Oxford Museum debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox: A must see debate. Two scientists return to the Oxford Museum of Natural History, the famed site of the 1860 Evolution debate between Huxley and Wilberforce.
Fixed Point Foundation hosts a second discussion between Professor Richard Dawkins and Professor John Lennox this time in the UK at the Oxford Museum of Natural History. An enthralling topic for scientists, skeptics, and Christians for nearly 150 years, the answer to this question has implications that reverberate through-out public and private live, from government policy and medical ethics to individual choices made every day. Two scientists return to the Oxford Museum of Natural History, the famed site of the 1860 Evolution debate between Huxley and Wilberforce. Discussing an issue the BBC calls ‘as fierce as ever,’ the two go head to head in a remarkable match of intellect.
Holding the Atheistic position is Prof. Richard Dawkins, celebrated author of the God Delusion and regarded by many as the spokesman for the ‘New Atheism.’ Opposing Dawkins is fellow Oxford Professor John Lennox. Lennox like Dawkins, has dedicated his career to science, but arrives at very different conclusions. ‘It is the very nature of science,’ he says, ‘that leads me to belief in God.’
Some interesting highlights:
- right at the start in his introduction, Dawkins states his surprise (with some irritability) at Lennox’s belief in supernatural miracles in light of the fact that Lennox is a scientist
- Richard Dawkins does not have any answer, nor does he seem interested in answering the question of origins for either the cosmos or life itself. (See exchange below in the ‘origins of the cosmos’ notes from debate.
- Richard Dawkins on the jump from low level molecules to the phenomenal self organizational potentiality of micro molecules: ‘Science doesn’t yet know everything… there’s a lot of work to be done.’ THERE ARE STILL GAPS.
- Richard Dawkins: I can’t explain the origin of life now. Nobody can.
- Richard Dawkins states that this God who (supposedly) defies physics couldn’t think of a better way to rid the world of sin, than to send Himself down to be tortured so He can forgive Himself and humanity- this shows Dawkins caricaturization of the trinity, which he either does not understand or he does not/will not accept the doctrine of the trinity as explained and held to by Christianity. This statement he again pronounces as profoundly unscientific that in his opinion “doesn’t do justice to the grandeur of the universe”. Dawkins calls this action- God’s plan of salvation for mankind: ”petty and small minded” and points out that this is the God that John Lennox believes in.
- John Lennox responds, “I believe God, the creator of the universe is not just a force, but is a person who created us in His image. And you say that God becoming human and God dying on the cross and rising from the dead is petty. I think the exact opposite. It’s not petty because it deals seriously with the fundamental problem that I don’t think atheism even begins to deal with and that is the problem of our alienation with God. Of course, that makes no sense unless we believe in God. As a scientist, we both believe in the rational intelligibility of the universe. I believe this because there is a creator God behind it. How do you account for the rational intelligibility of the universe?
- Richard Dawkins: For many years it seemed obvious that the universe couldn’t be a “freak accident” by looking at the diversity of animals. Darwin came along and showed that it was not a freak accident, nor is it designed, that there is a third way that in the way of biology is evolution, by natural selection which produces a close imitation of something that is designed. It is not designed, we know that now, it just looks designed. Now, the cosmos hasn’t yet had its Darwin. We don’t yet know how the laws of physics came into existence, how the physical constants came into existence and so we can still say, “Is it a freak accident or was it designed?” The analogy with biology might discourage us from being too confident that it’s designed because we had our fingers burned before the 19th century. Now, in the case of the cosmos, the point that I’ve made over and over again is that even if we don’t understand how it came about, it’s not helpful to postulate a creator, because a creator is the very kind of thing that needs an explanation and although it is difficult enough to explain how a very simple origin of the universe cam into being, how matter and energy, how 1 or 2 physical constants came into existence, although it’s difficult enough to think how simplicity came into existence, it’s a hell of a lot harder to think how something as complicated as a God comes into existence, difficult enough to think how a deist God comes into existence, and even more difficult to think how a christian God, who actually cares about things like sin and gets Himself born of a virgin.
