10 quick atheist arguments + Christian responses
Oxford mathematician John Lennox has moved on to apologetics in his retirement. Let’s check in.
Here’s an interesting challenge. Apologist John Lennox has responded to ten short atheist arguments with short Christian responses. I will hit the ball back over the net.
The article I’m responding to is “Ten quick responses to atheist claims” (2014) in which Heather Tomlinson summarizes Lennox’s points.
Lennox is an Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and has three doctorates. Let’s see what all that intellectual horsepower can do against these atheist arguments.
1. We’re all atheists to some extent
“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.”
Lennox: But the Bible reveals a very different god. Those gods were products of the universe, while the Christian God was the source of the universe.
You want creator gods? Here’s a bunch of creator gods. Christianity isn’t unique in having an answer for how it all started.
You may protest that the Christian god is different from all these gods. That’s true, and the converse is also true. So what? We return to the fact that Christians and atheists both can look out over a sea of gods that societies have created and agree that they’re all made up. Christians reject gods by the hundreds for lack of evidence, just like the atheists. Gods can give comfort even if invented, and Yahweh looks like just one more. Making an exception for the Christian god is special pleading.
The Bible’s creation stories were borrowed from other cultures in the Ancient Near East. This shared archetype is called the Combat Myth, and it begins with a threat to the order of the council of gods. From this council, a champion steps up to fight the chaotic threat, defeats the monster, becomes the new leader of the council, and uses the monster’s carcass to build our universe. Yes, that’s all in the Bible. The six-day creation and the Garden of Eden aren’t the only creation stories.
2. Science is sufficient
“Science has explained everything, and it doesn’t include God.”
(Who says that science has explained everything? This is one of several strawman arguments that are easier to mock than what atheists actually think. My phrasing would be: science has the track record, and we have learned nothing about reality from Christianity [except religion as a social experiment].)
Lennox: Science has an important role, but it doesn’t teach us everything. What is ethical? What is beautiful? We turn to other disciplines to answer important questions like these.
And you propose finding what is ethical from the Bible? Last time I checked, the guy in charge supported slavery, demanded genocide, needed human sacrifice, and drowned the world. Christian apologists make clear they’re embarrassed by God’s barbarity given the shelves of books reframing God’s actions.
You can look to the life of Jesus as a pinnacle of goodness, but he was a god. It’s hardly surprising that he lived a virtuous life, and literature is full of noble people we might want to emulate.
As for beauty, burning up a cow to ashes to release its energy is beautiful to God. This is a “pleasing aroma” from a “food offering.” But it takes science to show you galaxies and nebulas and to see the reasons behind what we see in nature.
If the point is that there are other disciplines besides Science to learn from like History or Literature, that’s true. But that list doesn’t include religion, which can’t even agree on how many gods there are let alone who they are or what they want from us.
Science has the track record, but let’s be clear. This isn’t like two rival football teams where one team has won 70 percent of the games. No, Science has won 100 percent of the games. Religion’s conclusions have been overturned uncountably many times. We’ve tried both ways, and following the evidence works.
Alchemy ends and chemistry begins; astrology ends and astronomy begins; religion, magic, and superstition end and science begins.
3. “Science is opposed to God”
(This is another strawman. As before, I’d say instead that science has the track record, while religion explains nothing.)
Lennox: This doesn’t apply to 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.”
God was indeed used to explain things we didn’t understand, as with pretty much any religion. “God causes thunder” is like “Thor causes thunder,” so there’s no justification for seeing Christianity as a special case.
How many things has the Christian god explained? God has been given credit for floods, war, drought, illness, tsunamis, famine, and more. On the positive side, he has brought good harvests, warm sun, and sufficient rain. But these are far better explained by science.
Seen charitably, Religion was Science version 0.1. Religion explained and tried to control parts of reality. Christians thought that self-flagellation would make the Black Death go away, and Mayans thought that sacrifices to the rain god Chaak would make the drought go away, but only through science could society make real progress.
“Faith is believing without any evidence.”
Lennox: “Christian belief has never been about having no evidence: the gospels were written to provide evidence, as the beginning of Luke attests.”
The Bible has verses where faith is belief without evidence and others where it’s belief well grounded in evidence. Lennox admits to these two interpretations but argues that the gospels were written to provide evidence.
One popular example that defines faith is the book title I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Geisler and Turek. Aimed at Lennox’s audience, the Evangelical Christian, this title makes clear that faith is widely understood to mean belief without evidence.
The gospels look like legend and myth. They belong with the thousands of other supernatural stories in the Mythology bin.
See also: Faith, the Other F-Word?
Continue to arguments 5 through 7.
Atheism must be accounted
among the most serious problems of this age
— the Vatican, Gaudium et Spes (1965)