Q&A with Lennox

At the end of a this  talk John Lenox helpful answers some tricky questions: (his answers re paraphrased by me):

 

Q: What would you say to someone who didn’t care about the big questions of life, like “is there a God” etc?

A: He said I would care for them. If someone says they don’t care about these things they are saying a lot about themselves…and their need for someone to care about them. Perhaps that has not happened before.

 

Q: What would I have to do to prove to you I had been resurrected form the dead?

A: Prove that you had died! And been buried. Then I would take you seriously.

 

Q: Isn’t your analogy about Henry Ford and the laws of nature different from God and science? After all Henry Ford is inside the system not outside.

A: Henry Ford is not totally inside the system. We are not totally determined by natural law. We can be genuinely creative for example. But the point of the analogy was that you  can have two separate explanations for the internal combustion engine. One in the mind of Henry Ford and the other the laws of physics and chemistry. They are not mutually exclusive but complementary.

 

Q: Are there examples of God’s intervention today and in your life?

A: There are many things that I have prayed about that have happened. It could have been coincidence but over time it becomes very improbable. He gave a specific intervention of God. He was on a train, felt God put the idea of giving a bible to this Russian man he had just met. The impression didn’t go away. But he didn’t have one. Then he remembered that he had been given one while travelling several weeks before and it might still be in his brief case. It was. He gave the man the bible who went white as a sheet as “coincidently” his had been taken or lost a few weeks ago and they where really hard to get hold of. His wife was very tearful and grateful too. A German girl, also in the carriage, who witnessed this, started reading the bible too. When John got home and told his wife she insisted he go to Russia. He phoned and got immediate permission to go. No paper work needed. Just the green light to go. When he got there the mathematicians he met were just interested to hear about how he could believe in God and be a scientist. From that time on innumerable opportunities just opened up.

 

Q: What about different religions?

A: Take the three monotheist religions:

i) Jews = he died but did not rise

ii) Muslims = he did not die

iii) Christians = he died and rose.

How do you know which is true?

 

The real difference comes not at the level of morality, ie what they say is good and bad behaviour, but at the basis of how you can have a relationship with God. There are two ways:

i) Entrance exam. The professors or examiners may be kind but it depends on your merit. You have to be good enough to pass.

ii) But the unique thing about the Christian faith is that it is not based on our merit. It is based on the life and death of Jesus. In other worse his merit. John talked about his relationship with his wife in marriage as not based on her passing an exam but him accepting her unconditionally. He said Christianity the only religion that works this way. He says I live for Jesus not to gain his acceptance but because I already have it. My acceptance is based on his death for me.

 

The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics

Here are some highlights of John Lennox’s this talk given at Harvard university. He is basically making the point that we should not take the fact that we can understand the universe for granted.  Just because we can understand so much should not distract our attention from asking why we can understand so much. Why is so much of the universe described so well by the abstract and ordered laws of mathematics? Is there any basis for thinking our understanding of the world relates in any way to reality? Chekc out these quotes and my notes of his talk:

Einstein said “the only incomprehensible things about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” How come our minds come up with equations that describe the universe?

Lennox references “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” http://www.dartmouth.edu/~matc/MathDrama/reading/Wigner.html where in 1961 Eugene Wigner wrote:

 “the enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and that there is no rational explanation for it” Eugene Wigner

“certainly it is hard to believe that our reasoning power was brought, by Darwin’s process of natural selection, to the perfection which it seems to possess.”Eugene Wigner.

Apparently Charles Darwin wrote:

“With me the horrid doubt always arises, weather the convictions of mans mind which has been developed from the mind of lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkeys mind if there are any convictions in such a mind?” Darwin

Why should beliefs produced by physiology be mostly true?

