It is such an excitement that Dr. John Lennox came in town to speak about “Science and God” at the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, MD, organized by C. S. Lewis Institute. Dr. Lennox is a professor at University of Oxford, United Kingdom. He is a pure mathematician and a philosopher. He is also a Christian apologist, responding to attacks on Christianity posed by other atheists, including Richard Dawkins, Peter Singer, and Stephen Hawking. Dr. Lennox is a clear thinker.
Scientists are not necessarily atheists and naturalists, although a majority of them are. Dr. Lennox rightly pointed out that what divides scientists regarding the issue is not science, but worldview. As a body of knowledge and a philosophical method, science can be nicely fit into both the frameworks of naturalism and theism. While some prominent scientists made statements to support naturalism, their statements are not necessarily scientific.
Being a scientist, hence, science and God are not mutually exclusive. In Dr. Lennox’s line of thought, scientists are given two choices: naturalism and theism. But he pointed out that when modern science started in Western Europe, people’s worldview were definitely theistic. Sir Isaac Newton was a theist. But after a few hundred years, scientists have turned to atheism and naturalism. Stephen Hawking, who also studies gravity like Newton, is an atheist. Not to mention the philosophical development in Western Europe, some people unfortunately turn from theism to atheism because of the church. However, given the two choices, Dr. Lennox still chooses theism because, as he cited C. S. Lewis:
“Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator.” — C. S. Lewis, Miracles
A passion about science is a passion about the law of nature, given by a supernatural lawgiver. A curiosity about the nature should lead to that about the One who imparted laws into it.
He also insightfully pointed out that scientists turned to atheism because of the false ideas of God, or a wrong/incomplete doctrine of God, such as a materialistic god (but God is a spirit), or an ancient god that has a jurisdiction (such as those gods in Greek mythologies). A lot of scientists forsake God because they do not appreciate the doctrine of God, that He is both transcendent and immanent, and He is triune.
On the other hand, people misunderstand the nature of science. Science is just finding a general description over something, but not to explain something. In fact, science explains nothing. Dr. Lennox cited Bertrand Russell who asserted the connection of the meaningfulness of things to its verifiability. He teased Russell’s idea of scientism as “scientific fundamentalism.”
Dr. Lennox spent some time talking about the reductionism in science. A lot of materialists and naturalists believe that they can reach the truth of the world through successive reductionism. He ridiculed reductionism as a means to a fundamental description, with an example of image recognition of our brain. He illustrated that recognizing a character with two strokes cannot be satisfactorily reduced to the meaning of the character with any existing theories. (But of course, nowadays, computer scientists can train models with neural network or deep learning algorithms that perform the recognition.) I submitted a question that Dr. Lennox didn’t reply at all: reductionism is not the only dominant approach in physics nowadays. Statistical description of various levels of science are meaningful if they are scientifically tested as well. Philip Anderson discussed a lot about it in his famous article in Science titled “More Is Different.” [Anderson, 1972] However, these statistical scientists are still atheists. How does he want to tackle with these ideas? I am not sure if John Polkinghorne said something about it as well.
He lastly mentioned about the creation of the Universe. Christians believe that God’s creation is ex nihilo, i.e., out of nothing. [Bavinck, 2003] Theologians such as Thomas Aquinas proved the existence of God with the cosmological argument. The naturalists tried to escape the cosmological argument by redefining the word “nothing.” They said that “nothing” is the “absence of something.” The law of gravity said that the Universe is created out of a quantum fluctuations, which implies there is something physical outside the Universe, which implies that there is something eternal other than God. We know all this is speculation if one has to look for an alternative description other than theism, instead of doing science. They want to do physics instead of metaphysics. This framework of knowledge is fascinating in some sense, but, as Dr. Lennox said, it does not take away pain and suffering (as a lot of atheists aim at while suppressing religions); instead, it takes away hope.
- John Lenox | Science and Ethics. [link]
- C. S. Lewis Institute. [link]
- Fourth Presbyterian Church, Bethesda, MD. [link]
- Vern Poythress. Redeeming Science: a God-centered Approach. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006. [Amazon]
- John Polkinghorn. Quantum Physics and Theology: an Unexpected Kinship. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007. [Amazon]
- P. W. Anderson. “More Is Different.” Science 177, no. 4047 (Aug. 1972): 393-396. [PDF]
- Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, God and Creation. Edited by John Bolt. Translated by John Vriend. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003. [Amazon]