Published on Jun 9, 2012 by IGotThatJesusFire
On the question of ’design’ vs. natural selection
John Lennox: Darwin didn’t explain the origin of life nor the origin of the universe. I would want to start there. You say, “We don’t know how it came to be”. But, as scientists, cosmologists, physicists we’re studying it and that very study, and you r own science assumes that the universe is rationally intelligible. Correct me if I’m wrong, but, it seems to me atheism is saying, “The thoughts in our mind are only the result of a mindless, unguided process”. Now, if that is the case, it seems to me that it is very difficult to see how they could tell us anything that is true about ourselves. I think it was Steven Pinker who said that evolution has to do with reproductive sex and nothing to do with truth. John Gray, who is also an atheist, made the point not long ago is that the problem with Darwinism is that if you take it in its ultra form, it really undermines the notion that we can give any credence to what we think. So, it seems to me that your atheism undermines the very rationality that I assume and you assume when we go to study the universe. That’s the first point I would make.
Richard Dawkins: It seems to me quite an absurd thing to say: that because we are saying that our minds are produced by brains, and brains evolve by evolution, by natural selection, therefore, that’s somehow undermines our ability to understand everything. Why on earth should that be? Natural selection builds brains which are good at surviving and brains that are good at surviving are brains that have survived in the world…
John Lennox: But where is the concept of truth? How do we recognize things like truth, if those thoughts are simply reducible to physics and chemistry and neurophysiology? How do they serve truth?
Richard Dawkins: Truth is what happens. An animal that was attempting to survive, and it didn’t recognize truth and falsehood in some sense, at whatever level is appropriate for the kind of survival that it has, it wouldn’t survive. Truth just means that you are living in the real world and you behave in the real world in such a way as things make sense in a real world. When you see a rock in your way, you don’t go charging into it. You would die if you did that. If you jump over a cliff, you die. That’s truth. It’s perfectly obvious that natural selection would favor, in any animal, a brain that behaves in a way that recognizes truth and acts upon it.
John Lennox: I can’t see how natural selection would produce this truth, but, coming back to that in itself, you say this ‘illusion of design’ (and I find your writing so fascinating because of the metaphors you use), you said somewhere that it is terribly, terribly tempting to believe that it has been designed, but that Darwin has shown us that this design is an illusion. But, I have been very interested in the kind of thing that Conway Simon Morris has been saying recently, that ‘if you take the evolutionary pathway, they’re never getting through an informational hyper space with phenomenal precision, and therefore, there is the impression of design at that level. I mean, if this mechanism that you talk about that doesn’t account for the origin of life at all, let’s leave that aside, if it is so phenomenally clever, then it itself is giving evidence that there’s a mind behind it.
Can there be guidance in natural selection?
Richard Dawkins: Our point of Darwinian natural selection is that it worked without design, without foresight, – John Lennox interjects: “That’s an assumption.” Dawkins responds: No it’s not an assumption. That is exactly how it works. Before Darwin came along it looked perfectly obvious that even if evolution happened, there must be some guided to tell animals or humans how they ought to evolve. Natural selection is a blind force; the things that survive, survive. With hindsight we can see that the ones that survive are the ones that are good at surviving; they have the genes that make them survive. Simon Conway Morris would not deny that, he’s got some kind of, well, I rather share his view- convergent evolution- we both of us are perhaps on the extreme end of Darwinians, in that we emphasize the power of natural selection to hone in on particular ends. As he would say: Natural selection is mechanics,l blind, automatic force. I can’t say it’s not guided, but, there’s no need for it to be guided. The whole point is that it was without guidance. John Lennox interjects: But, it could be guided, or do you completely shut that out? Richard Dawkins responds: I mean, why bother when you’ve got a perfectly good explanation that doesn’t involve guidance? Why bring it up?
