Mathematician John Lennox embarrasses himself by trying to reconcile Christianity and science

February 23, 2019 • 10:30 am

Reader Alexander called my attention to this item in the Science Focus section of the BBC. (Note that it’s in the science section, not the “religion” section!) It’s a 33-minute podcast interview with John Lennox, whose Wikipedia page says this (my emphasis, and yes, that’s THE Templeton Foundation, which now has a damn Oxford College named after it):

John Carson Lennox (born 1943) is a Northern Irish mathematician specialising in group theory, a philosopher of science and a Christian apologist. He is Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and an Emeritus Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at Green Templeton College, Oxford University. He is also an Associate Fellow of the Saïd Business School.

. . . Lennox has been part of numerous public debates defending the Christian faith, including debates with Christopher Hitchens, Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Peter Atkins, Victor Stenger, Michael Tooley, Stephen Law, and Peter Singer.

Green Templeton College resulted from a merger in 2008 between Green College and Templeton College, and here are the facts (my emphasis):

The college was founded in 1965 as the Oxford Centre for Management Studies. The College was based at Egrove Park in Kennington, south of Oxford. Its buildings were opened in 1969, and were awarded listed status in 1999.

It was renamed Templeton College in 1983 as a result of a donation from Sir John Templeton, in honour of his parents, Harvey Maxwell and Vella Handly Templeton. The intention was to raise professional standards in British management. The endowment was one of the largest endowments ever made to a British educational establishment. Initially a “society of entitlement” in the University, Templeton College began admitting graduate students in 1984 and became a full graduate college of the University by Royal Charter in 1995.

The podcast interview with Lennox is below (click on the link), though you may not get through much of it before your digestive system goes awry.

The podcast notes:

With science providing more and more insights into the workings of the Universe, many people have turned their backs on religion entirely. Why invoke a God to explain the world, the argument goes, when science does a perfectly good job? Professor John Lennox, however, begs to differ.

Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, Lennox is both a scientist and a Christian. In his new book, Can Science Explain Everything? (£7.99, The Good Book Company), Lennox argues that the worldviews of religion and science are not incompatible. In fact, he goes one step further, arguing that science actually points towards the existence of God.

In this episode of the Science Focus Podcast, he speaks to BBC Focus staff writer James Lloyd.

Listen to as much of this podcast as you can stand, and then, perhaps, to the much shorter video below.

Just a few comments. First, note that Lloyd, the interviewer, does ask hard (and good) questions. Lennox wiggles and weasels but ultimately shows his hand. His schtick is to conflate science and religion by taking two familiar paths: changing the definition of “faith” so that scientists are said to have faith, and arguing that science and rationality also point to the existence of God. (That, of course, is the mission of the Templeton Foundation.)

As for the first bit, he notes that science deals with unrepeatable events, like cosmology, and so to investigate them—or to do any science—requires “faith in the rational intelligibility of the universe”. As he says, “In science there’s a mixture of faith and there’s a mixture of investigation and observation and all the rest of it.” In other words, he’s equating science with his Christianity, which, he says, also requires a mixture of faith and empirical evidence.

This is of course bogus. We don’t have faith in the rational intelligibility of the universe: we try to find out if the universe is intelligible, and if it obeys rules. It does, because we can make predictions based on the ubiquity of those rules. An intelligible universe, then, is not an article of faith but a conclusion based on observation of repeated patterns and fulfilled predictions. It’s like having “faith” that the sun will rise tomorrow. And that is very different from religious faith. (See here for more of my take on this issue.)

As far as “science” supporting Christianity, Lennox argues that the grounding principle of Christianity—the existence of a divine Jesus who was resurrected—is strongly supported by history. Here are some of my notes and transcribed quotes:

“Christianity is a rational faith, but when it comes to the historical side, then we use the kind of abductive inference we use in historical science.”

Ancient historians produce “very powerful evidence”; they are “very sure of . . . most of the basic facts of Jesus’s life and so on.”

And, says Lennox, Christianity also makes sense: The God and Christ explanations make sense of what we discover because an explosion of science occurred under Galileo, Kepler and Newton, “all of whom were religious”.

That’s also bogus. There were also Jews, Hindus, Muslims and atheists who made profound scientific discoveries, not to mention the “pagan” Greeks. The faith of someone who makes a discovery is not evidenced by the nature of that discovery. Kepler’s laws no more buttress Christianity than does the structure of DNA (determined by two atheists) show that there is no God. What science does show is that we make discoveries by assuming there is no God, and that adding the assumption of a God has never pushed science forward one iota—except to the limited extent that some religionists may be inspired to do science by their religious faith. But of course that doesn’t show there is a God. These days, of course, most accomplished scientists are atheists, and we don’t need God to make further progress.

Lennox also sees, beyond the copious “historical evidence for Jesus” (is he aware that it’s limited to what’s in the Bible?), further evidence for God and Jesus based on his “experience.” He regards this “experiential evidence” as quasi-scientific. For instance, Lennox asserts that “Christ’s claims can be inductively tested”. Jesus said, argues Lennox, that He would return, and “if we trusted Him as Saviour and Lord then we would experience forgiveness, peace and inner harmony and power to deal with life.” And, says Lennox, he’s seen that happen over and over again in people who have accepted Jesus. Ergo, PROOF! (Of course, you can cite examples of people who have said they gained inner harmony and forgiveness from accepting the tenets of Islam, Hinduism, or Judaism, or even atheism, but somehow Lennox forgets that.)

Finally, Lennox claims that miracles do occur, and that there are at least three times God intervened in nature beyond reviving Jesus: the Big Bang (he doesn’t think it could happen naturalistically), the origin of life, and the evolution of humans. He seems to accept the rest of evolutionary biology, but argues, like a true Intelligent Design proponent, that the origin of life and the evolution of humans either couldn’t happen naturalistically and thus involved the hand of God. This kind of human exceptionalism is a trademark of the ID/creationist Discovery Institute.

Why did the BBC put this on? And if they did, why don’t they have ME on to argue that science and religion are incompatible? I’m here, Mr. Lloyd!

