Encounter Heading: Skeptic's Guide


Dawkins/Lennox Debate
A Critique by Dennis Jensen

Richard Dawkins debated John Lennox in October of 2008 at Oxford University. Dawkins is an Oxford Zoologist known for his work in and promotion of evolution and atheism. Lennox is also an Oxford professor, his work is in mathematics and philosophy of science. Dawkins had the debate on his web site (see note at end of this critique). After hearing it I think Dawkins ought to change the title of his web page. He calls it a "clear thinking oasis" and exemplifies it with his arguments in the debate. In the following we will see that it might be more accurate to call it an oasis of muddled thinking.


Dawkins says that "the deist God could be one that . . . one could make a reasonably respectable case for, . . . not a case that I would accept, but I think it is a serious discussion that we could have." (4:33.) He had only a few sentences previously claimed that Einstein was not even a deist, but that he rather used the term God as a poetic metaphor for that which we do not understand about the universe.

Einstein stated emphatically that he believed in an intelligence behind the universe. Whatever he said about believing in Spinoza's God or the "beauty and sublimity" behind that which we can grasp, he still believed in a mind revealed through the universe.
1 At one time he said he didn't think he could call himself a pantheist and that he definitely was not an atheist.2 It may be that his deism sometimes merged into a quasi-pantheism or perhaps his views changed with time. At the very least he was very clearly a deist at some time or times in his life. And a fuller analysis of his statements suggests that he never truly was a pantheist. For Dawkins to deny Einstein's deism and to pick and choose only the statements he wants to see gives us our first example of his muddled thinking. Dawkins has been criticized for similar evasions and even distortions in his book The God Delusion.3

The God Delusion he followed major survey results in an attempt to claim that "real scientists" do not believe in God. So what happens to his claim that all the brightest and best scientists are atheists when we have to keep adding to our list of deists and theists names like Einstein, Hawking, Davies, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, Planck, Dirac, and even Darwin? (Note, Hawking has recently come to reject his belief in at least a need for God. Nevertheless, his earlier reasons for belief remain forceful and cannot be easily ignored. His current reasons for disbelief, in my thinking, reflect serious flaws.)4 Antony Flew belabors the point that his own conversion to deism was solely based upon the evidence, much of it the newer scientific evidence. With so much evidence and so many professed deists among thinking people, perhaps Dawkins felt forced to admit the power of their arguments.

But deism isn't theism, Dawkins emphasizes, so even if some will fall to deism, there is no excuse for Lennox’ “absurd” belief in a God who relates to humans, works miracles, and cares about morality. Now just so that we will be using the correct terms, theism is actually a form of theism. So the proper distinction should be between deism and what we might call an interventional theism. What Dawkins fails to see is that deism is much closer to interventional theism than atheism is to deism. Interventionalist theists have a much easier job once deism is admitted. That's why they often like to start with the arguments from science like the fine-tuning and Big Bang arguments for general theism. These arguments are so powerful that the special arguments for Christianity just seem much more feasible once we are more certain there really is a God who has at least the power to work miracles. The arguments from science don't provide evidence for Christianity but no one ever claimed they did. The special arguments from history (resurrection and prophecy arguments, for example) and religious experience arguments are needed for the special claims of Christianity.

Once it is admitted that there is a creator, however, there are also strong intuitive arguments for interventional theism over deism. Humans are the only entities in the universe that we know of that are conscious, free, intelligent, aware of right and wrong, and who can relate to God (at least many of them claim that they do relate to God and we don't know of any other animal that does). (If there may be other beings in the universe who are like us in these characteristics, then we are among a class of beings who believe they can relate to God.)

Dawkins will of course deny that humans are free but he cannot give a good argument that freedom is an illusion. Likewise, I cannot prove humans are free but I can claim that if theism is true we certainly could be free. I would also claim that humans cannot be morally culpable or responsible unless they are free in a libertarian sense (uncontrolled in their free acts by any persons or entities other than themselves). If humans are free and morally responsible, this would be a notable characteristic in which a creator God would be interested and, indeed, of which a creator God would be the only feasible source. We cannot imagine how libertarian freedom can exist without a Creator.

Now if there really is a creator who has the intelligence and power to create this universe, it should know the outcome of creation. At least this would be the case for a determined universe. Can we honestly think it would create a universe just to see what happens? But if this creator is good, and if the greatest good, the greatest joy one could have is to know and to relate to and to love this creator, then this creator would want there to be some with whom it would have this kind of relationship. If God is love because love follows from God's goodness, then God's love would require the creation of those who could love God and God would love in return. So it seems more intuitively likely that an intelligent, conscious creator would create so that there would be the good of creatures knowing and loving this God, not merely so that some material universe would just exist. Indeed, if God just wanted a material universe, why create one that allows for chemical life when most of the universes God could have made could never have such life?

