New Atheism’s age old question

New Atheism’s age old question

Professor Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (2006) proved to be a key driver in the emergence of the New Atheist Movement. New Atheism takes an aggressive stance against all faiths, arguing that rational thinking and science render religion at best unnecessary and at worst fraudulent. The movement has sparked healthy debates between New Atheists and Christians. On the one side Richard Dawkins, and others including “anti-theist” the late Christopher Hitchens, and on the other side, Christian speakers such as William Lane Craig and Oxford Professor John Lennox.

Across these debates in the Universities and City Halls of America, Europe and Australia one question that recurs is the question of Science and Faith – often posed as Science Versus Faith. And perhaps the …

Great question: How did it all begin?

The question of how everything began is one which scientists address — we have all come across the Big Bang concept. However, how does a Big Bang result in an ordered universe? After a big bang you don’t expect order, you expect chaos. If you took an explosive and inserted it into rocks or a building to make a “big bang”, you don’t get order, you get a mess.

Simplistic analogies aside, the idea that we live in a highly ordered universe and not chaos is important. An ordered universe is evidence of purpose, intelligence and therefore of an intelligent designer. Enter the so-called “Fine Tuning Argument”. This states that there are many aspects of our universe, many “physical constants” which are extremely finely-tuned to enable life and the universe as we experience it. For example the precise distance of the earth from the sun, the tilt of the earth’s axis, the precise percentage of oxygen in water. If any of these varied by even a fraction, we would freeze/burn, there would be no seasons, or all sea-life would be impossible. You could go on, eg if gravity was reduced by only a tiny fraction, molecules could not form, if it were greater, nothing could physically move.

Fine Tuning

This surprising precision of constants in nature comprises the Fine Tuning Argument and points to a Designer. In fact some authors say that if the ratio of gravitational force to electromagnetic force was changed by a miniscule amount (1 part in 10 to power 40) stellar matter would not form, stars and planets could not evolve and the universe itself would be unsustainable. That is incredibly fine tuning.

However Christian speaker John Lennox states that the “how” question is not the fundamental question. He says the starting question is not a “how question” but a “why question”: ie …

Even better question: Why is there anything at all?

Why should there be anything compared to nothing?

Lennox argues that the very fact that there is a Universe points to a purposeful creator and this is no way contradicts science. He has an effective analogy for demonstrating that science and faith do not conflict but answer different questions. He points to a Ford car engine. The engine, can be explained scientifically using laws of internal combustion and mechanics. That’s all we need right? But there is a second equally complete explanation for the same engine, and that is … the man, Henry Ford. Henry Ford conceived of the engine, was its prime mover, and was responsible for its design. Lennox’s point is that neither explanation is contradictory. Explanations can be made in different dimensions. There is more than one type of truth. How and Why are different questions.


New Atheists attempt to force us to choose between science and God, but that is a false separation.. The point is that science and faith answer different questions. Science is crucial for answering certain questions, for one type of truth. But those with faith understand that there are truths that lie outside our conceptual framework (what I can know or define). As well as scientific truth, there is experiential truth, moral truth, there is truth as metaphor, truths that in fact are simply not amenable to scientific investigation. Speaker J John once humorously attempted to explain a kiss scientifically, ie….”the lips of two people approaching and engaging in contact, for finite periods of time, and involving exchange of micro bacteria”. Well that is completely true and yet it is not at all the truth. It can only partly describe the enactment of a kiss. And of course it cannot start to answer the question …. why kiss? Clearly there are many types of truth and they go beyond the scientific.


There is no squabble between science and faith

On his website Saints and Sceptics David Glass points to the complementary nature of science and faith. He says “Science presents us with some of the most persuasive reasons FOR a belief in God……. It would be much more probable if there were a God, that constants would be finely-tuned, and life would exist”. Of course many great scientists also had great faith — Kepler who calculated the laws of planetary motion said he was merely: “following in God’s thoughts after him”, while Isaac Newton on discovering the force of gravity stated “what a wonderful God to do it that way!” John Lennox adds: “… The more science reveals to me, the more I worship the God who chose to do it that way!

In the end, new atheists criticise what they call “blind faith”: the belief in a designer-God, but they are happy to believe in blind atheism: sightless, purposeless energy. Well that is a great step of faith indeed!


Useful Links

MP3 Debate: Science the Universe and the God Question — John Lennox V Lawrence Krauss, from Unbelievable,Premier Christian Radio

Videos — Science and Christian Belief — David Glass from Saints and Sceptics website

Video — Is God Relevant? — John Lennox from John Lennox blog / website