Discussion questions: Can Science Explain Everything?
Looking for a way to show your science-studying friends that belief in God is rational and evidence-based? John Lennox's book will help.
'Can Science Explain Everything?' is an excellent introduction to the relationship between science and faith: it's short, accessible, and written with the skeptic in mind. These discussion questions are designed especially for students, believers and skeptics alike, to open up discussion about how science and Christianity interact and complement each other. Use them with a friend or in a small group. We suggest you each get a copy of the book, read one or two chapters before each meeting and then get together over a meal to go through the questions. If you're leading a group, make sure you've looked through the questions in advance!
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
Chapter 1: Can you be a scientist and believe in God?
‘Surely you can’t be a scientist and a Christian these days?’ (p13) Do you agree with this view? Would you say this is a widely held view in your faculty?
Do you think the Nobel Prize winner was justified in telling the young Lennox to give up his faith? How would you respond if your worldview was put under similar pressure?
Lennox describes two worldviews (defined as a ‘big picture of the status and meaning of the universe’) – atheism and Christian theism. Would you say that you subscribe to either of these worldviews? Or to a different worldview?
‘Far from hindering the rise of modern science, faith in God was one of the motors that drove it.’ (p20) Why do you think science has historically flourished within a Christian worldview?
What does the Galileo story teach us about the historical relationship between science and faith?
If historically there has been less conflict between science and religion than is commonly thought, should that change the way we think about their interaction today?
Chapter 2: How did we get here: from Newton to Hawking
‘Outside his or her field, the scientist is just as dumb as the next guy’ (p26). If that’s the case, why do you think we’re so inclined to believe statements made by scientists outside their field of expertise?
If, as scientism suggests, science is the only way to truth, what are the logical implications for how we view the world, and people, around us?
What do you make of Lennox’s observation that the argument that religion is a comforting delusion works just as well against atheism?
Lennox gives two explanations for a boiling kettle: the first scientific, the second personal. Rather than conflicting, the two explanations complement each other. Do you think it’s reasonable to apply the same logic to explanations for the existence of the universe as we know it? Why/why not?
Do you find it more plausible that physical laws brought themselves and the universe into existence, or that an external force was needed to bring the universe into being?
Hawking believed that it was necessary to choose between God and science. Newton didn’t. After reading this chapter, who do you have more sympathy with?
Chapter 3: Mythbusters I: Religion depends on faith but science doesn’t
One of Peter Singer’s objections to religion is that people tend to inherit the faith in which they were brought up (a pattern to which he is no exception). Do we necessarily perpetuate the faith of our parents? Is it a problem if we do?
‘Faith is an everyday concept’ (p44). Is there a fundamental difference between the day-to-day faith we exhibit in normal life (trusting facts and people) and faith in God?
Einstein and Polkinghorne both assert that faith in the rational intelligibility of the universe is fundamental to all science. How is that true in your field?
Why is human reason so unreasonably effective? Why do you think it’s possible for the human brain to comprehend why the universe works?
Do you think that Lennox’s argument in this chapter is sufficient to conclude that atheism ‘undermines the very rationality that we need to do science’ (p49)? Why/why not?
Chapter 4: Mythbusters II: Science depends on reason but Christianity doesn’t
'Science, then, is a way of thinking about the natural world… it is associated with making observations, looking for explanations and doing experiments to test them.’ (p54) What would you want to change or add to this definition?
‘Rational thought is by no means confined to the sciences’ (p55). Think of some everyday, non-scientific examples of using rational thought. Can you think of any areas of life where we don’t use rational thought?
Lennox refers to several examples of scientific thought in the Bible. How did you react to these when you first read this chapter? Do they change your perspective on the rationality of the Bible?
Do you think it’s possible for science to give evidence of the supernatural?
‘The principle of following evidence where it leads is very important. It may mean that we have to go beyond narrowly defined scientific explanations in terms of natural processes, but it need not lead us beyond rational explanation. It might even lead us to the right explanation.’ (p61) How is this approach different from the God-of-the-gaps thinking described on p32-3?
Lennox is confident that Christianity is an evidence-based faith. Think of the Christians and atheists that you know. Does one group come across as more rational than the other? Who do you think has thought through their beliefs more carefully?
Chapter 5: Can we really take the Bible seriously in a scientifically literate world?
Francis Bacon wrote that ‘God has written two books… namely Scripture and creation’. If the Bible and the universe are indeed both made and written by God, what would we expect to find when we look at the two together?
