The following transcript is from an Apologetics 315 interview with Edgar Andrews. Original audio here. Transcript index here. If you enjoy transcripts, please consider supporting, which makes this possible.
BA: Hello this is Brian Auten from Apologetics 315. Today I interview Edgar Andrews. He is the Ameritus Professor of Materials at the University of London, and an international expert at the science of large molecules, or polymers. He has published well over 100 scientific research papers and books as well as two Bible commentaries and various works on science and religion, and on theology. In addition to an even longer list of impressive credentials and accomplishments, Prof. Andrews is also the author of Who Made God? Searching for a Theory of Everything. The purpose of our interview is to find out more about the relationship between science and faith, discuss Prof. Andrews’ book, his apologetic approach, and learn from his experiences. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today, Prof. Andrews.
EA: Well it’s my pleasure.
BA: Would you mind telling our listeners a little more about yourself.
EA: I am a retired university professor and I still have the title of Emeritus Professor. That means you’re over the hill but you’re still active in some respects. I spent over 30 years of my working life at University, at the University of London at Queen Mary College as it was called in those days. I was eventually the head of the department of materials, which actually I created, and for some time Dean of Engineering. In a sense I had a four-fold career. I was a research scientist, I published a lot of direct research papers and works. I was also a university teacher, I was teaching undergraduates and lecturing to them. I was at the same time acting as a consultant to a number of large chemical companies like the DOW Chemical company in U.S.A. and the 3M Company also of course in the U.S.A. I was an international consultant for both of those companies. Finally I spent something like 20 years toward the end of my career acting as a witness, an expert witness in various court cases in Britain, the British high court mainly, but also in the U.S.A. and Canada. So I packed a lot into my career and since I retired I’ve been writing and lecturing basically.
BA: Well, excellent. Most of the focus of our interview I want to talk about your book, Who Made God?. However it might also interest our listeners that you yourself have debated Prof. Richard Dawkins back at the Oxford-Union Huxley Memorial debate back in 1986. Would you mind telling me a bit about that encounter?
EA: Yes, that was a very interesting and in some way a very seminal occasion, I think. Richard Dawkins was a young man at that time. He had published I think his first major book. He and I went head to head at this debate which was intended to be a memorial of the Huxley-Wilberforce debate which occurred of course during Darwin’s lifetime. He and I in fact were seconders of the motion and the opposition. The proposers were two other gentlemen; Prof. Arthur Wilder Smith for the creationist and famous biologist John Meynard Smith for the evolutionists. The subject of the debate was, or the title of the debate was, that the doctrine of creation is more valid than the theory of evolution. Arthur Wilder Smith and I of course speaking for creation, and Dawkins and Meynard Smith speaking for evolution, and I should add atheistic evolution as well. It was a typical Oxford Union debate with a packed audience, many hundreds there going on for hours after hours. In fact I went to bed long before the debate actually finished. It was notable I think for the fact that the creationists gained a much larger vote, we lost the motion, but we gained a much larger vote than anyone expected. There is a dispute about the actual size of the creationists vote. The evolutionists posing the motion got 198 votes and the creationists got either 150 or 115. The problem is that the minute book recording the vote mysteriously disappeared or was stolen, and therefore there is no actual record of the size of the vote. But I noticed on Richard Dawkins website just a month or two ago the lady who was at that time the chairman of the Oxford Union and was chairing that particular debate said that both she and Richard Dawkins were amazed at the good showing of the creationists. So there we are. The other peculiar thing of course was that the debate was not mentioned anywhere in the national press. Now in those days Oxford Union debates were always reported in the national press. But there is certainly the suggestion that the whole debate was suppressed, not allowed, to get into the wider domain of public knowledge simply because creationists made such a good showing. That’s not a proven fact but it does seem rather strange that nothing was said about the debate the following day in the leading newspapers. I took the argument that there are four things that science will never be able to explain, not just because it hasn’t advanced far enough but because by its very nature it cannot explain the following four things. The first is the origin of the universe, the ultimate origin of the universe. Of course scientists now agree that there was a beginning. That beginning has to be inexplicable in terms of science mainly because you cannot apply science before there was a universe to describe using scientific terms and theories. The second thing is perhaps even more fundamental and that is the origin of the laws of nature, if the law of nature are properties of the created universe. You cannot explain the origin of those laws in scientific terms. Science uses the laws, it discovers the laws, it explores them it refines them, but it cannot never tell us where they came from. They are very logical laws, they are highly mathematical laws, they are very beautiful laws in many ways. They need explaining and you can’t explain them by science, it’s like trying to pick yourself up by your boot laces. The third thing is the origin of life, because life involves information, it involves codes, it involves a very intellectual a very sophisticated language. Those sort of things do not come into existence by accident. Finally, science cannot explain the origin of mind and thought.
