The last nail in God’s coffin? Part 1

Lennox begins his book proper by taking the New Atheists to task. After several quotes from Atkins and Dawkins which show how unreasonable their views are, he concludes “such views are at one extreme end of a wide spectrum of positions and it would be a mistake to think that they were typical. Many atheists are unhappy with the militancy, not to mention the repressive, even totalitarian overtones of such views” (16). However these views, that are a minority of the minority, are worth rebutting because they “receive public attention and media exposure”. Well, if Lennox wants to give them more public attention and media exposure by making them the focus of his book, then that’s a pretty gutsy move.

Lennox claims that: “From what he says it is clear that one of the things that has generated Dawkins’ hostility to faith in God is the impression he has (sadly) gained that, whereas ‘scientific belief is based upon publicly checkable evidence, religious faith not only lacks evidence; its independence from evidence is its joy, shouted from the rooftops.”” (16). Lennox counters Dawkins with:

Christianity will insist that faith and evidence are inseparable. Indeed faith is a response to evidence, not a rejoicing in the absence of evidence. The Christian apostle John writes in his biography of Jesus: ‘These things are written that you might believe…” That is, he understands that what he is writing is to be regarded as part of the evidence on which faith is based. The apostle Paul says what many pioneers of modern science believed, namely, that nature itself is part of the evidence for the existence of God: ‘For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.’ It is no part of the biblical view that things should be believed where there is no evidence. (16)

Apologies for the lengthiness of the above quote, but it needs to be seen in its entirety. There’s a few important contradictions here, so let’s break it down.

First, this quote demonstrates the flexibility Lennox will continually place on ‘theist’. Up to this quote Dawkins and Lennox have clearly not put any denominational restriction on the faithful; they clearly are both talking about theists in general. But now that he wants to demonstrate that religious faith most certainly does not lack for evidence, he turns to the one and only faith that he believes fulfills this criteria. There’ll be no examples from Islam, Hinduism, or Judaism. Every other faith is cast aside as lacking sufficient evidence. Lennox surely understands that every Christian is a theist, but that not every theist is a Christian.

But really Lennox has no other option but to do this semantical sleight of hand. Theism is an uneasy alliance held together on one point only – that in opposition to atheism there is some kind of supreme being. But the enemy of one’s enemy is not really a friend, and Lennox quietly jettisons those friends as soon as he wants to get down to the specifics of evidence for faith.

Second, John’s intention to provide evidence is separate from whether what is written is in itself evidence. Some 2000 years after it was written the question of John’s authorship is still not settled. Since the only evidence that is being presented is that of an eyewitness, then for the reader of John this must be taken into consideration when considering the truth of the matter. But Lennox ignores the whole debate of John’s authorship to state that simply writing with the intention to be believed is sufficient to raise the writing to evidence. This is almost sweet in its naivety, and if so would actually have Lennox agreeing with Dawkins, for surely Dawkins writes with an equal intention to be believed, and the authorship of his works are in no way doubted. Presumably this yardstick for evidence is only applicable to the authors of the gospels, although in a book that’s stated goal is to show that science hasn’t buried god, it’s not a very good start in setting such a low standard that evidence has to achieve to pass muster.

Third, to claim “nature itself is part of the evidence for the existence of God” just continues the problems of the above. Paul says look at nature and you’ll understand that god must be behind it. Well, case closed then. There’s really no need to read on because Paul has provided all the evidence we need – just take a gander out the window and you’ll know the truthiness of god. Except that it’s not the case for every atheist out there, and as Lennox is writing to challenge the rise of Naturalism, then really he’d better provide more evidence than “Paul say so”.

What’s really astounding is that Lennox provides the above as his counter to Dawkins’ claim that faith lacks evidence. From the discreet substitution of Christianity for theism, to the claim that writing about something is akin to evidence for it, to Paul’s WYSIWYG proof of god, I can understand why he finishes with “it is no part of the biblical view (just in case you doubted that he’s talking about Christianity rather than theism) that things should be believed where there is no evidence”. What I can’t understand is why anyone else would come to the same conclusion.

3 thoughts on “The last nail in God’s coffin? Part 1

  1. Marco

    Having read both Dawkins’ book and Lennox’s, is how little either book follow the scientific process in their arguments. They mention science and then mostly use literary sleight of hand to try to shift our thinking in their direction. That being said, I find certain parts interesting and worthy of comment and analysis, while other parts leave me rolling my eyes in disgust.

    I don’t find any issue with arguing for theism, and separately jettisoning other faiths when getting into specifics. This doesn’t mean I believe any of it. When he argues for theism he picks specific “gaps”, especially including the Yawning gap in scientific knowledge of abiogenesis, and of the Universe’s existence. These arguments are valid for any theistic religion. I think his invoking of biblical authority is not so much a jettisoning of other religions than as a refinement of theism for the theistic, not as evidence against naturalism per se, at least – that was my impression overall. None of the Christians I know look to the bible for “evidence” in the scientific sense, but Lennox’s invocation of the bible will certainly resonate with the non-denominational or loosely commited theist.

    Reply
    1. winstoninabox Post author

      My point isn’t that Lennox only chooses examples from Christianity, but that every single time he uses the word theism, theism means AND ONLY EVER MEANS Christianity. He will never ever admit other religions into theism because as far as he’s concerned all of them are wrong. This greatly weakens his argument, that THEISM sits better with science than atheism. It would be more correct for him to claim ‘the Christian worldview sits better with science than atheism’. Lennox is a writer of very good ability, so he has done this deliberately. I believe it’s to give his argument an appeal wider than it actually has.

      Reply
      1. Marco

        I am not so sure about how one can judge the correctness of doing this. Theism and Christianity are both individually a lot of different things to a lot of different people, especially in how they sit with science. In my head, his arguments would just as easily work for other monotheistic religions, and they only moderately diverge from eachother in the way they relate to natural science. The appeal would rapidly dissipate for audiences where the majority religion is not Christianity based, even if the reader himself is more open to christianity than to other faiths. Clearly the book is designed to reach those turning away from christianity towards atheism primarily. It is not interested in batting for or against other religions per se.

        Reply

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