This is my first submission to the Patheos network, where I am told there is much better chance that my posts will be read by religious believers. Good, because that’s who I mean to reach.
When I read this article about evangelist John Lennox, I meant to reply to him, but then I realized that his answers are mostly shallow and evasive excuses. The more objectionable assertions came from the author of the article, Heather Tomlinson. So I will address her instead, taking Lennox’ comments to speak for her, as they do in her article.
You don’t have to read hundreds of books before you can discuss your faith with an atheist. Sometimes claims and questions that are just short soundbites can be answered just as quickly. At the London Evangelists’ Conference yesterday, Professor John Lennox offered some quick responses to some common claims from atheists.
1) You don’t believe in Zeus, Thor and all the other gods. I just go one god more than you, and reject the Christian God.
The problem with this idea is that ‘gods’ such as Zeus and Thor are not comparable with the biblical understanding of God.
“There is a vast distinction between all of the Ancient near eastern gods and the God of the Bible,” said Prof Lennox. “They are products of the primeval mass and energy of the universe. The God of the Bible created the heavens and the earth”.
There is no significant difference between the Bible god and the previous near-eastern deities it was apparently based on. All the gods of every religion are magical anthropomorphic immortals, and the characters of ethnospecific folklore. Modern religion is an adaptation and appropriation of the lords and legends of elder religions in neighboring regions. Just as Christianity grew out of Judaism, Judaism evolved from Semitic polytheism, mixed with the influences of Hellenist, Egyptian, and Zoroastrian mythos. Even Rabbinical scholars admit this, as do experts in Christian scriptural history.
Throughout the various pantheons of polytheism, there are many gods credited with having created the Earth. Most notable among them is Lord Kṛṣṇa, supreme personality of the God-head, the Hindu Trimurti, on which the Christian concept of the trinity was apparently based. Hinduism is the oldest religion in continuous practice. Even the most recent of the Vedic scriptures is still centuries older than most, (if not all) of the tales from Old Testament. Krishna was a Christ-like figure, credited with much more than Jesus ever was. The same goes for other gods too. Krishna gave sight to the blind, and Dionysus turned water into wine more than half a millennia before the alleged time of Jesus. There are so many parallels between all these religions, that Jesus’ biography reads like a compilation of elder legends attributed to older gods, and the Old Testament reads the same way.
The first depictions of the ‘father-god’, El/Allah/Abba/YHWH are of a human figure who walks, talks, eats, waves his hand, turns his head, shows his backside, and cheats at wrestling. The concept of Satan first appears in the Avestas of Zarathustra, and the Garden of Eden seems to be a revision of both Pandora’s box and the crucifixion of Prometheus, mixed with the fable of Enlil & Ninti from Sumerian mythology, and Lilith and the huluppu tree from the Epic of Gilgamesh. Every trivial element of Genesis already existed in much older works that were written by the grandfathers of the Biblical authors. So there is nothing unique or original about western monotheism, and no distinction whatever between the gods of ancient or modern mythology.
No, you don’t need to read hundreds of books before you discuss faith with an atheist, but why is it that we always have to know both sides of this argument better than you know your own alone?
2) Science has explained everything, and it doesn’t include God.
Science cannot answer certain kinds of questions, such as ‘what is ethical?’ and ‘what is beautiful?’ Even when it comes to questions about the natural world, which science does explore and can sometimes answer, there are different types of explanations for different things.
“God no more competes with science as an explanation of the universe than Henry Ford competes with the law of internal combustion as an explanation of the motor car ,” says Prof Lennox.
There is no question that science can’t answer but that religion can. Ethics, for example, can be explained by required criteria and its value in any or every society. The same goes for morality. There are reasons why some action or choice is considered moral or immoral, and knowledge of those reasons shows God to be immoral or unethical by comparison.