Also it could be that this God desires us to freely choose to seek and to know God, not to be causally determined to do so. We would be morally responsible in this and our other moral choices. Wouldn't God want us to freely choose to know and love God rather than to be forced to do so?

The previous argument is not conclusive; it's much more of an intuitive argument. So if we disregard it, we should conclude that at the very least theism is as likely as deism. But Dawkins says theism is much less likely. One reason he gives is a similar intuitive argument: these are more, “Wouldn't God be more like this than that?” kinds of arguments.

He says that the creator of the billions of years of time and billions of light years of space "couldn't think of a better way to rid the world of sin, than to come to this little speck of cosmic dust and have himself tortured and executed?" And he calls this "petty and small minded," and "profoundly unscientific." (6:06.) The "little speck of cosmic dust" is a hinted argument Lennox responds to later. Time and space mean nothing to a God who had to work with the very small and the very large in both space and time for our universe to exist as it does. I could also add that being possibly the only free, intelligent, conscious, God-relating, moral beings in the universe, humans might be of special concern to God no matter where they are located or what their size. To think of God being unconcerned about humans simply because of our size in relation to the universe is extremely myopic. The universe itself is thought to have been once of near infinitesimal size. Is the "scientific" view that it would have been too small for God to observe or know about or be concerned with? Since Dawkins' particular atheistic science works with human sized entities as well as much smaller ones, why is his view not unscientific?

Why else might Dawkins speak of such views as being unscientific? Maybe he is referring to his claim that miracles are unscientific and he sees some miraculous act in the incarnation and atonement. Let's discuss this claim later after we get a fuller statement from Dawkins concerning miracles. But why does he think this is petty and small minded? Probably this goes back to his "speck of cosmic dust" statement: God should be concerned with the grandeur of the vast universe, not with us microscopic humans. But as I've said already, it seems more likely that God would be more interested in conscious beings than a mindless universe, no matter how vast.

There's more to Dawkins' claim however. Later in the debate he says that rather than God being incarnated to be tortured and killed, he could have just forgiven us. "He's doing the forgiving after all, couldn't he just forgive?" (32:15.) Lennox responds that "this is a moral universe" and "just forgiving doesn't make sense." So to Dawkins' question, “Couldn't God think of a better way to do it?” the answer would be no, there is no other way. Christians follow Paul's claim that if there were any other way for us to be reconciled to God, Jesus would never have incarnated to die (cf. Galatians 2:21). Even if the past is in some sense nonexistent, in a moral universe the evil and good we do cannot disappear even by God's command. It remains a part of us as well as of existence itself. Here the realism of the atonement appears. The sin and the judgment one deserves can only be removed if someone can take it and bear it for us. Only the God from whom we came and by whom we are moral creatures has the ability to take that sin upon himself, to become our substitute.

One last point here: Dawkins' statement was that it was petty for God to do all this in order "to forgive himself." (6:17.) Here Dawkins knows very well that Christianity claims no such thing. He has gone beyond mere muddled thinking to outright distortion.

Dawkins makes a related statement that would be good to consider here. "You could possibly persuade me that there was a kind of creative force in the universe that was some kind of physical, mathematical genius who created everything, the expanding universe. . . . But that is radically and fundamentally incompatible with the sort of God who cares about sin. . . who has the slightest interest in your private thoughts. . . about what you are thinking about him." (37:05.)

Considering our earlier discussion concerning how it might be that God is more concerned about free, conscious creatures than a mindless universe, how do we know God is not concerned about the evil or good that fills our minds? Might the good be far more noble and exalted than mere material existence, no matter how vast and apparently beautiful it may appear to us? Christopher Hitchens made a similar statement in his introduction to
The Portable Atheist. He said, "Who wishes that there was a permanent, unalterable celestial despotism that subjected us to continual surveillance and could convict us of thought-crimes, and who regarded us as its private property even after we died? How happy we ought to be at the reflection that there exists not a shred of respectable evidence to support such a horrible hypothesis."5 Fantasize of rape and sadism, dream of how you would love to kill the Jews or the Tutsi, but since it's all only in your mind, there can be nothing wrong with it (Hitchens reasons). How dare there be a God who presumes the right to intrude into the private musings of his creatures and judge these thoughts?

Hitchens' reasons for hating God are obvious. Not that his thought life is so evil as I've described, but the fallacy of his thinking is obvious. Contra Hitchens, there
should be a God who will judge our "thought-crimes." (And of course the second fallacy of Hitchens' thinking involves the assumption that what one thinks will never come out in one's actions. Dreaming about killing the Tutsi resulted in the murder of almost a million people.) [Portions of these last two paragraphs are taken from my debate with Paul Doland.]

