he is used to hearing it from sophisticated theologians, but not from a scientist like Lennox. He said couldn’t God think of a better way of saving the world then torturing himself. He said it was petty and small-minded.

Lennox said that he believes in the rational intelligibility of the universe and that it was not just a freak accident. He said that he believes in a creator who is not only a force, but a person. He said the issue was far from petty as it deals with a very serious problem – our alienation from God. He said as a scientist he believed the universe was rational intelligible because there was a God. He asked Dawkins how he accounted for it.

Dawkins said things were not a freak accident. He said that Darwin showed that it happened through evolution by natural selection. He said it looks designed but it is not. He said the cosmos has not had its ‘Darwin’ yet, so we do not know how it was created. He said biology can discourage us from believing in God. He said that although we don’t understand the cosmos we do not have to postulate a creator. He says it’s harder to think of how a God came into existence than a universe.

Lennox pointed out that Darwin does not explain the origin.  He said scientists and cosmologists assume the universe is rationally intelligible. He said can we trust our own minds if they are only the product of unguided processes? He quoted the atheist Pinker who said that unguided evolution only serves reproduction and has nothing to do with truth. Likewise, atheist Gray says that it could not give any credence of truth. He says Dawkins’ views undermines the rationality upon which he relies.

Lennox said everything depends on having a fine-tuned universe before life can begin. He asked Dawkins if his belief was that everything went from the simple to the complex. Dawkins said that in biology this was correct. Lennox said that all language comes as a result of a created mind. Dawkins says that DNA is not human language.

Lennox said there was no other conceivable way of understanding information. He said information processes communication.

Dawkins accuses Lennox of [sic] incredulity.

Lennox said believing rationality comes from irrationality is rational credulity. He said he believed in an eternal logos that created the universe and the laws that uphold it.

Dawkins said that this was no explanation and that the universe was just a brute fact. He said it was easier to believe in a brute fact than in God. He said this was more plausible than a God.

Lennox says that things don’t always have a simpler explanation e.g. someone writing a book.

Dawkins says that your brain has an explanation – you can go back a level and it is always from the simple to the complex.

Lennox says we have no evidence for how low level molecules can move to a macro level with information.

Dawkins says we don’t know yet, but science is working on it.

Lennox says DNA is an ancient language that points to a logos and cannot be seen in purely naturalistic terms. Extreme reductionism removes the rationalism from the debate. He said that the existence of DNA suggests there is a designer and that Dawkins’ dichotomy of science or religion could put people off science.

Dawkins says that a religious person smuggles in magic as an explanation.

Lennox said there are some bad gaps that science closes as well as some bad gaps that it opens. He said that if there was a God you would expect (1) Evidence in the universe e.g. mathematical intelligibility, fine-tuning and the sophistication of the world and (2) that the creator would speak in a special way. He said that the resurrection was not petty. He said death affects everyone and therefore it does make an enormous difference.

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Lennox asked about ultimate justice. He said this was not a petty matter. He said that we live in a broken world and that no God means no ultimate justice.

Dawkins said suppose there was misery and no justice. He said that this was too bad if it’s true. He then said maybe there was no hope without God.

Lennox said he’d just admitted it. He said if there was a God then he would have to reveal himself. He said he could not know Dawkins by analysing him with a telescope or a microscope. He said God had to take the initiative to reveal himself to people. That is the only way you can know someone.

Lennox asked Dawkins what the ultimate meaning of life was for him.

Dawkins responded by saying that we make our own meaning. He said a biologist’s perspective was that it was all about the propagation of genes.

Lennox said what about the nature of reality? He said how do you get from atoms to a brain, or a mind, or
consciousness? He said what concept of meaning can you have unless there is a top-down view of God? He said there is a personal God and this is the source of life and meaning. He said that there is a beyond and you can have a relationship with God. He said atheism’s meaning is much smaller.

Lennox made the following points as his closing remarks:
– Science has not buried God.
– Science originated from a faith in rational processes (from a Christian background).
– Laws that mean science can be done come from the logos from God.
– Christian faith is not unscientific if you pay attention to history.
– If science has buried God where do we get morality from?
– He pointed out that Dawkins has written that there is no good or evil because there is just DNA and we dance to its music.
– He said the new atheists hold to the values they have got from Christianity. He quotes Jurgen Habermas who says the foundations of our legal system come from Christianity.
– He said atheists like Nietzsche and Camus understood you cannot retain your moral values and you are led to madness.
– He asks whether Dawkins’ world is one in which (like Peter Singer) a newborn baby has no more value than a pig or a dog.

Dawkins made the following points:
– He said Singer was one of the most moral people he knew and that he was interested in suffering. His comment about foetuses and animals was in reference to their ability to suffer.
– He said the universe was not horribly determinist, but rather it was horribly rational or intelligible. He said it would have to be (as what would it look like otherwise?). He said we could only survive in such a universe.
– He said science does not know everything, but we are working on it.
– He says science doesn’t invoke magic as an explanation.
– He said prior to Darwin much of the science seemed like magic, but Darwin solved a difficult problem.
– He said Darwin provides a lesson that we should not give up on the difficult problems.
– He said science is going to solve things and if it doesn’t there is still no reason for saying magic did it.

The RZIM Zacharias Trust Team

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