Once upon a time, our ancestors believed that thunder, lightning, and volcanoes were gods in action, that comets were an omen, that the stars and planets had human characteristics, that sickness was a curse of witchcraft, and that epilepsy was demonic possession; all because that’s what religion would have us believe. In each case, the real truth might never have been discovered had we been satisfied by those lies. And in each case, the reality was a revelation of whole new fields of study previously unimagined, and vastly more complex than the simple excuses we made up in our ignorance. No doubt that pattern will continue, such that if we ever do discover the cause of the big bang, or some better explanation for the origin of life, the universe, and everything, it too will be a wealth of new information with practical application, and so advanced that will render our previous belief in gods, ghosts, and magic just as laughably silly as every other field of study so far has already shown.
Every question that has ever been answered was answered by scientific methodology, philosophy and epistemology. Science can also show that its answers really do explain things with verifiable accuracy. Religion only pretends to answer anything, and all of its answers are either incorrect, inconsistent, incoherent, or all of the above. Every claim any religion makes falls into one of two categories, not evidently true, or evidently not true. There is nothing any religion can actually show that they honestly know, because none of their beliefs are evidently true. That’s why I always say that science doesn’t know everything, but religion doesn’t know anything.
3) Science is opposed to God.
There are certain conceptions of a ‘god’ that might be opposed to science , but not the Christian God. There might be certain kinds of ‘gods’ that are invented to explain things we don’t understand, but they’re not Christian.
“If we’re being offered a choice between science and god… it is not a biblical concept of god,” said Prof Lennox. “The biblical God is not a god of the gaps, but a God of the whole show. The bits we do understand [through science] and the bits we don’t.
“Among many leading thinkers, their idea of god is thoroughly pagan. If you define god to be a god of the gaps, then you have got to offer a choice between science and god.”
Science isn’t necessarily opposed to gods, ghosts, or evil spirits; only to the faith required to believe in such things, because faith is the opposite of science and is opposed to science. For example, science works by testing hypotheses, but Deuteronomy 6:16, Luke 4:12, and Matthew 4:7 all say that we are not to put God to the test. That’s because miracles share the same definition as magic, being inexplicable by science, because they defy the laws of physics. That means they’re physically impossible, and can only be believed on faith.
The only value any claim can have is in how accurate it can be shown to be. If you can’t show that it’s true at all, then it has no value at all. It is just an empty assertion of blind speculation, unworthy of serious consideration. If you have to believe it on faith, then you have no reason to believe it at all; and having no reason to believe something is a pretty good reason not to believe it. Science isn’t concerned with ‘belief’, but knowledge, what you can show to be true. Accuracy and accountability are paramount. So it doesn’t matter what you believe; all that matters is why you believe it.
4) You can’t prove that there is a God.
This kind of statement ignores that there are different kinds of ‘proof’.
“Can you prove that there is a God?” asked Prof Lennox. “In the mathematical sense no, but proving anything is very difficult. The word proof has two meanings. There’s the rigorous meaning in maths that is very difficult to do and rare. But then there’s the other meaning – beyond reasonable doubt”.
That’s the kind of ‘proof’ we can present : arguments to bring someone beyond reasonable doubt. For example, rational arguments such as those from philosophers Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig, the personal experience of Christians, and the witness of the gospel accounts in the Bible.
With religion, you start with reasonable doubt, or rather you should. The default position is the null set, a lack of belief until you become convinced. People can present evidence and arguments to try and convince you, but what can they say in this case? None of their arguments are rational; they require faith, which is the very definition of irrational. That, and the only definition of ‘proof’ that works in this application is the legal definition, being “an overwhelming preponderance of evidence”. By this or any other definition, there is no proof of God, because there isn’t even evidence of God, and not one compelling argument for such a thing either. Logical fallacies are all there are. I’ve been engaged in this topic continuously for decades, but all the subjective anecdotal impressions I’ve ever heard still wouldn’t be indicative even if they were true, and they’re clearly not true. Almost the entirety of apologetics is simply lies.
5) Faith is believing without any evidence.