It is self-contradictory to say that mind is simply the product of the brain, an evolved organ. That leaves you with the conclusion that nothing we think has any significance including the thought that the brain evolved and thought is just a by-product of it. So that was how I put my case and I think it took Richard Dawkins very much off his guard because he spent his time critiquing a book I had written called From Nothing to Nature and it was a presentation of a creationists viewpoint or worldview with the scientific emphasis that was appropriate for an author like myself. He thought I was going to just reproduce arguments from the book but I went ahead and argued along the lines I indicated.
BA: So, as a scientist and a Christian how do you view the relationship between faith and science?
EA: Well, that’s a very interesting question because both faith and science involve knowledge. That is the original meaning of the word science, of course, knowledge. Now, atheists of course try to represent faith as ignorance, as blind faith. But biblical faith, true Christian faith, is knowledge, and it is a knowledge of a person, the Lord Jesus Christ. “This is life eternal”, he is praying to his Father and he says, “This is life eternal that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” So, faith to me is not a creed or a book of doctrine. It is, in fact, the knowledge of God. Now, creeds and doctrine are important. But, ultimately Christianity is nothing if it is not a knowledge of God. Now, you see, science is often knowledge. But whereas faith is knowledge of God, science is knowledge of the material universe. They’re both knowledge. But, in one case, we have a relationship between the believer and his God, a personal relationship in which the believer speaks to God, and God speaks to the believer through his Word, the Bible. There is communication, in other words, as there is in any relationship. While in science we are delving into a dumb system, we are delving into a material universe, which can give us answers, but only insofar as we dig them out and find them out for ourselves. So, there is this similarity, and there is this profound difference between faith and science. And because of the definitions I have given of faith and science, it is wrong to put them in opposition. You are not talking about the same category of things. You are not talking about a black and white, or wet and dry. You are talking about a knowledge of God, a relationship with God on the one hand, and a knowledge of the physical, material universe on the other hand. And those two things cannot in any way be in contradiction.
BA: Now, you talk a little bit more about the relationship between faith and science in your book. So, let’s move on and talk about your book. I must be honest, that when I picked up the book, I didn’t have high hopes. I actually thought that this was just going to be another “New Atheism” book. Ooh, this one’s by a scientist! But, I was really pleasantly surprised, and I really enjoyed it. So, tell me what your goal was in writing Who Made God?
EA: Well, I think you’ve put your finger on a reason that I thought it was necessary to write another a book. Because, as you correctly say, there are already, or there were already, a lot of books opposing the new atheists, writing to contradict Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, for example. That was the best known of the books, I suppose. Many wrote books defending theism, not necessarily biblical Christianity, mind you, but defending theism against the onslaught of Dawkins and his fellow atheists. And, I must have two dozen on my shelves, and I noticed that some of the books are coming out almost one a month, if not more frequently. So, there’s a tremendous amount of literature out there which aims to undermine the atheist argument. However, there are two problems with most of that literature. Some of it is really excellent, beautifully argued, and clearly presented. There is a lot of good stuff there. But, all of those books, with the possible exception of John Lennox’s book called God’s Undertaker, have two shortcomings. First of all, they are negative in the sense that they set out to deconstruct the atheist position. But, they don’t put anything in its place. They knock down the edifice that Richard Dawkins seeks to build, and I think do so very effectively, but they leave us with a pile of bricks and they don’t attempt to rebuild anything or to offer any alternative to the reader. That I think is a very serious shortcoming of the literature in this area. I determined that I wouldn’t fall into that trap. I would present a biblical world view over against what I considered to be the barren worldview of atheism and particularly of scientific atheism, or evolutionary atheism. So, I have tried to do both things in the book. I have tried to demolish the arguments of the atheists, on the one hand. But, I’ve tried to put in their place a presentation of the biblical world view, a positive approach to the universe and everything in life that holds together, I believe, much more coherently than atheism itself does.
