Richard Dawkins & John Lennox Debate Science & Atheism

No one debates quite as well as an Oxford professor. And so today we feature two Oxford profs – atheist biologist Richard Dawkins and Christian mathematician John Lennox – debating God and science in … of all places … Birmingham, Alabama. The debate turns largely on a question raised in Dawkins’ 2006 bestseller, The God Delusion: To what extent can religious belief and serious scientific discovery go hand-in-hand? The debate is lively, and the thought serious. A good way to spend 90+ minutes. And Brazilian readers, you’re in luck. You get subtitles. If you would like to purchase a copy of the debate, you can buy it through the Fixed Point Foundation, the Christian organization that organized the event. You can also watch a version of the debate on the Fixed Point web site here.

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by | Permalink | Comments (23) |

  • Phil R.

    Dr.Dawkins does an admirable job of defending the statements he makes in his book while at the same time debating Dr.Lennox. The burden was clearly on Dr.Dawkins. Given the framework the debate was built upon, Dr. Dawkins was at a disadvantage…yet still managed to reduce Dr.Lennox to falling repeatedly back on “faith” as his argument for the existence of the Christian god.

  • chris

    It’s annoying that Richard Dawkins didn’t get to respond as much to John Lennox’s comments as John did get to respond to Richard’s points. I can see a number of faults with Dr. Lennox’s arguments, and I’m sure that Dawkins would have pointed them out given the chance and time. It seems more like an ambush on Richard.. :\

  • chilangado

    Much of this debate could be resolved in Alma chapter 32. It seems their differences are based on how they define faith as a first principle. There are reasonable assumptions made based on their definition of faith.

  • AC

    I feel bad for anyone who has to debate Dawkins, he is the master.

  • Shaggs

    This was a disgusting format and is barely a debate. How is it a debate when one of the panel is prepared for the questions and is reading from a script. Obviously Lennox has no faith in his faith to cross swords with Dawkins. The fact at times he resorts to reading from his script even when it doesn’t actually debate what Richard has stated was actually embarrassing for Lennox and I suggest that he keeps away from debating religion and sticks in the future to math.
    Christianity is very close to falling over on it’s head and debates like this show the truth of this matter.

  • chilangado

    Regardless of the format, evaluate the quality of the arguments. The crux of the whole matter is different definitions of the word “faith.” Dawkins feels faith is firm belief without reason or evidence (at times in spite of evidence). Lennox feels faith is firm belief due to reason and evidence. Alma 32 says faith is belief in truth, with evidence, but without perfect knowledge. These three similar definitions have vastly different implications.

  • Shaggs

    Lennox unfortunately doesn’t come up with anything close to evidence…and reason is generally based on something factual….he doesn’t come up with anything factual and does a poor job of trying to do away with Richard’s point of view.

  • chilangado

    What do you mean? Is a feeling factual? Is a coincidence? Is a miracle evidence? Is gravity?

    The evidence is the universe. The question is whether God plays a role in the universe or not. There we arrive back to whether faith is reasonable or not, and that depends on how you define faith, which is what I talked about before.

  • Shaggs

    Gravity is pretty factual fella. Show me a miracle..define it first. Coincidences are factual – what is behind them depends on the situation and the forces at work…are they measurable, not all of the time. Feelings are factual, they are describable and somewhat measurable, more than that they are something the whole population experiences.

    The universe is not evidence due to it’s existence. A murder is not evidence, the gun is. The question is whether god plays a part…or any other thing one cares to dream up. Faith…it’s not how you define faith, faith is easily defined, it’s on whether what you believe is actually real..a tangible thing or force.

    Más, por favor

  • Ray

    @Shaggs:
    I believe you just tore apart your own argument sir. By saying that Lennox is a fool because he says he has faith in a universe that has no beginning, you destroy any chance of atheism being correct. Any science behind atheism and/or agnosticism is based on evolution which, in turn, is based on the idea that there was a beginning to the universe. So for you to argue that Lennox is a fool for failing to prove something that even you do not believe in is quite circular. Come up with an argument that doesn’t have Mac truck sized holes in it and I might be tempted to give you some credibility.

  • Ray

    P.S. Here is probably Dawkin’s biggest mistake in the debate (besides admitting that a strong logical case can be made for a deistic God):

    Dawkins held his own rhetorically, but logically was on the losing end more often than not. For example, Lennox pointed out that it is incoherent to hold that humans are nothing more than DNA and the associated chemicals and also hold that humans can “rise above” their genes to act freely. Dawkins replied that “of course” we can act contrary to our genes, of course we can (his example) use birth control while copulating (thwarting the biological purpose). It is easy to rise above our biology. What Dawkins doesn’t seem to realize is that the fact that we can act freely simply implies that humans are not just biological creatures, but that there is agency unexplained by physico-chemical considerations. It is easy to rise above our biology because biology is not all there is to us. That Dawkins misses this point is interesting, to say the least.