John Lennox: The point is that you use words like blind and automatic; this watch (points to watch) is blind and automatic, but, it has been designed. The words themselves do not shut out that notion. And it seems to me, the impression that I am getting is that what’s coming through is that the whole process is so sophisticated itself (that) it’s giving a rational mind behind it. Am I understanding you right, that you say you deny that because you have any principal reason for denying it? That is, everything must, as far as you’re concerned, from the simple to the complex and therefore your major argument of ‘Delusion’ (book) as I understand it is that God is, by definition more complex than the thing you’re explaining, so He’s got to be explained.
Richard Dawkins: That is a major point that I want to make, but let me go back to what you were saying before about guidance. When you drop a stone it falls to the ground and you as a scientist will explain that by gravity. You wouldn’t dream of saying, “Oh, there must be a God pushing it down”. That’s exactly what you’re in effect saying in respect to evolution because we understand evolution in just the same kind of level, rather at a better level than we understand gravity.
God and science: are they alternative explanations ?
John Lennox: This is a very important point, because I detect in many of your writings that you oppose science and God as explanations. When Newton discovered the law of gravity he didn’t say, “Marvelous, now I know how it works, I don’t need God”. God is an explicator at the level of an agent, not a mechanism, so that we can study mechanisms in biology. The more sophisticated they are the more they might point towards an agent. You don’t argue away the existence of an agent by showing that there is a mechanism. I don’t quite understand how you manage to get, if I understand you right, God and science as alternative explanations.
Richard Dawkins: I think you do get rid of an agent if the agent is superfluous to the explanation. When you’re studying something that’s happening, there may well be an agent. There may be a car riding along and avoiding obstacles and moving left and turning right and you say (there’s) an agent controlling that car. And there is, there’s a driver. But, if you don’t need an agent to explain what’s going on and we don’t in the case of biology ad we don’t in the case of gravity (we have to accept that Newton was a theist and in the 17th century everybody was), you don’t need an agent, an agent is a superfluous explanation, it’s a gratuitous grafting on of something that you don’t need.
John Lennox: I find that unconvincing because even if you accept the whole evolutionary paradigm, it depends on there being a fine tuned universe. And that fine tuned universe raises itself some very big questions as to the origin of the universe. Evolution doesn’t deal with that. Nor does it deal with the origin of life. They are vastly important points. The notion of things in principle going from simple to complex and they must go that way; that seems to me to be your belief, your faith.
Richard Dawkins: No, it doesn’t. Those are separate points. Things must go from simple to complex? No, if things go from simple to complex we need an explanation. Natural selection is an explanation for that.
John Lennox: Let’s go back to the origins of the universe and the origin of life. My life, as we both know has got this digital data base. It’s got a language all of its own. Now, the only thing we know of, capable of producing language is mind. And yet you reject that. By definition, as an atheist you must reject that there is no mind behind this language.
Language and the language of DNA
Richard Dawkins: I do reject it. When you say, ‘the only thing we know that can produce language’, we know that what produces human languages mind, yes we do, because that is human language. But, DNA is not human language. It is very sophisticated but it doesn’t follow that it has to be generated by mind.
John Lennox: But we know of no other way that it could be generated. It seems to me from a mathematical point of view, I think you said it in a different context: Junk in, junk out. Here we have this phenomenally sophisticated information processor which is the cell. Am I really to believe that that information processor capacity simply came by the laws of nature and random processes, without a mind? Richard Dawkins answers: Yes, yes. Lennox: I mean, that’s impossible to believe as a mathematician.
Richard Dawkins: It’s called the argument form personal incredulity.
Logos – in what sense is it an explanation?
John Lennox: But, I could just reverse that and say that your position is your argument form personal credulity. The rationality comes from irrationality, that mind comes from matter. To me, the biblical explanation: ‘In the beginning was the Word Logos’, that makes perfect sense and it makes sense of the fact that we can do science itself.
Richard Dawkins: But you haven’t explained where the Logos came from in the first place.
John Lennox: Of course not, because the Logos didn’t come from anywhere.
Richard Dawkins: Then, in what sense is it an explanation?
