Religion

Professor John Lennox on why atheists are missing the target

The Oxford professor of mathematics and science says the atheist's solution to the question of God is "anti-scientific"

Every scientist is a believer, says Oxford professor John Lennox, whose work deconstructs the atheist idea that God is not relevant anymore. In speaking with Aleteia’s Miriam Diez Bosch about his new book, Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target, Lennox explains — among other things — that he is convinced that science does not resolve the problem of suffering.

Asked whether God is irrelevant in the modern, educated era, Lennox maintains that “people have not been taught anything intelligent about God. They are very interested in the origin of the universe, they are very interested in the big questions so far as they could be answered by science. But one of the results I think of the Enlightenment has been a reaction against formal religious structures, and you can understand that reaction,” he allows, “because there was a lot of evil done in the name of God.”

Still, Lennox says that interest in God, and in religion, among the young men and women he teaches “is enormous. I often expect to have one thousand, two thousand, three thousand students to listen to me talk about God because they are very interested in hearing a scientist who actually thinks there are reasons for believing in God.”

The dialogue about faith and science, Lennox maintains, is often confused by language, and by assumptions that are made when the issue of “faith” comes up. “That’s a confusion of thought, because actually you might mean by Faith, ‘Faith in God’, or you might mean simply ‘faith’ — which is ‘trusting.’ If one understands the latter, then reason tells us that faith is essential to science. In the 16th and 17th centuries, modern science started in Europe with Galileo, Keppler, Newton — all of whom believed in God, and their faith in God did not hinder their science. It was the motor that drove it.

“They had faith in God, in a rational intelligence, and that could led them to believe — to have faith that they could do science.”

The modern era makes a great mistake when it tries to compartmentalize science and faith and assign them to exclusive categories, says Lennox. “‘Faith in God’ and ‘Faith in science’ belong very closely together because I believe both of them are grounded on evidence … .Every scientist is a believer. I, as a scientist, believe that science can be done, I believe the Universe is rationally intelligible. There is a God behind it. I found the atheist solution actually is antiscientific.”

Asked whether the modern atheist movement, citing increasing advances in biology and bio-medical engineering, has “buried” God, Lennox said no. “Science hasn’t buried God; that’s actually a false formulation. Many people like [Richard] Dawkins and [Stephen] Hawking think that I, as a Christian, believe in that kind of God — who disappears with the advance of science. But the Bible does not start with the words ‘In the beginning God created the bits of universe I do not understand.’ It starts with the words ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,’ the whole show! So my God does not disappear with the advance of science.”

More importantly for Lennox, atheism has a glaring inability to explain or solve the problem of suffering, and offers no means of understanding suffering, which is common to every human: “Atheism does not solve the problem. It does it in a way intellectually — people will say ‘that is just the way the universe is and we have to face it’ — but it does not remove the suffering. It does remove all hope because by definition atheism is a hopeless faith.

“Many of my atheists friends ask me why God does not ‘solve evil’ and pain. Atheism not only does not solve the problem, it removes it completely and destroys all categories. Surely a good God could do this and that and he could have made a world in which there is no evil, of course he could, but we would not have been in it.”

Atheists also, says Lennox, are the ones who “tend to say that all religions are the same — but the people who represent those religions do not believe that for one moment. We do see some religious leaders who are, as you say, ‘obscuring the idea of God’ and introducing ideas that are not only get rid of God but that are dehumanizing.”

Where creation has become dehumanized, the core concepts of faith — mercy and forgiveness — become meaningless and irrelevant, says Lennox.

“It is one of the reasons why I am a Christian, because atheism has no forgiveness, of course, and no ultimate justice. The genius of Christianity is that the acceptance does not come after the final Judgment, it comes at the start, because God has done something in Christ that deals with my central problem of guilt. I live my life not to gain God’s acceptance, but because I have got it as a free gift.”

This acquaintance with mercy begets mercy, “always. I want every day and every year to be a Year of Mercy and I am glad to see that emphasis because this is the Christian Gospel: God in his grace has shown mercy to us. It is not something I deserve, it is something God offers.”

If you have enjoyed getting to know a bit about John Lennox, visit his website at http://www.johnlennox.org