“DO NOT GET VACCINATED!”
Have you seen this viral video?
In case you haven’t, let me get you up to speed.
A preacher moves energetically around the stage before his congregation somewhere in the USA. Loudly and boisterously, he tells them that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is ‘BS’ – ‘Biblical stupidity’.
His congregation cheers and laughs in response.
Nor is this video alone in expressing a particular Christian viewpoint sweeping social media right now.
I’ve heard of conspiracy theories that see the vaccine as the ‘mark of the beast’ as prophesied in Revelations.
I’ve read Tweets where people have despaired over the comments of their Christian relatives who won’t get vaccinated because: ‘why would they offer the vaccine for free unless there weren’t some catch?’.
But the most common problem I’ve come across that certain Christian communities have with vaccines and (apparently) science in general, is this: they think science and the vaccine are opposed to faith.
Is Science Opposed to Faith?
This is a big topic, not only among Christian circles but also scientific circles and those who position themselves straddling both these worlds.
On the one hand, we have people like the Christian anti-vaxxers just mentioned who believe that getting vaccinated is prompted by ‘fear’ and a lack of faith in God’s ability to keep you healthy.
On the other hand, we have scientists such as Richard Dawkins who states that:
Faith is belief without evidence and reason; coincidentally that’s also the definition of delusion.
And then we have the ‘straddlers’. The ones who have a foot in each camp – such as Christian mathematician at Oxford University John Lennox.
Let me give you just a few of my favourite John Lennox quotes and arguments on the topic of faith and science as well as my commentary on why Christian faith, science and getting vaccinated are, in fact, compatible.
To get the ball rolling, let’s take a look at what Lennox means by ‘faith’.
What is faith?
Richard Dawkins is one of the most outspoken and colourful proponents of the view that faith and science are at odds.
Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.
To this Lennox gives a very succinct response. For Lennox there is an important difference between ‘blind faith’ and ‘faith’. What’s more, by failing to acknowledge this distinction, Dawkins is (ironically) ‘providing’ an ‘anti-intellectual way of avoiding intelligent discussion’:
Faith is not a leap in the dark; it’s the exact opposite. It’s a commitment based on evidence… It is irrational to reduce all faith to blind faith and then subject it to ridicule. That provides a very anti-intellectual and convenient way of avoiding intelligent discussion.
John Lennox Quotes: Faith and Blind Faith
So, what are the differences between ‘faith’ and ‘blind faith’ that Lennox sees as being so crucial to a better understanding of the way faith and science can be compatible?
Lennox explains just that in his book God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?. In this book, he admits that there are Christians, like the anti-vaxxers, who take ‘an overly anti-scientific and obscurantist viewpoint’ but this is certainly not all Christians:
Where is the evidence that religious faith is not based on evidence? Now, admittedly, there unfortunately are people professing faith in God who take an overly anti-scientific and obscurantist viewpoint. Their attitude brings faith in God into disrepute and is to be deplored. Perhaps Richard Dawkins has had the misfortune to meet disproportionately many of them.
But that does not alter the fact that mainstream Christianity will insist that faith and evidence are inseparable. Indeed, faith is a response to evidence, not a rejoicing in the absence of evidence. The Christian apostle John writes in his biography of Jesus:
‘These things are written that you might believe…’
That is, he understands that what he is writing is to be regarded as part of the evidence on which faith is based. The apostle Paul says what many pioneers of modern science believed, namely, that nature itself is part of the evidence for the existence of God:
‘For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.’
It is no part of the biblical view that things should be believed where there is no evidence. Just as in science, faith, reason and evidence belong together, Dawkins’ definition of faith as ‘blind faith’ turns out, therefore, to be the exact opposite of the biblical one. Curious that he does not seem to be aware of the discrepancy. Could it be as a consequence of his own blind faith?’John Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (pg 16-17)
A Robust Christian Faith
It turns out that telling your congregation not to be vaccinated, in the face of the indisputable evidence surrounding the benefits to our communities and those we care about, is the real ‘BS’ – ‘Biblical stupidity’. It promotes a form of ‘blind faith’ that not only has extremely damaging consequences to public health but goes against the values of the Bible the preacher claims to be upholding.
As Christians, we were never expected to swallow down whole belief in God and Jesus in an act of irrational enthusiasm. Instead, we were expected to examine the claims of Christianity for ourselves using the best of our reason and logic.
And there are many prominent examples of Christians who have in fact done so.
Take for example the writer of Cold Case Christianity – J. Warner Wallace – who analyses the claims of the Bible using the skills he has acquired through his time working in forensics. When he began the investigation, he was an atheist hoping to disprove Christianity. By the end of his investigation, he was a Christian.
Or take, for example, the famous book of Christian apologetics Who Moved the Stone? which was praised for the ‘logical and even legal manner’ in which the case for the resurrection was examined. Again, the writer started out by examining the issue in order to expose the resurrection as a myth. By the end, he was a Christian.
And then there are the many prominent scientists, who John Lennox quotes, who find that the more that they work in science, the more their faith in God is confirmed:
For many years I have believed that God is the great designer behind all nature. . . All my studies in science since then have confirmed my faith. I regard the Bible as my principal source of authority.Sir Ghillian Prance FRS quoted in pg 19-20 of John Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?
John Lennox Quotes: Do Scientists have ‘Faith’ in Science?