John Lennox: Because, the notion that you say, you have to ask who created the Logos, that says that you are thinking of a created God. The whole point about the God revealed in the bible is that He was not created, He is eternal, He is the eternal Logos. And I ask myself as an inference to the best explanation, which makes more sense? That there is an eternal Logos and that the universe, its laws, the capacity for mathematical descriptions and so on, that these things are derivative, including the human mind from the Logos, that makes very much more sense to me as a scientist than it’s the other way around. Then there is no explanation for the existence of the universe. Do you believe that the universe is just a brute fact?
Origins for the cosmos and life
Richard Dawkins: The universe is an easier fact to accept than a conscious creator.
John Lennox: Well, who made it?
Richard Dawkins: It’s you who insists on asking that question.
John Lennox: You asked me who made the creator. The universe created you, Richard. Who made it then?
Richard Dawkins: A god, a complicated entity which requires a much more sophisticated and difficult explanation than a universe, which is according to modern physics a very simple entity. It is a very simple beginning. It is not a negligible beginning, but it is a very simple beginning that has got to be easier to explain than something that is as complicated as a god.
John Lennox: You can’t explain the existence of God with… I think you may have missed my question. I’m drawing a parallel. You see, I’m getting the message that it’s ridiculous for me to believe in a God who created the universe and me because I (then) have to ask who created God. All I’m doing is turning that question around and saying, the universe, you admit created you because there’s nothing else. Well then, who created it?
Richard Dawkins: I understand you perfectly. We, both of us are faced with a problem of saying, “How did things start?” I’m saying it’s a hell of a lot easier to start with something simple than to start with something complex. That’s what complex means.
John Lennox: But, I don’t think so. If I pick up a book called The God Delusion, it’s a pretty sophisticated book, it’s got lots of words in it. But, actually, as I look at page 1- I don’t even have to look beyond page 1- I conclude that it comes form something complex in that book itself. Do you?
Richard Dawkins: Yes, obviously complex things exist.
John Lennox: Well, why can’t I look at the universe, the whole show, which includes Dawkins and Lennox..
Richard Dawkins: I’ll tell you why, because my brain, that produced the book has an explanation in its own right. That explanation is evolution, we go back and back and back to the origin of the universe, that provides an explanation for complex brains, and complex brains produce books and museums and cars and computers. Of course we have complex things that produce other complex things, but, science has an explanation of where complex brains come from in terms of simple beginnings.
John Lennox: I don’t think it has at all. At the level of the origin of life, reading the literature, even the recent literature, the word ‘miracle’ comes up probably far too often for your liking anyway, but, they’re just going from the self organizational properties of low level molecules that you’ve got in some kind of primeval situation to the phenomenal self organizational potentiality of micro molecules. There’s just no way you can get there.
Richard Dawkins: Well, you’re asserting that there’s no way. We don’t yet know what it is because there’s a lot of work yet to be done. Science doesn’t yet know everything. THERE ARE STILL GAPS.
John Lennox: It seems to me that the fact that the basic description of this ancient language and it is a very ancient language of DNA points much more arguably to the existence of a divine Logos that started it, than the notion that it’s going to be exhaustively explained in purely naturalistic terms, because I would still go back to the point I made earlier: This extreme reductionism removes from me the very rationality which we use to have the discussion. So that, I am not simply terribly tempted to believe it’s all been designed. I believe it’s all been designed, but, that doesn’t STOP science. I fear sometimes that your dichotomy- either God or science- might put some people off science, because they would prefer God and that would be a pity.
Richard Dawkins: When you feel like it, you will smuggle in magic. You will smuggle in magic for miracles in the bible, you will smuggle in magic for the origin of life. I can’t explain the origin of life at the moment, nobody can.
John Lennox: But you believe that it will have a naturalistic solution.
Richard Dawkins: I think that it is a cowardly copout to suggest that just because we don’t yet understand something, therefore magic did it.