Altogether, for a smart professor, Lennox makes some remarkably weak and almost humorously stupid arguments. But this is how religion distorts the rationality of wish-thinkers. Lennox is a serious wish thinker.  You can get a precis of his ideas in this three-minute video:

As for Lennox’s debates against atheists, here are three videos. I haven’t watched any of them, but will look in.

Lennox vs. Hitchens

Lennox vs. Dawkins

Lennox vs. Singer

93 thoughts on “Mathematician John Lennox embarrasses himself by trying to reconcile Christianity and science

  1. If you look at the world through god-tinted glasses you will see god everywhere. If you look at the world through ideologically-tinted glasses you will see your ideology everywhere. It’s a consequence of how the brain and body work.

    The scientific method is somewhat different in that it tries to remove the tint from the glasses…

  2. The first time Lennox and Hitchens debated was in Edinburgh. I believe their next debate, after that, in America was a sequel requested by Hitchens because the audience chose Lennox as the winner in Edinburgh. I only mention it because Edinburgh is my stomping ground and it pains me to know that Hitchens was once here and that I could have attended that event if only I was old enough and aware enough to know anything about it. Alas, now I’ll never see him in person, though I have been lucky enough to attend a lecture by Daniel Dennett and a book signing event with Dawkins.

    Anyway, here’s the link to the Edinburgh debate:

    I’m pleasantly surprised by the biographical facts Hitch gives us in his opening remarks- many of the places he was brought up in in Scotland are not far from where I am now! Though his English pronunciation of certain place names would be sure to raise many a local’s eyebrow…

    1. My sound is off, so I cannot judge the debate. However I cannot conceive the Hitch ‘losing’ a debate against Lennox, it would be like a mouse beating a fullgrown python.

      1. I agree- I believe it was just the audience vote which sided with Lennox, which is why Hitch wanted a rematch. Winning audience votes in debates is nice and shows you’ve convinced people but it doesn’t mean you’re right! For example, Hitch, Dawkins and Grayling ‘won’ according to the audience when they debated some apologists, but even if they’d been deemed the losers they’d still be right.

  3. For more on Lennox, see here:

    Lennox’s suggestion here is that the standard scientific narrative is more or less correct, but that God intervened at a number of stages, which he calls “creation days”, and that that is what is recorded in Genesis. Lennox also took part in a summer school organised by Glasgow’s own Centre for Intelligent Design, from which we have not heard anything for quite a while.

  4. “Christianity is a rational belief system…”
    says Lennox in the short clip (which is all I can stomach). That made me spit out my tea.

  5. One point to remember: Lennox is not a scientist. He’s a mathematician. Mathematics, while essential to all the sciences, is a closed system of symbolic logic that has no necessary connection to the physical universe. Pure mathematicians therefore have habits of thought that are perhaps closer to philosophers than scientists, and certainly lack the discipline that scientists put themselves under of allowing their conclusions to be constrained by evidence.

    1. “Mathematics, while essential to all the sciences, is a closed system of symbolic logic that has no necessary connection to the physical universe. ”

      Not all mathematicians, and a few physicists will agree with this. An example is the French mathematician Alain Connes, who now collaborates with the physicist Carlo Rovelli. Increasingly we see pure math been used in trying to understand physics problems, such as the nature of black holes, and for tryng to bridge the discrepancy between relativity and quantum theory. One of these approaches is string theory, which is pure math, but there are other approaches, like quantum loop gravity. Others accept this state of affairs, and argue that different maths can lead to the same physics, as is argued by Robbert Dijkgraaf.

      1. I would say such people are physicists who use mathematics as their primary tool — mathematical physicists is a term I’ve heard to describe them.

      2. One of the reasons why it is impossible to argue that math is about the world is that there are alternative logics, with their own mathematics (also various fundamental questions in math that cannot be decided except dogmatically or aesthetically, it seems – this is the lesson of Benaceraff’s problem).

        1. “ is impossible to argue that math is about the world..”

          Math is about mathematical structures. What we understand by “the (physical) world” is one of those structures. (Tegmark, as you know, has a book in which this is asserted, more-or-less.) Note the verb “is” above, not the verb “is represented by” or similar. Since that world exists according to all but the most lunatic-ified philosophers, it would be unusual to assert that it is the only mathematical structure which exists. They all exist.

          This of course is asserted by me baldly, with no definition or discussion of the words “exist” nor “structure” nor “world”. Here is not the place.

          So this wish list by me, utterly unoriginal of course, would certainly deal quite decisively with mathematical ontology; and with Wigner’s “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in science”; and maybe with your problem alluded to of non-standard logics.

          I trust the latter does not include ones such Graham Priest’s containing propositions which are true and so are their negations. I know you know more than I about what he’s done, the only worthwhile thing I know of being able to parlay that into having an NYU professorship on his CV. (He at least doesn’t claim to be an emeritus Oxford math prof, to jokingly get this back towards the original topic).

          So I wouldn’t mind hearing just a bit more about which, eg. intuitionistic, temporal, modal, .. as in Burgess’ book, or something more exotic, you mean by “alternative logics”.

          Note also that propositions such as the axiom of choice and the continuum hypothesis would have definite truth values in that perhaps never-known-by-humans structure which is the physical universe (multiverse?).

    1. Examine briefly his intellectual accomplishments (at least in mathematics), and you can see whether you still think the phrase “bigshot mathematician” is correct.

      For example,


      “John Lennox is Professor of Mathematics (emeritus) at the University of Oxford and Fellow in Mathematics and the Philosophy of Science at Green Templeton College, Oxford. He is also an Associate Fellow of the Said Business School, Oxford University, and teaches for the Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme. In addition, he is an Adjunct Lecturer at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, and at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, as well as being a Senior Fellow of the Trinity Forum.”

      Note the following, in reverse order:

      Trinity Forum: a faith-based non-profit evangelical Christian organization founded in 1991 by author and social critic Os Guinness and American businessman and philanthropist Alonzo L. McDonald. Of course Newton and many other great intellectuals were at Trinity, but that one is a college in Cambridge, not a biblical propaganda effort in Oxford.

      Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics: say no more.

      Wycliffe Hall: Church of England theological college.

      Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme: “Gain a greater clarity of thought and vision for your leadership on this six-day experiential programme.”

      Said Business School: Look it up.

      Green Templeton College: an ancient intellectual powerhouse in Oxford dating all the way back to 2008. Note the “Templeton”. A self-description includes “Green Templeton is outward facing and has permeable boundaries”

      Professor of Mathematics (emeritus) at the University of Oxford: Well, —-,

      there are far more serious academic frauds occurring, and sometimes in very good universities. This self-description seems to be concocted out of having been and/or being:

      1/ a Lecturer or Reader or actually a Professor of mathematics in Cardiff, Wales in the past (I know not which, and their list of ongoing researchers in mathematics, those past teaching retirement, makes no mention of Lennox);

      2/ Emeritus Fellow at Green Templeton and college’s Pastoral Adviser;

      3/ Associate Fellow at Said. Maybe there he still does something which might be called mathematics, at least by these chartered accountants, etc. Understanding a distinction between arithmetic calculations and mathematical creativity should be more widespread.

      It seems likely the “Professor of Mathematics (emeritus) at the University of Oxford” is concocted out of these three. Maybe he really is, maybe not. There seems to be nothing in Oxford’s online presence to indicate this to be anything but a gross exaggeration. I am of course prepared to be corrected.

      What is relevant is surely what he did in the past in Cardiff. It apparently includes, over about 40 years, a fair number of research papers in group theory, the successful supervision of exactly one Ph.D. student, and co-authorship with a strong group theorist of a book at the graduate level. See also what I wrote in 22. below.

      The word ”bigshot” might be an exaggeration, at least to other research mathematicians.

      1. John Lennox: There is a strong chance he was a kind of cold war spook [useful, disposable idiot not an actual pro intelligence officer]. He certainly travelled frequently behind the Iron Curtain to mathematical conferences & he indulged in a spot of regular Bible smuggling [he himself said in later years]. He confabulates/ fabricates a fair amount which is a characteristic of the vulnerable people ‘used’ by intelligence.

        1. Sounds familiar. Doesn’t DT match that description? I would say his extemporaneous speech sounds like confabulation/fabrication. And look how he seems to be used by Russian intelligence. Vulnerable is a good description. Which means we are likely screwed. But we already knew that. Never mind.

  6. I thought it terribly amusing that Lennox begins the video promo for his book by employing the standard complaint that people who think science undermines God “ don’t understand God.”

    Okay, I’ll bite: how do we misunderstand God this time?

    And then he goes into a big song and dance about how God isn’t an explanation for what we don’t know. That would be a God of the Gaps and God certainly isn’t a God of the Gaps. If He was, then it would make sense to discard the idea. But God’s not that, dear me no.

    And then I checked back to the OP and Jerry’s brief summary of Lennox’s position:

    Finally, Lennox claims that miracles do occur, and that there are at least three times God intervened in nature beyond reviving Jesus: the Big Bang (he doesn’t think it could happen naturalistically), the origin of life, and the evolution of humans.

    Hahaha. Lennox, you sly wag. Had us going, there.

  7. It is hard to listen to Lennox for any length of time without falling asleep. He is a debate without reason. You just have to believe it because I do. He should at least give us a few math calculations to show us the way.

  8. I witnessed a miracle just the other day. It was a Fed Exp truck which had actually
    pulled over to park, rather than the normal procedure of stopping dead and blocking a lane of traffic. This miracle can only be explained by a direct intervention by Jesus (or possibly that Hindu deity with the elephant head). I will soon be applying for Templeton funding to explore these ideas.

    1. I hate to say it but that isn’t a miracle, since it breaches no physical laws.

      Like hitting ‘zero’ twelve times in a row in roulette, (even if the wheel isn’t ‘bent’), it may be astronomically improbable, but not physically impossible. (Twelve zeros is of course exactly as likely as any other predetermined sequence).

      Doubtless somewhere, right now, a TSA examiner is being polite to a grumpy passenger. If you take a large enough population the most improbable event will actually occur…


      1. “Twelve zeros is of course exactly as likely as any other predetermined sequence”

        Exactly (for digit sequences of length 12); to be a smartass, and since it’s such a nice number in decimal North American English jargon, that probability is spot-on 1 part in a trillion (10**12).

            1. 12d10 = “roll 12 dice each with 10** sides”

              ** Commonly the sides are numbered 0 to 9 on each dice. There’s also pairs of 10-sided sold called percentile dice one 0 to 9 & the other 00, 01, … 90. Together these can randomly generate 0% to 99%

  9. #4 Joshua mentions God’s Undertaker by John Lennox. The new 128-page Lennox book is [as Lennox says] simply a precis of Undertaker from 2007. I suppose the new book gives Lennox the opportunity to give his arguments a haircut – removing the errors of fact [irreducible complexity nonsense] & partial reporting: e.g. Lennox writes that Joseph Hooker had problems with the manuscript for Origin of Species, but leaves out Hooker’s later full endorsement!

    Lennox is not scholarly in his approach to this subject. He is more a debater defending his position so naturally he tries to get the reader on his side with emotive debating tactics. He’s fond of using a smelly [suspicious] Christian victimhood anecdote he drags out at every opportunity – how in his first term at Cambridge University 50 years ago, he was bullied by unnamed professors [inc. a Nobel laureate] – all trying to persuade him to abandon his outdated belief in God.

    That smile of his hides a tough character. He’s an Irish, evangelical street scrapper who puts winning above fairness. He’s not ever changed his position on anything substantial [inc. a justifiable hatred for Communism].

    Nice bloke. Dishonest.

  10. How does Lennox not see that believing in the intelligibility of the universe doesn’t require faith because it is demonstrably intelligible? Also, we don’t know, I almost wrote “can’t” but we may discover that because science, if the origin of the universe is unrepeatable so even that idea is provisional.

  11. I get very annoyed when the Christian apologists argue that there is much abundance supporting the Christian Jesus. As has been pointed out many times on this site, it is highly debatable whether there actually existed a person named Jesus, who called himself divine. And even if such a person existed there is no evidence, outside the Bible, that he was what he claimed to be.