Now, the second big problem with the theistic literature is simply it is virtually invisible to the general public. They don’t even know these books exist, and virtually none of them are likely to be found on the shelves of the ordinary book shop. They are niche publications, specialty publications, therefore they have absolutely no evangelistic impact, which I think is what is needed. Because, after all, Dawkins aim in writing The God Delusion was frankly evangelistic. He wanted to convert people to atheism. Now, I tried to respond in a similar vein, to write a book that presented to the man in the street the biblical world view, which is despised and neglected today in western society. The question was, how do you do this? How do you get the man in the street interested in these matters? And that is what gave rise to the particular style in which I wrote the book. It was written to engage the attention and interest, and to retain the interest, of the average person who has perhaps has no scientific training, or very little, and has no interest in theology or Christian things, people who don’t darken the doors of a church. In fact, my favorite support is my wife’s hair dresser, who really has absolutely no background in science and, although she is religious in a way, is not a bible believing Christian in my sense of the term. So, she was coming to a kind of literature that she had never encountered before. And, she was absolutely infused by it. And, she has been quite actively promoting it and recommending it to other people. I’m really delighted in that because that illustrates the fact that the strategy was successful.
BA: Well, it’s one of those books that you just don’t want to stop reading. It’s great! Talk about title Who Made God? Why do you ask that question? And, do you actually answer it?
EA: The question, as I think you probably realize, is a borrowed question. It’s borrowed from the atheists themselves. Richard Dawkins in his book asks the question, I think, dozens of times, though not necessarily in exactly those words. But, he is continually asking the question “Who created the creator?” Of course, it isn’t put by an atheist as a question. It is a rhetorical question. What they are really saying is, “You cannot answer this question. This is a demonstration that there is no God.” Its’ really an assertion disguised as a question. An assertion that it is irrational to believe in God. So, it is a challenge, isn’t it, to a Christian when that question is put. Our book has taken up the challenge, not only in the title, but in the book itself. What I show in the book is that the question doesn’t have many possible answers. There is an answer that an atheist is happy to give, and that is the answer, “We made God.” In other words, God is an invention of the human mind, invented for convenience, invented for comfort, invented for all kinds of reasons. But there’s no real thing we should call God, or could call God. But, He is simply something we have invented for our own benefit. Now, I’ve shown in my first chapter that is a highly illogical position. It is a circular argument. And it really is no answer at all. Because if you say man invented God, you then have to ask, “Who made man? If man made God, who made man?” And, they have to say, “Well, evolution made man.” And then I say, “Well, who made evolution?” And, they say, “Evolution is just there, it’s just part of nature, it’s part of everything, it’s part of the universe.” And, I say, “Well who made the universe?” And we’re back where we started. It’s a completely circular argument to say that man made God. Because then you’ve got to explain who made man, where he came from. Evolution is not an adequate answer to that. So, I do spend that first chapter developing the argument that the atheists’ reply that man makes God doesn’t really provide an answer.
Then of course the next answer you can give is that nobody made God. And, that is the answer that the theist gives because God is the ever-living self-existent one who revealed himself to Moses using the title, when asked what his name was, he said, “I Am That I Am.” It speaks of the self-existent nature of God. When they come back and say God is such a complex concept that if he exists he would have to have evolved from some more simple substance, then, of course, the answer is that you are trying to apply concepts that are valid in the material realm to a realm that is not material, to a spiritual realm. The whole question of cause and effect, which is what is established in the material realm, the physical realm, is based upon the existence of time, because a cause must proceed an effect. If you move into the realm which the Bible calls eternity a realm where God exists and in which there is no such thing as time, time is part of the material universe, part of the created cosmos. When you move into a realm in which there is no time there can be no such thing as cause and effect. And there also therefore can exist a being who did not have a beginning. So these are the kinds of arguments, this is just the first chapter. Then, of course, I move on to examine the nature of science and how the biblical world view that we are presented with in scripture provides an excellent account of modern scientific understanding, as well as a lot of other things.
