Dawkins vs. Lennox debate

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Dexter
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Instead of the random discussion in the other thread, and since it was sidetracked from Joe Coffey's sermon, maybe some people will want to discuss a debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox on The God Delusion. (Lennox is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science, and Pastoral Advisor at Green Templeton College.) I missed the discussion here on The God Delusion, so maybe most of this has been covered already. Or if there is a better debate available, we can watch that.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ooATT-SDC4
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Chris OConnor
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Thanks for posting this. I'm going to watch it right now.
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DWill
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Thanks, Dexter, for posting that link to the video. What I liked about it as entertainment is that was easy to watch because each man was an able advocate of his view. I mean that neither went stumbling around in a way that can be painful to watch. I admit that most of the time I find the stumbler to be the one taking Lennox's side in the debate, so it was a relief to see at least that the God representative was robust and confident. I haven't seen a better debater on the God side than Lennox.

But Dawkins nailed the issue in his closing statement after listening to Lennox's. What it all came down to for Lennox was that the resurrection of God's son is the proof of the pudding. As Dawkins said, how petty, disappointing and local to hear that, after we'd heard some rather sophisticated and non-objectionable things from Lennox on the anthropic principle and why there's something here rather than nothing. Dawkins was honest enough to concede that we don't know about origins, that the universe is still in that sense a mystery to us. But this doesn't justify our jumping up to grab the security blanket of God to console us for not knowing. I've never found anything wrong with assuming an intelligence somewhere operating, or even in assuming that in some sense our notions of right and wrong might be not just of our own invention. That's an open question for me. But to go from there to asserting the absolute truth of one pre-scientific culture's attempts to address the big questions, is more than a leap but just special pleading.
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Chris OConnor
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I agree with your assessment completely, DWill. I watched the first 7 videos last night and will finish off the last 2 this morning.

Lennox did a great job. He was wrong on so many levels, but he did a great job. There was nothing painful about watching him. His confidence and charisma was refreshing.
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Dexter
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I thought Lennox did about as well as you can against Dawkins, but still had some very weak arguments.

In part 3, he makes the argument that faith is evidence-based, and you have to have faith in science. He surely knows that this is playing with words (and doesn't give any evidence for his faith). Dawkins destroyed this argument. Lennox does make a good point that Newton and early scientists were motivated by religion to find order in the universe (and he later returns to this point and makes some interesting comments), but this only goes to the point of religion's influence and says nothing about the validity of those beliefs.
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Dexter
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In part 4, I thought Lennox made his best attempt. He had an interesting (if not wholly convincing) argument about atheism undermining science because our brains are the result of evolution so there is the question of the validity of our theories. But he overstates his case by saying we are deriving rationality from irrationality and it is logically incoherent. It's not clear why we should doubt the process of evaluating evidence merely because our brains have evolved without design.

The point about the fine-tuning of the universe is a good one, and here I agree with Lennox that the multiverse seems a questionable way to address this issue, as it is without evidence. It seems the anthropic principle is about the best we can say right now.

Lennox's idea that the Big Bang was predicted by the Bible is patently ridiculous, and is rightly dismissed by Dawkins. What other evidence does Lennox have to argue for the Bible?

Dawkins gave Lennox an opening by saying Darwin explains life, but since Lennox rightly derided the "God of the gaps" approach the lack of a theory of origin doesn't bolster his case. I personally don't find the origin of the first "mutating replicator" to be that troubling for science, whereas explaining the Big Bang is more difficult in that sense, and I think that's why Dawkins phrased it the way he did.
Last edited by Dexter on Mon Dec 06, 2010 6:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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DWill
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Good points, Dexter.

I thought the one point that Dawkins didn't counter effectively was about the existence of good and evil. That could be because he just couldn't fit everything in, considering the awkward format of the debate. Lennox said that since Dawkins denies that good and evil, right and wrong exist in any real sense, then we can't trust the judgment of atheists about these matters. From where are they deriving their standards? I suppose Dawkins did touch on this when talking about how our moral sense grew out of our experience as members of a small clan, which is the way we spent most of our time as a species. Yes, I liked his idea that we developed a "lust" for being good, which is Darwinian in the same sense that the lust for sex is.

Dawkins was good on the sense of reverence and even of worship that contemplating our world inspires. That is not a good platform for science, though, and it's not even a justified platform for supernatural religion. He was saying that our emotions impel us to fasten onto ideas of God, mainly because we would rather not accept a cold, impersonal universe, one that doesn't have us in mind. But Dawkins doesn't find that to be a reason to soft-peddle the facts of our existence. Lennox does, and that is also a prime reason that religion exists.

The whole "random chance" argument from creation-oriented people: refuted by Dawkins, who points out that variations that survive do so because of a rigorous process of selection, not because of chance.

Lennox was weakest in the end, when he claimed that miracles are logically possible because since God created the baseline conditions of physics, he could certainly decide to alter them for special occasions.

