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Has science made God superfluous?

Richard Dawkins and his ‘new atheist’ colleagues work hard to spread the notion that a modern understanding of science leaves no room for God. Evolution based on mutation and natural selection, they maintain, explains life, the universe and everything. Christians are convinced this is a mistaken approach, but not many feel equipped to challenge it in an informed way. Enter John C. Lennox, informed, qualified and able. His book is God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? by John C. Lennox (Lion, 2009. Kindle ISBN: 978-0-7459-5910-8).  

Lennox is not sniping from the sidelines. He has several times engaged in public debate with Dawkins and others and, by all accounts, acquitted himself well. He is primarily a mathematician, but well versed in a variety of the sciences. He is also a committed Christian—but robust in his approach to biblical hermeneutics and rightly sceptical of such pseudo-Christian notions as Young Earth Creationism.

He believes, of course, in some degree of evolution. But he is quick to point out that it falls far short of explaining everything about life and the universe, and that it is fully compatible with belief in a God who created and sustains both.

The author writes lucidly and in an engaging style. This is just as well, because he gets quite technical in parts and my own non-scientist’s mind had a hard job staying with some of his mathematical arguments. But his approach has the ring of truth and integrity about it, and I highly recommend this book for all thinking Christians. It would also be a good one to pass on to non-Christians who are struggling with life’s big issues and finding no comfort in Dawkinsism.

[The numbers are Kindle location numbers, not page numbers]

The term ‘intelligent design’ appears to convey to many people a relatively recent, crypto-creationist, anti-scientific attitude that is chiefly focussed on attacking evolutionary biology. This means that the term ‘intelligent design’ has subtly changed its meaning, bringing with it the danger that serious debate will be hijacked as a result. (174)

‘Creationism’ used to denote simply the belief that there was a Creator. However, it has now come to mean not only belief in a Creator but also a commitment to a whole additional raft of ideas by far the most dominant of which is a particular interpretation of Genesis which holds that the earth is only a few thousand years old. (182)

I confess to finding it curious that those who claim that there is no such thing as truth expect me to believe that what they are saying is true! (240)

It is no part of the biblical view that things should be believed where there is no evidence. Just as in science, faith, reason and evidence belong together. Dawkins’ definition of faith as ‘blind faith’ turns out, therefore, to be the exact opposite of the biblical one. (294)

We should be humble enough to distinguish between what the Bible says and our interpretations of it. The biblical text just might be more sophisticated than we first imagined and we might therefore be in danger of using it to support ideas that it never intended to teach. (503)

Lest we lose our sense of proportion, we should bear in mind that, by and large, science done on atheistic presuppositions will lead to the same results as science done on theistic presuppositions. For example, when trying to find out in practice how an organism functions, it matters little whether one assumes that it is actually designed, or only apparently designed. (741)

Take the claim that only science can deliver truth. If it were true it would at once spell the end of many disciplines in schools and universities. For the evaluation of philosophy, literature, art, music lies outside the scope of science strictly so-called. (821)

Influential authors such as Richard Dawkins will insist on conceiving of God as an explanatory alternative to science – an idea that is nowhere to be found in theological reflection of any depth. Dawkins is therefore tilting at a windmill—dismissing a concept of God that no serious thinker believes in anyway. (978)

Perhaps there is a subtle danger today that, in their desire to eliminate the concept of a Creator completely, some scientists and philosophers have been led, albeit unwittingly, to re-deify the universe by endowing matter and energy with creative powers that they cannot be convincingly shown to possess. (1054)

Belief in a beginning is once again the majority view of contemporary scientists. (1393)

It is rather ironical that in the sixteenth century some people resisted advances in science because they seemed to threaten belief in God; whereas in the twentieth century scientific ideas of a beginning have been resisted because they threatened to increase the plausibility of belief in God. (1418)

The more we get to know about our universe, the more the hypothesis that there is a Creator God, who designed the universe for a purpose, gains in credibility as the best explanation of why we are here. (1450)

The fine-tuning of the universe provides prima facie evidence of deistic design. Take your choice: blind chance that requires multitudes of universes, or design that requires only one… (1581)

The fine-tuning arguments from chemistry, physics and cosmology are, of course, left unaffected by the biological theory of evolution. It is therefore surely arguable that the anthropic fruitfulness, both of the fine-tuning of the universe at the physical level and the capacity of its processes to produce organic life by a process of evolution, are, in themselves, strong evidences of a creative intelligence. (1970)

Discussion of evolution is frequently confused by failure to recognize that the term is used in several different ways.  (2147)

Natural selection is not creative. It is a ‘weeding out process’ that leaves the stronger progeny. The stronger progeny must be already there: it is not produced by natural selection. Indeed the very word ‘selection’ ought to alert our attention to this: selection is made from already existing entities. This is an exceedingly important point because the words ‘natural selection’ are often used as if they were describing a creative process, for instance, by capitalizing their initial letters. (2240)

Much more is involved in the genesis of genetic relatedness than selection and mutation. Putting it another way, the neo-Darwinian synthesis cannot bear the genetic weight that is put upon it. Something more is needed, and that something more is an input from a designing intelligence. (2550)

The claim that atheism can be deduced from evolutionary biology is false. First of all, for the logical reason that you cannot deduce a worldview from a science; and secondly, because advances in science since Darwin’s day do not support the notion that the blind watchmaker of mutation and natural selection account for the existence and variety of all of life. Certainly the mutation selection mechanism accounts for much of the variation that Darwin and we observe, but its range is circumscribed. There would appear to be an edge to evolution, a limit to what a blind watchmaker can do. (2627)

It is hard for us to get any kind of picture of the seething, dizzyingly complex activity that occurs inside a living cell, which contains within its lipid membrane maybe 100 million proteins of 20,000 different types and yet the whole cell is so tiny that a couple of hundred could be placed on the dot in this letter ‘i’. (2676)

It would therefore appear that there is very much more to what it means to be human than what is in the genes. (3130)

Most beneficial mutations get wiped out by random effects, or by the likely much larger number of deleterious mutations. This contradicts the idea commonly held since Darwin, that natural selection would preserve the slightest beneficial variation until it took over the population. (3672)

The existence of complex specified information provides a substantial challenge to the notion that unguided natural processes can account for life and makes scientifically plausible the suggestion that an intelligent source was responsible. (3740)

On the basis of making a scientific inference to the best explanation, one would have thought that scientists would prefer an explanation that explains a given phenomenon over an explanation that does not. The fact that this is not the case in thinking about the origins of life shows that an a priori materialism can produce a profoundly anti-scientific attitude—unwillingness to follow evidence where it clearly leads simply because one does not like the implications of so doing. (3916)

Francis Collins wisely remarks: ‘It is crucial that a healthy scepticism be applied when interpreting potentially miraculous events, lest the integrity and rationality of the religious perspective be brought into question. The only thing that will kill the possibility of miracles more quickly than a committed materialism is the claiming of miracle status for everyday events for which natural explanations are readily at hand.’ (4156)

To suppose that Christianity was born in a pre-scientific, credulous and ignorant world, is simply false to the facts. The ancient world knew as well as we do the law of nature that dead bodies do not get up out of graves. Christianity won its way by dint of the sheer weight of evidence that one man had actually risen from the dead. (4301)

It is only belief in a Creator that gives us a satisfactory ground for believing in the uniformity of nature in the first place. In denying that there is a Creator, the atheists are kicking away the basis of their own position. (4414)

[I have reviewed another book by John C. Lennox, Gunning For God: Why The New Atheists Are Missing The Target, here.]

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