Who knew that being an Oxford professor was such a lousy proxy for being intelligent? Christians do seem to adore John Lennox, the Oxford apologist for Jesus, yet every time I’ve read anything by him, it’s been embarrassingly silly and stupid. You want an example? Here’s ten. Lennox was asked to give rebuttals to ten common atheist arguments, and he blew it each time with a series of inane responses.
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.
“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”.
The difference between my dad and your dad is that my dad can beat yours up. That ancient priests played an absurd game of oneupmanship in which they inflated their god to have dominion over the other priests’ god does not confer any special truth on the last one bragged about.
Unless…my god of the Metaverse created your god to create this universe. Give me all your money.
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?’ 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.
“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.
OK, your god supposedly explains beauty and ethics. Do beauty and ethics explain how internal combustion works? Do beauty and ethics explain how the universe works? You claim that there are different kinds of questions, and imply that it is a category error to use one kind of principle to answer inappropriate kinds of questions, but then why do you practice a kind of epistemic imperialism yourself, using religion to explain how matter and energy were created and operate?
Also, does religion explain beauty and ethics? I agree that science is a poor strategy to answer some questions, but religion seems a poor method for answering any question.
3) Science is opposed to God.
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.
“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.
“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.”
I don’t care much for so-called atheist assertion. Science isn’t opposed to gods — show me empirical evidence for a deity, and it would have to be incorporated into our scientific explanations. The real problem is that religion is in conflict with science.
A perfect example: Lennox claims Christianity is fully compatible with science. But miracles and resurrecting prophets with magic powers is not compatible with natural explanations. Every religion seems to claim it is scientific while making extravagant claims that conflict with how we know the world works.
4) You can’t prove that there is a God.
This kind of statement ignores that there are different kinds of ‘proof’.
“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”.
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.
I agree in principle — science doesn’t deal in proofs, either. But we do expect some standards of evidence, and the whole point of science is to add some testable rigor to claims from personal experience. The ‘logic’ of Plantinga and Craig is about as good as the ‘logic’ of Lennox, which is not very. If we blithely accept personal experience, then we should believe in UFOs and Bigfoot, but we mostly don’t — we have higher expectations of what it takes to demonstrate the truth of a remarkable claim. And if we’re just going to accept accounts written in some book someone claims is holy, then shouldn’t we also believe the accounts of the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita and the Book of Mormon? There are Muslims and Hindus and Mormons who claim to have moved beyond reasonable doubt by those arguments.
Which is more likely? That all those religious claims are literally true because believers have been applying rigorous standards of evidence, or that most human beings are not particularly picky about accepting poor evidence that supports their biases?
5) Faith is believing without any evidence.
Christian belief has never been about having no evidence: the gospels were written to provide evidence, as the beginning of Luke’s attests. The end of John’s gospel says, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
But believing without evidence is a common notion of ‘faith’ at present. “This definition is in the dictionary and believed by many,” said Prof Lennox. “So, when we talk about faith in Christ, they think that’s because there’s no evidence. [John’s gospel shows that] Christianity is an evidence-based faith.”
Again, an account in a holy book is not evidence. See #4; it’s clear that John Lennox is not particularly rigorous in thinking critically about his faith.
Really: pointing to some long dead guy who wrote a credulous story about magic powers is not good evidence that magic powers exist.
6) Faith is a delusion. I’d no more believe in God than I would in the Easter Bunny, Father Christmas or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
These ideas have been made famous by people such as Prof Richard Dawkins. The only thing they are good for is mockery.
“Statements by scientists are not always statements of science,” said Prof Lennox. “Stephen Hawking said, “religion is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark”. I said, “atheism is a fairy story for people afraid of the light”.
“Neither of those statements proves anything at all. They’re all reversible. What lies behind all these delusion claims is the Freudian idea of wish fulfilment [that we believe what we hope to be true.] This works brilliantly providing there is no god. But if there is a god, then atheism is wish fulfilment.”
That doesn’t answer the argument! Why believe in Jesus but not the Flying Spaghetti Monster? I’m not particularly interested in either existing, so telling me I’m indulging in “wish fulfillment” is irrelevant. On the other hand, John Lennox clearly wants to believe in personal immortality, justice in the afterlife, and a being who answers prayers in this one, so who’s the one here with beliefs that are explained away as wish fulfillment?
7) Christianity claims to be true, but there loads of denominations and they all disagree with each other, so it must be false.
Why does the existence of denominations imply Christianity is false? It might imply that Christians have very different personalities and cultures – or even that Christians aren’t good at getting on with each other – but not that Christianity isn’t true.
“There are all kinds of different kinds of teams in football, but they all play football,” said Prof Lennox.
Um, but my personality and culture ought to be irrelevant to the objective nature of the universe (they do affect how I interpret the world, of course.) The differences highlight the fact that religious dogmatists lack any way of assessing the truth of their claims.
For instance, it seems to me that it should matter very much to believers to get the right formula for getting into heaven, rather than hell, when they die. So is it by works or by faith? That is a denominational difference that I think is ridiculous and pointless, but Christians can think it’s critical. It’s a bit of a cheat for Lennox to wave away denominational differences, when it’s his people who fight and sometimes kill each other over those differences.
We could also point out that Islam claims Jesus was a prophet, but human, while Christianity claims Jesus was a god/son of a god (they are very confused on the difference). Is that disagreement just like the difference between Australian and American rules football?
8) The Bible is immoral.