BA: Now I want to talk about your approach that you take to the God question. Looking at Christianity as a hypothesis and then testing it. Talk about that angle that you take, and why you think it’s a good way to look at it.
EA: Well, I think it’s a novel way to look at it. Whether it is good or not good other people will have to judge. I think there are two traditional apologetical roots aren’t there. The first is the presuppositional root in which you start with the assumption that god exists and you then work out the implications of that assumption and see whether they square with experience. Now, the other approach is the empirical approach in which you start with the world around you, the observations you make, the thoughts and explanations that come into your mind. And you then try to reason from your empirical observations and empirical experience through to the existence of God. This is the top down or the bottom up approach.
Now, although my approach resembles the presuppositional approach, the top down approach, it differs from it in one important respect. I don’t begin by assuming the existence of God. I begin by putting that forward as a hypothesis, not as an established fact. And, that I think has the merit of disarming the criticism that can be made, and is made of course, of the presuppositional approach that you’re assuming in the first place what you are trying to prove. Now, when I talk about the hypothesis of God I need to explain, and I do explain in the book, in fact I spend a whole chapter on what it means when we talk about a hypothesis and in particular the hypothesis of God. I try to explain that a hypothesis is a foundation. In popular usage we tend to use the word in a dismissive way. We say, “That’s a mere hypothesis.” And we tend to think of a hypothesis as something very uncertain or unreliable or airy-fairy and something that perhaps we don’t need to take too much notice of. Because, it is just a mere hypothesis. But, that is not the way we use the word in science. That is not the meaning of the word. The word comes two Greek words, one of which means “beneath” and the other means “placing”. Placing beneath. A hypothesis is something that is put beneath. In other words, it’s a foundation. And then having mad that foundation you build upon it and you test the hypothesis by doing experiments or making observations or ruling out alternatives, and so on. And if you find at the end of the day that your hypothesis leads you to explain in a cogent and rational way all the major features of the universe and of life for our human experience then you’re pretty sure that the hypothesis is a sound and a valid one. I think it’s a kind of middle way between the two traditional approaches and a way that’s more likely to appeal to the intelligent but uncommitted person in the street. And that, of course, is the audience for which I actually wrote the book. People who are already committed Christians are finding it helpful, instructive, and encouraging. But, it was really written for the uncommitted, unchurched masses who are out there waiting, if you like, to be convinced. At least I hope they are.
BA: Earlier, you did talk about those four areas where you feel like the God hypothesis defeats the atheistic view, and you mentioned that you talked about those things in your debate with Richard Dawkins. What about with Victor Stenger’s book called, God: The Failed Hypothesis. I know in your book you point out some of the errors you think that Stinger makes. Would you mind talking about some of them, and how you respond to them?