    But, there is a larger point to be made about ancient history: the evidence for what took place is usually quite flimsy, regardless of the topic under discussion. The sources historians use to describe such events are limited, often perhaps to one contemporary source, or those written decades or centuries later. This would be like historians a thousand years from now writing a history of the Trump administration when the only surviving source would be the transcripts of Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ news conferences or tapes of Fox News. In other words, histories written by historians today are based on limited and dubious sources with many of the blanks filled in by speculation. I laugh watching documentaries of ancient history where the talking heads speak with a confidence as if they were eye witnesses to the events.

    1. Decades ago I read a sci-fi short story (alas, title and author now forgotten) set a thousand years or so in the future after some great calamity had struck the world.

      Reconstructing ancient history from a few fragments of historical documents, historians reached a consensus – that John F Kennedy had been a monarch ruling North America and Europe, worshipped by his subjects, etc. The conclusions were plausible based on the evidence, but all inaccurate or seriously misleading.

      1. Very similar is Arthur Clarke’s ‘History Lesson’ (1949) in which a wandering tribe, all that is left of humanity, buries a cache of its treasures before the ice sheets finally overwhelm them.

        Millennia later, the aliens (happen to be Venusians but it doesn’t really matter) find the cache and, after decades of work, manage to decipher and project the film reel that was included. They conclude that Earthlings lived a frenetic life, pursued and terrorised by huge savage monsters, with things exploding all round them. But they never managed to decode the final frame, which carried the words “A Walt Disney Production”.

        (My paraphrase from memory).

        I sometimes wonder what a space alien would make of life on earth if all they had was my computer.


    2. Ancient Non-Christian Historians Agreed that Jesus Lived

      Ancient “pagan” historians wrote about Jesus and his followers and the statements of these historians and writers corroborate the claims of the Bible related to Jesus:
      (1) The Historical Record of Thallus (52AD)
      (2) The Historical Record of Pliny the Younger (61-113AD)
      (3) The Historical Record of Suetonius (69-140AD)
      (4) The Historical Record of Tacitus (56-120AD)
      (5) The Historical Record of Mara Bar-Serapion (70AD)
      (6) The Historical Record of Phlegon (80-140AD)
      (7) The Historical Record of Lucian of Samosata: (115-200 A.D.)
      (8) The Historical Record of Celsus (175AD)

      Ancient Jewish Historians Agree that Jesus Lived

      Even though most ancient Jewish accounts of Jesus are hostile, they still affirm much about the historicity of Jesus, even as they attempt to vilify His character:
      (1) The Historical Record of Josephus (37-101AD)
      (2) The Historical Record of the Jewish Talmud (400-700AD)
      (3) The Historical Record of The Toledot Yeshu (1000AD)

      Mike drop

        1. Totally agree, Yeshua /Jesus is with out a doubt an historical character as evidenced by the thousands of ancient Bible texts and non Christian documents etc. Even Dawkins admits this on you tube when debating Lennox. This makes me very sceptical of peoples objectivity in this comments section. Very disappointing to be honest. Not a good way to share knowledge and have an honest debate.. This is one of the things that turns me off atheist scientists like Dawkins and Peter Atkins.. Their approach to quantative research is purposeful. As is the comment Jesus was not an historical character. Purposefully misleading and dishonest.

          1. Umm. . . .there is no convincing evidence for Jesus outside the Bible, so you are dead wrong here. This makes me very skeptical of your objectivity in this comment. I’m very disappointed in you, to be hones. This is one thing that turns me off about religious scholars: they use as “evidence” stuff from a single multiply-self-plagiarized book and pretend that there is extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus.

            We don’t need your sanctimonious (and misguided) tut-tutting here.

  12. … Lennox claims that miracles do occur, and that there are at least three times God intervened in nature beyond reviving Jesus: the Big Bang (he doesn’t think it could happen naturalistically), the origin of life, and the evolution of humans.

    So the Good Lord Almighty went over 10 billion years between His first and second POOF-style miracles, and then another 3.5 billion between that one and His next?

    What a slacker!

  13. I’m watching the Hitchens debate, but I find myself fast-forwarding Lennox’s part because it sounds like incoherent babble. Hitchens is so eloquent and clear, it’s a pleasure to relive his great performances.

  14. Of all the Christian apologists, I find Lennox to be the most skin-crawling. He seems to have designated himself as the apologists out to show Christianity is compatible with science; it’s his shtick. He comes with an avuncular mien, though I can’t bare listening because he delivers every point as if he’s doing oratory in church, and as if the audience must be hanging on his every word while he says “gather near children as I deliver this wisdom to you.”
    And he’s constantly raising his own bona fides as an “Academic and a Mathematician” to say: “See, I am an accredited Academic who is a Christian so Christianity is obviously rational and not in conflict with accepting math and science.”

    And it’s such a bald-faced sham. He’s a sophist who constantly plays word games, simply weaving associations of words to leave impressions with those who don’t know better, who think he’s just made an argument.

    He always says what’s special about Christianity is that it is “EVIDENCE-BASED” and “TESTABLE.”

    He knows these words are, in the mind of the audience, associated with science (and he makes sure to emphasize that association).
    Usually he claims that Christianity is “testable” insofar as it makes claims about the power of Jesus to change people’s lives. And then by simply applying those words to his Christianity…voila!…no conflict.

    Except of course he is utterly equivocating between the type of “evidence” and “testability” accepted in his Christianity vs that accepted scientifically. There is a massive gulf that he wants to paper over by word association.

    He’s offering the type of “evidence” and “testability” that pretty much every single religion, cult, new age idea, alternative medicine, psychic, astrologer, and pseudo-science offers: cherry-picked anecdotes.
    Every single fringe group has adherents who will tell you “My belief system made claims, I tested them, they WORK!”

    But of course, ANYTHING can seem to work when you engage in reasoning driven by subjective bias and poor methodology. Lennox like every Christian counts the hits and comes up with ways of ignoring the misses.
    Coming to Jesus made your life better? Evidence for Christianity!!! Wait, you are a Christian whose life is miserable? You must be doing it wrong…or….don’t worry, God has this worked out somehow in his plan.
    Lennox acts precisely the opposite of a scientist whenever he talks of the “testability” of his Christianity. (Not to mention, when actual scientific rigor has been attempted – e.g. in prayer studies – Christianity fails the test!!).

