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God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?
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6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 23 April 2009
God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? - New Updated Edition by John Lennox

Now expanded and updated in this new edition, the book makes an intelligent and invaluable contribution to the debate about science's relationship with religion. Publisher
Oxford Mathematician and philosopher of science, John Lennox joins the debate over the compatibility of science and religion. His ultimate answer to the question he poses is `no, science has not buried God' - a conclusion reached through a well argued thesis that actually the wrong question is being asked! He demonstrates that there is no conflict between science and religion as many scientists who profess faith in God show. He argues convincingly that the conflict is not between science and religion but between belief in God - theism - and belief that the universe is all there is - what he calls naturalism or materialism. Both theism and naturalism are faith standpoints from which scientists begin their researches - positions of faith - either in God or in materialism - which are not provable in the scientific sense. Lennox does, however, take the reader on a journey through aspects of recent scientific discovery in physics, biological science and mathematics to offer a strong argument for the presence of a designer guiding the processes of the development of the universe. A good challenging read widely accessible, however, someone with no scientific knowledge at all may struggle in places.
Mary Bartholomew
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21 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 20 May 2012
Note - to view this review with working links to sources and so on, search for my blog entitled Geoff's Shorts.

It's easy to view creationists through the lens of caricature. From Dr Kent's belief that dinosaurs died out due to spontaneous nasal combustion, to the belief that the 300 mile Grand Canyon formed in about five minutes, we can find instances of claims that would have to work hard to be considered merely absurd. But still, it is perhaps unfair to judge a group based on the worst of its members. Though I have yet to hear good creationist arguments I do know smart creationists. With that in mind I was quite happy to receive a recommendation to read Professor John Lennox's book on the subject, God's Undertaker.

I went in with high hopes - my initial readings on evolution were prompted back in 2003, when I studied evolutionary computation. Lennox's background in mathematics would surely mean he could speak with authority on this area.

He was born on the same island as I, a coincidence of birth which admittedly does not make him more likely to be correct, but caused me to warm to him nonetheless.

He's also a talented linguist, speaking Russian, German, Spanish and French in addition to his native English. He has been published and has given lectures in many languages.

Why are languages important?

Some feel evolution cannot be true because it offends their interpretation of Genesis. Yet Genesis does not confine itself to writings on the diversity of life we see - it also gives extensive time to the diversity of languages we speak. For those who have not read Genesis 11 recently I will summarise - originally, after the flood, everyone spoke only one language. The Tower of Babel was constructed, so high it reached the heavens, then God came down, created separate languages, scattered the people to separate lands and confounded the common tongue.

Yet the modern, unchallenged explanation for the diversity of languages we encounter is that a gradual process of change led to new languages diverging slowly from an original base. It is not controversial in any circles that I know of to say that Spanish and Italian share a common ancestor in Latin. It is also quite obvious that no Latin speaking mother gave birth to a Spanish speaking son with whom she could not communicate; the process is incremental and not visible from generation to generation. True, this is not evolution but the comparison is apt - the accepted theory disagrees profoundly and irreconcilably with a creationist literal interpretation of Genesis. Given that he is not a proponent of intelligent etymology, I hoped his objections to evolution found their motivations elsewhere.

With that I started.

I think this book will seem very convincing to those who are unwilling to expend an inordinate amount of time doing further research. He writes with authority and gives a spirited defence of theistic evolution, but then some cracks begin to appear. I enjoy an occasional science book but there are gaps in my knowledge and when I read a tome that covers biology, abiogenesis, cosmology, theology, probability and computing I have to put a certain amount of trust in the honesty of the author. Luckily I can choose the areas with which I'm most familiar as a benchmark of the quality of the author's work.

Take the below quotes on Anthony Flew to warm up:

"`My whole life has been guided by the principle of Plato's Socrates,' writes Anthony Flew, in connection with his recent turning from atheism to theism."

"...very recently philosopher Anthony Flew gave as the reason for his conversion to theism after over 50 years of atheism that biologists' investigation of DNA..."

These quotes would support Lennox's case if they were true. They are not - Anthony Flew is now a deist. Deism and creationism are mutually incompatible, which could explain Lennox's repeated slip of the keyboard.

Later, Lennox defines a transitional form:

"An intermediate form would only be transitional if it could be shown to have descended from A and was an ancestor of B. To establish those relationships, of course, some mechanism would have to be exhibited that was demonstrably adequate for the task."

Having thus defined them out of existence he goes on to bemoan their absence.

Read the below description of Dawkins' weasel program, a small demonstration of how randomly generated text can be mutated, then the offspring selected for how closely they match the text "METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL":

"Each time a monkey hits a letter, the letter it types is compared with its target letter - a highly non-random process. This comparison, of course, has to be done by some mechanism, a computer (or by a Head Monkey, as mathematician David Berlinski delightfully suggests). If the monkey has typed its target letter the comparison mechanism retains that letter - another highly non-random process - and the monkey stops typing, its job done."

