John Lennox discusses happiness and suffering during Brown University Veritas Forum

By: Margaret Nickens

John Lennox and Linford Fisher discussing "God, Life, and the Pursuit of Happiness" during Friday's Veritas lecture. (By: Justina Lee)

John Lennox and Linford Fisher discussing “God, Life, and the Pursuit of Happiness” during Friday’s Veritas lecture. (By: Justina Lee)

“I’m interested in exposing my worldview to serious questioning,” explained John Lennox, a mathematician and professed Christian, while opening Friday’s Veritas Forum.

The Veritas Forum is an organization that attempts to promote discussion surrounding life’s most salient question and Christianity by hosting discussions on university campuses throughout the country. Friday’s discussion focused on “God, Life, and The Pursuit of Happiness.”

During the forum, moderator Linford Fisher, assistant professor of history at Brown, asked Mr. Lennox to elaborate on the ability to achieve happiness without God, on the necessity of pursuing happiness, and on reconciling earthly suffering with the existence of a God.

During the past decade, Mr. Lennox has famously defended the Christian faith against such figures as the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and the science writer Michael Shermer. Given this background, Mr. Fisher initially questioned Mr. Lennox’s decision to engage in these debates.

Mr. Lennox began by describing his first days as an undergraduate at the University of Cambridge when he began to question the origin of his faith. “Could it be that my faith in God is simply Irish genetics?” he wondered.  Driven to uncover the truth, he began to surround himself with individuals of different worldviews and to encourage others to actively challenge his beliefs in order that he may better understand his faith.

During these efforts, he said he has also striven to dispel certain misconceptions surrounding his religion. “I feel like Christianity has been downgraded intellectually,” he said. “I challenge that.”

He further questioned the notion that Christianity opposes fun or happiness.

“God invented every color of the rainbow … God is the one who invented this magnificent universe,” he explained. “I cannot conceive how people think that God is a killjoy.”

But Mr. Lennox also conceded that happiness was possible without religion. “The atheist as much as a Christian can enjoy a NASCAR race especially if there is a woman driver,” he laughed. However, he said Christianity “adds an enormous dimension to that happiness” by providing for a life beyond death.

He argued that the hope provided by the Christian concept of eternal life helps account for the existence of suffering. Lennox, whose father’s business was the target of Irish sectarian violence, said he understood anguish exists despite the presence of and sometimes as a result of the existence of Christianity.

“I’m ashamed the name of Jesus has ever been associated with an AK47 or a bomb,” he said, but then contended that not only does atheism as a worldview not solve suffering, “but can make it worse by leaving people without hope and without justice.”

According to Mr. Lennox, Christianity provides a better alternative to this distress.

“If death is the ending, we’ll never get justice, and our conscious that screams out for justice is an illusion,” he said. Just as we experience hunger due to the presence of food, he argued we long for justice because, at some point, we will receive compensation for the injustices committed upon us. According to Lennox, God will be the compensator for this injustice.

“Terrorists will not get away with it. The man that destroyed your daughter by raping her and abusing her will not ultimately get away with it,” he said.

Lennox also discussed human purpose on earth according to the Christian perspective. At the most basic level, he explained, we are here because God wanted us to be here.

“Somebody wanting you is a wonderful thing,” he said. “That gives me infinacy.”

But he also wondered why a perfect God would desire such an imperfect being. Looking to the book of Genesis in the Bible, he conceived that humans exist to both impose discipline on the environment and to explore and learn about the planet.

“God started science, you know,” Mr. Lennox explained. “God told human beings to name the animals. That’s taxonomy. Every intellectual discipline involves naming things.”

Above all, Mr. Lennox argued the purpose of life was maintaining a relationship with God. But he also noted there is not “default worldview” – everyone must construct their own vision of the world.

“I am not denying that my atheist or agnostic friends can’t experience life’s fulfillment,” he said. “But the Bible tells you more about life than any of these philosophies.”

A poster outside the forum describes the religious breakdown of the Brown student population. (By: Justina Lee)

A poster outside the forum describes the religious breakdown of the Brown student population. (By: Justina Lee)


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