Is God Relevant? Oxford Professor John Lennox at Tulane University

VIDEO by  VeritasForum at – Once upon a time, humans cowered at the rustle of the trees and at the sound of thunder in the sky, ascribing everything in their world to a multitude of gods. This idea was later refined to say that a single God was in charge of the world. Today, science can explain the natural world around us, proving God…irrelevant. But is this true?
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John Carson Lennox is a British mathematician and philosopher of science who is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford. He is a Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at Green Templeton College, Oxford University. He is also Pastoral Advisor of Green Templeton College and Fellow of Wycliffe Hall.

Lecture: 81 mminutes

The moment we begin to probe into this notion of relevance, it raises all kinds of questions. There’s been a recent book by one of Germany’s most distinguished psychiatrists, Manfred Lutz, God: A Brief History of the Greater One. (See Ravi Zacharias Ministry response to this book here – What he says is this, „If there is no God, then Freud gives you a brilliant argument that God has been created as a wish fulfillment for people who want a crutch in their lives. But, then he says, „Of course, if there is a God, Freud’s argument will give you an equally good reason for atheism being a crutch. But, on the crucial question as to whether there is a God or not, Freud can’t help you, you’ll have to look somewhere else.

We are going to be, in a very short lecture like this, discussing various things simultaneously. Here we are tonight, we come from different backgrounds and we have different world views. What’s at stake is simply not just which world view is relevant, but which world view is true? And there really are 2 major ones, maybe 3, and that can help us focus the discussion a little bit.

The ancient Greeks were very clever people and they had the idea of the atom, something that cannot be cut. And they came to the conclusion that the universe is made of atoms. That’s all there is- mass energy, we would say today. They were the materialists, they were the fore runners of the Richard Dawkins’ and the Peter Atkins’ of  this world, and that’s the dominant philosophy of the academy. That this universe is all that exists, there is no God, there’s no transcendence, and therefore, the nature of explanation is  such, that you’ve got to explain everything bottom up, or reduce it  to physics and chemistry. There is an alternative. And in the ancient world there were people like my intellectual hero, Socrates, who went around asking questions until they forced him to commit suicide. Plato and Aristotle, who believed with the majority of great thinkers throughout the ages that there is transcendence, that there is a God who created the universe and who upholds it.

So, we have, coming up in our academy today, through history, those 2 dominant world views. Now, there are others, but we haven’t time to look at them tonight. And the question is: Yes, which one is relevant? But,  as you get older and get more involved in things intellectual in your university, I hope you are asking the truth question. Which one is true? And I happen to believe that the Christian world view is true. And by saying that, I know I am in the minority in the academy where I work, at the University of Oxford. (11:00)

A little background picture from history: One of the very odd things is that university students, and the rest of us indeed, are being forced by people like Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss at ASU, Richard Dawkins, to choose between God and science. As if there was some hostility between belief in God and the scientific endeavor. And yet, when you trace back the origins of science, modern science, it’s utterly fascinating, because modern science exploded in the 15th and 16th centuries in western Europe. And philosophers and historians of science have asked the question: Why did it happen then, and why did it happen there? By and large, the consensus of opinion is this: C S Lewis put it very well when he was summarizing the work of Alfred Whitehead, the famous philosopher. He said this: Men became scientific because they expected law in nature. And they expected law in nature because they believed in the law giver. In other words, far from the notion of God being irrelevant to science, it was the motor that drove science in the first place. Now, that is simply a fact of history, but it’s a fact of history that a lot of people don’t realize.

Going back to my lecture in Siberia, all those years ago, I remember I came to a point in the lecture where I was talking about the rise of science, and the remarkable fact that Galileo, and Kepler, and Newton, and Clark Maxwell, and so on, all believed in God. And I noticed the professors in the front row getting very angry, and I don’t like people getting very angry. So, I stopped and I said to this professor in the front row, „Sir, I can’t help noticing you’re angry.” And he stood up and he said, „I am angry! But not with you.” I said, „Why are you angry?” He said, „Why have we never been told that these men believed in God?” He said, „I think I speak for everybody here, that this is the first time in our lives we’ve ever heard that Kepler, Galileo, Newton and Clark Maxwell believed in God.” And I couldn’t help resisting saying to them, „Can’t you guess why you were never told?” You see, historically, this is a legacy. And the irony of the contemporary situation is that science gives the impression to the public that it has turned its back on God.

But, people will say, „But, yes, in the 15th and 16th century everybody believed in God, and those were the infantile stages. Now we’ve outgrown that chrysalis and the butterfly can fly, and we don’t need concepts of God at all. And so, it was simply an infancy stage and in fact, we’ve discovered that God is not relevant. And so, you’ll have to choose now between God and science. Now, there is such pressure in this choice. I’ve discovered, and Stephen Hawking has really ratcheted it up in the last couple of years, that  I began to think: Why is it that they are so convinced that it’s God or science? And I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s actually very easy to understand, and the reason is this. It’s not so much, although we’ll see it does depend on some false ideas about science, but it starts with a false idea about God. You see, if you’re going to say God is not relevant, you better start by asking what you mean by God.

And what do we mean by God? What I have discovered, for many of my scientific colleagues is they think I believe in a God, who is a God of the gaps. That is: I can’t explain it, therefore God did it. Now, if you believe in a God of the gaps, like that, it’s clear you have to choose between science and God. Because God, by definition, is the explanation for the things that science hasn’t yet explained. So, in the ancient world, when they didn’t understand atmospheric physics, they thought the thunder was a roaring of the gods. If you believe that simply: I can’t explain it; God did it- then you must choose between God and science. God is the God of the whole show: the bits we understand  and the bits we don’t understand. And of course, that kind of argument does not apply to the God who is revealed to us in the Bible. But we need to think a bit harder about this, because there is such a pressure to say, „Well, it’s either God or science.”

Confusion on the scientific side as to the nature of explanation  – 2nd reason why this has come to be. Explanation is something I hope you study in all of your disciplines.  Very frequently, we have the impression that science explains. Putting God up just says: Well, God did it, and there’s no explanatory value there. Let’s explore that a little bit. Explanation has different levels. When Isaac Newton discovered the law of gravitation, he didn’t say, „I’ve got a law that explains it, therefore I don’t need God.” What did he do? He wrote the most brilliant book in the history of science Pricipia Mathematica, expressing in it the hope that it would persuade  the thinking person to believe in a Creator. It’s worth following his logic, because this is not ‘God of the gaps’ thinking, this is the exact opposite. What Newton is saying is, „Look, I’ve discovered something about the way in which the Creator works. Isn’t it brilliant?” And, his additional scientific knowledge INCREASES his faith in God. Now, you think for a moment. That’s the way it works at all levels. The more you understand of mechanical engineering, the more you can admire the genius of a Rolls Royce. The more you understand how difficult it is to paint, the more you can admire the genius of a Picasso. It’s not the less, it’s the more.

In other words, Newton and Kepler, and Galileo, and others, as they unraveled the levels of understanding of nature, the greater grew their admiration for God, because they could see , what I fear many people cannot see today. That God and science do not compete as explanations because they’re not even in the same category. (21:00) (There is still an hour left of this lecture).

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