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Lennox vs. Dawkins at Keswick

September 2008

Lennox vs. Dawkins at Keswick


In the first of this year’s Keswick lectures, Dr John Lennox stepped beyond a robust defence of Christianity to point out that the ‘New Atheism’ of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens et al was dangerous to society. ‘The New Atheism seriously undercuts morality. If you teach their kind of secularism to young people, you leave them without moral protection’.


Dr Lennox quoted Richard Dawkins’s book, River out of Eden: ‘In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music’.

     If it is true there is no such thing as good and evil, Dr Lennox went on, it is impossible to call people or their actions evil. And it is also impossible for anyone to call religion evil – ‘If good and evil don’t exist, how can it possibly make any sense for the New Atheists to talk of the evils of religion or the good of atheism?’


The existence of Christ

In his far-reaching lecture, Dr Lennox stressed that the new atheism that has grown up since 9/11 is self-confessedly militant and aggressive, and that this aggression is mainly centred on Christianity.

     He debunked many of Dawkins’ main criticisms of Christianity, stating that while ‘the New Atheists glory in the scientific approach which demands evidence … they assume that there is no evidence for Christianity and so they are not really prepared to consider any that you care to offer …

     ‘They forfeit any pretence to historical seriousness when they assert the existence of Christ is in scholarly dispute. Richard Dawkins’ source is a professor of German in London University … this is history we are talking about so that the first thing to do is surely to check with ancient historians.

     ‘I did. Professor Graeme Clarke, Australian National University, eminent classicist and the author of the chapter on Christianity in the Cambridge Ancient History (he is not a Christian) recently wrote to a historian friend of mine: “Frankly, I know of no ancient historian or biblical historian who would have a twinge of doubt about the existence of a Jesus Christ – the documentary evidence is simply overwhelming”.

     ‘Such a cavalier attitude to history does nothing to enhance the New Atheism’s claim to the intellectual high ground. After all, the first rule of intelligent engagement is that you must take your opponents’ arguments seriously. The New Atheists say they are interested in evidence but evidence shows they are not’.


Wrong about science

Moreover, he said, the New Atheists are even wrong about science. They ‘make what are frankly ludicrous statements – like Richard Dawkins’ claim that “Atheists have no faith” or Christopher Hitchens’ protest that “our beliefs are not a belief”. …

     ‘Physicist Paul Davies writes, “Science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological world view … even the most atheistic scientist accepts on and out of faith, the existence of a law-like order in nature that is at least in part comprehensible to us”.

     ‘All scientists, then, believe that the universe is rationally intelligible. That belief makes sense if there is a God who both created the universe and created the human mind. The fact that human beings are made in his image means that our cognitive faculties function with some degree of reliability.

     ‘What about the New Atheist view? Richard Dawkins says in The God delusion that, since the human mind has been cobbled together by evolution, it is unlikely that our view of the world is accurate …

     ‘[That means of course that] Dawkins’ own belief in naturalism is reducible to the physics and chemistry of the neurological structures of his brain and so there is no reason for it to be true.

     Which brings us to the logical conclusion that his evolution undermines his naturalism! In that sense, the New Atheism’s reductionism undermines the very rationality that it uses to formulate its arguments. It shoots itself, not in the foot but in the head – which is usually a fatal activity’.

     John Lennox recently debated with Richard Dawkins on The God delusionin Birmingham, Alabama. He is Reader in Mathematics at Oxford University, and Fellow in Mathematics and the Philosophy of Science.