John Lennox: I agree with that- the God of the gaps idea…
Richard Dawkins: But, that’s exactly what you’re putting forward, a God of the gaps. You’re pointing to the origin of life, you’re pointing to the origin of DNA and you’re saying, “Ok, Darwin has done everything after the origin of life, but, he hasn’t done the origin of life. That’s a god of the gaps.
John Lennox: What I am saying here is that there may well be 2 kinds of gaps. That is, there are bad gaps that science closes. But, could it not be that science can open some gaps? What I mean by that is this: Your assumption as I understand it is that there’s going to be an exhaustive reductionist naturalistic explanation of everything in scientific terms. I don’t think so. Now, if there is a God and if He created this universe, and if, as I believe, He is personal, then I would expect certain things to follow. (1) That I would see evidence; not proof, but evidence in the universe that God existed. I see that in mathematical describability of the universe, in the fine tuning of the universe and in the marvelous sophistication of the world. I’d expect to see God’s traces there. I would also expect that there would be occasions where and when God speaks in special ways and therefore, the more we try to analyze those things in terms of purely reductionist science, it will get more and more difficult instead of more and more simple. I wouldn’t expect there to be many of those places. I think the origin of life would be one of them. And, certainly when it comes up into more recent history, you mentioned miracles- the thing that is central for miracles is the fact that what you call petty and I find is vastly significant because it’s touching on something that affects every human being- the question of death. Now, if Jesus did really, literally rose from the dead as a matter of history, that makes an enormous difference to our view of the world. And so, far from being petty, if this is God speaking to us I want to take it extremely seriously. Why do you think it is so petty?
God – justice, morality and righteousness
Richard Dawkins: Of course it makes a huge difference if it’s true, but, you’ve suddenly leapt from a sophisticated discussion on the origins of the universe, where one can have a proper discussion on whether cosmic intelligence could have set forth the law of physics and you suddenly jumped to a man who lived 2,000 years ago, was born of a virgin, rose from the dead. I think that’s petty, by comparison with the grandeur of the universe. To put my point again: Do you really think the creator of this magnificent edifice of this universe, this expanding universe, the galaxies? He really couldn’t think of a better way to get rid of the sins on this one little speck of dust, than to have Himself tortured? He’s the one doing the forgiving after all. Couldn’t He just have forgiven?
John Lennox: Because this is a moral universe Richard and just forgiving doesn’t make sense.
Richard Dawkins: Then He has to kill Himself in order…or get Himself killed or tortured.
John Lennox: He doesn’t kill Himself. God sends His Son into the world to provide forgiveness and to provide a basis on which He can just bring forgiveness to me. We need to step back a minute from this because actually it is really a highly relevant topic. In your world, where is justice to be found?
Richard Dawkins: Justice is a human construct of great importance in human affairs and it’s something most of us have a sense of, which I think properly can be given some sort of Darwinian explanation, but, I don’t see where you’re taking this.
John Lennox: My question is: Is there any ultimate justice? You see, you say this is petty. I’m saying: I find myself in a world, which is a broken world, I find myself in a world where there’s massive injustice, where many people won’t get it, we’re so privileged, we live in Oxford and so on, we got enough money to live on and so on. But, if there is no God, then there’s no ultimate justice. And one of the things that the resurrection transforms for me from pettiness right into center stage is – if this is true, then there’s real hope that there’s rational evaluation and fair justice at the end of the world. But atheism doesn’t give you that.
Richard Dawkins: Ok, suppose there is no hope. Suppose there is no justice. Suppose there’s nothing but misery and darkness, bleakness. Suppose there’s nothing we would wish for and nothing we would hope for. Too bad! That doesn’t make it true, just because God would make us feel good. So, why do you make that argument up? You said there is no hope without God.
