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Surely you can’t be a scientist and believe in God?

Surely you can’t be a scientist and believe in God?

It’s a viewpoint I have heard expressed by many people over the years. But I suspect that it is often the unspoken doubt that stops many from engaging seriously with serious thinkers about both science and God.

The attitude that science and religion are incompatible is not new. I first met it fifty years ago while studying at Cambridge University. I found myself at a formal college dinner sitting beside another Nobel Prize winner. I had never met a scientist of such distinction before and, in order to gain the most from the conversation, I tried to ask him some questions. For instance, how did his science shape his world-view—his big picture of the status and meaning of the universe? In particular, I was interested in whether his wideranging studies had led him to reflect on the existence of God.

It was clear that he was not comfortable with that question, and I immediately backed off. However, at the end of the meal, he invited me to come to his study. He had also invited two or three other senior academics but no other students. I was invited to sit, and, so far as I recall, they remained standing. He said, “Lennox, do you want a career in science?”

“Yes, sir,” I replied.

“Then,” he said, “in front of witnesses, tonight, you must give up this childish faith in God. If you do not, then it will cripple you intellectually and you will suffer by comparison with your peers. You simply will not make it.” 

Talk about pressure! I had never experienced anything like it before.

I sat in the chair paralysed and shocked by the effrontery and unexpectedness of the onslaught. I didn’t really know what to say, but eventually I managed to blurt out, “Sir, what have you got to offer me that is better than what I have got?” In response, he offered me the concept of “Creative Evolution” put forward in 1907 by French philosopher Henri Bergson.

In fact, thanks to C.S. Lewis, I knew a little about Bergson and replied that I could not see how Bergson’s philosophy was enough to base an entire world-view upon and provide a foundation for meaning, morality and life. With a shaking voice, and as respectfully as I could, I told the group standing around me that I found the biblical world-view vastly more enriching and the evidence for its truth compelling, and so, with all due respect, I would take the risk and stick with it.

It was a remarkable situation. Here was a brilliant scientist trying to bully me into giving up Christianity. I have thought many times since that, if it had been the other way around, and I had been an atheist in the chair surrounded by Christian academics pressuring me to give up my atheism, it would have caused reverberations around the university, and probably have ended with disciplinary proceedings against the professors involved. 

But that rather scary incident put steel into my heart and mind. I resolved to do my best to be as good a scientist as I could and, if ever I had the opportunity, to encourage people to think about the big questions of God and science and make up their own minds without being bullied or pressured. It has been my privilege in the years that have followed to engage thoughtfully with many people, both young and old, in a spirit of friendship and open enquiry on these questions.

I have written Can Science Explain Everything? in the hope that you will enjoy this introduction to the question, and that it stimulates you to approach this question in a scientific way: that is, open to what the outcome may be, and prepared to follow the evidence where it leads, even if that may turn out to be uncomfortable for you in some way.

In this short book, I examine many of the misconceptions people have, not just about faith and belief in God but about science itself. 

In doing so, I want to show that there is a different way of looking at things that is more rational, more sensible, and more wholesome than the all too familiar alleged conflict between science and religion.

*Copy taken from Can Science Explain Everything

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Can Science Explain Everything? (Paperback)
Lennox, John
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