    He plays the other side of the court too in another way. Realizing that, in fact, his faith can not be ratified with true scientific rigor, he seeks to find a break between religion and scientific scruples, to make religion some separate sphere of truth claim. To this end he constantly employs the example of explaining a pot of boiling water.
    He says it can be explained in a scientific, natural way in terms of the agitation of water molecules etc. But it can also be explained because “I wanted a cup of tea.” Which he claims is an entirely DIFFERENT form of explanation – the appeal to the desires and intentions of an agent. And as it’s a different sphere of explanation, ‘Agential’ explanations are not in conflict with scientific explanations.

    But of course the example of Lennox choosing to boil water for tea is one within our well accepted empirical experience. Humans obviously exist; we are physical beings and our actions are empirically detectable and describable, and our actions can be studied – a line drawn empirically and scientifically from intent to the physical result of our actions. Just “wanting” tea to boil doesn’t cause tea to boil. It only ever boils insofar as empirical entities take physical steps necessary to cause water to boil.

    But Lennox want’s to slyly ignore this, with his false analogy, as if we can go right on to talking about the purported “Desires and goals” of “agents” like a disembodied, non-physical, eternally existing, all knowing ‘agents’ like a God. Hey…no conflict with scientific scruples there! What a ludicrous changing of the subject.

    It would be like me claiming I’ve been told by someone else that there is an alien made entirely of Dark Matter who, seeing the plight of earth’s energy crisis and wanting to help us, has made for us vehicles that use perpetual motion machines for engines, and that we should take the alien up on it’s offer.

    The obvious issue is how in the world could this belief in such a scenario be compatible with what we know scientifically, and how in the world could it be consistent with scientific scruples to just accept such a thing even exists without extremely strong, scientifically vetted evidence?

    But I reply: “Oh, you poor naive skeptics. You are asking the WRONG question. I’m talking about an agential explanation! I want to talk about the desires of this alien to help human beings, so your query as to how I know this alien exists is just a category mistake!”

    No one for a second would accept such a rubbish misdirection of the problem that arises between my claim and thinking scientifically.

    But Lennox traffics in such constant misdirection and ham-fisted games of “hide the ball” in service of propping up Christianity. I despise the way apologists like Lennox attempt to sew confusion about the nature of science in service of their religion.

    1. I almost gave it the TL:DR, but Michael’s comment made me read it.

      Well put!

      Usually I can’t even try to refute arguments like Lennox’s, I can see what they’re doing but I don’t have the energy, it’s like wading through treacle. Thank you for making the effort.


      1. Thanks for the support 🙂

        I’ve been driven somewhat crazy by listening to some debates in which scientists or atheists have let Lennox off too easily, allowing him to weave and dodge the central problems and change the conversation. I’d love to see Sam Harris get on stage with Lennox; Sam would nail Lennox’s sophistry to the wall, surrounded in neon, for all to see.

    2. Excellent points, beautifully put. Misdirection, equivocation, and category error seems to be a common stock in trade for apologetics.

    1. Your first comment on WEIT & it’s a mindless troll – even if you can’t see it. This is from your “Lifestyle. Mental Health. Wellness. Beauty.” BLOG Desmondenae:

      “Your choice to not believe in god is yours, just like it’s mine to believe”

      Read Da Roolz! [commenting guidelines] in the left sidebar & you’ll see that you have to defend your bullshit with evidence, for example: “People are always so offended by Christianity, it’s ridiculous.”

    2. It’s not ridiculous to think that being a Christian is a delusion. I’m not offended by religion itself, but I am by its tenets. So could you tell us what, evidence, exactly, you have for God’s existence, and why you think Christianity is the “right” religion instead of, say, Islam or Hinduism?

        1. Why is it “judgmental” to criticize an ideology that is often harmful? It is not “ridiculous” to call out faiths whose tenets oppose the teaching of evolution, make women second-class citizens, kill gays and apostates, and the like? Are you defending faiths that promote these behaviors? I guess you think we should shut up about them!

          1. The Bible never said said kill gays, or anything . Alot of people have opinions about something they never even read. If people choose to be sexist or homophobic that was their own choice not the Bible, or Christians. There are people of every religion and non-religious people that are terrible people. That’s not a Christian thing. I didn’t say shut up about them just not be hypocritical, you judge a whole group of people or faith because you think you know all about it. But wouldn’t like it if someone did the same exact thing to you. It’s always the same thing from some people. “I don’t like Christians because they are all blank” but what makes you any less judgemental if you’re assuming you know a group of people because of their religion.

            1. Umm. . . .scripture is not all there is to religion, you know. Lots of religions preach that stuff, and base it on what the Bible says (there is in fact punishment for homosexuality mandated in the Bible, as well as misogyny and threat of death if you don’t believe in Jesus). Those ARE Christian things.

              I didn’t say “I don’t like Christians because they are all blank”, I said I don’t like Christianity because it is a delusion based on a fiction, and in general it’s harmful. You clearly don’t know what I believer, so I suggest you leave this website and go read Faith versus Fact.

              In fact, people do do this to me: they say, “I don’t like atheists because”. I write about that all the time, but you clearly haven’t been readingthis site before jumping in with a gazillion misguided comments. That’s enough, okay?

            2. Most of the atheists I know [including myself] came out of religion. They were brought up in religion & most of their families are still in it or don’t particularly follow the teachings.

              Your characterisation of ‘atheists’ is incorrect – I detest the institutions of Christianity [particularly the Roman Catholic Church], but I don’t hate any Christians. I don’t know any atheists who hate Christians! Nor Muslims for that matter.

              If you look at this conversation thread dispassionately it is YOU who is judging people & making a straw man of what they say/believe.

              Also you have not read the Bible or you would be aware that homosexuals are not to be loved & accepted – the Bible teaches that they must be killed.

              You are extraordinarily ignorant for a person with so many opinions! Get out more. Stop listening to the lies about non-believers being fed to you by your church. THINK!