John Lennox: Because I believe that there is evidence that it is true. I don’t believe in the resurrection ‘just like that’, because faith is based on evidence. The question to be decided then is: Is there a God and has He revealed Himself? That’s where, again, I believe this pettiness needs to be pushed aside because I can’t get to know you as a person. You’re not just some scientific object. I can look at you through a telescope and a magnifying glass and even dissect you and so on and so forth. But, because you are a person, I cannot get to know you unless you are prepared to reveal yourself to me. So, the fact that the claim of Christ to be the truth, to be God incarnate, that makes perfect sense to me because, if there is a God who entered this marvelous universe with all the science and all there is, then He has taken the initiative in getting to know us, revealing Himself to us and He has revealed Himself to us at a level we can understand. You’re a person, He’s a person. That at least makes sense. So, one of the very important questions to ask is: Is that really true or is that myth and fantasy?
On the historicity of Jesus
Richard Dawkins: It’s myth and fantasy for me.
John Lennox: That disturbs me for the following reason. Reading your book ‘The God Delusion’, you say that it’s under scholarly dispute among historians that Jesus actually existed. Now, I checked with the ancient historians, it is not so. And it disturbed me. History is not natural science. But, what I don’t understand is this: Why you would write something like that.
Richard Dawkins: I don’t think it’s a very important question whether Jesus existed. There are some historians, most historians think He did, some…
John Lennox: They certainly do, I couldn’t find one ancient historian that didn’t.
Richard Dawkins: Well there are one or two. But, I don’t really care precisely because it’s petty. I mean, I cannot, I mean if you could possibly persuade me that there’s some kind of creative force in the universe, there was some kind of physical, mathematical genius who created everything- the expanding universe, devised quantum theory, relativity and all that, you could possibly persuade me of that. But, that is radically and fundamentally incompatible with the sort of God who cares about sin, the sort of God who cares about what you do with your genitals, a sort of God who is interested, who has the slightest interest in your private thoughts and wickedness and things like that. Surely, you can see that a God who is grand enough to make the universe is not going to give a darn about what you’re thinking about and your sins and things like that.
God – morality, sin and Dawkins bus campaign
John Lennox: So you think that morality is not important? It sounds like you’re saying…
Richard Dawkins: Of course I don’t think morality is not important. I’m a human being and I live in a society of human beings and within a society of human beings, morality is of course important. But we are one of billions of planets on a huge scale and a cosmic God who bothers about this kind of human scale is not the kind of God who is compatible with a scientific view of the universe, a medieval view.
John Lennox: But, do you think size is the measure of importance? Incidentally a logarithmic view of the scale, you’re about the half way between an atom and the universe, so in terms of logarithm your point folds.
Richard Dawkins: This in a sense is an emotional argument we’ve come into now. Lennox: I don’t think so at all. Dawkins: If I begin to respect a god it would be the kind of god that Carl Sagan might have worshipped, not the sort of medieval God who fusses about sin and has an obsession with sin and righteousness and sort of … I keep coming to this word ‘petty’ and I stand by it.
John Lennox: Well, it’s an image of God that I find strange and I gather from the BBC today that you are promoting some advertising on buses which is going to say something like ‘There probably is no God, so don’t worry and enjoy your life’. Now I was very interested in that. Why ‘Don’t worry’? Do you associate the idea of God with worrying?
Richard Dawkins: I fought for a better slogan than that. This was something that was devised by a woman on the Guardian that wanted to raise money for this advertisement on the London buses. I offered to match donations and I said I’d rather change the slogan from ‘There probably is no God’ to ‘There is almost certainly no God’ and I didn’t want to say ‘Don’t worry and enjoy your life’, I wanted to say something like ‘Live your life to the full’. But, it was too late to change it and since the money has been raised in the first day, I’m going to get the say in the next slogan and it’s not going to say what the present one does.
John Lennox: From where I sits, my relationship with God is the very thing that stops the worry and gives me the fullness of life. We’re back to the pettiness, because if God is real and has revealed Himself, then it’s through a relationship with Him that you really can enjoy a full life, science included.
Richard Dawkins: I find that so unconvincing. I think there’s something wonderful about standing up and facing up to the universe, where we are increasing our understanding and we throw away childhood obsessions, we throw away the sort of imaginary friend that comforts us when children and we feel the need for a kind of parent figure to turn to. I think when we grow up we need to cast that aside and stand up tall in the universe and it’s cold. We’re not gonna last forever, we’re gonna die. We face up to that. And I think that’s a nobler way of getting through life, then to pin your hopes on childhood illusions.
