Shermer vs. Lennox: Does God Exist?

Last night I attended the Great Debate at the Wesley Centre in Sydney, where along with an audience of several hundred, I watched Dr. Michael Shermer debate Professor John Lennox on the Subject: "Does God Exist?".

Here is the transcript of that debate:


Moderator: Hello, I'm that bloke from the ABC, you probably recognise my voice. No? Oh. OK then. Anyway, here are the contestants who will enter thunderdome tonight.

Audience: two men enter, one man leave... two men enter, one man leave...

Shermer: Does God Exist? No. Thank you very much I'll see you after the show. No but seriously, try the veal. [introduce self] [introduce science][explain own former christian roots and deconversion] Scientology, Isaac Hayes [cogent arguments for non-existence of god], [conclude opening remarks]

Lennox: blah blah [Sermonise] [argument from design] blah blah [appeal to authority] [appeal to scripture] blah [more argument from authority] [argument from personal revelation] [I'm a scientist, you know] [cosmological tat], [god is great]

[Questions from the audience]

Lennox: [story of personal tragedy and near death experience]

Shermer: yes, that's very moving but still isn't evidence for god, in fact it's a problem [problem of evil explained] [prayer studies]

Lennox: [further appeal to authority], [sermonizing], I've been to Auschwitz you know..

Audience: OOOOH! Godwin's Law is in effect, Lennox loses, let's carry Shermer down the street shoulder-high.

Moderator: I know not of this Godwin of whom you speak. Shut up, you lot.

Shermer: OK, if we're ignoring Godwin: Gott Mit Uns on belt buckles, [slight misspeak]: First World War

Audience: Surely that was the Second World War?

Moderator: I need to wee-wee. Waaah!

Lennox: You go and wee-wee, it's what god wants [sermonize], Dawkins Sucks because he quoted a professor of German! What a Goose!, [Penzias's Nobel Prize] [argument from respected theist scientists, of which I'd like to be one, can I please?] God is Brill!

Nutter in the audience: AMEN!

Audience: Respected scientists such as Anthony Flew? Fuck Off. And besides, Penzias's prize was split with Robert Wilson. What about his view?

Shermer: Yeah, so what? Individual scientists can be wrong about all sorts of stuff and are on a regular basis; [statistics from the NAS showing tiny rates of theism]. Turn your microphone off while you wee-wee. [Douglas Adams, 42]

Moderator: OK, I'm going now...

Lennox: [appeal to majority opinion] surely all those people can't be wrong?

Shermer: Yes, they can.

Lennox: Like, whatever, talk to the hand girlfriend. And Dawkins still sucks. I like E.O. Wilson though, 'cause he doesn't say god's stupid.

Moderator: That was a very nice wee-wee. Can we close now? I want warm milk and a story.

Audience: Shut up. we want more.

Questioner: Question on Young Earth Creationism and some tat about radiation levels in the troposphere

Audience: Uh? [double-take]

Lennox: Oh no, I believe in a 14 billion yeah old universe, [crap on about biblical days not really being days]. [I'm a scientist, honest] [I'm from Aaarmaaaagh, faith and begorrah] [Bishop Ussher's dodgy math] To sum up, I agree with the creationist at the back.

Questioner: Neat question about why god would forbid adam and eve from eating the fruit of knowledge

Lennox: I notice that question was first asked by a snake! Ho Ho Ho! [platitudes about that not being a personal slur], [appeal to scripture] [smug grin]

Christian Audience: Hahahaha! 0wned! Amen!

Rest of audience: WTF? I thought this was part of science week, how did we get to talking snakes? Hello?

Lennox: Bible doesn't really say that anyway. Wrong tree! haha, I'm funny and I'm scientist, you know.

Questioner: Actually it does say that, numbnuts [semantic explanation of the hebrew original]

Audience: Nice fuckin' work, that'll shut him up

Lennox: Oh, err... yeah, I wasn't aware of that. [argument from personal incredulity] Chomsky! Did I mention I'm a scientist?

