Tuesday, March 17, 2015

It's Pascal Lecture Time Again -- John Lennox at Waterloo

(Almost) every year, my university hosts the Pascal Lectures, which "bring to the University of Waterloo outstanding individuals of international repute who have distinguished themselves in both an area of scholarly endeavour and an area of Christian thought or life." The speakers "discourse with the university community on some aspect of its own world, its theories, its research, its leadership role in society, challenging the university to a search for truth through personal faith and intellectual inquiry which focus on Jesus Christ." Why a public university funded by our tax dollars supports this clearly evangelical series is beyond me, but there it is.

I've commented in the past about the choice of speakers, which has ranged from the sublime (Donald Knuth) to the ridiculous (Mary Poplin, Malcolm Muggeridge, Charles Rice).

This year's speaker is somewhere in the middle. He's John Lennox, known to mathematicians for his work on group theory, and known to everyone else for his jolly but inept attempts to criticize atheists, which he's done in a number of books.

Prof. Lennox may be a good group theorist, but it appears he learned his information theory from intelligent design creationists. For example, in this YouTube video, at the 13:10 mark, he claims, "but unless we have a mechanism that actually creates information -- which we do not have -- there is no evidence that natural selection and mutation can create any significant information -- until we have that, it's simply an evolution of the gaps".

This, of course, is utter nonsense (but delivered smugly in a beautiful Irish accent). We certainly do know that mutation can create as much information as we want, and we know many examples that natural selection and mutation in concert together can create information-rich structures.

Lennox seemingly has virtually nothing original to say. Most of his schtick consists of quoting the usual suspects (Plantinga, Berlinski, McGrath), and boasting about how he bested this atheist or that one with a bon mot in a debate, which he recounts with relish.

I am completely unimpressed with Lennox's work outside group theory. But I can certainly understand why theists desperate to have someone with a Ph. D. tell them they are right would want to have him for a speaker.

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