Christian belief has never been about having no evidence: the gospels were written to provide evidence, as the beginning of Luke’s attests. The end of John’s gospel says, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
But believing without evidence is a common notion of ‘faith’ at present. “This definition is in the dictionary and believed by many,” said Prof Lennox. “So, when we talk about faith in Christ, they think that’s because there’s no evidence. [John’s gospel shows that] Christianity is an evidence-based faith.”
At best, the Christian gospels are hearsay. At worst, it’s propaganda. In neither case is it evidence. Christian faith criticizes doubters, praising instead those who have NOT seen and yet believed; believing things hoped for, but not seen, looking at things that are not seen, and not seeing what is seen; a circular argument routing back to an assumed conclusion. Faith is, and always has been a belief that is held independent of evidence, and which must not change because of evidence. This has been explained again and again throughout both western and eastern religion, from the scriptures themselves to the hymns and sermons of theologians past and present. I have substantial citations from every authoritative source to prove my point: Faith is an assertion of unreasonable conviction, which is assumed without reason, and defended against all reason.
By ‘reason’ of course I mean ‘evidence’, the only reason to believe anything. Evidence is applicably defined as a body of facts, which are positively indicative of, or exclusively concordant with one available explanation over any other. A ‘fact’ is a point of data, which is either not in dispute, or is indisputable in that it is objectively verifiable. Note that there is not one objectively verifiable fact that is either positively indicative of any religious belief, or exclusively concordant with them, or that isn’t better explained without any reference to them.
6) Faith is a delusion. I’d no more believe in God than I would in the Easter Bunny, Father Christmas or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
These ideas have been made famous by people such as Prof Richard Dawkins. The only thing they are good for is mockery.
“Statements by scientists are not always statements of science,” said Prof Lennox. “Stephen Hawking said, “religion is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark”. I said, “atheism is a fairy story for people afraid of the light”.
“Neither of those statements proves anything at all. They’re all reversible. What lies behind all these delusion claims is the Freudian idea of wish fulfilment [that we believe what we hope to be true.] This works brilliantly providing there is no god. But if there is a god, then atheism is wish fulfilment.”
One of the most dishonest tactics of apologists is the lies of equivocation, and trying to project their own faults onto the opposition, as if religion is scientific, or as if science requires faith. For example, a ‘fairy tale’ is defined as a folklorish story, usually with a moral, but which includes fanciful elements like giants, witches, dragons, magic spells, and animals that talk and act like people. All of these are found in Genesis, because Genesis is literally fairy tales, but none of that relates to atheism in any way.
Atheism wishes for nothing, and has nothing to wish for, but I have multiple examples of believers admitting in one way or another that they’ll only believe what they want to believe, simply because they want to believe that, and they’ll continue to believe that even if it is proven false. I even have examples of Christians admitting that they believe things they know can’t be true, and they don’t want to know if it’s true or not. I’ve even seen a sermon where a Christian minister that I knew admitted to his congregation that Christian faith is a delusion by definition, because it is a persistent false belief that does not change despite evidence to the contrary.
7) Christianity claims to be true, but there loads of denominations and they all disagree with each other, so it must be false.
Why does the existence of denominations imply Christianity is false? It might imply that Christians have very different personalities and cultures – or even that Christians aren’t good at getting on with each other – but not that Christianity isn’t true.
“There are all kinds of different kinds of teams in football, but they all play football,” said Prof Lennox
Christians may be Unitarian, Binatarian, or Trinitarian. There is not one facet of Christian dogma that all Christians agree on, not even whether Jesus was divine, was resurrected, or even whether he ever lived at all. The fact that there are so many thousands of sometimes violently conflicting denominations which can’t agree anything whatsoever certainly condemns the Bible as the supposed “word of God”, especially when no one can show that any of it is really true, and we can prove that quite a lot of it is not true. Show me one aspect of Christian theism that every Christian agrees on, or that we can distinguish from the illusions of delusion.
8) The Bible is immoral.