But what of our
insignificant private thoughts? Should the "prying eyes" of God be watching? Might we not consider that such insignificant thoughts could be evil if they happen to diminish or usurp the value of persons, whether ourselves, others, or even God? Obviously, it would not matter if God is aware of our non-moral thoughts, so this cannot be his complaint. Dawkins thinks that no God worthy of that name should be concerned about what we think of this God. But isn't it more likely that a God far greater than Dawkins' ideal god would be concerned about the one creature who has the unique value God has given it, a value far greater than that mindless universe it inhabits—the one creature who is aware of itself and its universe and its God? Shouldn't this God be concerned with this unique creation, this conscious creation, and where its thoughts go? What we think of God and what we do with God would surely be the most important matter we could ever entertain. And Dawkins thinks this insignificant and unworthy of God?! How can his thinking be more muddled than this? Indeed, as with the Hitchens' quotation, Dawkins' claim betrays a deeper evil, a desire to entertain any thought no matter how diabolical, and a demand to be free from divine censure. No, a God who is unconcerned about the evil in the minds of men and women is far less worthy of our concern and interest; a God who seeks for us to become better, to become good, to value persons as they deserve, to become like God in God’s perfection and holiness, a God who seeks to know the way we will choose—this is the far greater God.

On one point Dawkins is almost correct: an intelligent creator of the universe who has no concern about the conscious creation is almost but not quite "radically and fundamentally incompatible with the sort of God who cares about sin," about good and evil in our “private thoughts,” and who yet has also those same characteristics of virtually infinite intelligence and power. A God who cares about sin is light years above a mere creator of a physical universe. But they are not quite "radically" different. They both have the same or nearly the same unfathomable intelligence and power. And who is to say that the deistic God, because of its intelligence, would not choose to be the interventional theistic God? Who is to say that the deistic God does not possess within itself the worth from which and upon which all good must originate and be based? Again, we are back to my claim that deism is in some ways very close to interventional theism. There is certainly no good argument for deism as opposed to theism and no good reason to think an evidenced deistic God could not actually be an interventional theistic God.


Let's get to the issue of miracles. An incarnate God walking on water and changing water to wine, a virgin birth and a resurrection from the dead—in Dawkins' thinking these are some of the things that make a deistic God light years above Lennox' Christian God. The most obvious retort (and one that Lennox makes) is that a God able to create the universe should have no trouble doing any of these things. But here Dawkins pulls his "m" card and accuses the theist of magic. "When you feel like it, you will smuggle in magic . . . for miracles in the Bible, . . . for the origin of life." (28:28.) He says he cannot at this time in history explain the origin of life but at least he does not try to smuggle in magic. In keeping with his need to keep the issues muddled,

Dawkins does not define "magic" or for that matter suggest even an idea of what he means by the term. It is always easier to use emotionally loaded terms and to avoid at all costs any careful thinking about what those terms mean, lest one's claims fall apart. So let me offer a couple of possible suggestions and hope that this will cover the concepts under consideration. In my thinking magic is waving a wand and with no real causal connection between the act and an outcome, the desired result occurs. I would claim that this happens when some say that certain events have no cause (like some claimed quantum events) or that something can pop into existence uncaused from nothing. If Dawkins thinks this is what happens when a miracle occurs, then he simply does not know what theists claim or he is willfully distorting their claims. I suspect that Dawkins does know better and thinks of a miracle as a proper causal event caused by God or some other appropriate spiritual being. But if theists think of miracles as simply God acting in the world, what force is left to any of Dawkins' accusations? For that matter, if a miracle is magic, why isn’t the creation of the universe magic as well? Why isn’t the deistic God guilty of magic as much as the interventional theistic God is? Perhaps some of his other statements will help us see if Dawkins has any real argument left.

He alludes to a popular Sidney Harris cartoon published in
American Scientist some years ago. Two scientists are at a blackboard. One has written an equation or formula and we see in the middle of the writing the words "then a miracle occurs." The second scientist says something like, "I think you should be more explicit here in step two." Lennox admits that he knows of the illustration and Dawkins seeks to drive home his claim that miracles have no place in science. (I wouldn't doubt that he shows a slide of the cartoon to all of his classes.) Here miracles mean at least phenomena that do not have a detailed explanation. It is doubtful that Harris necessarily had any concept of divine action in mind when he used the term. It is more likely he was thinking of a broader concept of an action of unknown or unknowable origin, whether divine or not. Some may think of miracles as magic (as defined above). In that case, we have seen that this is not what theists mean by the term.

But the point of the cartoon is that at the very least we should never appeal to an unknown or unknowable in attempting a scientific explanation. Certainly when attempting a scientific explanation one should not make a major portion of one's explanation an unknown. One may have to admit that major unknowns exist; say, that we do not know how C changes to or produces D in a process from A to B to C to D to E to F. If the rest is known or explained (A to C and D to F) then it may be that scientific progress has been made even though gaps still exist in our knowledge of the process.

