Science of the gaps – Richard Dawkins debating John Lennox

a) Personal prologue
b) Main post


Personal prologue

I believe in God. I never used to. Being raised in ‘a kind of’ Christian environment, there was usually a latent background of God, e.g. walking home I’d pass a few churches or the Christmas TV programs etc. Somhow, probably because of the story of Adam, who in my mind, was a declaration that a ‘modern man’ was the first man – very much like we are today, hence, if man came from ape-like ancestors, then that would disqualify the notion of God.

Looking back, all things considered, I’m ashamed that I came to such an ultimate conclusion so hastily, on something which has the most enormous implications for us as a species, and deserves deep study in many fields. Really, I was armed with only a minuscule level of knowledge, and sadly I was far too accepting of the information that was coming my way; I didn’t scrutinise it, I didn’t look for alternative explanations. Because of that I must have been a simple level “darwinian atheist” from the ages of about 14 to 21.

Perhaps my personal shame is a bit harsh given my youthful years, but I was “convinced” it was true and naturally I would promote such a stance when in discussion/debate about it.

Since then, I came across the Qur’an, which tells of how Isa (Jesus) a.s. was raised up from the eyes of man. The utter confidence of that statement {please read it for yourself in the Qur’an – or if you can’t read Arabic, even an English translation retains much of its power} rocked me and it just seemed that what I was reading was the truth,
so how could I deny it?

Atheists may say I was simply swapping my simple level “Darwinian atheist” mindset for a similarly simple level “God exists” mindset instead, and other atheists may also say my personally amazing experience and feelings on reading the Qur’an are   laughable. I would appeal to those who may be rofl right now to try and recall something from their own lives that fundamentally changed their perspectives. I’m sure many could recall such a thing and hence I’m sure you will better appreciate my experience on
reading the Qur’an.

I have since invested much time in gaining a much greater understanding of the God question and
try to familiarise myself on the near endless debate about whether God exists or not. Yes, I have a bias
towards God, but atheists has a bias against God, so I guess that’s fair and square.

All this means I have come across the works of Richard Dawkins.

Main post

I’m referring to this: Lennox Vs. Dawkins Debate – Has Science Buried God

21:03 – 31:29

[P.S. Dawkins made an error in the debate saying no to ‘things going from simple to complex’, it’s obvious he wanted to to say no to things starting from complex (i.e. God)]
In my pursuit of the Gods existence debate, I was watching Lennox Vs. Dawkins Debate – Has Science Buried God.

I’m quite familiar with Dawkins’s arguments now. Dawkins puts scorn on religious people who, Dawkins says(!), say ‘we don’t know what that phenomenon is’ therefore God did it, i.e. God fills the gaps of our ignorance. Like much of what Dawkins says, it’s very sweeping and unfair in that it doesn’t acknowledge the great number of God believing scientists who do undertake the challenge at revealing aspects of what we don’t understand. Such as the Mathematician Lennox. I am what they would call a ‘scientist’ so I know this – I see it. But Lennox did a very interesting thing. He took Dawkins up on this issue (and Lennox knows perfectly well that Dawkins is very experienced in discussing) but he turned it around.
Dawkins was saying things have to go from simple to complex and that simplicity, in his eyes, negates the need for a complex God. Dawkins protests a complex God needs explanation, and an explanation as to where that God came from.

Typical Dawkins. He attaches onto God the very thing that would nullify God. A good definition of God is ‘that which has not been created’. It’s probably his greatest trick and is self-negating. The trouble is the closer you get to the ‘instant’ of the bog bang, which I think it’s fair to say almost everyone is (currently) at ease with about being how the physical Universe came into being, then it actually gets more and more complex.

Dawkins’ second trick is to simply call it simple. Well I’m sorry, I don’t buy that. I think Dawkins is actually saying the SIMPLIFIED COMPUTER MODELS used to try and simulate the EXPANSION OF THE UNIVERSE at some time when the universal physical constants stabilised may be regarded as simple, but even then, they surely cannot be simple in physical actuality due to anti matter and dark matter, the latter of which is said by many scientists that Dawkins would be happy to stand along side himself to account for most of the mass and therefore energy of the universe, and these are very poorly understood indeed, hence any simple model is surely wholly inaccurate, causing another major stumbling block to Dawkins on this issue.