If you want to question the morality of the Bible, what basis does that morality have? There can be a serious contradiction within atheist criticisms. Dawkins wrote: “In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, 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 that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”
If this is true, then why does he question the morality of anything? “Dawkins says faith is evil,” said Prof Lennox. “But at the same time he abolishes the categories of good and evil. That doesn’t make sense.”
Lennox obviously has no idea what he’s talking about, nor did he understand what he read. Dawkins was correct about the universe having no evil or good. These are concepts applied only by people, but people do apply them. There are reasons why a given action or choice is good or evil. Scott Clifton explained in his Treatise on Morality, “A particular action or choice is moral or right if it somehow promotes happiness, well-being, or health, or if it somehow minimizes unnecessary harm or suffering or both. A particular action or choice is immoral or wrong if it somehow diminishes happiness, well-being, or health, or if it somehow causes unnecessary harm or suffering or both.” These are universally applicable to every society on earth, and the Bible utterly fails by contrast. It’s a wholly repugnant tome of racist sexist misogynistic slavery, savagery, and superstitious stupidity, promoting genocide, cannibalism, gullible servility, and the rape of children. God is supposed to be an objective moral authority, but he’s entirely SUBjective, internally conflicted, and given to whim. He never says anything admirable that he doesn’t contradict almost immediately. One minute he says “thou shalt not kill” and on the next page, he says “Kill every man and his brother”. The Bible is not any kind of moral guide, and anyone who actually does everything the Bible commands would be a criminal in every country on this planet.
9) Surely you don’t take the Bible literally?
Some atheists (and a few Christians) have a very black and white idea of how to interpret the Bible. You either have to take it ‘literally’ or chuck it away, they think. That ignores the reality of language and how it reflects truth.
“Jesus said ‘I’m the door’,” said Prof Lennox. “Is Jesus a door like a door over there? No. He is not a literal door, but he is a real door into a real experience of God. Metaphor stands for reality. The word ‘literal’ is useless.”
How I interpret truth is obviously different than religious people do. I say the truth is what the facts are. Truth is commonly defined as “that which is concordant with reality”. That means reality itself is not truth, but statements about reality can be -if they’re true. So if we have to determine whether it is true before we call it ‘truth’, then there is no truth in any religion.
Likewise, we know for certain there was never a global flood, and the tower of Babel didn’t happen that way either. We know what really happened in both of those cases, and how the original stories were enhanced, exaggerated, altered, and embellished. The Exodus never happened at all, and Moses never existed. Neither did Adam & Eve. Snakes can’t talk, and none of that nonsense even can be literally true. The only way to glean any meaning out of it is to interpret the entire compilation as allegorical, because not one bit of it is historical.
10) What is the evidence for God?
You can debate the existence of God until the cows come home. It can be very interesting, especially when you go into the detail and explore the subject in depth. But for an atheist, they might be missing the point or avoiding the real issue. Prof Lennox advises to ask them the most important question:
“Suppose I could give [evidence for God], would you be prepared right now, to repent and trust Christ?”
At least we finally have an implicit admission that there is no evidence of God, but the question still doesn’t make sense. First of all, if there was evidence of a god, it wouldn’t be the Christian god; even if it was, there is nothing to ‘repent’. According to Christian dogma, it doesn’t matter how evil we are. All sins will be forgiven if we but believe; but if you don’t believe, then it doesn’t matter how good you are, because the only sin that will not be forgiven is the sin of disbelief. Believers can be saved only if they believe and unbelievers will be damned simply because they don’t believe. Thus gullibility is the sole criteria of redemption, and morality has absolutely nothing to do with it. You have to believe impossible nonsense for no good reason, or face the threat of a fate worse than death. If you have evidence, you don’t faith, and visa versa. So if it turned out to be the Jewish god, the Bible god, then I’d believe in it if I had evidence of it, but the Bible tells me that god is not to be trusted.
Of course there are more in-depth answers to all of these claims.
Yeah, but there aren’t any good answers, just like there isn’t any reason to believe in a god, but there are plenty of good reasons not to.