Shermer: Uh, are you crazy?

Moderator: You know, I could really do with that warm milk and bedtime story. Nursey is waiting for me. Closing arguments please?

Shermer: Fact is god doesnt exist, we don't need him, and anyway we're more awesome than he is anyway [genetic engineering, regeneration of limbs] Salamanders! Hello row 2! God's a nasty fucker anyway. [awe and wonder at the universe]

Lennox: [appeal to vague emotional need for god] [even more appeal to authority] [smug grin] [sermonize], [check time limit], [spend some time sermonizing and praising jeebus] God invented science when he told Adam and Eve to name all the animals. [no, really, I'm a man of science, and if I repeat it often enough it'll be true]

Audience: double-WTF? You're claiming taxonomy was a gift from god now? how the fuck did we get here?? 

Lennox: Tonight's episode was brought to you by the word: hope and the letter: J

Moderator: Thanks everyone, by the way I hope you like my coat. kthxbye.


That's how it really happened. I was there, I should know.

UPDATE 28/8/08 - The debate recording is now available via CPX as an iTunes podcast, and I'll shortly get around to transcribing and critiquing the actual content. I promise, though, that it won't be that far off the summary above.

posted @ Sunday, August 24, 2008 11:40 AM


Comments on this entry:

# re: Shermer vs. Lennox: Does God Exist?

Left by Dave The Happy Singer at 8/24/2008 2:30 PM
Oh dear, sweet zombie Jesus.

I'm not even going to blog this now; this is a fantastic summary. This, ladies and gentlemen is pretty much what happened.

My favourite bits:


* Humble, loving Christian tells all the atheists in the audience their lack of belief in a deity automatically makes them naturalists and materialists and therefore they believe X, Y, and Z and blah blah resurrection. Can you say Strawman?


* The Godwin. Why doesn't it apply in real life?


1) I've been to Auschwitz.
2) Really, really bad stuff happen there, seriously, so stop laughing at me, row two, and put your solemn faces on.
3) I simply can't believe that there's no ultimate justice for that.
4) Therefore, God exists.

Is this the argument from personal incredulity? Also, 'Gott mit uns'.

* GOD INVENTED SCIENCE!!!!zOMFWTFBBQ!!!1111one!!!!111eleven!!!

* Richard Dawkins once quoted a German professor on the subject of the historicity of Jesus, squeak! Haha, pwned, Dawkins, haha lol. I hope nobody notices that I'm a mathematician and not, in fact, a theologian. But even if they do, that doesn't matter, it's the truth that matters, even if I am outside my home discipline, except for Dawkins who got pwned (made a 'major faux pas') and that's a real argument I maded myself!

* Teh Anthony Flew stopped being an atheist and started being a deist! Never mind that he wasn't teh Christian, if he couldn't understand DNA I think you'll find that makes me right! Squeak! Francis Collins! Nobel laureates! Top scientists! Talking snakes!

* "Jesus absolutely forbade violence!" Hello, Dr Lennox? He was Old Testament God incarnate! He was *brilliant* at genocide!

Oh the joy.

# re: Shermer vs. Lennox: Does God Exist?

Left by Tim West at 8/25/2008 9:52 AM

Nice summary! As another unbiased attendee, I can vouch for the 100% accuracy of your description. While perhaps not *literally* correct, it accurately captures the relative coherency and intellectual honesty of the speakers.

In Lennox's favour, at least he didn't go quite so far as Suzanne Rutland at the IQ2Oz debate - to wit: "There's no morality without God, my family was killed by Nazis. If you're an atheist, you're culpable - in fact, you're both a Nazi and a communist."

Enlightening stuff, eh?


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# re: Shermer vs. Lennox: Does God Exist?

Left by Jason at 8/26/2008 12:12 AM

OK, I wasn't there, I'd love a transcript though;

"There's no morality without God, my family was killed by Nazis. If you're an atheist, you're culpable - in fact, you're both a Nazi and a communist."