    Although Dawkins is a brilliant man, he is very set in his beliefs, to the extent that he excludes all other possibilities. This leads to his often offensive and annoying writing style and massive holes in his logic. If you want to listen to an atheist who is truly a logical genius, besides being open to the truth, I would advise Christopher Hitchens. His debates with William Lane Craig, Doug Wilson, and Alister McGrath were (with the exception of the Craig debate)logically sound and very fascinating. Learn about more about what you are arguing before you begin to debate. Please.

  • Patrick emerson

    To hold up christianity as the one and only religion is obvious non-sense, but christian people would disagree. Anyone one person’s belief is personal to them. Religions such as christianity have brought about much disharmony in the world as it does not accept other faiths, and has a ridiculous notion of that man has a special relationship with god, above all other lifeforms. Again, a massively narrow minded view point. This has lead to colonial rule across the world, and still endures today in the huge gulf between rich and poor. There may indeed be a creator, but to say that it belongs ONLY to the christian faith is very narrow minded. In fact, the entire christian (similarly with Islam and Jewish faiths which share common roots) way of thinking can lead to a narrowing of the mind, and non-acceptance of our fellow human beings. Its a real shame that few people can see beyond these narrow frame works that religion has brainwashed us with. I would say its a partly the sheep effect, in that not many people actually have the ability to think for themselves, and to be consciously aware that just because someone else believes something, it doesn’t mean that its true. At the end of the day, that is also a survival strategy, and religions that force themselves on others (such as christianity) will spread, and people who join that religion will find connections with other people. Its sad that people can’t connect with eachother just as fellow human beings. To be christian and to know that your fellow human being who is not christian is going to hell must be a pretty strange idea to live with. A leap of faith or plain madness, I often wonder.

  • Ray

    @Patrick emerson
    Saying that Jesus is the only way is neither bigoted nor mutually exclusive. Here are the reasons: (1) There are no requirements for accepting Christianity. Jesus accepts all, just as they are. If no one is excluded, how can that be considered snobbery? (2) Those who choose not to follow Christ are not or should not (I am not denying the fact that some Christians can be snobs, just as can people of any other religion) be treated any differently from those who are Christ followers.
    In a world that truly follows these standards there would be ultimate harmony and peace between men. Disunity would not exist. It is only because there are racists, extremists, and bigots in every religion that there is disharmony in the world.
    “Christianity is unique. It cannot be reconciled with any other [worldview]. It backs up its truth claims with the credentials and credibility of Jesus Christ, which cannot be duplicated by any other spiritual leader. That’s why when Jesus said he was the Way and the Truth and the Life, history does not laugh; history has been revolutionalized by Jesus.”
    When the truth is both historically accurate and the most harmonious and peaceful for solution for our world, I think it is neither narrow minded nor bigoted.

  • Mokapeter

    I thought it seemed appropriate on both debators approach to the debate as Prof Dawkins was prepared as it was based on his book as was Dr Lennox to prepare in written scripts. Dr Lennox did well to keep christianity standing .

  • CJ

    Well, one thing is clear: if Dawkins is correct, he won’t be able to say “I told you so.”

  • David

    So, the biologist Dawkins is willing to debate theology with Lennox, but doesn’t want to help W.L.Craig’s self-promotion?

    I’ve never heard of Lennox before, but I’d still like to see Dawkins debate William Lane Craig, if his arguments are good enough…

  • David Kennedy

    Phil R. says .

    “Dr.Dawkins does an admirable job..” etc.

    I’m afraid we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on that. I agree that the framework of the debate was weighed against Dawkins in a sense.. although not really – he was free to respond as he wished and did so.

    When it came to Dawkins “Who created God” argument.. it was revealed to be a childish and naive argument – and his rebuttal didn’t change that.

    When it came to Dawkins view that morals evolved over time.. it was revealed to be as much of a fantastic belief as intelligence coming from no intelligence.. life coming from no life.. and everything coming from nothing.

    When it came to Dawkins view that horrible things have been done by religion and claimed that he simply couldn’t imagine how being an atheist could cause someone to do bad things…I felt he had to be blatantly lying, or he’s simply delusional. If you feel that this life is the only life.. and no one will judge you for your actions – then of course life is simply about what you can get away with. Can you be moral and be an atheist – yes, but to act as if you don’t see how it could affect your actions and cause them to be less moral.. no matter what the other sides motivation.. is deliberately playing dumb.

    Though I feel Lennox could have done even better – I feel Dawkins arguments were reduced to incoherent gibberish.

    But that’s just my view.

  • David Kennedy

    Patrick emerson

    Any of the results you describe coming from Christianity are the result of people not being true Christians..

