01 November 2013
60 secs with Prof John Lennox
Photo credit: Bible Society - Claire Kendall
John Lennox is professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford. Phil Green asked him a few questions as they travelled back from the launch of Exploring the God Question in Kent; a DVD series featuring world-renowned contributors
Professor Lennox features in Exploring the God Question, which unpacks the questions raised by the cosmos, the natural world and the mind and consciousness. He has debated well-known atheists including Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. His books include God and Stephen Hawking and Seven Days that Divide the World.
PG: At the National Prayer Breakfast you described atheism as a "delusion" and a "fairy tale for those afraid of the light". This made a lot of atheists very angry! [JL interrupts, "Good."] Why do you think they were so angry?
JL: Because I'm hitting a sore point. They think we're the ones who believe in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus and so on, and they don't like the argument being put in the other direction. In my experience, they're not very good at answering it either, when I accuse them of that. So there's a little bit of me saying: "Look, you guys are doing this to us all the time, but what's the justification?" Then pointing out the flaws, the very deep flaws, in atheistic arguments.
PG: Is there a particular scientific theory that most challenges your faith and how do you deal with that?
JL: Not really because I see that science is a different kind of explanation from God as an explanation. It's the difference between mechanism and law on one hand and agency on the other. What we need to recognise is that science is more limited than a lot of people think. It clearly cannot deal with ethical questions and so on. We talk about a law of gravity and many people think that explains gravity. It doesn't! Nobody knows what gravity is. Nobody knows what energy is. And Newton realised that; he knew he had a law on which he could do calculations, but he didn't understand what the thing was.
PG: Do you think churches need to do more to enable people to engage with faith intellectually?
JL: It's very important that church pastors learn how to address the big questions. There has been a danger of Bible study and preaching being reduced to devotional exposition, so that the Bible is over here and the culture is over there. It is very important to learn that if we take scripture seriously it has got real answers to the big questions and that if a pastor or a minister of a church can inspire confidence by demonstrating that there are deep biblical answers and biblical stimuli to enable us to cope with these questions, that will put confidence in the right place. Unfortunately there has been a tendency – at least in some quarters – to deter young people from asking questions. A BBC survey a few years ago found the main reason given for leaving the Church, by far, was that it didn't answer people's questions. So rather than just an occasional look, we need to take the big questions seriously. And if church leaders haven't got the resources themselves, they should use the people in their congregations who do have these abilities and use resources that are available, like Exploring the God Question.
PG: Do you think churches needs to take apologetics more seriously, or is this an unhelpful way to frame apologetics?
JL: Your second question is very interesting. The word apologetics is the most unfortunate word, because it's not a translation, it's a transliteration. We've taken the word apologia in Greek and made a word from it in English. But if we just translated it and put your question into English, that is: "Do you think churches need to take seriously the defence of the gospel?" Of course they should! The problem is by taking this word and making a special word of it that sounds very intellectual we reduce apologetics to a subgroup of Philosophy 101 instead of defending the gospel. One of the biggest problems we face is precisely that people say: 'Well, I'm not into apologetics.' That is absurd! What, you're not interested in defending the gospel? Are you sure you believe it? It's trying to get away from the mindset that apologetics is a special activity. That has been very bad and very dangerous.
NOTE: Sixty per cent of respondents to our 21st Century Evangelicals survey said questions around science hindered evangelism, while 50 per cent blamed the rise of the new atheist movement in making faith-sharing difficult. The Evangelical Alliance is therefore proud to endorse the DVD series Exploring the God Question as part of our Confidence in the Gospel campaign series.