“It is not irrational to believe in super nature but it is irrational to believe solely in nature. The boot is entirely on the other foot. Atheistic reductionism undermines the foundations of the very natural of the rationality need to construct its arguments, or any argument of any kind whatsoever. ” Lennox

“Only if we assume a God who is morally our like can truth and the search for truth be at all something meaningful and promising of success. This God left aside the question is permitted is weather being deceived is not one of the conditions of life.” Nietzsche

You cannot explain semiotics, says Lennox, (the meanings of a few marks on a piece of paper, or a menu, for example) bottom up from the chemistry and biology. You have to do it from top down postulating a mind.

Turning to miracles John talks about Flew and Hume:

I was wrong about Hume…so all my books would need to be rewritten because he did not believe in cause and effect. Antony Flew

God who set the regularities in place can cause an event. Our universe is not a closed system.

Singular events are by definition improbable but not impossible. No matter how many graves you watch were people do not rise it can never prove that someone will never rise.

He puts the resurrection under the microscope of Hume’s criteria in his book “gunning for God.” which I have just bought.

The limits of scepticism

Just watched a great debate between John Lennox and Michael Shermer:

When asked:

“why would you choose to worship a creator God who forbade man to eat from the tree of knowledge, one from which you have obviously eaten from as you are a knowledgeable man…way would you choose to worship this god?”.

Lennox replies:

“This is a  good question. I’ll tell you why it is a good question. It was asked originally by a snake!”

After quickly stating that he is not implying any offence at all, he talks about how that very question was asked in the garden of Eden. The first temptation to sin was that God was holding out on the first humans. They could eat from every tree except one. One forbidden tree was actually the minimum condition for man to have the freedom of moral choice. Yet the snake twisted it to make God look like he was mean and holding out of them.

When Lennox pointed out that it was the “tree of the knowledge of Good and evil”, not simply of knowing things and truth in general, the guy asking the questions said that it was a “tree of knowledge” not a “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. Lennox said he was not aware that the terms good and evil were not there in the passage. Very humbly and graciously he said he stood corrected. But when I went to the Hebrew there were two terms translated “good thing” and “bad, evil”. I wish I knew Hebrew to be sure but it looks to me that all the major translations are indeed correct. I can’t wait to get going with this language.

Anyway, Lenox ends magnificently. After explaining how God gave his son to die for us so that we could know and enjoy his friendship, he ends with this: “the notion that God is trying to keep us down is the original lie”.

 

“We have been faced with someone talking who is a distinguished sceptic. As I understand it the word sceptic is a great word. It means to check from a distance. And scepticism is very important and Michael has demonstrated in many of his books the pseudo sciences that we need to get out of our thinking. But ladies and gentlemen we may start with a sceptical approach to Christianity. That would be wise. To check it all out from a distance. But there comes a point when you have to give up your distance. You see if I had been sceptical about my wife all my life she would have never become my wife. I did check her out at a distance to start with but then, in order to make that profound commitment that has now lasted 40 years, I gave up my distance and approached a person. And belief in God is not belief in a theory. Because you can keep approaching theories from a distance. Belief in God is in the end commitment to a person and you can never know the reality of that kind of commitment unless you give up your scepticism and on the basis of the evidence you have accumulated you start to commit yourself to a person. You won’t know everything, but I have tried to argue that there is enough basis in science, in philosophy, in God’s self revelation, to be at least a platform from which we can begin to give up our scepticism and enjoy a positive relationship with the God who created us to enjoy himself eternally.” Lennox

 

More here:

 

Who created God?

Richard Dawkins

At the centre of Richard Dawkin’s “God Delusion” book is the question “Who created God?” It’s supposed to be a devastating blow to the credibility of Christianity rendering speechless those who believe in a creator God. It has always baffled me as to why that is such a problematic question. The answer is “no one created God. He is uncreated. Why is that a problem?”