Again, a strong point, casting Dawkins as dishonest, misleading, and bungling. Again it suffers from being flat-out wrong. For example:

"If the monkey has typed its target letter the comparison mechanism retains that letter - another highly non-random process - and the monkey stops typing, its job done."

This is not true - all characters are free to mutate at every copy event. Coders will find source code here in many languages. Non-coders will find a screenshot countering this claim here. If you'd like to see footage, there is a video here. (Skip to 5:30.)

I found Lennox's criticism of genetic algorithms all the more absurd when I recalled that a few chapters earlier he'd used their efficacy in defence of theistic evolution:

"...computer-implemented genetic algorithms are routinely used for sophisticated engineering optimization purposes - for example, to construct the best possible shape for an aircraft wing. It would be absurd to suggest that the fact that these evolutionary algorithmic optimization processes are themselves blind and automatic constitutes an argument that they do not have an intelligent origin."

If Lennox is confident that blind, automatic, goalless algorithms producing randomly generated designs, breeding with mutation and subjecting output to a fitness function is a sound method for producing the wings of the aircraft within which he regularly flies, and a method of greater efficacy than human intelligence alone, then where is his argument?

Let us leave the computer lab for the biology lab. When discussing the evolution of bacteria, Lennox writes:

"More recent work on the E. coli bacterium backs this up. In this research no real innovative changes were observed through 25,000 generations of E. coli bacteria. Biochemist Michael Behe points out that now more than 30,000 generations of E. coli have been studied, equivalent to about a million human years, and the net result is that evolution has produced: `Mostly devolution. Although some marginal details of some systems have changed during that thirty thousand generations, the bacterium has repeatedly thrown away chunks of its genetic patrimony, including the ability to make some of the building blocks of RNA. Apparently throwing away sophisticated but costly molecular machinery saves the bacterium energy. Nothing of remotely similar elegance has been built. The lesson of E. coli is that it's easier for evolution to break things than to make things.' - Lennox, 2009

Lennox fails to mention that around generation 31,500, just outside the bounds of his self-imposed generation restriction, there was a major, observed evolutionary leap - the bacteria evolved the ability to metabolise citrate. Later work on frozen samples revealed this real, innovative change began in generation 20,000.

This is the equivalent of saying that in thirty years I showed no evidence of producing Amazon reviews. (I'm 31 at time of writing.)

What am I to make of this? Is he intentionally misleading? If so it is hard to take his other claims on faith. Is he merely behind on his research, or straying too far from his core competencies? Perhaps, but if so, what else has he misunderstood?
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8 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 24 November 2008
I found this to be an extremely well written, highly respectful and totally convincing argument in favour of God's existence. Moreover, it demonstrates that science and religious belief are entirely compatible. Evolution and God? Yes!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 28 December 2014
Very nice item and very quick delivery thanks
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14 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 14 September 2010
Lennox starts the opening chapters of his book by explaining the worldviews on offer when one contemplates our own existence. These are materialism and supernaturalism. He offers more in depth analysis of these worldviews than all the popular atheism vs. theism debate books that I've encountered. This, in itself, is a worthwhile reason for reading the book. But, the trouble is, and here's my analysis: that there are other worldviews available to help us view the evidence. Lennox believes that materialism and supernaturalism is a full on dichotomy and there aren't other angles from which to approach the issue of existence that could give rise to other dichotomies. For instance, other competing worldviews are: epistemology by revelation vs. epistemological empiricism. One views that the bible and the Koran are true merely because the books themselves say they are true and the other one builds up knowledge without recourse to ancient books whose writers didn't know of the scientific method. Yet more competing worldviews are: credulity vs. scepticism. One worldview believes that we should submit to belief and, at the other end of the spectrum, that we should only accept evidence when we see it with our own eyes. Lennox gives the impression of grasping the full picture but he fails to go further. And in all fairness my other worldviews may have been beyond the remit of his book. But this is a case of Lennox cooking the analysis to suit his conclusions.

The front cover asks, "Has science buried God", and by the end of the book you're expected to answer, "No". Only it isn't quite that simple. Lennox didn't really adequately define science or religion. We just got a feeling by what he meant by each along the way. If you believe in the kind of science that Lennox believes in and the kind of God that he described then of course science has not buried God. But the kind of God that Lennox believes in was strutting his stuff 2000 yrs ago and casting out demons onto a herd of pigs. When we look at this God and his book we are forced to concede that this is a supernatural, demon haunted world - but, it is not, and evidently so. And so with science - Lennox's science is the sort that has gaps, but the kind of science that most people believe in has extra-ordinary explanatory powers for our origins. Has this kind of science buried that kind of God? Absolutely, yes.

Lennox doesn't talk of the power of the scientific method and the evidence for evolution he only talks of the problems with evolution. For example, he quotes one ID Christian biologist who conducted experiments on e-coli bacterium for 30 years and didn't spot them evolving once. Good job that that same biologist didn't conduct experiments on the MRSA bug (now in its super-duper version). He even says that there is no evidence for macro-evolution or change out of species. Shame he didn't look at the goat and the sheep.