The Bible is a mixture of many kinds of literature including history, poetry and prophecy; the majority written more than 2000 years ago. What problems are we likely to encounter when we read it through the lens of modern science?
Why is it important to understand the difference between literalistic and metaphorical writing?
Read these verses from the biblical book of Job. Here God speaks to Job in rhetorical questions to demonstrate the difference between God and humanity. What issues do we find if we take a literalistic approach to the description of the natural world in this passage? How does a metaphorical reading help our understanding?
“What is the way to the abode of light?
And where does darkness reside?
Can you [Job] take them to their places?
Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
Surely you know, for you were already born!
You have lived so many years!
“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
or seen the storehouses of the hail,
which I [God] reserve for times of trouble,
for days of war and battle?
What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed,
or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a path for the thunderstorm,
to water a land where no one lives,
an uninhabited desert,
to satisfy a desolate wasteland
and make it sprout with grass?
Does the rain have a father?
Who fathers the drops of dew?
From whose womb comes the ice?
Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
when the waters become hard as stone,
when the surface of the deep is frozen?"
Before the discovery of the expanding universe and the cosmic microwave background in the 20th century, it was widely assumed that the universe had always existed. How does the Big Bang model support the biblical account of creation?
Chapter 6: Miracles: a step too far?
If we attempt to reconcile the Bible and science ‘simply by regarding any difficult passages as metaphorical’ (p75), what problems do we resolve? What new problems do we create?
Lennox lists multiple eminent scientists who affirm a belief in the resurrection of Jesus. What are the possible reasons behind these scientists’ belief in the supernatural?
Why is a ‘healthy scepticism’ when it comes to potentially miraculous events important whatever your worldview?
David Hume said that ‘miracles are violations of the laws of nature’. In your understanding, what are the laws of nature? Is it possible for them to be violated?
What is the difference between a closed-system universe and an open-system universe? How does that affect the possibility of miracles occurring?
Imagine that news reaches you of a recent miraculous event. What would you want to do to thoroughly investigate that claim? What would you do if it became apparent that no natural explanation was possible?
Chapter 7: Can you trust what you read?
Why do you think people on either side of the debate might be tempted to ignore historians’ work on the reliability of the New Testament? Why is it important that as scientists, we take historical data seriously?
This chapter summarises some of the historical data relating to the New Testament documents. From the data given, are you inclined to trust the New Testament as a historical source?
What else would we need to be convinced that the events recorded in the New Testament really happened?
Chapter 8: How to disprove Christianity
‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile’ (1 Corinthians 15:17). Paul, one of the major authors of the New Testament, happily asserts that the whole of Christianity hangs on the resurrection of Jesus. Do you think staking so much on a single, falsifiable event is a sensible way to start a religion?
What does the process of abduction (inference to the best explanation) have in common with the inductive scientific method? How are they different?
Many alternative theories have been proposed to explain the events surrounding Jesus’ death and alleged resurrection. From the evidence that Lennox puts forward, do any of these theories seem plausible?
• Jesus didn’t die on the cross, but merely fainted and recovered in the tomb.
• Grave-robbers broke in and stole Jesus’ body.
• The authorities took the body and re-buried it elsewhere.
• The disciples themselves hid the body to make it appear that Jesus had been resurrected.
Which aspects of the evidence for the resurrection in this chapter do you find most convincing? Where do you still have questions or objections?
Chapter 9: The personal dimension
‘Once we begin to talk about personal relationship, we leave science behind. But we do not leave rationality behind.’ (p104) How do we use rationality in our personal relationships?
If God is ‘a person and not a theory’ (p105), what do we lose if we only ever engage in academic thinking about the existence and nature of God?
‘There is a brokenness in people in general, and if we are honest, in ourselves as well.’ (p107) Does this resonate with the world you see around you? How do you see this brokenness played out?
Why do you think so many people’s idea of religion is merit-based? What effect does merit-based religion have on someone’s life?
If you were drawing a diagram like the one on p113 to represent Christianity, what would you draw after reading this chapter?
Chapter 10: Entering the laboratory: Testing the truth of Christianity
‘At the level of experience, there is overwhelming evidence of the transforming power of Christ in the lives of those who turn to him for salvation.’ (p123) If you’re a Christian, how have you seen that evidence in your own life?
If you’re not a Christian, what would it mean for you to test the truth of Christianity at a personal level? Is anything stopping you from doing that?