Faith & Science Icon Faith & Science

Why Science and Atheism Don’t Mix

John Lennox
Photo: Clouds of Jupiter, by Gerald Eichstädt and Sean Doran (CC BY-NC-SA)/NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS.

Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from John Lennox’s new book, 2084: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity. Dr. Lennox is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford.

Science proceeds on the basis of the assumption that the universe is, at least to a certain extent, accessible to the human mind. No science can be done without the scientist believing this, so it is important to ask for grounds for this belief. Atheism gives us none, since it posits a mindless, unguided origin of the universe’s life and consciousness.  

Charles Darwin saw the problem. He wrote: “With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy.” 

Similarly, physicist John Polkinghorne says that the reduction of mental events to physics and chemistry destroys meaning: 

Thought is replaced by electrochemical neural events. Two such events cannot confront each other in rational discourse. They are neither right nor wrong. They simply happen . . . The world of rational discourse dissolves into the absurd chatter of firing synapses. Quite frankly that cannot be right and none of us believes it to be so.

Polkinghorne is a Christian, but some well-known atheists also acknowledge the difficulty here. 

The Abolition of Reason

In his book Mind and Cosmos, leading atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel says: 

If the mental is not itself merely physical, it cannot be fully explained by physical science . . . Evolutionary naturalism implies that we should not take any of our convictions seriously, including the scientific world picture on which evolutionary naturalism depends. 

That is, naturalism, and therefore atheism, undermines the foundations of the very rationality that is needed to construct or understand or believe in any kind of argument whatsoever, let alone a scientific one. In short, it leads to the abolition of reason — a kind of “abolition of man,” since reason is an essential part of what it means to be human. 

Not surprisingly, I reject atheism because I believe Christianity to be true. But that is not my only reason. I also reject it because I am a mathematician interested in science and rational thought. How could I espouse a worldview that arguably abolishes the very rationality I need to do mathematics? By contrast, the biblical worldview that traces the origin of human rationality to the fact that we are created in the image of a rational God makes real sense as an explanation of why we can do science. 

Science and God mix very well. It is science and atheism that do not mix.