Addressing Lennox: Putting the Cart Before the Horse

John Lennox may be a respected professor of mathematics, but he certainly fails to understand what mathematics actually are.

Your fallacy is: false equivocation

Before we begin I would like you to take a minute to listen to professor Lennox in this video. It's only about a minute and a half long and not complicated in the least.

Math Professor DESTROYS Atheist

Did you watch it? Good. Now we can begin.

In this video Lennox makes a very strong claim. I want to ignore his argument from incredulity fallacy in stating what he can't understand and instead focus on what he thinks he does understand. You see, Lennox is claiming that because we see complex mathematics at work in the universe this inevitably leads to the logical conclusion that there must be an intelligent mind behind it all. On the face of it, this seems like a pretty solid and logical statement. It's only when we do a bit of digging that we see it really isn't.

Here's the problem with Lennox's argument; he doesn't understand what mathematics is. Now I would be a fool to imply that Lennox doesn't understand how mathematics works; after all he is one of the top mathematics professors in the world. But in this video he clearly shows a lack of understanding as to what mathematics actually is. You see, mathematics is merely a tool that we humans use to quantify what is observed. It is a descriptive tool used to describe what is seen, just as the theory of evolution is merely a descriptive tool used to describe the process by which evolution takes place.

In the same way that evolution does not exist simply because we have the theory of evolution, mathematical principles such as orbital rotation and the like do not exist simply because we have mathematical equations that describe and quantify them for our own understanding. Once we understand this we can see that we don't actually see mathematics represented in nature, but rather that we see that nature behaves in certain ways and we have devised mathematics to explain what we see.

Understanding all this we can then see that Lennox has indulged in a false equivalence fallacy derived from using what I call a cart before the horse fallacy to make this equivocation seem logical.

A deeper explanation and some examples

Some of you probably already fully understand what I'm getting at here, but for those who don't quite get it we need some more explanation. So let's examine why I state that Lennox is putting the cart before the horse here.

There is an age old question which asks which came first, the chicken or the egg? Chickens lay eggs and eggs then become chickens, so logic would dictate that the chicken came before the egg. However science is about getting to the heart of the matter, and when we get to the heart of the matter in this proposed question we see that our logic fails us. The reason for that is that if we go back far enough in time there were no chickens. Chickens, like all other animals, evolved from a different animal who in turn evolved from a different animal and so on. If we follow this all the way back to the first living organisms then, we find something that makes our logic unsound. We find that the first living organisms were most likely single-celled organisms that were in essence nothing more than an egg, very similar in nature but less complex than the eggs we find produced in the uterus of most mammals. This leads us to forgo the logical assessment that chickens lay eggs and so the chicken had to come first, and instead agree that if we follow the trail back to its point of origin we must concede that the egg actually came first long before the chicken was even an actual thing.

So if we apply that same reductionist logic to our problem of mathematics and ask which came first, mathematics or nature, one must acknowledge that nature came first and that mathematics is merely a tool devised by the human mind to describe what we see in nature. There is another fundamental question to answer here though, which is whether or not mathematics exist independently of human understanding. This is a tricky question to answer because we can all see mathematical principles at work in the world around us, so although we can say mathematics is derived from an understanding of nature, we can also say that these principles would still exist even if we didn't understand them.

This is where Lennox is able to make the hard sell because his position is that an intelligent being who understands mathematics actually put those same principles to work in our universe. Unwittingly however, Lennox has also given us the ammo we need to refute that claim.


Here is Lennox’s mistake, and it's a big one.

Precision is Lennox's downfall here because the whole point of mathematics is to offer precise calculations. 1+1 always equals 2. It's never almost 2 or close to 2. It isn't 1.998. It is always 2 dead on. The very purpose of mathematics is to offer the maximum precision possible.

Here's how this comes back to bite Lennox in the ass. You see, in all the known universe nothing exists that exhibits the level of precision that human beings can quantify using mathematics. Nothing. At. All. Within the universe there are no perfect circles or perfect spheres. There are no perfectly straight lines or angles. There is no perfect symmetry. Even with our limited knowledge and understanding human beings using mathematical models with the aid of precision tuned machines can create a circular object to 99.99% perfection. Due to random error we can never achieve total perfection, but we can get so close that the difference is negligible.

Given all this, we have every right to point out this glaring fact to the proponents of intelligent design. If we can assume that an intelligent designer exists, we must also be able to expect such a designer to have an equal or better understanding of mathematics and we should see a very distinctly observable presence of precision is the universe. The lack of such precision is a direct pronouncement against the notion of an intelligent designer, because we should expect such a being to be able to do a better job than what we actually see around us.

A note from the author

I want to make it clear that I fully respect Lennox as a mathematician. The problem is that in this arena Lennox is out of his element. He does not recognize the error, not in his maths, but in his logic. If we just recognize that the horse must lead the cart, then we can clearly see the logical fallacies at play here.

I make the case all the time that degrees don't win debates, but rather that the arguments must stand on their own merits and we must make a logical assessment of them. Lennox may hold degrees, but they don't make him right. The same goes for Dawkins or Harris. We have to question even those we view as experts and see if what they say actually has merit. We can't just assume they're experts and that we're not smart enough to figure it out in a way that actually has greater substantiated validity than their assertions. Our motto, not as atheists, but as humans, should always be to question everything and everyone and to never take anything at face value. Dig deep. Find the heart and then examine it closely to make your own decisions.

Photo Credits: Medienmagazin Pro

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