Dawkins & Lennox, a conversation

I was listening to this conversation between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox the other day and was enthralled – not by Professor Dawkins’ usual succinctness and great ability to deconstruct theological arguments, but by the vapid theology and wishful thinking on display by Mr Lennox.

Lennox tells us he’s gone to great lengths to be a rational theologian and tells us of the years he’s spent verifying the historical claims of the bible and the “scientific evidence of God”. However, despite his self-professed dedication to verifiability (and, in a Cirque de Soleil-esque feat of mental contortion), he’s also a New Testament literalist and believes in the virgin conception, actual physical death & resurrection and divine nature of Jesus as well as Jesus’ many miracles, such as the water to wine trick, the resurrection of Lazarus, the loaves and fishes etc. Clearly Lennox believes the theory that Jesus was also God and, as his own only son, came to earth to be tortured and sacrificed so that we may be spared the wrath of eternal torment that would be inflicted upon us should we choose not to believe the aforementioned (the eternal torment inflicted on us as a result of Adam and Eve’s fall – the original sin we’re all apparently born stained with but had no part in. It’s a godfather-style offer you can’t refuse of the highest order: “I’m here to save you from something that I inflicted on you for a crime you didn’t personally commit and it you don’t accept that you can go to hell which, by the way, is run by a former employee of mine who I had to fire because he was asking too many questions.”).

It was a polite, reasonable discussion with both Dawkins & Lennox serving as an example of how freethinkers & theists can get along despite their differences in outlook and have a friendly discourse (despite my frequent yearning for Dawkins to slam the table and go “Look! You’re talking utter motherfucking BOLLOCKS, John!”). Lennox has the broad brogue of a kindly Irish uncle who’s really good at telling stories over a pint or two of Beamish and it was really quite pleasant to hear him talk. Despite that, it was a frustrating exercise as Lennox, with his gift o’ the gab and heartfelt conviction, completely monopolised the conversation and Dawkins only spoke for perhaps a quarter to a third of the entire hour. Lennox would make a lengthy, earnest, long-winded claim, Richard would ask how precisely he knew it to be true, Lennox would embark upon a lengthy, earnest, long-winded answer which was a more sophisticated version of the standard apologetics we’re all used to, mainly variations on such things as the bible as historical evidence, personal spiritual confirmation and the alleged “fine-tuning” of the universe. Yes, the same shit that’s always getting de-bunked by people like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens (who would’ve torn this gentle Irishman apart like a dinner roll). In hindsight it was probably a conscious decision on Dawkins’ part to simply pose a question and let Lennox run off at the mouth and make himself look foolish and desperate – to any rational listener, anyway. I think it would have allowed Dawkins to play the role of such a listener and allowed those rationalists among us to sit there and empathise with Dawkins as he sat there and basically listened to Lennox’s tripe for the best part of an hour.

To summarise Lennox’s entire argument, he long ago arrived at a decision that the bible was true and he’s spent many, many decades of his life proving to himself that he was right to make that decision. God made the universe, Jesus is God, God tinkers with the world occasionally, e.g. to impregnate virgins, Jesus could do the same thing and did so with bread and dead people. In other words, God can do magic. Because God created the universe and its laws, he can stick his nose in at any time, anywhere and tinker around and make stuff happens that he wants – made the rules, he can break them. Like a kid who starts a game of soldiers with his brother and suddenly makes it ok for tanks to fly in order to cross enemy lines and crush the enemy, despite strident protestations such “That couldn’t happen!” or “There’s no such thing as a flying tank!” (“They’re magic tanks, you idiot! I have wizards in my trenches!” or “You didn’t see my anti-gravity beam with your spyplanes because of my cloaking device, which is also cloaked, you complete idiot!” could be the response). In Lennox’s case, “God can do magic” is the sum total of his years of objective research.

All earnestness and likability aside, Lennox is actually quite overrated as an intellectual (which probably makes him a great theologian) and seems to rely more on blinding the listener (and, more than likely, himself) with polysyllables and scientific-sounding arguments mixed with appeals to emotion and personal experience than with consciously attempting a structured, convincing argument (much like his similarly allegedly intellectual but considerably more irritating colleague Alister McGrath). Naturally, Dawkins didn’t buy a bit of it and I just wish there was more time available so he could really go to town on the rubbish he was being served. If Lennox was, as he portrays himself, truly rational & objective & dispassionate about finding evidence to back up his long ago-made, faith-based decision regarding the bible’s veracity & divine inspiration, he would have absolutely no choice but to come to the decision that there was no such evidence. At the very least, he would have to concede that such evidence as there is is so tenuous and vague that it should not constitute a basis to make any kind of important decision, especially one that’s potentially life/afterlife-altering.