John Lennox: But that all rests on the assumption that there’s no God and that they’re childhood illusions. That’s a typical Freudian explanation- one’s atheism could be exactly that. Dawkins answers: Yeah. Lennox: A flight away from the reality that there is a God. We’re back to the question, inevitably- we need the evidence. What I’m suggesting to you is: We do have evidence. We have it in science- part of God’s revelation, and I believe this building was probably dedicated to the glory of God (Oxford museum). Dawkins: No, it wasn’t. Rather the reverse. Lennox: Ok, Oxford University was. Dawkins: That’s going back a few centuries. It seems to me that by truncating everything and putting it into the science basket, so to speak, I get the impression that you’re not taking history really seriously, otherwise you would try to interact with it. And I’m trying to get to the basis of why that is so, because you’re trying to regard what Jesus has done and who He is as petty. And I find the contrast between standing tall in a silent and cold universe with no hope, believing that your moral sense must ultimately be illusion, your waiting for justice because most people will never get it because death ends everything.The contrast between that and enjoying the friendship, personal friendship of God and knowing that ultimate justice will be done is immense. The basic question is: IS it true or not?
Richard Dawkins: That is the basic question. It is completely irrelevant if it is comforting, if it gives you hope, if it keeps you happy… That has nothing to do with whether it is true. So we need to know whether it’s true. Now, when you look at history… let’s leave aside… maybe I alluded to the possibility that some historians think that Jesus never existed. I take that back. Jesus existed. However, if you’re going to say that Jesus was born of a virgin, Jesus walked on water, that He turned water into wine, that is palpably anti scientific. There is no evidence for that, there simply isn’t any and no scientist could ever take this seriously.
John Lennox: I can make it worse for you. Dawkins: I know you can. Lennox: because Jesus actually came to be the Logos who created the whole universe and if this is the creator incarnate, making water into wine and so on is really a triviality. The more fundamental thing is the fact that He came to be and gave evidence that He was God. When you say it is anti scientific, I don’t think that it’s anti scientific at all. Science cannot say that miracles do not occur. It can say they’re highly improbable. But, no one is saying that these things occurred by natural processes. They occurred because God had His power in them. Nor did the whole universe, if we look in that sense by natural processes God created, we study all the natural processes in it. So, when you say it is anti scientific, I don’t think it is anti scientific.
Richard Dawkins: What I mean by that is if and when doing science we constantly have to keep in mind that in any moment there might be a little magic trick slipped in that would completely nullify the whole enterprise of .
John Lennox: I agree with that. But, in order to recognize what the New Testament calls miracle- a special act of God, you must be living in a universe that has regularities and we recognize them. I agree with you entirely. Dawkins: Otherwise you wouldn’t notice the miracles. Lennox: Exactly, you wouldn’t recognize the miracle if dead people were popping all over the place, you wouldn’t think it was very special. But, the fact is you need two things, not one: (1)You’ve got to have regularities, which we call the laws of nature. They’re not causes, they’re in a sense descriptions that we can use. (2)You also need to be able to recognize those, so that for example, Joseph discovered that his wife to be, Mary, was pregnant. He said he didn’t believe her story. He was to divorce her. He knew exactly where babies came from. He knew the regularity. It took very special convincing for him to realize that something extremely special had happened. But, science cannot stop that. The question is, of course, did such a thing ever happen? And the central focus in the New Testament is not that which is so readily accessible to evidence, the very conception, but the resurrection of Christ. And ancient historians, this fascinated me recently, ancient historians whose discipline is very venerable, and I’m not talking about Christian ancient historians. Ancient historians, many of them, even at the skeptical end of the spectrum say that the evidence for the resurrection of Christ is very powerful. The explosion of the Christian church from a non-proselytizing group of Jews in the first century, the empty tomb and all the rest of it has even led Geza Vermes, a distinguished ancient historian here at Oxford to say: Yes, this tomb was empty. Hallucinations and these kind of explanations do not wash. So we have to ask ourselves: Are we prepared to believe an historical testimony or not?
