From 2009. Price may have changed
God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?
Lennox, J. C.
Lion Hudson Plc
I was recently encouraged to read “God’s Undertaker” by a poster known as BantamRoosta at the Australian Christian Forum. The suggestion arose from my statement that I could not sustain both a scientific and a religious framework in my mind simultaneously. I was advised that this book would broaden my horizons and allow me to think more freely.
John Lennox starts out by stating the laudable ambition to go beyond the usual gap arguments used to find room for deities in the current scientific understanding of our existence. Sadly, this ambition isn’t realized and the chapters that follow do nothing but seek gaps. Lennox revels in pointing out the limitations of the scientific method but these would be nothing new to anyone with a passing interest in science. No alternate approach to investigating the world around us is noted, let alone analysed for comparison with the scientific method.
The accepted origins of scientific thinking: the Greek philosophers abandoning polytheism in ~ 600 BCE, are abandoned with a statement that Hebrew philosophers had the idea first. To make this work, Lennox puts the emphasis on the multiplicity of Greek gods as being the hand-brake holding back scientific progress, rather than theism itself. The idea that a monotheistic model is more credible than the polytheistic one and that it provides a better basis for scientific investigation receives no further attention.
Evolution, both the idea that organisms change over time and the theory developed to explain the changes, receives a lot of attention. The topics cited as problems with evolutionary theory are the standard fare of creation science: transitional fossils, irreducible complexity and the statistical probabilities of particular proteins arising by chance. These topics have been addressed by evolutionary biologists in books, peer reviewed papers and courts of law, so I will simply state that there is nothing new in Lennox’s new wording of old arguments.
Some of the quotes used to emphasize points in the book are very old. In many cases, evidence arising after the death, or in some cases during the lifetime of those quoted, make their observations irrelevant to the points Lennox attempts to reinforce with their words. For example, Lennox cites Joseph Hooker’s problems with Darwin’s manuscript for “Origin of Species,” ignoring Hooker’s eventual wholehearted endorsement of the text and the mechanisms it described.
Evidence put forward in favour of a supernatural entity with influence over the universe are the argument from incredulity and the anthropic principle, both of which received better, but still unconvincing, attention from Roy Abraham Varghese, writing as Antony Flew in “There is a God.”
The example of Aunt Matilda’s cake was insufferably trite. So as to not suffer it, I will give it some attention here. Lennox posits that Aunt Matilda bakes a cake. Try as they might, the scientists who can measure its chemical composition and physical characteristics cannot explain why Aunt Matilda baked it. She won’t give up the information, choosing to smile knowingly and keep quiet. The scientists’ inability to determine the meaning behind the cake is used as a metaphor for science’s inability to explain why we exist. The metaphor didn’t work for me on two levels: First, the conceit that our existence requires explanation was not given justification. If scientists who posit a universe obeying strict physical laws gave rise to life as we know it are correct, there is no overarching reason for our existence. In that model, it is our ability to think in the abstract, a powerful advantage over other animals, which led us to imagine a reason for our existence might exist. Second, the fictional account of Aunt Matilda’s antics didn’t account for all possible avenues of investigation. Any scientist worth their salt would approach Matilda’s friends and family, asking if there were any significant events corresponding with the day in question. If all her associates were involved in her obstructionist shenanigans, the scientists could review the relevant literature: registers of births, deaths and marriages, and the local and national newspapers. If sufficiently desperate, the scientists could follow her around and see what she does with the cake (though at this point I’d as likely eat the cake myself, applying my morality with regard to dealing with annoying people who waste my time, in turn imposing my own reason for the cake’s existence). Imagine the methods that might be employed had the Bush/Cheney government decided that understanding the importance of the cake was a matter of national security to the USA. My heavily laboured point is Lennox’s example involved the effable. The information in question exists and is knowable. Positing an ineffable example would have been less annoying but, being ineffable, would have been self defeating as ineffable things (invisible pink unicorns, Bertrand Russell’s celestial teapot, Jesus’ alleged resurrection) are, by definition, ineffable and cannot be investigated.
Also annoying, on a factual front, were the examples in which it was implied that Henry Ford invented the internal combustion engine.
Whereas contemporary atheist books read as attempts to convince the faithful they are wrong, “God’s Undertaker” reads as an attempt to reassure the faithful they are right. It is unlikely anyone not exposed to Christian dogma from an early age would be convinced to believe in God by this book. Anyone who had questioned the information provided by their religion sufficiently to have lost faith would find nothing here to convince them that their decision to leave their church was wrong. A Christian who reads Lennox’s book might be reassured that the issues addressed therein have been sufficiently dealt with, put “God’s Undertaker” on their book shelf and fail to read any further on any of the topics Lennox touched. In offering this level of hollow reassurance, Lennox has done both his readers and the scientific principles he claims to uphold a disservice.