If you want to question the morality of the Bible, what basis does that morality have? There can be a serious contradiction within atheist criticisms. Dawkins wrote: “In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”
If this is true, then why does he question the morality of anything? “Dawkins says faith is evil,” said Prof Lennox. “But at the same time he abolishes the categories of good and evil. That doesn’t make sense.”
No. The universe does not care about how people interact with each other, but people do. A humanist morality is based on principles of human relationships that increase happiness and justice — we can say that a belief system that favors irrationality and ignorance does harm to people, and is therefore wrong. What we can’t say is that the Andromeda galaxy is very concerned about where you put your penis.
Lennox is dodging the question again, too. Was the genocide of the Amalekites a moral act? Is hating your parents and severing your ties with the world, as Jesus urged, a moral act? If Lennox is suggesting that the Bible is a moral guide, then I would not want him for a neighbor.
9) Surely you don’t take the Bible literally?
Some atheists (and a few Christians) have a very black and white idea of how to interpret the Bible. You either have to take it ‘literally’ or chuck it away, they think. That ignores the reality of language and how it reflects truth.
“Jesus said ‘I’m the door’,” said Prof Lennox. “Is Jesus a door like a door over there? No. He is not a literal door, but he is a real door into a real experience of God. Metaphor stands for reality. The word ‘literal’ is useless.”
Oh, I agree so much that in this context, ‘literal’ is useless. I go cross-eyed every time a fundamentalist tells me he believes in a literal interpretation of the word of his god.
But still, Lennox has to draw the line somewhere, and his dodgy evasion of that point is telling, but consistent. OK, Jesus is not a literal door. But is Jesus a literal son of a god? What if I said that was just a metaphor? Let’s go further. God is just a metaphor for a primitive understanding of the natural laws of the universe. It doesn’t literally exist — all these efforts to justify faith in an old holy book are misplaced, since it’s all just a metaphor.
But then, of course, there’s a new problem. There’s a lot of detail in those holy books. My standard response to the metaphor argument is “Metaphor for what?” If the slaughter of the Amalekites wasn’t actually a literal murder of the residents of Canaan, what is it?
10) What is the evidence for God?
You can debate the existence of God until the cows come home. It can be very interesting, especially when you go into the detail and explore the subject in depth. But for an atheist, they might be missing the point or avoiding the real issue. Prof Lennox advises to ask them the most important question:
“Suppose I could give [evidence for God], would you be prepared right now, to repent and trust Christ?”
Sure, if it was good evidence. If I gave you evidence for Santa Claus, would you believe in him?
Note that once again, Lennox has not actually, you know, given evidence for god. He has given us a good dose of irony by evading the question while accusing atheists of
missing the point or avoiding the real issue, though, so there is that.
You know, people like Lennox are the reason I’m an atheist. I was born a member of the dominant religious cult in my area, so I was the beneficiary of awesome amounts of privilege — I was not oppressed by religion. The devout people I knew were mostly nice, and I grew up with family and friends who were religious and also good, so I have no grounds for personal animus. I didn’t know any atheists, so it’s not as if I were fed anti-religious doctrine.
No, what happened is that I read the holy book, attended confirmation classes that told me what my religion was about, by religious believers, and I was offended at the damned stupidity of their claims and arguments. It was reading the kind of patent nonsense Lennox offers, bullshit that was supposed to strengthen my faith, but was such transparently idiotic reasoning, that there was no way I could accept it.
I was 13. And I honestly held back then, because how could a young adolescent be so certain that the grownups were all wrong? I didn’t actually admit to myself that I was a flaming atheist until I got to college, and even then I didn’t make a big deal of it…but as I got older, the idiocy became more obvious, and it became less plausible that it was just my youthful naivete blinding me (and now, of course, that excuse is just plain gone altogether). There was also a rising sense of injustice. How could these loons be respected? How can a goofy, lazy, preposterous apologist like Lennox have a prestigious position at one of the most highly ranked universities in the world?
I have come to an explanation. There’s a sterling example of it in the news right now, the story of David Cameron and his youthful indiscretions with a dead pig. It’s an excellent summary of the class system in the UK.
The wound of that hypocrisy was already festering before Lord Ashcroft punished him this week for breaking the rules of the ritual: that you will obey the people who made you, or you will be humiliated. This wasn’t, as some have said, young men being silly. Not if the secrets being kept are designed by powerful men to keep other powerful men under control. That kind of arrangement is the antithesis of democracy.
And it is also the antithesis to the meritocracy they proclaim. Not just because it’s rich boys getting an easy ride to the top – we already knew that – but because David Cameron’s nasty little scandal speaks to a suspicion many people already have: that in British society, you don’t get to become Prime Minister because you’re talented or because you work hard. You don’t even get there just because you’re rich. You get there by traumatizing the homeless and skull-fucking a dead pig, and that ritual gives you power because you have demonstrated utter, pathetic submission to your fellow oligarchs.
I have one criticism of the essay — it’s a bit parochial to think that this is a British phenomenon. It’s exactly the same here in America. We like to pretend we’re classless, but it just adds a touch of hypocrisy to our otherwise fully oligarchical system. So, yeah, we Americans understood exactly why the British were laughing at Cameron.
This situation is even more universal. Here’s a metaphor for John Lennox, since he loves that excuse so much.
God is a dead pig’s snout. The believers are the people parading about with the rotting meat of a benighted history latched onto their crotches, praising each other for their piety in defending the righteousness of their dead decorations, and also uniting against anyone who might criticize the stupidity of the custom.
After all, if they can get away with pointing and laughing at John Lennox, maybe they’ll laugh at me next, and it’s easier to follow the mob than to extract my genitals from this dead pig I’m wearing.