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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

50 Famous Aca­d­e­mics & Sci­en­tists Talk About God

50 Famous Aca­d­e­mics & Sci­en­tists Talk About God — Part II


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Comments (24)
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  • Phil R. says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

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

  • Shaggs says:

    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.

    • Mokapeter says:

      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 .

  • chilangado says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    @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.

  • CJ says:

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

  • David says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

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

    But the point is still there.

  • Gaf says:

    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.

  • Gaf says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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!

  • Danny says:

    I fail to see that many faults with what Lennox has said, and I’d say that Dawkins could tell that he was los­ing the debate, from his “myth and fan­ta­sy for me” com­ment, to emp­ty argu­ments like the argu­ment of per­son­al increduli­ty, and even try­ing to dis­cred­it Lennox’s posi­tion on every­thing else by try­ing to get him to admit to cre­ation­ism. In my opin­ion, Dawkins did his best but it could not stand to Lennox’s argu­ments. What sort of prob­lems did you see from Lennox? I real­ize I’m a lit­tle late on reply­ing to this, 6 years late, but if you’re still here I’d be glad to hear from you : )

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