The somewhat difficult point to counter about the atheist killing regimes of the 29th Century: Dawkins says that atheists can be just as bad as the religious can be; he claims no moral superiority. He makes a good point, though, that believing in certain tenets does logically lead a minority of believers to some very bad actions, whereas there would seem to be no such logical path for people who don't believe in those god-driven tenets.
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Dexter
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DWill wrote:But Dawkins nailed the issue in his closing statement after listening to Lennox's. What it all came down to for Lennox was that the resurrection of God's son is the proof of the pudding. As Dawkins said, how petty, disappointing and local to hear that, after we'd heard some rather sophisticated and non-objectionable things from Lennox on the anthropic principle and why there's something here rather than nothing.


You're right about that, his closing statement was devastating. I was actually surprised by Lennox's admission that the central evidence for him was the resurrection of Jesus? Really?

Like Dawkins said, I could understand some kind of deistic belief based on the very existence of the universe, but arguing against this particular view is just too easy.
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DWill
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Lennox is more sophisticated and coherent in his presentation than Joe Coffey, but their tactics are about the same. They think if they can get you to admit that there are areas of uncertainty, some facets that we can't explain logically, that these gaps present an opening for God. That's not really so bad, as you said about deistic belief. But then they think that all the rest of their local beliefs can come through the open door, too, and that just doesn't follow. That's all they really care about establishing, though. They can sound broad-minded and inclusive for a while, but it's all just to get you to agree to open the door a crack.

The greatest difference between theists and atheists, as I'm coming to see it, is that theists need 100% certainty. Atheists don't mind living in uncertainty.
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johnson1010
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Yeah.

We have no choice, really. Since we don't / can't physically know everything there is to know, the only possibility is to live with uncertainty.

As Interbane has pointed out many times, religion has no certainty on the issues either. It just claims that it does, with no more backing, really, than choosing blue as your favorite color and arguing with the people who like orange.

That statement about atheists and morality is way off. Athiests choose their moral codes the same way the religious do. We are raised in a culture which tells us what is considered right and wrong, we then begin to decide for ourselves what is reasonable to expect from others, and what is unacceptable. The divergence is that religion lets them feel like they are adhering to a cosmic standard of justice when athiests (me at least) admit that behavior and the exact limits of right and wrong are defined by people.

After all, good and evil are meaningless words without some entity which must endure the events. Were there any religious cults crying armageddon when the Shoemaker Levy comets struck Jupiter? Was that an evil event? There was enough destructinve force in those impacts to really, really put a hurting on all humanity if it had come our way. That would have probably been viewed as some kind of spiritual rebuke from god, or the will of some dark cosmic entity out to destroy us... an intrinsically evil act, if it had been bound for earth.

What's the difference? Humans were not threatened when it impacted Jupiter, so "good" and "evil" did not apply. The fact that those words only have meaning in relationship to an intelligence is proof that morality is a human concern, not cosmic.
In the absence of God, I found Man.
-Guillermo Del Torro

Have you tried that? Looking for answers?
Or have you been content to be terrified of a thing you know nothing about?

Are you pushing your own short comings on us and safely hating them from a distance?

Is this the virtue of faith? To never change your mind: especially when you should?

Young Earth Creationists take offense at the idea that we have a common heritage with other animals. Why is being the descendant of a mud golem any better?

Confidence being an expectation built on past experience, evidence and extrapolation to the future. Faith being an expectation held in defiance of past experience and evidence.
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Dexter
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I was wondering if there was anyone out there making an intelligent case for deism. If Lennox had dropped all the Jesus and Bible nonsense, he could have been a formidable opponent. Although I suppose there's not too much to argue over, basically one side would say there must be something behind the existence of the universe, while the atheist will say that's not necessary. Perhaps for most people once you go down the deism route they are compelled to join an organized religion and be part of a community.
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Interbane
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What deism is for is finding the largest gap of human knowledge - the beginning of the universe and why/how it came to be - and filling that gap with a deity. The argument does not get any more complex than that. The problem is that it introduces more questions than it answers. For starters, we would then have to consider the existence of an entity even more complex than the universe itself. As far as viewing deism through the lens of complexity/simplicity, a universe in which there is a deity is far more complex than in one without. Seeing as how we've filled nearly every gap in our knowledge to date(even most that were formerly filled by a god), I see no reason to make the same mistake again and attempt to fill this gap with god. We should be honest, and say "I don't know" rather than contrive answers.
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Chris OConnor
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Greg wrote:The ignorance that man possesses is astounding.


Sell us on this concept. How is Dawkins ignorant? Use more than a single sentence please.
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Dexter
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Greg Wilson wrote:For one thing, ask him what substance is to a theologian and he will not be able to tell you, he doesn't even know that substance is soul to a theologian. It is so simple as to be not funny.


I shouldn't respond to your obvious trolling, but what the hell difference does it make how theologians define substance? Does that lead to some kind of coherent argument for their position?
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Chris OConnor
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Greg, you're trolling. Your sentences don't make sense.
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