    3. Also I few corrections to your assumptions:

      ** John Lennox is not a scientist

      ** A 2009 Pew survey of a sample of members of the AAAS indicated that 33% believed in God & a further 18% in a “higher power”. I think we can say that there’s a fair number of scientists in the AAAS. It’s rather distressing to me that the number is so high, but the AAAS is American which explains a lot. Not so rare then eh?

    4. I’ve used this quote before, and it’s a good one:

      Why is it that we have to sit here for years, answering the same questions and having the same arguments, and all we’re really saying is, please present an evidence-supported argument for your claim? Cut out the fallacies, construct a valid syllogism, put sound evidence in the propositions, and I have to accept the conclusion. I have to! It’s unavoidable! Now if I can figure this out, why can’t your god?

      — Matt Dillahunty, The Atheist Experience, June 17, 2018

      It’s not so much to ask, is it?

  15. Did Lennox ever hear about Laplace? Asked by Napoleon where God was in his theories, he answered: “‘Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là.”
    Golden words, we really do not need that speculation.

    1. FWIW, this was about physics rather than theology. Newton thought that God needed to intervene from time to time because their mutual gravitational interaction would upset the planetary system. Laplace had shown that the system is stable, at least over a timescale that he thought was good enough. Latest thinking I believe is that instability may well arise eventually, but not in the next couple of billion year

      1. Has anybody ‘solved’ the three-body problem yet?

        (Okay, that was a rhetorical question. My impression is that there is no absolute solution to the motion of three (or more) bodies and hence no way that any system can be guaranteed stable forever. But I could be quite mistaken about that).


        1. My understanding is that while of course there are no general solutions, and numerous chaotic regions of which are pass had no inkling, nonetheless he was able to come up with approximations which according to current computer modelling are good enough the next billion years or so

          1. Thank you. I’m genuinely awestruck by accomplishments like Laplace’s in conceiving and working out approximations like that – by hand!


        2. Under Newton Classical: a two body gravitational universe is exactly solvable.

          Three bodies [or more] will always** & forever require approximate numerical calculation/solutions. You can however get arbitrarily close to an exact solution extending as far as you like into the future if you’re prepared to invest more calc cycles & a finer ‘grid’ in the computation. The investment is an exponential cost though.
          ** there’s some easy special cases with n bodies if you allow exact speeds & exact positions in certain unrealistic configurations of bodies

          Under Einstein/relativity: Much, much worse – even two bodies can’t be solved exactly in strong gravity fields with close bodies & then there’s frame dragging to consider & other things.

          1. Thank you. I think there may be a parallel with what happens in fluid dynamics** as soon as you take viscosity into consideration; in both cases the non-linearity upsets the tidy mathematical model.

            (**so far as I can remember from decades ago)


            1. Why a wing has lift is still a healthy argument that isn’t fully resolved in edge cases & most of the arguments don’t tackle the ‘stickiness’ of airflow nor when it breaks away from a surface. Even for a simple wing we need stepped numerical computation like we were doing weather prediction.

              It’s almost as if we aren’t living in a simulation… 🙂

              1. Yes, it would be much easier for the Ultimate Programmer to set up His simulation without incorporating awkward things like viscosity and compressibility. Easier for Him, easier for us. Just another reason to conclude that He’s a perverse bastard. 😉


              2. Or maybe non-linearity is the work of the Devil.

                I’m reminded of someone’s coda to a poem, probably by Pope:

                God said, let Newton be, And all was light.

                It could not last; the Devil, howling “Ho
                Let Einstein be” restored the status quo.


            2. This is probably similar to what possibly happens in genetics where it is extraordinarily rare to match a trait with a gene; brilliant and valuable as genetic work is. I think the situation resembles flywheels rotating in opposite directions, where maybe a different combination of many genes expresses the “same” trait at a tens of thousands of years later date. Double genetic drift, as part of the biodiversity insurance policy for preserving our mammalian level faculties.

              (Ideas towards hypotheses are always needed in all sciences.) This at least defies an excessively mechanical view of humanity from some. In addition, Stephen Oppenheimer for example expresses genetics as percentage occurrences of a range of genes, so every individual is likely to differ from what is stated.

              As regards Dr Lennox I don’t understand how he got drafted into this enterprise; he doesn’t have a religious apologetism gift. I wish he would do apologetics for maths though: authorities have destroyed maths and made it inaccessible to the public.

          1. If we know the absolute exact masses, positions & velocities of three bodies in a perfect pocket Newtonian classical universe [no other masses or energies or fields anywhere]… There is no equation that can be applied to predict the motions of those 3 bodies. We will always be stuck with inexact numerical methods for a solution.

            The same is true for an Einsteinian universe under the above conditions, only worse.

            Most of physics can’t be solved with an equation. We have to simulate instead which is what numerical methods are.

            I was told by a mathematical physicist years ago that it’s proven there’s no exact solutions possible for Newtonian or Einsteinian worlds in motion, except for some extremely artificial starting conditions. He emphasised he wasn’t talking about measurement inexactitudes in starting conditions causing variations much later [chaos theory] & he wasn’t of course referring to the quantum which is inapplicable in the two schemes above.

          2. I think Keith is basically correct here, despite ordinary English being very inadequate, as illustrated in several postings just above.

            The language sometimes gives the impression that these theorems of pure mathematics about ‘no solutions’ mean precisely that. Quite the opposite: much easier theorems, but non-trivial for sure, such as ‘existence and uniqueness of DE solutions’, say the opposite.

            What many results do say, and these are basically what’s in some difficult 20th century theorems concerning the 3-body problem, is that the solution (a many-variable function of a many-variable variable [no typo there!–I was avoiding the word ‘vector’], is a function NOT expressible as a combination of already familiar functions–probably expressible so far just ‘as itself’, that solution whose existence is guaranteed by the above DE theorem.

            But the “so far” is what Keith is saying, I think.

            A good, much simpler example, not from physics, but extraordinarily important in elementary mathematical statistics, is that you cannot express the so-called antiderivative of [e to the minus (x squared)] in terms of the standard functions built out of ‘arithmetic plus trig plus logs plus exponentials’. And “you cannot” is much stronger than merely “nobody has yet succeeded”; this (very non-trivial to most of us) theorem says that there simply is no combination (precisely definable) of those elementary functions above which has derivative equal to (e to the minus x squared).