Indeed, isn't all of science like this? There are and always will be gaps in our knowledge. Newton's theory of gravity told us much but left much more unexplained. Einstein filled in more gaps but we still do not understand the mechanism of gravity. We may now be closer to understanding it with entities like gravitons, but again, there is still much left unexplained. Now there are at least a couple of categories of unknown phenomena or "black boxes." One might involve what Dawkins calls the God of the Gaps (GOG). We don't know what did it, so God must have done it. The other is the Naturalistic Explanation of the Gaps (NEOG). This is the assumption that any unknown phenomenon must have a naturalistic explanation. We don't know what did it, so natural causation must have done it. Dawkins assumes without justification that only and always the NEOG must be accepted.

How then does this apply to the Harris cartoon? Suppose the statement in the formula is not "and then a miracle occurs" but "and then phenomenon X occurs for which we have no explanation." As such the phenomenon could have natural or supernatural causes since all that we know is that we do not know the cause. So far we have no problem for science since we always have unexplained phenomena. Scientific work involves working around some unknowns to explain other unknowns.

Now suppose X is expected; it is what normally happens given the setting of the experiment even though we do not know how it works. Dawkins uses an example of dropping a stone (17:56). We don't expect God to control the falling of every dropped stone. And he is right that we should expect only natural explanations for such repeatable phenomena. We should not expect God to control the fall of every dropped rock, the orbit of every comet, or the gravitational interaction of every particle. It is more likely that God created material entities to be such that they behave this way because they follow natural laws; that is, their nature determines their behavior. From this Dawkins jumps to the claim that all phenomena should have only natural explanations. We will see that this leap is not warranted but for now we should merely recognize that if X is expected, such as phenomena that normally occur under a given context, we have reason to think they normally involve only naturalistic explanations.

As for those phenomena which are not necessarily expected or repeatable, we could think of several commonly considered examples. We might think of the origin of life, the origin of the universe, the evolutionary transitions between major life forms (say the change from reptiles to mammals). Now all of these might be repeatable. For example, we could imagine that in some part of the universe might occur the proper chemicals in appropriate quantity, conditions, location, temperature, sequences, etc. for life to emerge naturally. It may be very improbable that we will ever have such appropriate conditions and sequences, but let’s imagine they just happened to occur. If so, then the origin of life might have a natural explanation, repeatable under the proper circumstances. If we have evidence that any of these factors were missing or out of sequence, then the better explanation would be that special intelligent intervention was involved, if only to get the factors in the right sequence.

Such intervention might be thought of as a miracle but notice that no natural laws are broken. Material from another world or dimension might be introduced into our world or a being from such a world might enter our world. It need not be visible to us. It could simply manipulate material in our world in ways that would not occur otherwise.

Suppose, for example, when I drop the stone it doesn't fall but slowly floats upward. Should this be deemed a natural event? Possibly, but possibly not. If the stone were a magnet and another strong magnet were placed under the floor, then we might be able to account for this phenomenon naturalistically. But if a thorough investigation showed no magnets present and no other feasible naturalistic explanation can be thought of at the time, a miracle may turn out to be the better explanation. If it turns out that all feasible naturalistic explanations can be likely excluded, and especially explanations involving human intervention, then an explanation claiming a non-human intelligent cause would be the better explanation. And if alien intelligences (intelligent beings from elsewhere in our cosmos) can be rejected, that gets us to one of a number of religious explanations of which theism is a prime candidate. In any case, we are now left with a miracle. All of the phenomena considered in these various scenarios—the rock falling, the rock floating, my setting up magnets in the rock and the floor, God changing the structure of the rock and the floor to make them act as repulsive magnets, etc.—involved natural processes and causation. Only the special act of intelligent intervention makes a difference. If such intervention is evidenced; whether human, divine, or anything else; all natural laws are still followed.

One point of clarification. I have said that in a miracle natural laws are followed and yet a miracle does not have a naturalistic explanation. By saying that there is no naturalistic explanation, I mean that the natural processes of the universe alone cannot account for the phenomenon and that we need causation from something other than any entity in the universe.

Most common phenomena that are repeatable given expected preconditions should normally be thought to have natural explanations; for other phenomena, we just do not know in advance that they must have a purely natural explanation. We (theists and non-theists alike) should expect that dropping a stone would more likely be a natural phenomenon, one which a God (if there is one) would not be expected to directly effect. Other phenomena, like the origin of life, we cannot presume in advance to be more likely naturally or supernaturally caused. To claim otherwise is sheer question begging. This is an unwarranted presumption of naturalism. The NEOG is prima facie just as unjustified as the GOG. Whether a theistic or naturalistic explanation is better depends on the evidence and neither should be presumed without prior evidence.

Let's suppose X in the formula is not expected. Like the floating stone, it may or may not have a naturalistic explanation. Whether it is a miracle or not, it easily fits a scientific assessment of the world.