Instead, for Lennox, there is a kind of Christian faith that isn’t the blind faith of anti-vaxxer Christians in churches I described at the beginning of this post. This kind of faith is in fact one that is shared by atheist scientists – as John Lennox states in one article in Solas:
I am often told that the trouble with believers in God is just that: they are believers. That is, they are people of faith. Science is far superior because it doesn’t require faith. It sounds great. The problem is, it could not be more wrong.John Lennox, ‘John Lennox Busts a Myth About Religion, Faith and Science‘
In this article, Lennox goes on to point out that any worldview requires ‘faith’ for us to believe in it. That being said, any faith that isn’t based on the careful examination of evidence is … plain irrational. Or as he explains through his definition of the word ‘faith’:
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word comes from the Latin fides, which means loyalty or trust. And, if we have any sense, we don’t normally trust facts or people without evidence. After all, making well-motivated, evidence-based decisions is just how faith is normally exercised—think of how you get your bank manager to trust you or the basis for your decision to get on board a bus or an aircraft.John Lennox, ‘John Lennox Busts a Myth About Religion, Faith and Science‘
Far from faith being the activity of blindly believing something, a strong Christian faith (or atheist faith or any kind of faith in a worldview) is one where you rigorously examine your beliefs based on evidence that could either confirm or deny them.
What a Robust Christian Faith Looks Like
This is why Christians so often talk of ‘challenges to faith’. Any real, soul-searching Christian will have had moments in their life that have forced them to question their worldview. Moments where their faith doesn’t seem to match up with the evidence presented to them at that moment (for more on this take a look at this post on Job) and which forces them to examine the evidence further.
These are the moments where the tyre hits the road. For the average Christian (who doesn’t breathe that unusually academic, theoretical atmosphere that Dawkins and Lennox imbibe in the lecture halls of Oxford) this means seeing if God really is faithful during the tough moments of life – the moments of difficult relationships with people, financial troubles, health worries.
Do you see God working as He does in the Bible?
Can you see Him using bad situations for our ultimate good and difficult situations for our spiritual growth?
Does the name of Jesus practically have power in your everyday life?
At these times, you’re finally forced to test if your beliefs actually work in practice. I remember for me, when I arrived in Colombia, there were plenty of such moments. I knew that I believed in God, and I knew that I needed Him to help me in some pretty difficult moments. But, would He? Would I truly see the fingerprints of the God of the Bible helping me through the situations around me?
The more we mature as Christians, the more experiences we have that we can draw on to remember, understand and expect how God works in our lives. It’s these pieces of ‘evidence’ that make up a personal, practical, livable faith. It’s in these moments that we know that the God of the Bible is real – because we’ve seen Him everywhere in the circumstances of our lives.
John Lennox Quotes: When Faith and Science Collide
Not only does John Lennox see no difference between Christian faith and the faith of atheists in their worldview, but he goes one step further. For Lennox, when it comes to science, Christianity is the more logical worldview to explain why scientific study is a valid or trustworthy enterprise.
Let me explain his point further. Both Christianity and science share a belief in what he terms ‘the rational intelligibility of the universe’ (as he puts it in an article in Scientific American). But why is the universe rational? Why is it that we can examine it with our minds and make conclusions about it that time and time again prove to be valid, trustworthy and practically useful? He explains this point further in the following quote:
The first thing to notice is that human reason did not create the universe. This point is so obvious that at first it might seem trivial; but it is, in fact, of fundamental importance when we come to assess the validity of our cognitive faculties. Not only did we not create the universe, but we did not create our own powers of reason either. We can develop our rational faculties by use; but we did not originate them. How can it be, then, that what goes on in our tiny heads can give us anything near a true account of reality? How can it be that a mathematical equation thought up in the mind of a mathematician can correspond to the workings of the universe?John Lennox, ‘John Lennox Busts a Myth About Religion, Faith and Science‘
For Christians, the explanation is simple. The reason why the universe is rational and intelligible to us is because it was created by an intelligent Creator who also created us – in His image. Science offers no such satisfactory explanation for this:
Sometimes, when in conversation with my fellow scientists, I ask them “What do you do science with?”John Lennox, ‘John Lennox Busts a Myth About Religion, Faith and Science‘
“My mind,” say some, and others, who hold the view that the mind is the brain, say, “My brain”.
“Tell me about your brain? How does it come to exist?”
“By means of natural, mindless, unguided processes.”
“Why, then, do you trust it?” I ask. “If you thought that your computer was the end product of mindless unguided processes, would you trust it?”
“Not in a million years,” comes the reply.
“You clearly have a problem then.”
After a pregnant pause they sometimes ask me where I got this argument—they find the answer rather surprising: Charles Darwin. 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.”
The men who are regarded as the fathers of modern science (Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton etc.) were spurred on to do their investigations because they believed that God had created the universe and for this reason the universe could be intelligible to them. This faith has proven to be extremely well-founded. Charles Darwin did not share their faith in God and, as a result, had a deep insecurity about whether his findings and conclusions could be valid.
Lennox’s Bold Claim About Faith and Science
This being so, Lennox makes a bold claim about his position as a Christian and a scientist. He admits that his belief in Christianity is a belief – something he holds on faith (but not blind faith – a rigorously examined faith). But his work in science constantly confirms that faith. By contrast, the belief system of atheists, does not sit compatibly with science because it offers no explanation as to why their work is valid or trustworthy:
Of course, I reject atheism because I believe Christianity to be true. But I also reject it because I am a scientist. How could I be impressed with a worldview that undermines the very rationality we need to do science? Science and God mix very well. It is science and atheism that do not mix.John Lennox, ‘John Lennox Busts a Myth About Religion, Faith and Science‘
Science and God mix very well.
Let’s just finish this post by dwelling on those words a moment – with the hope they may sometime reach the ears of certain anti-vaxxing Christians who seem to have received a deeply distorted and damaging view of what faith in God really means.
Prompts For Thought
How do you see the relationship between faith and science?
Which of the John Lennox quotes resonates with you the most?