Anyway, He says natural, blind unthinking natural selection caused the biological complexity we have today, so things went from simple (Dawkins’s ‘simple’ remember!) to complex, hence God doesn’t need explaining. But Lennox correctly drew reference to two utterly complex issues, the “pre-Dawkinist simple” beginning of the universe [my words not Lennox’s] and the origin of biological life.

It is at this point when Dawkins impales himself completely on his own sword. He says We don’t know these things yet, but we know there will be a Darwinian explanation to it. What Dawkins has done is to use a ‘Science of the gaps’ approach to it. He has blind faith that there will be a simple [it HAS to be simple – that’s a main theme for Dawkins] explanation. But any fair minded person will surely agree, from primordial soup to life today or from a ‘rugby ball’ sized ‘thing’ (from which the Universe too shape) is of course utterly complicated.

Sadly Lennox doesn’t quite navigate as well to expose this as I have tried to do above, but of course, a face to face debate is completely different from a prose based composition like this.

I also liked Lennox’s previous point about consciousness, which Dawkins took up to talk about avoiding a rock or not jumping off a cliff. Lennox is saying reductionism cannot explain consciousness (at least as far as best we know today). there is no rational way in which the reduced set of atoms and molecules can have consciousness. There has to be a way in which the structure of those atoms and molecules can store information and be able to interpret that information.
This is what separates the living (in a bio-physological sense) from the non-living*. That requires a consciousness which surely cannot be explained by step-wise selection or even by the instantaneous crossing of a hugely significant feature (which would in any case require quite a lot of genetic information to encode and endow inheritance).
Lennox called this a ‘language‘ which indicates the pre-existence of a ‘mind‘. Dawkins quickly went away from this point.

It is interesting that when Lennox rather traps himself and puts himself on the back-foot having to explain the mind of God. Dawkins rightly gets a stronger line of argument, but this is an unfair advantage to Dawkins because if there was a God, it’ is inescapably impossible to explain the word of God. Even on a human level success at explaining the means and motives of other humans often fails. How can we with a lifespan of about 80 years, a mind the size of a honeydew melon and primarily only input/output/process information one ‘channel’ at any one instance ultimately explain anything?

* non-living – actually Islam mentions rocks, which are considered non-living, as talking in some future event. This I would say, should encourage you to think there is a very different kind of ‘living’which the ‘non-living’ have access. If that’s a struggle for you, just remember djinn and Angels. Of course, the realm of God is beyond us. Dawkins protests he would/could not do science if this ‘magic’ as he pejoratively calls it interfered with science, as if God is likely to say intermittently hide then re-reveal a chromosome for example – He’s trying to cast God in a dark light. And if Dawkins was to ‘give up’ what happened to his accusations of ‘cop out’ and ‘mental lazyness’ etc

The mind consciousness/meaning part resurfaces at 49:57

At the end, I find it interesting, perhaps telling, that Lennox thanks Dawkins; “Thanks Richard” says Lennox, yet all Dawkins does is acknowledge it with a ‘mouth open and close to smile’ kind of thing. Interesting having just heard what the human moral behavioural aspect of the debate.

I believe I’m so familiar with Dawkins’s stuff that I see many many holes in it.

It’s interesting that I can’t find Dawkins debating an intelligent Muslim scholar experienced/familiar with the ‘Western’ style of this debate.
Next up (additions to this post outstanding) is this: (which I notive Atkins also attributes a derogatory term of lazyness to the ‘design’ issue)


3 Responses to “Science of the gaps – Richard Dawkins debating John Lennox”

  1. 1 felix July 31, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    I find Dawkins rather creepy. He writes a book when young and then spends the rest of his life trying to prove it. The website and those who surround him seem pretty much like a cult to me, but one based on hate, rather than love. What a waste of time and intellect. They seem to populate the “unfunny comedy” section of the ZBC too. I notice Dawkins is less keen to attack Judaism or Islam. I think he should have called his book The Unpleasant Gene, Dawkins being an embodyment of it.
    The reasoning of these cult followers (and they have that same knee jerk reaction which causes them to pen those all too familiar letters to newspapers which is also the specialist of the jewish lobby) seems to go along the lines that all wars are caused by religion, ergo ban religion and we all live happily (if their genes allow it) ever after. What a load of tosh.