If, for example, a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life seems unfeasible given our knowledge of the steps necessary for the complex self-replicating structures of molecules to come into being and the nature of all plausible conditions and locations for the origin of life, then a theistic intelligent design explanation would be better. Now the theistic explanation would assume that theism is not less intrinsically likely than naturalism. Dawkins claims that it is less intrinsically likely than naturalism (a claim we will return to later). Until or unless Dawkins can demonstrate his claim, some phenomena may be better explained by theism than naturalism.

Our conclusion concerning the Harris cartoon must be this: If we consider his formula on the blackboard merely a description of events, the statement "and then a miracle occurs" could be the better explanation. X could be a miracle or it could be a phenomenon caused by natural processes alone but not yet understood. Which it is should be determined by the evidence, not by an unjustifiable presumption of naturalism.

The distinction between a miracle and any other divine intervention in the history of the universe is subtle. Any theistic intervention might be called a miracle (and usually I will do so in this discussion). But often we would want to think of a miracle as a special intervention with special evidence. If, say, in advance of my dropping the stone that floats in the air, I were to predict this would happen and that this will be done by the power of the God of the Bible, this would be good evidence for my claim. Since it is usually so difficult to go back to a miracle claim to examine and exclude all possible natural explanations, we need the special evidence of the prediction. On the other hand, phenomena like the origin of life might be sufficiently analyzed to determine that it is likely that there is or is no adequate naturalistic explanation.

Dawkins says, "I think it is a cowardly cop-out to suggest that just because we do not yet understand something that magic did it." (28:57.) We have seen that theistic intervention in the world might be called miraculous but it should not be called magic. Also, theism (at least biblical theism) does not say that because we do not understand something that God must have done it. But theism does say that it is a cowardly cop-out to say that just because we do not understand something that there must be a naturalistic explanation for it. Theism says that neither the GOG nor the NEOG is justified. Theistic or naturalistic explanations are justified only when we have evidence for one or the other.

Dawkins says, "If by doing science we constantly have to keep in mind that at any moment there might be a little magic trick slipped in, that would completely nullify the whole enterprise of science." (45:42.) This strikes me as a Chicken Little argument. The sky isn't falling and all of science does not fall apart if God can intervene in nature any more than science falls apart if humans interfere in nature. Imagine it's World War II and the Nazis are seeking to make an atomic bomb but they have to do some crucial experiment before they can do so. Imagine that they would also win the war if they made the atomic bomb in time and that God does not want them to win the war. Suppose God works a miracle and does something simple like change some of the materials being used, like the uranium or the heavy water. All that would be needed might be to remove or rearrange certain protons or neutrons or electrons. Or God might simply put a loose wire in one of the instruments being used so that it registers an incorrect result.

Now consider a second scenario. Suppose the scientists working on this crucial experiment have a spy among them. He knows the experiment must fail or Germany will likely win the war. He slips in some extra chemicals or alters one of the instruments and the experiment fails. Now why would one intervention destroy all of science but not the other? I don't think Dawkins can answer this question.

Of course, if God were capricious and interfered all the time, then we wouldn't be able to do science. The world would seem to be chaotic and if we could exist at all we would know of no natural laws. Since the world is not chaotic, we know that if there is a God, God does not do this. Lennox points out that we would not be able to recognize miracles either. Neither does God cause all of certain experiments to reach false conclusions or deceive us by giving nonveridical observations so that we think science shows us one thing while something else is actually true. In the biblical view at least, God gives humans the ability to discover scientific truth. It is to the glory of God to make nature so that her secrets are concealed, but it is to the glory of humans to search them out (cf. Proverbs 25:2).

Dawkins also points out what he considers the problem of "burnt fingers." He says, "We had our fingers burnt before the 19th century thinking that biology that looked so much more obviously designed—we got our fingers burnt there." (9:51.) That is, we made the mistake of thinking that we and other life came to be by being designed when in fact we came to be by evolutionary processes. We should know better than to try ever suggesting such a thing again. This "burnt fingers" attitude seems to me extremely unscientific. If an hypothesis has been found to fail before, we should never consider using it again? Certain pre-Socratics gave us the atomic theory of matter. It was rejected because of its failings or at least because it was not supported given our knowledge at the time. Now a variation of that view is accepted. Should we never have reconsidered it because it failed once?

By presenting a theistic or intelligent design hypothesis one is merely presenting an hypothesis to be considered and tested. If it fails, then as an objective scientist, one should be happy. If it is verified, again one should be happy. In either case, scientific progress is made. One should not be afraid of presenting hypotheses because of philosophical or theological implications. If science finds a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life, we have advanced in our knowledge and know better how God has caused life to be here or how naturalistic processes have caused life to be here. Certainly theists have also lost what they may have once thought to be a particularly strong piece of evidence for God's existence, but unless this is the only evidence they have, they may still other evidence for God. On the other hand, if more direct intelligent intervention appears the more likely explanation for life, then again we have advanced in our knowledge, and scientific knowledge at that. Interestingly, the Bible says nothing about whether God created life by direct intervention or by setting up the universe to be such that it would naturally occur. [Part of this paragraph taken from my comments on the
Ross/Stenger debate.]