Richard Dawkins: Well, you must talk to different historians than the ones I talk to, but, in any case, I still come back to the point that you cannot do science if at any time- remember that old cartoon with a miracle sign in the middle of the equation? That is deeply against the spirit of science. And I don’t think that I could do science if I thought that at any time something like the resurrection, something like the virgin birth was going to be smuggled in by a Godly caprice.
50 minute mark here. Topic moves on to the issue of meaning: Human life and meaning and purpose and morality.
Richard Dawkins: Well, we have talked a bit about morality. Meaning is something obviously which scientists like to find. We like to find meaning in things, we like to understand things and as I said before: Brains are selected to function, to work well in the real world. And one of the things that works well from a survival point of view to find meaning and correct meaning to interpret the world in a way which fits in. What’s gonna happen next, for example. You don’t jump over a cliff because you understand what happens if you jump over a cliff- you’re gonna die. So, meaning is something that human brains appreciate, meaning is something that scientists appreciate in a sophisticated way.
John Lennox: So what is the ultimate meaning of life for you?
Richard Dawkins: The ultimate meaning of life depends on what you mean by it, obviously. Each one of us can make an ultimate meaning, each one of us can have a private meaning, a purpose in our life, what we hope to achieve in our life. Or, a biologist might say, the ultimate meaning of life is the propagation of genes, that would be a very different kind of meaning. They’re both true.
John Lennox: I suppose the basic question for me here is: What is the nature of ultimate reality? If ultimate reality is simply the universe in some sense, or multiverse, that’s one thing. I am at a loss to understand how you get from simple atoms, elementary particles and so on, to a brain, let alone a mind, the eye, the person. I don’t understand what consciousness is. I don’t begin to say and I don’t think scientists begin to say how you can get to something that even understands the concept of meaning. But I can understand if behind the universe, the ultimate reality is not in personal matter and energy, that somehow has produced all this stuff, bottom up. I can understand it if it’s top down, as well as partly bottom up and that is that there is a God, who is personal, who is good, who is the source of life and meaning and who reaches up to me as a person and who in fact, far from stopping me doing science, encourages the development of the mind that He has given me. And so meaning to me has all kinds of dimensions you would agree with, my family and my wife, my children and my work and so on. But it’s not bounded by the 3 score years and ten. It is not bounded by the death of the universe. It’s got an expanding horizon of hope and that to me is the only thing that is worthy of the God who created this vast cosmos, that our lives are not going to be extinguished just like that. There is a beyond and I can walk with confidence into that beyond cause I’ve got a real relationship that’s got a firm basis with the God who invented it all. And therefore, it seems to me that the meaning given by atheism in the reductionism is very, very tiny. Of course you’ll come back immediately and say it’s a question of truth. Of course it’s a question of truth. But at least we can have a look at the two different kind of worlds that we represent, because that business of ‘it’s tempting’, it is terribly tempting. Do you ever get terribly tempted to believe that there is a God? That the kind of thing I’m saying is true?
Richard Dawkins: I said to you already that there are very many things that would be very nice about it, as you’ve just repeated though, it doesn’t make it true. I mean, you think you’re going to survive your own death, I gather. You think that even though your brain dies… I mean, at what point in evolution did that remarkable faculty emerge?
John Lennox: I haven’t a notion. It’s part of… God has created human beings in His image.
Richard Dawkins: What on earth does that mean? In His image… He looks like us?
John Lennox: No, no, we have personality, it’s Anthropomorphism. But, we are persons, God is a person, therefore we can relate to Him.
Q & A in the 57th minute lasts 23 more minutes.
Disclosure: Professor John Lennox who is highly esteemed by Christians and in the Reformed community does in fact believe that God may have used the process of evolution at some point in His creation of mankind. This topic however is not discussed in this debate.