EA: Yes. This is a book by a physicist. I’m a physicist. He’s a fellow scientist in the same discipline. A physicist call Victor Stenger, an American, he wrote this book called God: The Failed Hypothesis. I do feel, because I am advancing God as the true hypothesis, or as the successful hypotheses, that I really have to take that book on-board to some extent. So I do devote a chapter to a critique of his book. I think you’ve got to know where to start. That the most significant thing I think is his subtitle, because his subtitle is “How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist.” He really does shoot himself in the foot there completely, because no scientific argument can be advanced for the non-existence of God. In fact, the American Academy of Sciences, which is a very esteemed body and like our Royal Society in this country has issued a statement saying that because science involves the investigation of the material universe. It cannot, by definition, make any pronouncements about non-material things. It has nothing to say about the spiritual world. Not even whether that spiritual world exists or doesn’t exist. Science doesn’t deal with those categories, spiritual categories, it deals with material categories. And so, Victor Stinger is immediately at odds with the scientific establishment, and I would say almost every scientist. I mean Richard Dawkins himself wouldn’t say that. He wouldn’t say that science proves that God does not exist. In fact, quite amusingly, he once threatened a friend of mine who had written a book in which he implied that Dawkins had made such a statement, namely that science proves that God does not exist, and Dawkins threatened to take him to court for putting those words in his mouth. Actually, they were the words of the reporter, not the words of Dawkins himself. And Dawkins will say, you cannot prove the non-existence of God, but, he says, I argue that God is highly improbable and therefore probably doesn’t exist. That’s the Dawkins line. So Stenger is really out on a limb even before you start reading the book. The sub-title makes a claim that is absolutely unsustainable. Then there are some very curious and sometimes amusing things in Stenger’s book that show his reasoning is not always to be trusted. For example, he quotes Isiah 40:22 that God sits upon the circle of the earth and says that proves that the earth is a circle, or at least according to the Bible, the earth is a circle and a circle is flat, therefore the Bible teaches that the earth is flat. And, therefore he heaps all the errors of the Flat Earth Society onto the biblical narrative. Of course, Stenger doesn’t understand the Hebrew language, and he certainly hasn’t looked up the meaning of the world “circle.” It’s a very general word. It can mean vault, it can even mean compass, anything which is round or which can viewed as a circle or circular can be described by that word, and most certainly in Isaiah, the statement is that God sits above the vault of the earth, meaning, of course, not ?? (36:50) but the heavens. So, he gets himself into all sorts of trouble when he’s trying to accuse the Bible of making unscientific statements.
But, I think the biggest problem, and I will leave it at this, the biggest problem with his book is that the whole thesis is suspect, is based on faulty reasoning. The confusion is simply this: that because God is so much involved in the universe according to Christians, there must be evidence of God in the natural world. He then says, “Well, none of the models or theories of science involve or invoke God. There’s nothing in the scientific equations that stand for God. Therefore, God is missing, as far as the world is concerned. Therefore, he doesn’t exist.” Now the problem with this kind of reasoning, of course, is that it also proves that there is no such thing as love, or music, or justice, or goodness, or kindness. The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and so on. ??? (38:30) in chapter five of Galatians. Well, according to Stenger none of those things exist because the equations of science, and theories of science, do not have to invoke those entities, those quantities in describing the natural, physical universe. Now, that is really the foundation on which he builds his book. And it is obvious nonsense. So, it is something that needs to be pointed out. I don’t actually like criticizing other people. I’d much rather be engaged in the positive presentation of a biblical worldview and the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s my business. But sometimes you have to attack the opposition in order to clear the ground and clear people’s minds of some of the errors that have been put there by the mass media and by some of these books we’ve been talking about.
BA: Well, I think in the book you do an excellent job of building a positive case. I know I’ve asked you about Dawkins and Stenger, but those don’t even play a huge role in the book. I was thinking that, to me, your book seems like a perfect gift book. I honestly feel that I could feel confident in giving it to any person, any walk of life, and they would actually enjoy it, find it intellectually and spiritually stimulating and challenging. So, I would credit that to the balance that you strike between being super relatable and interesting and being intellectually rigorous. I thought that’s a good goal that we should have as apologists, to have that balance of relatability with the intellectual side. So, what sort of advice would you have for apologists in making their case for Christianity that relatable and approachable? And I’m thinking of how you use illustrations in the book. You’re making complex ideas simple. You’re using humor and anecdotes. What kind of advice would you have for Christian apologists?