I can only conclude that miracles and the possibility of divine intervention into nature must be honestly considered by science. They certainly cannot be rejected by any arguments Dawkins has presented.

Simplicity Argument

Dawkins gives what he considers to be one of his most important arguments: “Even if we don't understand how [the cosmos] came about, it's not helpful to postulate a creator because a creator is the very kind of thing that needs an explanation. And although it's difficult enough to explain how a very simple origin of the universe came into being, . . . although it's difficult to see how simplicity came into existence, it's a hell of a lot harder to see how something as complicated as a God came into existence” (10:02). . . . “The universe is, according to modern physics, a very simple entity, . . . it had a very simple beginning” (24:18). Lennox responds that Dawkins’ book came from a complex entity, namely Richard Dawkins, so why can’t we think of the universe coming from a complex God. Dawkins responds that though some complex things come from other complex things, ultimately “science” tells us the complex comes from the simple.

We might first want to question how Dawkins comes to thinks science shows us that the complex comes from the simple. I don't know of any good examples he could provide that are not problematic and highly disputable. But there is a philosophical intuition that the simple is more likely intrinsically probable; it is more likely to exist uncaused than something that is more complex.

We might next want to question why Dawkins thinks the universe, whether at present or from any time in the past, is simple. The universe as we observe it now certainly is not simple. Perhaps he thinks the universe at singularity was simple. It was all material existence compressed into a nearly infinitely small volume. But that still does not make it simple. It had within itself the potential to become exactly what we have now. Even the slightest deviation in its nature would have resulted in a universe that expanded too quickly or too slowly for there to be any possible life, or a universe that deviated in some other way from what we have now. I'm not bringing up the fine-tuning argument here. I'm just saying that for the singularity to deviate in even the slightest way would have resulted in a very different universe. With all of the differences we can imagine our present universe to have, it could have been in the nature of the singularity to produce such changes. So the singularity was not a pure, simple entity. It had a potential variability that corresponds to any variation we can imagine of our universe now.

But Dawkins thinks that at least God must be very complex, and more complex than the singularity, however complex it was. He would probably say (I think he has said this elsewhere) that God is more complex than our present universe since God must know all that can be known about this universe, past, present, and future. That knowledge must be extremely complicated. I differ from Lennox and other apologists who suggest that simplicity is not an important issue. I agree with Dawkins that simplicity is more easily explained than complexity. The simpler an entity is, the more intrinsically probable it is to exist on its own without a cause. But I would also claim that God’s primordial nature was purely simple and thus more intrinsically probable than the universe in any of its past forms. It does not matter that God might be complex now. What we need to do is to compare the bare possibility of a self-existing conscious, intelligent being—one from whom our universe might come—to the self-existence of a material universe.

First of all, some leading schools of traditional Christian theology say God is absolutely simple. God is also said to be timeless and changeless in God’s primordial nature. Some theologians say God is like that now and has always been like that while others argue that this has only been God's nature before the creation (or more accurately, "sans creation"). In either case, this makes God very much more simple than a changing, complex universe; at least God was originally simple when this issue really mattered.

This complexity of knowledge may have only come into being in God's mind after God had chosen to create. If God did enter time with the creation (if not of this universe, at least of the origin of plurality, however that may have taken place) then God could have chosen the different objects of creation, say this universe, other spiritual universes, etc., and chosen to know how to create as God chose to create. So God did not need to have this diversity of knowledge originally. God originally only knew that which existed, namely God, and God’s choice to cause there to be diversity, to be more than this absolute timeless monism which was God. Since God was originally a simple timeless being, God’s knowledge was simple and timeless. God's very choice to create was itself something that followed from God’s absolutely simple nature.

Let me expand on the idea that it is intuitively likely that God has the attributes the Bible says God has and that these attributes are one. Since God was absolutely good, God desired that there would be others who would know the highest good as well, the good which is absolute and complete joy, the good of knowing and relating to and loving God. So God's reason for creating us follows from God's goodness.

We should expect God to be absolutely good. If God was once the only existent entity and God had absolute worth, then God would have valued all and only that which had value, which was God alone. If by creating us, we come from God and have value, God would then value us. God would only do what is good just as God wants us to only do what is good, to value that which has the value God has or the value God has given us.

