On why faith is necessary to science

John Lennox says that science has not buried God – but it may yet bury atheism.



John Lennox says that science has not buried God – but it may yet bury atheism.


My position is that I do believe that science is not neutral in the search for God. That there actually is evidence proceeding from our observations of the natural world that there is an intelligence behind it. 

But number one of those is the fact that we can do science at all. In other words, it’s the rational intelligibility of the universe. Now the pioneers of modern science starting perhaps with Galileo and then going on to Kepler and Newton, what drove them was the fact that they believed that the universe had a rationale – there was some kind of design element because there was an intelligent God behind it. And science based on that assumption was very successful.

Now the interesting thing about contemporary scientists is they still believe that. They don’t have God behind it, they often deny God, but they assume the rational intelligibility of the universe – they’ve got to believe that. And that’s a very important thing to observe, because very often one of the polarrisations in the debate is to suggest, well, a Christian is a person who believes where there’s no evidence, but atheists and scientists don’t have faith. Atheists have no faith, wrote Richard Dawkins – and then followed it by a whole book telling us what he believes. And there’s a huge intellectual fog out there, in my view, where people just simply don’t realise that everyone of us is a person of faith. We have a worldview that we believe.

Now how intelligent is it to believe in the rational intelligibility of the universe if you remove God? And I often have fun with my colleagues in putting it to them, I say, well, what do you do science with? Well, they say, with my brain – because they usually have given up on the idea of a mind story being separate from the brain story. Ok, let’s allow that. What about the brain? Well the brain, I mean it’s just the end product of a mindless unguided process. And I look at them and say, and you trust it? And they look down. And I say, look, tell me honestly, if you knew that your computer was the end product of a mindless unguided process, would you trust it? No. So how do you make this leap of faith?

And then I add, do you know where I got this question from? And they say no. I say, actually it’s going to surprise you, because it comes from Charles Darwin. And it’s known as Darwin’s Doubt. He doubted whether the mind of a human being, which as he believed was descended simply by natural processes from lower minds, could have anything in it at all if … I mean, after all, he said, what convictions would you imagine a monkey to have if there were any convictions in a monkey’s mind? 

And I see that now as a central issue which has been taken up by world-class philosophers. Alvin Plantinga has taken it up, but perhaps more interestingly the atheist Thomas Nagel, who points out that if we take this reductive approach where mind is simply reduced to brain, and that simply reduces to mindless processes of physics and chemistry, then we’re emptying the universe not only of science but of all rationality and all possibility of meaning. And Nagel, as an atheist, is suggesting there’s something wrong here.

Now I find that utterly fascinating, because what legitimises my science is the rational intelligibility of the universe. What legitimises that is my faith in God. And what I say – and it’s very provocative, but we might as well be provocative – is that science has certainly not buried God, it’s that … belief in God stimulated science. But science is increasingly doing a very good job of burying atheism, because the atheistic reductionist assumptions don’t go well with faith in the rational intelligibility of the universe. Putting that a slightly different way, my concept of faith is a commitment based on evidence. Believing in the rational intelligibility of the universe on the basis of an explanation that undermines it doesn’t strike me as being a very rational faith.