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The Childish Faith of John Lennox (2 of 2)

its' ok for a child to have a childish faith; not so much an Oxford mathematicianThis is a two-part critique of an interview with Oxford professor John Lennox on the topic of the Problem of Evil. Read part 1 here.

Let’s continue with Lennox’s comments in bold, followed by my responses.

There is no logical incompatibility between evil and a God who is all powerful and all loving. God could have his reasons.

Yes, if you presuppose God, you can rationalize that he must have reasons that we just don’t understand. But that’s backwards from how anyone approaches a remarkable truth claim. Instead, we start with what we know (evil exists) and work forward to the best explanation (it doesn’t look like an omnipotent and all-loving God does). No seeker of the truth would start with the presupposition that God exists.

From the atheist’s standpoint, the vast majority of humans will never receive justice. The human heart rebels against the idea that there is no justice.

(What’s the deal with retribution with so many Christians? Life’s just unfair; you can’t just let it go at that?)

Imagine that everyone has a karmic bank account. The best among us leave life with a net positive, and the worst have a net negative. What evidence is there that after death we meet the Celestial Bank Manager to take our surplus or answer for the deficit? And why imagine that Christianity’s idea that all deserve infinite torment in hell is any less unfair than no supernatural audit at all?

Natural evil is sometimes manmade. Desertification can be caused by thoughtless farming practices. Earthquakes are made worse by people building in earthquake zones.

It’s hard to have God involved with and concerned about life here on earth and yet so uninvolved so that he’s not responsible for anything. This attempt to let God off the hook is embarrassing. He can’t speak for himself?

Lennox visited New Zealand just after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. Yes, earthquakes are devastating, but tectonic movement is essential for life.

(Well, maybe life as we know it, but not life.)

Sure, we can find silver linings in disasters, and we must realize that many aspects of nature (fire, storms, earthquakes, etc.) can cause good and bad effects. Earthquake magnitudes follow a power law distribution, but what is that to God? It would be child’s play for him to clip all earthquake magnitudes at (say) 5.0. He could distribute the energy in a magnitude 8.0 earthquake over thousands of magnitude 5.0 earthquakes.

And why is it always the atheist who has to point out the amazing things that an omnipotent god could do?

“The problem of pain, suffering, and evil must be answered not just by theists but also by atheists. There are no simple answers.”

Sh*t happens. Nature doesn’t care. There is no celestial rule maker who shares our sense of right and wrong.

Simple enough for you?

Lennox had cardiac surgery that saved his life. Yes, he thanks God for that, but in that same year, his 22-year-old niece died from a brain tumor just a few weeks after diagnosis. Can God have intervened with Lennox but deliberately didn’t with the niece? He must be consistent.

Good for you for trying to be consistent, saying that it was the same God behind both medical issues. Let me propose a simpler explanation: there is no God, and medical science is what actually saved Lennox. Now there is no difficulty juggling a God that loves people but lets these disasters happen.

“What has atheism to say to my niece? Absolutely nothing. It’s hope-less. It’s got to say that that’s just how life is.”

Christianity offers empty hope and atheism doesn’t? Okay, I can live with that, but I have no use for a “hope” grounded on little more than wishful thinking. (But I understand that life can be very difficult. I appreciate that some people may drop the need for evidence to embrace this hope. I’m in no position to criticize. My complaint is only with the Christian who says that the evidence points to God.)

This reminds me of a podcast discussing a father who had lost a son, about 20 years of age. Anyone can sympathize with this tragedy, but the father had another problem: his son had not been “saved,” so the father’s theology placed the son in torment in hell. That’s a problem caused by Christianity. From an atheist’s standpoint, this problem simply doesn’t exist.

“Any hope at all is infinitely better than what atheism offers because it offers nothing—simply death and that’s the end.”

So you’ve got no use for evidence then? A Pastafarian afterlife with a beer volcano is more hopeful than the atheist nothing, so therefore it’s worth believing in? I would’ve expected a lot more from an Oxford professor than this childish faith.

This contribution from Lennox reminds me of Nobel prizewinner Linus Pauling’s ill-advised vitamin C megadosing or Nobel prizewinner William Shockley’s dabbling in eugenics and race politics.

Lennox is entitled to weigh in on Christianity and atheism just like anyone is. But his well-earned stature within mathematics does nothing to argue that his arguments are any better formed than any others.

What a waste of a brilliant mind. Maybe he should stick with mathematics.

Anything is possible,
but the historian wants to know
what is probable.
— F. C. Baur

Photo credit: Crazybananas

About Bob Seidensticker

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