Sometimes we think of the various attributes of God as very diverse and numerous. But I wonder, if we really think about it, if many of those attributes might not reduce to a very small number. God is just, and good, and loving, and holy, and merciful, and has absolute worth. These are all merely manifestations of one attribute, God's absolute worth or value. I've pointed out how God's goodness follows from God’s worth. God's holiness is primarily a picture of God being set apart from anything that is evil, so it follows from God's goodness. Justice requires that that which is right be done, thus it also follows from God's goodness. God loves because God is good. God is merciful because God loves. God's mercy is not opposed to God's justice as we often think. God is merciful to us because Jesus, our substitute, bore in his body the justice we deserve. As the old medieval theologians have said, justice and mercy have kissed.

Or consider the traditional Christian view that God is pure spirit and has no material or even physical characteristics. An immaterial being is far simpler than any material entity, not to mention an entire material universe.

It is sometimes claimed that God's omnipotence shows God's complexity. This is something I just don't see. We know that stars are more complex than we used to think they were, but they still possess not that complex of a structure. We also know they possess an enormous amount of energy or power. But if we look at a very tiny eukaryotic cell, we find it to be extremely complicated and yet possessing very little power. So I do not see that power requires complexity.

Imagine that you are God and nothing else exists at all. You create something. Wouldn't you expect that whatever you create, you would be stronger than it? If it all came from you, how could it have more power than you? Maybe this is the essence of omnipotence.

Some will claim that at least the doctrine of the Trinity consigns Christianity to a pluralism in God's being. Though other forms of theism might be off the hook, Christianity is not. Certainly orthodox Christianity says God was eternally a Trinity, three in person but one in nature. My view on this point is biblical but not orthodox. God was absolutely one and in this nature chose that plurality would exist. The first change was the first existence of plurality. With this entrance of plurality into the being of God, God was able to make other choices and have plurality of thought. One of the first choices God made, possibly the very first, was to become three in person.

Now some of the above thoughts are just hints as to how God could have absolute power and other attributes and how it seems to be very intuitively likely that if there is a God, God would have these attributes which ultimately reduce to one. If some of my arguments are only hints, then it appears that there may be better answers that we just do not see yet. But it looks as though there need be nothing gratuitous or complex about God being the original first cause of all other existence and God having all of these reducible characteristics or attributes. All in all, we see that Dawkins’ claim that God must be extremely complex has no substance.

I have claimed that it is much more intrinsically probable that there is a simple, conscious, intelligent, timeless being who caused the universe to be here than that this complex universe existed on its own. As David Hume said, the wise should apportion their belief according to probability.

Benefits vs Disadvantages of Belief and Disbelief

Dawkins and Lennox get into a short verbal battle over the psychological benefits of their respective beliefs. Lennox starts it all by responding to Dawkins' accusation of pettiness (40:47). He says that his relationship with God removes worry and gives a fullness of life one cannot have without God and that this is hardly petty.

Dawkins responds by saying how wonderful it is to stand up and face the universe, how noble it is to throw away childhood obsessions and comforts and be rid of infantile imaginary friends. This is standing tall in a cold dying universe, being free of the delusional comfort of a parent figure who isn't really there. On another occasion Dawkins took the time to pontificate about the new sense of freedom that comes once one casts off oppressive belief in a demanding God.

Lennox responds that if there really is a God, all that Dawkins has said could be inverted. Lennox does not elaborate but this inversion could have looked something like the following: He could have said that there is a nobility about standing tall and facing the reality of God, of refusing to hide from this unwanted belief just because it is unwanted. There is a nobility and pride that rightly come of honestly facing reality and refusing to give in to the desire for freedom from moral constraints or the desire to accept the beliefs of emulated teachers and colleagues. There is something wonderful about refusing to allow that desire for moral freedom to manipulate one to believe only what one wants to believe. Freedom from moral constraints and the desire for social esteem by a particularly exalted and admired subculture pales in comparison to the nobility and pride that comes of standing in moral and epistemic responsibility and honesty.

Dawkins and Lennox agree that ultimately the issue comes down to the evidence and which of either accusation will stand or fall depends upon the conclusion that follows from that evidence. Thus, in the long run, the psychological benefits for belief or disbelief are irrelevant, they say. However, it seems that at least part of my last statement is not irrelevant; it is well evidenced and needs to be acknowledged before any other evidence is considered. Far too many people have admitted that moral and social factors have influenced them to less than honestly assess the evidence.

What Lennox does go on to say is that "standing tall in a silent and cold universe with no hope, believing that your moral sense must ultimately be an illusion—you're crying for justice but most folks would never get it—the contrast between that and enjoying . . . the personal friendship of God and knowing that ultimate justice will be done is immense." (43:23.)

Dawkins responds that it is totally irrelevant whether a belief is comforting or gives hope or happiness; what matters is the evidence that it is true or false. So is it equally irrelevant to embrace the nobility of standing tall and strong in the face of a universe devoid of God? If so, why did Dawkins bring it up? No, neither scenario is irrelevant and both possibilities need to be considered even independently of the evidence for and against belief and disbelief. They are not as important as the truth or falsity of theism or atheism but they are still important issues.