            But its antiderivative definitely exists (it is continuous after all), and is used all the time when the normal statistical distribution is involved.

          3. @phoffman56 Poincare proved there is no analytical solution for the classical 3-body problem. Some chap called Sundman was successful in finding EXACT solutions in an iterative form that converge very slowly – his exact solutions only reach absolute exactness after an infinite calculation!

            More efficient iterative solutions have been formulated since, but they will always require infinite time to be exact!

            3 bodies classical is 18 non-linear differential equations & it will always need solving numerically

            I have said all of the above [in an outline form] already in this thread & nothing you’ve written changes this as far as I can see. If you wish to contradict me please try to use language at my level & please link to a resource that shows that the 3-body classical problem is solvable exactly in less than infinite time.

            1. I’d enjoy a reference from you to that Poincare. But, in any case, not every function is analytic; not even every infinitely smooth function.

              The most famous example is [e to the minus (1/x squared)], with value 0 at 0] IIRC.

              With judicious use of vectors, “18 non-linear differential equations” is a single DE, as I more-or-less mentioned.

              “infinite calculation” and “infinite time” in simpler form occur right from the beginning of calculus, both historically and in a decent initial course, simpler form just being sequences. The number e itself seems to need infinite time to ‘calculate’, as does \pi. But I’m sure there is some genuine content to the work of Sundman. And vastly more for Poincare of course.

              So these do not say anything about my assertions, but maybe that was not intended.

              1. The Poincare result is easily findable via Mr. Google as is Sundman’s & there are a few discussions of the matter on StackExchange. My point that infinite computing is required for 3 [or more] bodies is correct whereas analytical solutions are on the nose for 0, 1, 2 & ‘2.5’ bodies [one body being a point mass]. Now please go away & bug somebody else.

              2. Upon reflection, a couple of points:

                I was not sure from Michael’s 2nd last whether he was disagreeing with Keith. But I guess, from his “if you wish to contradict me” in the last one, and my having said Keith was basically correct, that I was contradicting him. In any case, nothing hostile at all intended.

                I don’t think it’s so much as my failing to “use language at my level”, as something quite easy to explain here. The trouble comes from people saying ‘solution does not exist’, or from Michael’s 2nd last: “There is no equation…” and “..there’s no exact solution possible…” These to me at least are very misleading. By relatively elementary (not easy) means, it is mathematically provable that the DE (or system of DEs if that’s your preferred language) does have a perfectly good and unique solution, once initial conditions are specified. What is really intended is to say that we cannot find solutions which have a particular form, for example, analytic or as a combination of some known functions.

                To say “we have not yet found a solution” is weaker than both above. To say, “no solution can exist in such-and-such form” is what is intended and mathematically provable here. To say “no solution exists” is very sloppy if the earlier is intended, and is usually false in the context, especially when the DE comes from physics where the solution is in some sense right there to be observed physically, if not calculable.

                I think this is somewhat related to the confusing many uses of the word “science” quite generally, when distinction is not made between what scientists have yet discovered, what scientists might possibly discover, and what is actually true. Writers who (inadvertently?) use two of these without mentioning it can really be anti-educational IMHO.

        3. There is no closed form mathematical solution for the three body problem.

          Of course that does not stop morons from claiming that there is a solution. The idiot followers of Lyndon LaRouche* have
          claimed to have developed an analytic solution for the 3 body problem but all
          inquiries about published results always resulted vague pointers to dead ends.

          *”Fusion This Century” was a common LaRouche
          follower claim in the 20th century.

          1. Once again to beat on a should-be-dead-horse, Zetopan’s statement

            “There is no closed form mathematical solution for the three body problem”

            is probably correctly meaningful and therefore true for him/her, since he likely does know in detail what “closed form” actually means. I would however challenge him/her to explain that meaning here meaningfully in less than 10 pages.

            For the 99% of readers here, it is quite understandably meaningless, and I’d say somewhat misleading. It is an incorrect implication that nothing new can be done on this problem (by pure mathematicians), only the important work (by numerical analysts, etc.) in producing approximations.

            That there are scientific imposters, like LaRouche mentioned here, can be amusing entertainment of no real value, and is hardly surprising.

            To repeat in different words, if I denote the solution which actually exists, by DE existence theorems, as f(x), where f is a vector-valued function of a vector-valued variable x, of course for some given single initial condition, I can then simply ask, but ‘falsely’ for that 10 page specification,
            ‘What’s not closed form about “f(x)”?’.

            This last paragraph is of no scientific value other than to try to disabuse non-scientist-mathematician readers about facile assertions.

            And I’m fairly confident that Keith Douglas, in his initial statement,

            “It does not follow that it is unsolvable forever, by all means whatever”

            had something closely resembling the above in mind.

      2. There is a nice article on the topic in Scholarpedia:

        “If one summarizes the results obtained with these integrations of the secular equations on a plane graph representing the zone swept by the planetary orbits for the maximum values of their eccentricity, (fig. 5), one notes that the Solar system interns is “full”: there is no place for an additional body. One needs at least 3.5 billion years to allow a collision between Mercury and Venus, but an additional body placed in this system will probably collide more rapidly with one of already existing planets.

        This observation leads then to the concept of marginal stability for the Solar system: the Solar system is unstable, but catastrophic phenomena leading to the destruction of the System in its current form can take place only in a time comparable with its age, that is to say approximately 5 billion years. The observation of this present state then makes it possible to suppose that it always was thus for the Solar system, since the end of its formation. At that time, it could have remained some other bodies than the current planets, but in this case, the System would have been much more unstable, and a collision or an ejection could have taken place (an example could be the impactor of the Earth which was at the origin of the formation of the Moon). After this event, the remaining System becomes much more stable. We thus obtain a self-organization of the System towards increasingly stable states which are always states of marginal stability.

        [ ]

        My bold of the salient results.

        1. Also for the context of this site, note that this explains in more detail why astronomers does not call Pluto is not a planet! (Not cleared its orbit; not affecting the current marginal stability of the system.)

