Spring 2015

Is the Prevalence of Religious Violence an Argument for Atheism?

In Jan. 30, three of the top minds in Christian apologetics were on stage together in Chase Gymnasium to discuss “God, Science and the Big Questions.” Oxford University professor John Lennox was joined by Biola professors William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, with radio host Hugh Hewitt serving as moderator. More than 2,000 attended the event and nearly 5,000 more watched live online from 71 countries across the world. The event’s hashtag, #GodScience, quickly became a national Twitter trending topic.

The two-hour conversation covered an array of topics and challenges in contemporary apologetics, focusing on science-related questions like the origins of the universe, evolution, the historical Adam and Eve, neuroscience and multiverse theory. One of the night’s final questions picked up a topic raised in a 2008 debate between Craig and the late Christopher Hitchens: Isn’t it a proof against God’s existence that so much of the world’s violence is done in the name of religion? Below is an edited transcript of the exchange. The full event can be viewed at open.biola.edu.

Hugh Hewitt: [In 2008, Christopher] Hitchens was arguing that the evidence for the irrationality of any religious belief was everywhere because the violence of religion was everywhere. He would be pointing today to ISIS and to the accumulating evidence of a terrible crisis in the world having to do with religious fanaticism. So how in the world does the scientific truth of the rise of fanaticism get repudiated by an appeal to the Bible when, in the eyes of the world, that’s the problem?

William Lane Craig: It seems to me, as I said then, Hugh, that you cannot invalidate a worldview based upon the failure of adherents of that worldview to live consistently with the teachings of that worldview. As John said earlier, Jesus would not be implicated in these sorts of acts. He wouldn’t have led the crusades or the inquisition. He wouldn’t conduct jihad. The fact that religious zealots of all different stripes engage in these sorts of activities does absolutely nothing to impugn the truth of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. He himself could not be indicted for these sorts of things.

So I think that while this may be a great emotional difficulty for people in our culture to overcome, philosophically it’s just insignificant. It just does not do anything to show that God does not exist, that he has not raised Jesus from the dead, and that salvation and eternal life is not available through faith in Christ. These abuses of religion don’t do anything to undercut those truths. In fact, on a Christian view of the fallenness of man, we ought rather to expect such abuses of religion because it’s symptomatic of the fallenness of humanity that it would take the best and most beautiful things and twist them into ugly, misshapen forms.

Hewitt: Dr. Lennox?

John Lennox: I come from Northern Ireland and therefore am familiar with religious violence. I had very unusual parents who were Christians without being sectarian, which meant that they employed in their store both Protestants and Catholics and were bombed for it. My brother nearly lost his life. So I’m familiar with it, and when people ask me how I respond to it, I say I’m utterly ashamed of it. I’m utterly ashamed that the name of Christ was ever associated with an AK-47 or a bomb.

One of the central historical features of the New Testament is the trial of Jesus. It is crucially important, and I discussed this with the late Christopher Hitchens. I said: Christopher, I agree with you. This is the unacceptable face of religion. But don’t you realize that it’s the charge of fomenting political violence that put Jesus on trial in the first place? He was accused of terrorism, to put it in modern language. ... When Pilate investigated him, he knew, of course, that Jesus had not resisted arrest. When Simon Peter took a sword to swipe the head off the high priest’s servant, he wasn’t very good and he cut his ear off. Now, if I might say something about that: I believe Jesus put the ear back on, but you would be very poetically dim not to see what’s being said. If you take up weapons to defend Christ or his message, you cut the ears off of people in a big way. If you are a Christian, I commend to you the ministry of putting ears back on so that people can actually hear the message.

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  • Lawrence Dol June 16, 2016 at 5:15 PM

    This video is excellent; really top-notch.

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