Most interestingly, Lennox' last statement has force not merely if theism were true but even if atheism were true. Dawkins sought to evade this issue but we should not. Is there really any reason for "standing tall in a silent and cold universe with no hope"? Lennox says no. Dawkins may actually find power and motivation for living because his life is focused on his crusade of fighting belief in God. But the rest of the atheistic world which lacks this motivation will not find the same strength and nobility Dawkins claims to be so obvious. Most, like Camus, will see that the most significant issue (he says it's the only real philosophical issue) will be whether to commit suicide or not. I think that atheists will reach this conclusion if they think about their lives very carefully. Soon we will be dead and nothing that we do now will matter anyway. It won't matter to us because we will be gone and it won't matter to anyone else because they will soon be gone as well. So I cannot avoid the conclusion that Lennox is correct in the last statement and Dawkins is trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip, he's trying to find a motivation for life in atheism that just isn't intrinsically there. All that atheists can do is choose to continue to live if they happen to have some transitory motivation to live that happens to outweigh their lack of motivation to live.

Uncaused Explanations

One final minor point. Consider the following dialogue.

Dawkins: You didn't explain where the Logos [God, or more accurately, the second person of the Trinity] came from in the first place.
Lennox: Of course not, the Logos didn't come from anywhere.
Dawkins: So in what sense is it an explanation?
Lennox: . . . You're thinking of a created god. The whole point is that the God of the Bible was not created; . . . which makes more sense as an inference to the best explanation; . . . that the universe and its laws, its capacity for mathematical description and so on . . . are derivative from the eternal Logos. (22:52.)

Here Dawkins' statement is interesting. For something to be uncaused or to have always existed is to not be an explanation for something else? I suspect that in Dawkins' view the universe itself has always existed in some form or other. Does that make it also not an explanation of later forms of the universe? Whatever his rationale, it seems very obvious that just because something “didn't come from anywhere” or because something exists uncaused is no reason to question whether it can cause or explain something else.


So who won the debate? I would think Dawkins barely won primarily because of his greater rhetorical skill. Also Lennox did not adequately develop his stronger arguments (like the resurrection argument), and he relied on some arguments that in my thinking fail. The argument from reason, for example, Dawkins answered very well. (I'm still not through with the argument from reason, however. Victor Reppert's article in
The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology6 looks to be so well developed that I might end up changing my mind. I anticipate going through it in detail.) Furthermore, I don't think Lennox adequately refuted Dawkins' most important argument, his argument from simplicity. I think our above discussion of the simplicity argument shows that theism is by far the better explanation, however. To Lennox' credit, I must admit some of his statements appear like stars bursting through a drab darkness, they are glimmers of pure genius (like my longer quotation above in which Lennox contrasted the "nobility" of facing an impersonal universe to knowing fellowship with our creator). So whether or not Dawkins won the debate, given the arguments considered, theism is clearly more reasonable than atheism or agnosticism.


1. "A superior mind that reveals itself in the world of experience . . . forms my conception of God." Fowler,
Journal of Religion and Science 14 (79) 267-8.

2. M. Jammer,
Einstein and Religion (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), 48.

3. A. McGrath and J. C. McGrath,
The Dawkins Delusion? (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2007) e.g. 34, 42-48. R. Dawkins, The God Delusion (NY: Houghton Miflin, 2006).

4. A. Flew and R. A. Varghese,
There is a God (NY: HarperCollins Pub., 2007) xxiii, 103-6. For Hawking's current agnosticism see The Grand Design, coauthored with L. Mlodinow (NY: Bantam, 2010), n.b. 180.

The biggest problem with Hawking’s case is that he works a kind of slight-of-hand trick to spontaneously produce the universe out of nothing. If in the earliest universe time behaved like space (134) that does not get rid of a beginning of time. What caused the space-like time to change, to become time-like? And where did the tenseless space-time come from? It could have always been timelessly there if it were simply nothing. But if it is really nothing, we cannot get something out of it. The old cosmological argument is still the only reasonable alternative. A timeless Person can get it going; a timeless non-personal entity cannot. Hawking says the universe will create itself from nothing if we have the right natural laws (180). Yet if there is truly nothing, there can be no laws. And laws cannot apply to nothing. To believe something can come from nothing is no better than belief in magic. [Taken from my review of the book at Amazon.com.]

5. C. Hitchens,
The Portable Atheist (Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2007), xxii.

6. W. L. Craig and J. P. Moreland, eds.,
The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 344-90.

Note: I've lately been unable to locate the Lennox/Dawkins discussion. It was originally found at: http://www.richarddawkins.net/article,3911,Richard-Dawkins-and-John-Lennox-at-the-Oxford-University-Museum,Richard-Dawkins-John-Lennox. Possibly it can be located by searching Dawkins' site at

Minor changes June, July 2013, July 2014


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