Yesterday we had a Bishop’s Study Day with John Lennox. The topic was understanding the New Atheists (and why they are wrong!). In the introduction they were compared to a tsunami, whose initial fury has passed, but which has left behind a changed landscape in which we have to minister.
I thought that he made some very good points about the flaws in some of the New Atheist arguments, but felt that when he tried to propose arguments that proved the existence of God they too were flawed. But then, I believe in epistemic distance, and the impossibility of proving* the existence of God!
He showed that materialism fails when you look at something like writing – you cannot use materialism to show why the symbols mean what they mean.
He also showed that there are two answers to the question: “Why did the kettle boil?” One is a scientific description of how heat boils water, and what happens; the other “because I wanted a cup of coffee”! Science and religion are not answering the same question.
He pointed out that very often the New Atheists use poor science and/or poor logic; “Do not accept anything that can’t be proven by science” cannot be proven by science!
However, it was when he got on to trying to prove that Christianity and science were more compatible than atheism and science that I felt his logic was lacking. The idea was based on the fact that science is developed by the brain, and if evolution is right then the brain is the result of a random process – he then asks people if they would accept results from a computer that was developed by a random process and when they say “no” asks why they trust the brain. Whereas, if the brain is created by a creator then you would expect it to work. Earlier he had criticised the New Atheists for making seemingly correct statements which people would agree with, but which led to atheism (I have forgotten the example :(). I feel that here he is making the same mistake. If we accept that we cannot prove* anything, then it is a case of looking for evidence. If a computer was developed using the same processes as evolution why would you not accept it? (In some ways it is, think about how many computers have been developed over the years, and how many have died out – let alone those that never made it to market?).
Yes, we can point out the flaws in others arguments, but the only argument for faith that I have found is the evidence from scripture, tradition, reason and experience, and for me epistemic distance means that experience is the most significant of these, but also the one which is least amenable to proving it to anyone else!
* When talking about proving he explained that only in mathematics can you prove anything. In all other contexts you can only provide evidence which may be wrong! However, in this piece I shall refer to proving!!