Faith and Reason: Friends or Foes? - A Guest Post by Dan McGrady

Today's post is written by Dan McGrady. Dan is an attorney with a passion for apologetics and cultural engagement. He is also a member of the Acts17 Ministry at Jacksonville Chapel.


On Wednesday night, a group of people from Acts17 attended a discussion between John Lennox and John Horgan at Stevens Institute of Technology, which was hosted by the Veritas Forum.  The topic of the discussion: "Can Faith and Reason Coexist?"  Lennox, a Bible-believing Christian who is a professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, made a compelling case that faith and reason complement and even reinforce one another.  Horgan, an agnostic and former senior writer for The Scientific American, cautioned that the New Atheist movement has oversold and misrepresented science in order to support their ideological beliefs.  All in all, this was an extremely gracious and productive conversation.  Lennox and Horgan really engaged with one another's views, and you could tell they liked one another personally.

This is the second time I've had the privilege of seeing John Lennox speak live.  He never disappoints.  He is gracious yet uncompromising with the gospel, humorous yet dead serious about the importance of Jesus Christ for our lives, a storyteller blessed with a keen sense of logic.  Lennox may very well be the best apologist for the Christian faith on the planet.  If you've never done so, I encourage you to look him up on Youtube or read one of his books.

Effusive praise for Lennox aside, here were my biggest takeaways from the discussion:

  • Lennox's method of apologetics:  Lennox is a master at using images and analogies to explain complicated points about faith and reason.  He'll start telling you a story about his Aunt Matilda's cake, or an SUV filled with tomatoes, or a tea kettle, and the next thing you know he's making a profound point about the intersection of science and faith.  In my opinion, his inductive way of reasoning is more effective for evangelism than a strictly deductive style, which can be a bit robotic and detached (Ex. "Everything that begins to exist has a cause.  The universe began to exist.  Therefore, the universe has a cause.")  By engaging with the imagination, Lennox's stories and analogies make a more lasting impression on his listeners.
  • No faith in God, but faith in humans: At one point in his opening remarks, John Horgan stated that he did not have faith in God, but he did have faith in humans.  In response to this comment, I submitted a question that the moderator posed to Horgan in the Q&A, which was: "Can you explain your faith in humans, given atrocities like the Holocaust, ISIS beheadings, etc., which are very recent in the timeline of human civilization?"  Horgan answered that humans have progressed technologically and scientifically, and so we live longer and more comfortable lives than ever before.  He also mentioned certain ways we've advanced morally, citing voting rights for women and the abolition of slavery.  While Horgan is undoubtedly right about the technological and scientific advances, I'm skeptical of his optimism that humanity is on a clear progression morally.  As Lennox pointed out, the 20th century was by far the most violent and brutal in history -- two World Wars, atomic bombs, apartheid, the Holocaust, on and on.  In many of these instances humanity's "progression" scientifically just made it possible to commit even greater evils than ever before.  Given what we've seen, I'm doubtful that the fundamental problems of evil in the world will simply work themselves out over time.
  • The inescapable moral law: Horgan argued that there is no objective moral law that governs the behavior of humans.  He also shared that his number 1 objection to faith is the problem of evil -- that a good God would not allow bad things to happen to innocent people.  The issue is, I don't think it's rational to hold both these views simultaneously. The problem of evil only makes sense if we assume an objective standard of good and evil.  But, we can't get to a rationally grounded standard for good and evil without God.  Lennox made an excellent point here: If humans are wishing for a world in which God eliminates all evil, that would be a world without us too.
  • Horgan's final statement:  I was continually impressed by Horgan's honesty about the limits of science.  Towards the end of the event, he weighed in on the way the New Atheists are using neuroscience to argue that there is no such thing as free will.  If there is no such thing as free will, then we are not responsible for our moral choices.  Horgan argued that this is gross reductionism and completely unwarranted by the state of current scientific research.  Lennox agreed.

There were so many other things in this discussion -- exchanges on Freud, ultimate purpose, and Christianity as a vehicle for positive change in the world.   Perhaps the thing that stood out the most was Lennox's ability to weave the gospel into his responses, no matter what the topic was.  It was obvious that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus completely infiltrate his thinking.  What a great example of engaging with culture while remaining true to the gospel.