Aside from the paradox inherent in the statement, it's a common argument, the old "atheism == nazism = communism", as I'm sure you well know. And of course you also know I'm going to blow out the godwin law right now, but in reverse to its usual format:

Hitler, yes, Hitler, was raised catholic. He never renounced catholicism, was never excommunicated, and invoked god numerous times other than on Wermacht belt buckles, notably all over Mein Kampf. Not that there's any *direct* connection, however it's really important to call out anyone who tries to conflate atheism and the holocaust, or indeed any other instance of genocide; it's simply too glib to blame a single cause, let alone atheism.

I recall an audible 'oooooooh' from the audience when Lennox pulled out Auschwitz (the prick), but I'm not sure whether we should have tarred and feathered him on the spot or not... Ah well, another opportunity lost....


# re: Shermer vs. Lennox: Does God Exist?

Left by Toby at 8/27/2008 4:20 PM

Please acknowledge the word of our Lord immediately. Lolkatz commands you to.

Also please pray to the Pope, he will forgive you.. oh wait i mean Jezus.

# re: Shermer vs. Lennox: Does God Exist?

Left by Spongbo at 8/28/2008 3:12 AM
I'm upset I couldn't make it now, though listening to re-entrant "logic" makes me angry. Nice summary. TToby Mitt Uns.

# re: Shermer vs. Lennox: Does God Exist?

Left by nhut at 8/31/2008 4:23 PM
i think there is some atheist bias here. I have listened to the debate and I believe there were more sermonizing from the atheist position. I think you guys better listen to the debate and check it out for yourselves. i think this fellow John brown needs to do more listening than pontificating.

# re: Shermer vs. Lennox: Does God Exist?

Left by Dave The Happy Singer at 8/31/2008 6:04 PM
'nhut', your host is called Jason Brown, and it would have been polite to find that out as a guest on his blog before you posted your comment.

Of course there's atheist bias from the atheists here.

What exactly do you consider 'sermonizing' on our side, you forgot to mention that in your comment.

Personally, I've listened to the recording several times now.

Five minutes after 'putting his science hat on' and telling the creationist the universe is 15 billion years old, then claiming to believe exactly what the creationist did, John 'Three Degrees' Lennox went on to have an apparently serious discussion about trees of knowledge and talking snakes. During a Science Week event, no less. Then he said:

"God actually started science, by encouraging humans to name the animals at the beginning of Genesis, which is what we call taxonomy".

Astonishing. Compartmentalise much? It was at this point that my intellectual respect for this overfed buffoon evaporated. I'd even let him get away with the Godwin!

Much of John Lennox's case rested on his own personal incredulity ("I don't believe Auschwitz will go without divine justice", "I don't understand why our brains can process language without something immaterial") and colossal strawmen ("atheists aren't just atheists; they are also materialists and naturalists", "atheism is a worldview without hope").

He was at best rude, at worst hopelessly deluded.

# re: Shermer vs. Lennox: Does God Exist?

Left by Jason at 8/31/2008 9:55 PM
re: Nhut

I have no idea whether to invoke Poe's Law here. Please, put me out of my misery: are you a nutcase or a satirist?

# re: Shermer vs. Lennox: Does God Exist?

Left by nhut at 9/1/2008 8:54 AM
Jason you need to know what Poes law is to know when to apply it.

Dave, I think you better listen to the debate again and I suggest that you listen to the other side and not simply blindly agree to your side. As for a definition on sermonising read The God Delusion.

# re: Shermer vs. Lennox: Does God Exist?

Left by Jason at 9/1/2008 1:19 PM

I feel it may be important to note: This post is satirical. I'm not quite sure you got that first time round. And you may also like to note that this blog is never, ever fair and balanced.

Poes Law:

"Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won't mistake for the real thing."

By mentioning it, I mean to suggest that I have no idea if you're being serious or not.

