Friday, June 27, 2014

John Lennox and the Myths of Faith and Science

It is a privilege to get to hear John Lennox in person, and I would recommend that if you are interested in matter of the Christian faith and science you should look up some of his debates or lectures.  In his first plenary session at the AG Faith and Science Conference, he focused on thee "myths."  These are ideas currently floating around about science and God that are false, and in their ways, dangerous to reasonable reflection on either topic.

Here are the three myths and a few brief thoughts about each.

1. There is a war between God and science.  The conflict is not about God on one side of the issue and science on the other.  There are very good scientists who do very good science on both side of the issue.  The conflict lies on a deeper, more worldview level.  What passes for the conflict right now is the difference between Theism (specifically Christian theism) and Naturalism/Materialism.  Lennox's basic axiom, as he called it, is that the universe is not neutral in its proclamation about God.  He detailed several issues concerning both the history and philosophy of science making the case that Christianity is the engine that drove the scientific revolution.

2. The more we do science the less we need of God.  This myth is a misunderstanding about God, or more appropriately, a conflation of ideas about gods and the idea of God.  If you define God as a simple explanation for things we don't understand, then it follows that the more we learn about the universe the less we need of God.  But only people who don't understand who the God of the Bible is define him that way.  It has always been the case that deeply pious people have done science and grown in their appreciation of God exactly because God is known to be the ground for, or reason for, all that exists.  Lennox used a wonderful image here - the more I understand about art the more I appreciate the greats and the more I understand about engineering the more I can appreciate the Space Shuttle.  The more we know about nature leads to the same growing appreciation of God, not less.

3. Science is coextensive with rationality.  This current conception of science is akin to what he calls scientific fundamentalism.  It is scientism which is the belief that science is the only actual means to knowledge about reality.  It is often claimed that evoking God as some kind of cause cheapens the explanation and has no place in science.  Lennox's approach to this was incisive.  There can be more than one cause for the same effect which do not contradict or exclude the other.  (This part of his presentation reminded me of Aristotelian causality.)  Why does the pot of water boil?  It boils because a heat source is applied to water and energy is released.  It boils because I want a pot of tea.  Both are correct answers to what caused the boiling, each in their way.  But the modern scientific endeavor wants you to think the first one is the only one.

One big-picture idea he made sure to put across is that the follower of Christ need not be intimidated by the bombastic claims of the New Atheism.  What matters is that their ideas are not very good and don't take much work to refute.  There is no "war" between science and the Christian faith.

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