EA: Well, that’s a very perceptive question. It opens up a whole new area which we can’t obviously get into in depth on this occasion. I think that Christian apologetics has perhaps lost its way. Now then we could take that too seriously. There’s some very fine work being done in Christian apologetics. But, it has become, I think, too much about your philosophy. And, that is great fun for people who are interested in philosophy, to argue these cases, to consider these various proofs and rebuttals. These apologetics to date go way above the heads of the great majority of people who are not trained in logic, who are not familiar with philosophical expressions. So, it’s a completely closed book to them. We need something that relates to the average person much more closely. Now, I draw a lot of benefit from traditional apologetics. I read these great men, these great apologists, those who write these philosophical books. I don’t always understand them, but I read them, and I try to understand them. But, I recognize that there’s no way I can turn to my small congregation, I’m the acting pastor of a small Baptist church in Welwyn Garden City, and I have to preach to a congregation of people who are not trained in science and they are certainly not trained in theology or philosophy. And I have to get across to them the essence of the rational arguments for God, among other things. That’s not the main thing, of course. And, when it comes to my neighbors, non-Church goers who have no acquaintance with the Bible either, it is even more necessary to get down to their level, to speak their language, and to engage with the arguments. And, my advice would be to sort of get down alongside them. You know, when you talk to a small child as an adult, you squat down or you kneel down , you get down to their level so you’re not talking down to them or over their heads, you’re talking to them face to face. Now, that’s just an illustration, but that’s what we’ve got to do with apologetics. And in order to do that, we’ve got to be familiar with their world and their thought forms. You’ve got to read newspapers. You’ve got to involve yourself with people, and you’ve got to get close to them and find out what it is that moves them, what it is that motivates them, what it is that occupies their thoughts. The Lord Jesus Christ did this, didn’t He, so wonderfully in his parables. He would be there and the crowd would have gathered round, and he would look up onto the hillside and he would see a farmer sowing his seed, and he would tell the parable of the sower. He would take something that was familiar to them, something that was part of their everyday life, and he would turn that into a spiritual lesson. I think we’ve got to try to get close to the common man, as it were, in that way. The common man also includes people who’ve had scientific training, philosophical training, medical training. You’ve got to get into their thought forms. I would say read my book to see how I do it at least. It isn’t the only way to do it. I would say read the sermons of Martyn Lloyd-Jones who said that the letter he treasured most was from a very young girl, a child who used to be brought to the church, Westminster Chapel, by her parents. There was a time when Martyn Lloyd-Jones was ill and wasn’t able to preach for some considerable time, some months, and this young lady wrote him a letter when he returned to the pulpit and said “I’m so glad you are back, because you are the only preacher I can understand.” Read his sermons because he spoke in a way that people could understand, that children could understand. And, above all, read the parables and the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, because he was the teacher par excellence, addressing the thought attitudes, the thought forms of the ordinary man, and connecting with them, engaging with them, and getting his message across using the vehicle of illustration. In some cases, humor is something I try to employ as well. It doesn’t go down well with everybody, but most people like it.
BA: Well, I think that’s excellent advice and you do exactly that in your book. I guess my best endorsement would be that I’ve got dozens apologetics books and sort of evangelistic books sitting on these shelves, and you know if someone asked me for one book I could give to anyone, I would, without a doubt, reach for your book. It’ a phenomenal book. It’s one of the better ones I’ve read for a while, so I really want listeners to not only read it and see the angle you take, but learn from the method you use as far as using illustrations and becoming a better communicator of complex ideas.
EA: I did say a while ago that the book was written for the man on the street, or the person on the street, who was unchurched and so on. It is proving quite difficult to get into that general market place, which is where I want the book to be. Christians can help, of course they must read it for themselves first of all, to be sure they are happy to promote it, but if they are then we need Christians to pass it on to non-Christian friends and family, that’s one thing. Or to recommend it even better that their friends and family buy their own copies. I should also say that all the proceeds from the book are plowed back into the Lord’s work. Nobody is making any money off of this. The second thing that people can do is to get copies or order copies through their local, secular book shop. Now some secular bookshops do stock it. I twisted the arm of our local bookshop here, it’s an independent bookshop, when it was published I said, “Look, you really ought to put this in stock” and they hemmed and hawed, they don’t normally do religious books. Anyway, I persuaded them to do so, and they amazed that it was one of their best-selling books over last Christmas. People are interested if it’s put in front of them. So we need together to try move this book out into the general marketplace.
BA: Well excellent. Professor Andrews, thank you for speaking with me today.
EA: Thank you. I’ve enjoyed talking.