When brilliant people say stupid things.

John Lennox is a math professor at Oxford.  He’s undoubtedly a clever guy.  However, he recently gave a talk at a prayer breakfast which affirmed one of the primary reasons I loathe religion: it makes clever people say and do unfathomably stupid things.

He urged Christians to have “the courage to create public space” for the discussion of “a biblical worldview”, as he pointed to the example of Tyndale, who translated the Bible into English 400 years ago and would eventually be executed.

Yes, the courage to create a public space where a biblical worldview can be discussed.  Or, as I like to call it, “everywhere”.  Seriously, find me an inch of American soil where a biblical worldview cannot be discussed without penalty.  How much courage does it take to create something that already exists?  Next Christians will battle for the right to breath the same oxygen!  The unspoken implication here is that incoming criticism when outrageous claims are made (and subsequent mockery when they are not adequately defended) somehow prevents people from discussing their beliefs.  It doesn’t.

And yes, William Tyndale was executed…for heresy, by Henry VIII hand-in-hand with the Catholic Church.

Dr Lennox, who has been an outspoken critic of “God Delusion” author Richard Dawkins, blamed new atheism for the “moral drift” in society.

Details about what changes constitute this “moral drift” are conspicuously absent from the article.  Does he mean grown adults deciding to not let Christians dictate which consenting adults they love?  Yeah, I’ll give atheists credit for that.  I’d be honored to be responsible for that.

Does he mean that religion can be more freely and openly criticized?  Yeah, I’ll take credit for that one too.

More sex education?  Less inequality for women and gays?  Less tolerance for religious institutions getting exceptions for whatever laws they don’t want to follow?  Guilty, guilty, guilty.  Proudly so.

He also dismissed the common assumption that science and religion are not compatible.

“There is no necessary conflict between science and God, the real conflict is between worldviews, atheism and theism,” he said.

Tell me more about how people rising from the dead and walking on water are compatible with science.  All you’ve got to do is just imagine the laws of the universe that we use to reach scientific conclusions stopped working for a few days, right?  Then they’re perfectly compatible.

“God is not the same kind of explanation as science is. God is the explanation of why there is a universe at all in which science can be done.”

It’s the old non-overlapping magisteria argument and it always makes me think of this Jesus and Mo panel:

While we know there is a what and how to the operation of the universe (the what is obvious, and the how is indeed given to us by science), who says that there must be a why or a purpose?  What evidence do we have for these things?  Sure, religions make assertions about them, but without evidence that’s all they remain: mere assertions, no more credible than any other assertion made in the absence of evidence.

Dr Lennox admitted his fear that the contribution of Christianity to the moral foundations of British society would be forgotten in the prevailing climate. This could be seen already, he suggested, in the parliamentary expenses scandal and the Leveson inquiry.

Ask William Tyndale about the moral contributions of Christianity to British society.  As for Christianity’s contributions to present moral standards (which were forced upon believers by a socially evolving society), what are they?  The golden rule is in the bible the same way the concept of “genocide is bad” is in Schindler’s List.  Yeah, they’re good ideas, but those books didn’t come up with them.  Neither did Christianity give us the idea that stealing or killing is wrong.  How could it with all the killing advocated by god in the bible?  And Christianity sure as shit didn’t give us the idea of religious freedom (see William Tyndale).

“If we teach people that morality is an illusion, they will begin to believe it. Many already have with the result that our institutions are awash with scandal, families are increasingly fractured, people are lonelier than ever and trust is at an all-time low. We have sown a wind and are reaping a whirlwind.”

The fact that morality is a human construct, created as a way to maximize societal well-being as well as our own, does not mean that it’s an illusion.  Acknowledging that humans create the moral rules (rules like don’t kill people for working on the sabbath) does not result in fractured families or loneliness.  You don’t get to just point to bad things and ascribe them to your ideological opponents.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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