John Lennox

John Lennox points out that the question can just as well be asked of naturalists : “Who or what created matter and energy?” If the answer is that they have always existed then they obviously have no problemwith something being uncreated. If the answer is that matter and energy came into being at some stage then something must have caused their appearance and we either have to take that as eternally existent or the thing before that or before that and so on but the buck has to stop somewhere. Something somewhere must have been eternally existent and the first cause of everything. You can’t have an infinite sequence of past causes or we would never arrive at the present.http://johnlennox.org/index.php/en/resource/who_created_the_creator/

I think the real sticking point though is Dawkins’ view that something cannot be a valid explanation or cause if it is in fact more complex. That seems to be a firmly held presupposition, and is in fact at the heart of a reductionist worldview. While it has proved a very fruitful expectation in understanding many things, there is no reason to think it is true of everything. Can you reduce personhood, consciousness, love, information or  morality? There is nothing wrong in trying but do we want to rule out the possibility that a person is the source of person hood ahead of time? Could there not be some highly complex, beautiful, loving and morally perfect being behind everything? Looking for simpler explanations of more complex phenomena is a very valid pursuit and one that works because the universe does seem, in many ways, remarkably ordered but it is a step of faith, or at least a big inductive jump, to say that all valid explanations are in terms of simpler phenomena.

One final point: I have heard people argue that when we find ancient ruins we ascribe intelligent design to them, i.e people made them. This is helpful in that it gives an example of a more complex cause (a person) for a simple phenomena (some scratches in a stone) but it fails to be relevant here because it is not a closed system.  Dawkins and others would simply say that there is a series of increasingly simple explanations for the person, in terms of evolution, and therefore there is ultimately a simpler explanation for the scratches. When we are talking about an uncreated creator there is no possibility of a simpler sequence of causes behind his apparent complexity because there is, by definition, nothing before him. That is why the assumption that “a valid explanation must ultimately be in terms of a less complex cause” needs to be challenged.

I might be missing something but it seems to me that the “who created God question” is not the deal breaker that people think it is.

what the resurrection proves

Just watched this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4k4OXUyatZE&feature=related

Here is my paraphrase of what Christopher says

Imagine a tomb was found in the hills of ancient Palestine in which was found the body of a scourged and crucified man. Something like a crown of thorns has been pressed in to his head and his side has been speared. Imagine that there was discovered in the tomb a plaque with the name “Jesus of Nazareth” written on it and that carbon dating put the man’s death at around 30AD. News of this spreads around the world and it is universally accepted that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Now, would people stop being nice to each other? Would they start to steel, lie, cheat and murder? No.”

I think he is trying to show that the existence of moral behaviour is not contingent on Jesus rising from the dead but who thinks it is? Jews and Muslims certainly don’t. Other arguments, it seems to me, make a persuasive case for the source of moral absolutes. The existential force of the moral absolutes leads one to ask what their basis is. Saying it’s from evolution totally strips morality of its heart and castrates it as a potent reality. There is, as CS Lewis points out, an “ought” in the universe that cannot come from matter or energy. It is from a realm of meaning not matter and I know of no other source of meaning than a person or persons. Absolute morality must therefore come from a unique person or unified people. If morality is like gravity then why not invent the moral equivalent of an airplane and harness it for our own ends. Some people do just that and use other peoples sense of right and wrong to manipulate and control them.

The resurrection is not proof of morality, it’s powerful validating evidence that Jesus is who he said he was and did what he said he did i.e. that he was the son of God come to earth to be a sacrifice for our sin. He is not so much the proof of morality or a reason to behave, but a lifebuoy for those of us who know they are being pulled under by the weight of their own moral failure. Jesus is shown to be not only the judge we were rather afraid would show up, but the saviour we are mightily relived came down.

PS. A question in the study guide for the Fixedpoint debate between Lenox and Dawkins asks:

“Neither Dawkins nor Lennox arrived at their current view of God’s existence as a result of years of scientific study in their adult life. Does this mean that their respective positions are weaker? Why or why not?”

Now that is a very interesting question. Much intellectual weight is being exerted to defend a position that was arrived at by much less vigorous thinking. How can we avoid getting entrenched in our views?