          1. Oops, I edited that wrong: … note that this explains in more detail why astronomers does not call Pluto a planet!

  16. ” . . . though you may not get through much of it before your digestive system goes awry.”

    I see it as an opportunity to further develop my sphincter tonus potential.

  17. Some Pre-Copernican, Pre-Darwinian worldviews -like Christianity- made sense and where comprehensible, but they were completely wrong. Now, as Brian Cox said in a recent Joe Rogan’s podcast, it’s almost impossible to believe that we exist.

    There is a vacuum that our minds (at least my own) don’t like. We need a new worldview that will have to unify modern cosmology, physics, evolution, information theory, etc.

  18. At

    you will find a few interesting comments along the lines of how IDers are very pleased to have someone with a Ph.D. (I knew his supervisor Jim Roseblade about 55 years ago when Jim was at Manchester for a few years)to buttress ID’s ridiculous claims to intellectual respectability. Perhaps Lennox actually is an emeritus prof. in math at Oxford: both his (self-written?) wiki page and the Said Business School seem to say that, but the Oxford Mathematical Institute, or at least its web pages, seem to have never heard of him as a member. Writing a pretty good book with Derek Robinson and supervising one Ph.D. in ~40 years at Cardiff does put him into the class of real mathematicians. But the other ‘intellectual’ stuff is just embarrassing to many others in that class.

  19. More on Lennox:

    1. He loves the old apologist trope of pointing to scientists who are/were religious to say “See, great scientists are religious and if they didn’g see a conflict, neither should you!”

    We all know what’s wrong with that – and Jerry wrote a book about it.

    But the type of details Lennox conveniently leaves out of his case is so telling. In the video clip above he mentions how the “Pioneers of modern science” believed in God.
    Well of course he especially prefers to go back in time to the pioneers vs citing brilliant scientists now. Back then almost everyone believed in God!

    But more telling is he mentions Newton and Kepler as examples of the rationality of Christian beliefs. Yeah…both Newton and Kepler were very devout Christians. And Newton famously wasted 30 years putting his great brain power to theology. When he did THAT he left nothing of lasting use to anyone. Insofar as any scientist actually attempts to incorporate the revelation of their God into science, it fails every time.
    Both Newton and Kepler, seeing the Bible as authoritative, estimated the age of the earth
    to be around 4000 BCE.

    What Lennox and his fellow used salesmen always leave out when citing “great scientists who are religious” is the sheer amount of nonsense and error that has arisen from religious people over the centuries accepting the claims of the bible as veridical and attempting to do science from what those texts tell us. It continues today in the ludicrous unscientific claims of young earth creationists, biblical literalists etc.

    How inconvenient for the Christian claiming compatibility with science, that when God Himself speaks to us, science ONLY progresses with reliable results insofar as we IGNORE and abandon the claims of that God.


    In a recent debate on the Podcast Unbelievable, Lennox was in dialogue with scientist Peter Atkins. Lennox was using every strained move possible to paint the Christian God as friendly to science, including this whopper: Lennox told us that in the Garden Of Eden, God told Adam to go forth and name all the animals. THIS, claimed Lennox, was God telling humans to begin the science of taxonomy!!!! See how science-friendly the bible is???

    Unbelievable. First, as someone else aptly remarked “I named my dog. I wasn’t doing science when I gave an animal a name.” Talk about desperate attempts to shove “science” wherever he can into the bible!

    Worse…his claim depends on his taking the Genesis accounts of Adam and Eve LITERALLY.
    So a guy who takes the story of Adam and Eve literally…against all the science to the contrary…is trying to claim the compatibility of his beliefs with science???

    The guy is just a preacher in a cheap lab coat. P*sses me off that *anyone* falls for his stuff.

    1. P*sses me off that *anyone* falls for his stuff.

      No objective person with normal intelligence would buy this line. I think, for the most part, he’s preaching to his choir. Still, p*sses me off too.

  20. Yikes, Safari on iPad, has challenged me to fill-in-the blanks, oh noes!

    The Richard Dawkins debate with John Lennox was in Oxford 2008.
    This was followed by a talk in Scotland by John Lennox.
    There, he misleadingly quoted Richard from the debate as saying:

    . . . a reasonable case could be made for deism.

    But missed out the next part of what Richard said:

    . . . not a case that I would accept.

    Richard was using the “Eddington Concession” as a rhetorical point.

    For a short video from 2009 of Richard, in a splendid shirt,
    at the American Atheist Con – shows, first, the John (liar, liar, pants on fire) Lennox
    and then an extract of what he (Richard) actually said:

    It would seem Lennox would work well with Behe?

  21. “THE Templeton Foundation, which now has a damn Oxford College named after it”

    Not so. Green Templeton College is named after the man, who gave money to the college directly, not via his Foundation. It is not named after the Foundation, was not funded by the Foundation and is thus not beholden to the Foundation’s mission.

  22. What about Lennox v Coyne in Belfast?

    A really nice man but, without a doubt, the most erudite wee creationist fool who ever got the Liverpool boat up to Cambridge. Something of an embarrassment to us.

  23. When Lennox is describing empirical methods with “induction” or “abduction” instead of testing and “historical science” instead of science, he is inserting what was popular in 19th century theology into the 21st century. No wonder, he is fantazising about now vanished magic gaps:

    Finally, Lennox claims that miracles do occur, and that there are at least three times God intervened in nature beyond reviving Jesus: the Big Bang (he doesn’t think it could happen naturalistically), the origin of life, and the evolution of humans. He seems to accept the rest of evolutionary biology, but argues, like a true Intelligent Design proponent, that the origin of life and the evolution of humans either couldn’t happen naturalistically and thus involved the hand of God.

    So he is both boring and wrong!? Sounds like a stereotypical old mathematician to me.

  24. I would *love* for him to try to show that Newton, the Arian, was a Christian in the Jesus-was-god sense. I would love for him to try to show that Kepler’s Pythorgeanism was compatible with Christianity. And best of all, try to show Galileo was a Christian and not, say, a deist. (The first and the last of these are mainstream viewpoints now.)

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