Lennox just loves Behe's example of the irreducible complexity of the flagellum. But various studies and analogies (most notably by Ken Miller) have shown that the various parts of the flagellum exist in their multitude in other cells. Ken miller (himself a Roman Catholic believer) has adequately debunked Behe's analogy of the irreducible complexity of the mousetrap by using the analogy of spandrels; where the various incomplete parts of the flagellum can function to produce many other useful systems that give a `survival of the fittest' advantage over other systems.

Lennox moves on to an in-depth analysis of Dawkins' `ME THINK IT IS LIKE A WEASEL' analogy and rips it apart. He properly devastates it and shows there to be many insurmountable problems with the analogy. But, Lennox has forgotten that he is analysing an analogy and he would do well to turn his attention to the premise that the analogy explains: evolution by Darwinian natural selection.

Lennox has an overtly mathematical view of everything. He should try turning this view on himself and if he chose another religion other than the one he was born into then he would be mathematically more probable of choosing the one true religion (whatever that may me). I am talking of the mathematical premise that is the "Monty Hall problem".

Like many theists before him he gives the evidence for God as the fine tuning of the universe and the compelling evidence that there seems to be pre-information loaded algorithms in our DNA and in its underlying proteins. His conclusion is that this information loading was done by God. But, be careful to spot, that it wasn't done by a generic God it was done by his Christian God. Here he gives up on his overtly mathematical analysis of everything and assumes without evidence that the God who put that information into our DNA just happens to be his Christian God. But to look further with a, dare I say materialist mindset, such evidence of a God fussing with starting parameters for the big bang is consistent with a God who committed suicide after his last act of creation; or, it is consistent with the deistic God who has never meddled with human affairs; or it is consistent with a God who only appears to the Amish people.

Much is made of his friend Antony Flew - the avowed atheist turned deist. Lennox's labels for Flew tend to wobble to suit his argument. Twice he incorrectly labelled Flew as a Theist and only once did he correctly label him as a Deist.

When one looks at the fine tuning within physics and biology and concludes that an eternal God did it they just aren't following the conclusion of their own findings. Such questions need also to be asked of an eternal God, viz: Why are the laws of physics just right to allow for an eternal uncreated God to be uncreated in three equal parts with one part ready-made for self-sacrifice? Likewise, with the laws of biology, God must be comprised of a meta-physical-spirit-ether consciousness, that in turn is comprised of smaller entities that seem irreducibly complex, that in turn have information pre-loaded, where did this information come from? Not one theist has ever come close to answering the problem of infinite regress ending with an eternal God. Or to ask the question in its simplest form, "Who created God?"

All in all, despite the many omissions and lack of analysis and it being ID in disguise, this was one of my favourite debate books for the other side.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 16 October 2014
Excellent book for the inquisitive mind
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 17 December 2014
As a short review it is one of the best around. Lennox covers many of the general ideas that have emerged from scientists open to intelligent design causation. If you want a thorough understanding then this will be introductory in some respects, for example, on the issue of where the signal of natural selection is supposed to be in terms of molecular biology/genomics. But many of the problems facing the evolutionary faithful are reflected on to some degree, and there is some historical information on key events and meetings that helped characterise the tensions between conventional (Darwinian) thinking and that of Dembski, Behe, Flew (in later life) and others. If you've already read much of the material coming out of the inteligent design movement then you will have come across many of these ideas already. But as a short introduction, it does a very good job. Hence, the book gives you an opportunity to understand many of the important issues and leave it there, or to use the book as a platform from which to do further exploration of the work of Behe, Dembski and others if they seem to grab your attention.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 6 April 2015
A major demolition of now defunct neo-Darwinian thinking and drawing from major writers in all scientific disciplines. Accessible to specialist and layman alike and cogently reasoned in contrast to Dawkins, whose proclamations are frequently exposed as fickle. Ought to be in every school and college library but unlikely to do so in the current PC environment.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 25 July 2013
John Lennox has written a great book here on the so called debate of science vs religion. He shows that the debate is not and never really was about this, but is about conflicting world views. He then does what a genuine scientist should do, which is to examine the evidence and follow where it leads. The problem, as he rightly points out, is that most of the scientific community rule out the existence of God as a possibility before they begin to examine the evidence - therefore their world view restricts the conclusions they can come to.
Lennox goes through different sciences, as well as a bit of history to show that if we really follow where the evidence leads, it points to a creator God.
A really good, well written and well argued book. Great to have as a reference in understanding what science actually says.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 6 September 2014
John Lennox provides us with this side of the argument. Here he takes us step by step along a path of logic and knowledge to not only an apologetic reply but a considered and forthright stand on sense and evidence.
It is a reply to the audacious argument that the science of things dismisses God because it provides an alternative description of how things came to be.
But a description is not an explanation and Lennox exposes this longstanding intellectual breach of understanding.
Thank you John Lennox for spending the time and putting it into words.
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