A discussion on the logic behind Christian and atheistic worldviews was held between Don Demetriades, MSU faculty member, and John Lennox, an internationally famed mathematician on April 16.
Lennox, a native of northern Ireland, teaches science and religion at the University of Oxford and has publicly debated famous atheist personalities such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. Demetriades, who received his masters from the University of Michigan in 1980, serves as an adjunct instructor of philosophy at MSU.
The free event, titled Christianity and the Tooth Fairy, was held in the Shroyer Gym and sponsored by the organizations Cru, InterVarsity, Chi Alpha, CrossLife and the MSU Philosophical Society. It was well attended to the point that all of the seating was taken, resulting in many attendees standing in the running track above the gym to watch the proceedings.
The introduction was given by MSU football defensive back Deonte Flowers. He stated the night’s theme, posing the question of whether child’s belief in the tooth fairy is comparable to an adult’s belief in Christianity, and affirmed that the event was not a debate, but a discussion. Flowers then introduced the moderator, MSU Philosophy professor Greg Valariano, who in turn introduced Lennox and Demetriades.
In Demetriades’s opening statement he established his belief system as atheistic, explaining that he grew up without any specific belief system as a child, and that since individual belief systems were informed by their specific environments, no one can claim their belief systems as more correct than others. “Can a human being have purpose in a godless universe? Yes,” he said, concluding his statement.
Lennox stated his admiration for Demetriades’s training in Socratic philosophy before beginning his statement. “I do believe science, faith, God and, in my case, Christianity, are compatible,” he said.
“The real tension exists between the two world views [atheism and theism], and there are scientists on both sides.” He refuted that he believes in the ‘God of the Gaps’, which states that God can only explain what science has yet to explain. He suggested that as a belief system, atheism requires just as much faith as Christianity.
Demetriades suggested that while he had faith, it was faith placed in inductive reasoning and a trust in natural law and was not necessarily comparable to theistic faith. He went on to say that the apparent complexity of the universe in which we exist is not evidence of design. As an example, he said that consciousness is not a function of a superior consciousness, but can be explained as a product of natural selection, and that this ‘bottom-up’ explanation was less problematic than a ‘top-down’ explanation.
Lennox in turn said that not all explanations need to be less complex than the subject of explanation, giving a human mind and a book created by the human mind as an example.
Valariano began the discussion’s next segment, asking Demetriades and Lennox how their belief systems viewed and handled the presence of human suffering in the world.
Demetriades said that it didn’t seem possible that a perfect god could allow suffering, while Lennox said it was part of his Christian belief that sufferings were temporary and that such injustices would be righted by perfect judgment at ‘the end of days.’ However, Valariano argued that neither of their explanations were satisfying.
“It’s very unwise for a mathematician to tangle with a philosopher … He [Valariano] is probably not satisfied yet, but have you ever met a philosopher who was?” Lennox humorously said after he and Demetriades clarified their explanations.
At this point Valariano posed questions that had asked by the audience members via text. Questions included where does objective morality originate, what gives humanity significance and what evidence would Demetriades and Lennox require to change their belief system.
In response to the last question, Demetriades said it would require direct revelation from God to re-evaluate his atheism while Lennox said that evidence such as the fulfillment of biblical prophecies and the vitality of the Christian faith would have to be disproven as illusion.
In conclusion, Flowers offered closing remarks and Lennox and Demetriades ended the night by shaking each other’s hands. For most of those who attended, the experience was positive. “I thought it was really insightful … Obviously coming from a Christian perspective I was intrigued by what Lennox had to say … It was cool for John [Lennox] to reaffirm the validity of the Bible,” said Dylan Grubb, an agricultural business major.
Finance major Cameron Himebaugh thought the event would have been more beneficial had it been structured more as a debate than as a discussion, but enjoyed it still. “Don [Demetriades] is actually my professor, so it was interesting to see his beliefs,” Himebaugh said, “The discussion promoted more understanding of both views.”