    • 2 lwtc247 July 31, 2012 at 3:55 pm

      Hi Felix. Re” the website you mean yes? Oddly, that’s one of the places where I’ve not really used as reference for Dawkins – I prefer to see him the ‘silicon based photon(ic) flesh’ as it were, in his books and interviews, but from what little I’ve seen of it, it wasn’t too bad. I did have a reasonable air of intellectual investigation merit about it – as far as one can conduct intellectual investigation into fixed outcomes. But I’ve seen many of his ‘died in the wool faithheads (to borrow a phrase) disciples certainly use what he says to channel their hate.

      When Dawkins sometimes statrs sating things like ‘some kind of God is possible’ or that some kind of creative intelligence’ is out there, I feel a little bit happier with him, but I’ve never ever seen him try to honestly explore this path. He sticks his foot in the door, only to force it shut again. Yes, I realise atheists may say similar things about theists, but I’ll let them take up that (satanic)torch.

      To b fair he has had a crack at Islam,

      “I’m pessimistic about Islam. I regard Islam as one of the great evils of the world, and I fear that we have a very difficult struggle there…”


      but as you say, less keen compared to Christianity. I like to think it’s because to concentrate just a little bit too much on Judaism is too politically ‘hot’, and Islam is very difficult to argue against, but Christianity has a number of innovations and ‘pragmatism’ about it, so he sees Christianity as a soft target.

      I think it’s worthy to follow these gods of the modern age and wise-up on what they are saying simply so one can at least attempt to refute what they say, learn what weapons they use and see if they can stand up to their own weaponry.

      Dawkins is rather deliberately offensive and increasing so it seems) as was demonstrated in the debate, trying to almost mock and raise his voice to as well as try to talk down Lennox. Alister McGrath has identified this about his as has Anthony Latham.

      To my horror, I spotted Melanie Phillips in the audience. She certainly appears to be quite hostile to Dawkins even tough they both serve the same agenda, they both want to destroy God, Dawkins by trying to get people to grab a ride on his atheistic train, and Phillips by trying to ‘de-throne’ God in the Rabbinical-Talmudic-Kabala tradition, but at least in MP’s world, there is a God, albeit targeted for ‘regime change’.

      It is sad that they don;t acknowledge that bad things don’t happen because of religion, bad things happen because people leave or pervert the religion. Yet he tries to separate Stalin and Mao’o purge on the religious as how atheists can do bad things (and he often ropes Hitler in it to provide an aunt sally). Dawkins then goes into the O.T. saying Yaweh was a cruel God ordering the killing of many, yet one can say that was situation specific and as a creation of God, God is perfectly free to reap any sould he has seeded. Dawkins cannot understand that point because he cannot comprehend the status of God.

      That we are just ‘echos’ or ‘clothing’ for genes driven by propagation is ridiculous and a side show, as is the hypotheses of nano-changes cause speciation (IMHO) as the more important Q of how randomness gave rise, order and complexity of life. The primordial soup concept is nuts. Stromatolites (colonies of bacteria) are often cited as the origin of life, but to pretend a bacterium is simple and can be explained from any kind of soup, is simply dishonest or a total act of faith. And there’s a bigger picture than that… the origin of the universe, and how anyone can use the constrains we have upon us to examine that which was before our tools of measurement were even made is surely impossible – although it’s good fun to try and find out.

      Actually in the debate(more like a reasonable good difference of opinion actually), it was heading towards Truth, hence needing Proof, but it was apparent what you hold as truth depends (and is subservient to) whether or not you believe in God, hence there’s a fundamental problem there I think. Truth is subjective. Even physicality is a but model. Schrodiner’s wave equation is only proven for a 1p+ 1e- system, protium. It’s unprovable for the rest of the 110+ elements. It is simply assumed to be true, and when a single electron occupies the whole universe (other than at a node), well, doesn’t that show the tool of physical science can’t even fully explain physicality, let alone that which lies outside physics.

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