    To say it’s led to massive inequality of rich and poor: Christ taught man to give all material wealth away.

    To say it’s led to bigotry and snobbery: Christ taught to love your neighbor as yourself and forgive your enemy.

    To say that Christianity leads to a lack of acceptance of your fellow man: Christ teaches forgiveness, those who preach that others will burn for their beliefs fail to understand the premise that we are all equal in sin. A concept that’s pretty easy to grasp for that matter..

    I spent the first 25 years of my life as an atheist.. or I guess you could say an agnostic leaning towards atheism. As an atheist I felt like you.. that everyone who believed in God was somehow weak.. seeking some security beyond themselves that didn’t exist. I also saw no reason to believe in God. I then found the truth – and like Lennox, suddenly everything was evidence.. I had simply been overlooking it. I was misreading the data. It all is in how you look at it.. the problems that science has run headlong into is in the explanation for one thing – “creation”, how life began, how the universe began, where intelligence came from when nature is not “intelligent” at it’s base. These things that science seeks an answer for would be seen as “miracles” from a scientific perspective. How did all that exists come from nothing at all?

    I did not gain belief from a “need” for belief – I gained belief from looking scientifically at the world – and observing that science can never tell us “why”. Why does lightning exist? Not “how” does lightning work.. science can give us some definition for that – but “why”… what is the root cause that defined lightning.. that defined nature and man himself.

  • David Kennedy

    I should have proofread :) A couple errors in grammar in both my comments..

    But the point is still there.

  • http://staccurate.com Gaf

    Just to clarify, Ray says, “evolution in turn, is based on the idea that there was a beginning to the universe.”
    Evolution is not based on a beginning to the universe. You’re confusing Big Bang theory and Darwinism. Evolution is the gradual change of biological systems, which favors forms that work better within their own environments. A universe without a beginning can still contain evolution.

  • http://staccurate.com Gaf

    Lenox makes only one point: since there is order, there must be a god. This is a specious argument, and he and Dawkins are both foolishly tied to the ridiculous idea that there once was not a universe. There has always been a universe, and it is ordered and structured simply because its physical components interact in a finite set of ways. Order proves nothing but order. This is the problem with intelligent design. There is no logical line tying God to the order in the universe other than an assumption based on years of cult training.

  • Train

    Finally, an atheist that wasn’t afraid to just simply say it: “We don’t have all the answers…”. I didn’t have much time so I couldn’t watch the whole video, but right around 24 minutes Dawkins admits the one thing I’ve tried numerous times to get an atheist to tell me. I understand his position, he’s saying that theists aren’t even trying to find any answers, and instead leaning on the Creator; however, no matter how you slice it, at least a theist does have an answer.

    Atheism seems to be trying to take a wheel that’s rolling along just fine, then says, no, lets see if a square works better. Atheists must spend all their time looking at the past and trying to figure out things about it, questioning everything. While at the same time a theist can say they already know the past, and instead turns their head to face the future.

    If only for this reason, I believe atheism is pwning itself. Nobody alive today has ever seen the beginning of the universe, yet a person that’s only been alive for less that a hundred years is trying to tell me about something that happened millions of years ago, sorry, but I’m afraid that’s a fail. Theists at least can point to books that were written thousands of years ago…there are no such books for evolution. You’d think that in the last 50,000 years there’d be at least some text eluding to a universe that was evolving; yet there are many that say it was created.

    The only things we need to learn from studying the past are mistakes that we should strive not to repeat…but if everyone has their heads buried in a sand pile looking for clues that aren’t there unless you really stretch your imagination…who would be looking at the future to jump up and say “hey, the dictator of this country over here is turning into Hitler…”. Wake up people, get your heads out of the archaeological sand box and focus on something useful…like, I don’t know, maybe a solution to the current energy crisis that the world is currently facing? That would be a great start. ;)

  • Trevor J Dowling

    Good and evil were mentioned in the context of the universe. Surely good and evil can only exist in the context of we human beings. We can do good and evil to our environment and other life forms in a way that no other life form ever does. The universe, as a collection of stars, planets and other bits and pieces cannot of itself be said to be good or evil. We and all other known life forms are products of the evolving universe and as such must find it a place in which can survive and eek out a living. If this were not true then we could never have come into existence. If and when our environment becomes too hostile to support life, then life will become extinct, but, and this is a big but, if only one life form manages to survive, then it will in all likelihood continue along the evolutionary paths towards speciation and the repopulation of an environment which although hostile to all other previously existent life forms, is ideally suited to it!
    Religion? Where does that come into it?That only existed in the minds of the now extinct human beings. But do not worry, it will be reinvented to fester in the minds of some future creatures who find it necessary to have a mental pacifier in which to find comfort and security; until they discover that other religions are developing notions of good and evil…..
    Well done, Professor Dawkins!

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