# re: Shermer vs. Lennox: Does God Exist?

Left by Dave The Happy Singer at 9/2/2008 12:27 AM
nhut, how silly of me. I was assuming you knew I had listened to John Lennox's side of the debate since, you know, I commented on it at some length.

Lennox's contribution to the debate was a hatful of logical fallacies, inconsistencies and lunacies which Jason, myself and others have joyfully listed and explained on this very page.

Once again I ask you to give me an example of what you think was 'sermonising' on the part of Michael Shermer.

Although I have read the God Delusion twice, I seemed to have missed the part in which it is a dictionary.

You haven't said anything of substance, you've just accused us of not listening. Perhaps you could therefore also tell us what your favourite bit of Dr Lennox's performance was?

# re: Shermer vs. Lennox: Does God Exist?

Left by millinniummany3k at 9/17/2008 3:22 PM
I can give a very simple reason why you might have found problems here, and anti atheist bias in general. Atheists are seen as hating religion and wanting to infringe upon the rights of those who follow religion. Prominent atheists have successfully whipped many nonbelievers up into a frenzy and have encouraged them in their condemnation of religion, some who do so in a way that provides a very negative view of atheism.

# re: Shermer vs. Lennox: Does God Exist?

Left by Nancy Allen at 9/28/2008 10:00 AM
The rise of the atheists we see today where opposition and condemnation of religion is banded about typically comes out as a display of hatred and intolerance of belief. For atheists that might not sound so bad. They get to strike a blow against religion, take down God, be seen as living up to the ideals of evangelical fundamentalist atheism. They're seen as a hero to their fellow atheists. But to be able to accept people have the sacred right and freedom of worship; a freedom our heroes fought and died for, and to be able to get over their theophobia and just get on with their lives without having to devote it to attacking religion, that takes real guts, that would make them a real hero.

# Nancy's right

Left by Dave The Happy Singer at 9/28/2008 5:05 PM
Nancy, as an atheist and anti-theist I consider your right to freedom of belief, expression, worship and conscience to be among my most sacred values, and I will fight alongside every theist to preserve those rights.

But freedom of expression means freedom to criticise. Respecting your right to believe something does not mean I should respect your beliefs. If you are a Christian, you believe that a Jewish zombie can make me live forever if I telepathically accept him as my master. That is a silly belief and you need to accept that we think that.

You also do not have the right to not be offended. That is part and parcel of freedom. Sometimes what I say will offend you. Tough.

Your right to freedom ends when the rights of others begin. You have the right to choose not to have gay sex, but not to involve yourself in other peoples' consensual, adult and private sex lives. You have the right to keep your babies, but not to stop everyone else choosing for themselves what precautions to take. You have the right to bring your children up as you see fit, but the child's right to a proper education should always trump a parent's religious rights.

We condemn religion when religion gets out of line. We mock religion when religion gets silly. That is OUR sacred right, too.

Finally, atheists are not fundamentalists because we have no fundamentals. If you consider the promotion of reason over superstition 'evangelism' I must protest that we are only applying sense to the world and hoping you'll join us.

We're not a religion,after all. All atheists have in common is the lack of belief in any personal gods. Get it?

# re: Shermer vs. Lennox: Does God Exist?

Left by Nancy Allen at 9/28/2008 8:56 PM
I'd get it if atheists allowed freedom of expression to include condemning them when they get out of line. Sadly that does not seem to be the case.

# re: Shermer vs. Lennox: Does God Exist?

Left by Jason at 9/29/2008 11:33 AM

Show me an example. If it's really 'out of line', I'll condemn it with you. However as Dave mentioned previously you don't have the automatic right not to be offended. Please read that sentence twice, just to make sure you're getting it.

To go back to your original post. You HAVE the right to freedom of worship, but you don't have the right to push your beliefs on anyone else. I also have the right to throw a bucket of water on door-knocking evangelists who don't go away when asked nicely.

Now, if you'd like to stop pulling strawman arguments in my comment area, I'd be most grateful.
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