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Can John Lennox explain how Jesus was simultaneously God and Man?

August 1, 2014

I have been reading John Lennox’s little book, ‘7 Days that Divide the World’ in anticipation of some events I’m hosting next week in Melbourne. John Lennox is Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University and is an internationally renowned  speaker on the interface of science, philosophy and religion.

On pages 101 and 102 of the book I came across a fascinating discussion he had with a physicist who approached him after a lecture he gave on ‘Science and God’. The physicist deduced that Lennox was a Christian and then said, ‘You are therefore obliged to believe that Jesus Christ was simultaneously God and human. How can you, as a scientist, explain that?’

Lennox responded by asking two, simpler, questions. The first was, ‘what is consciousness?’ The scientist replied by saying, ‘we don’t really know’. Then Lennox pressed and asked a second, ‘What is energy?’ The physicist replied, ‘well, we have equations governing it, we can measure it and use it’, but that wasn’t the question. In the end the physicist had to conclude that ‘we don’t really know’.  

Lennox then said, ‘Do you believe in consciousness and energy?’ Yes he said. ‘So you believe in them, and you do not know what they are? Should I write you off as a physicist?’ The physicist didn’t want him to.

Then Lennox asked, ‘Why do you believe in consciousness and energy even though you don’t understand what they are?’ The physicist replied, ‘Well, I suppose it is because these concepts make sense. They have a kind of explanatory power, and you don’t have to understand them completely in order to use them to explain other things’. 

‘Precisely!’ Lennox agreed, , ‘And that is why I believe that Jesus was both man and God. I cannot explain it … but I believe it because it makes sense of everything else. It is the only interpretation that adequately accounts for Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension’. 


I think Lennox’s reasoning is interesting and there is merit to it. I don’t think that this resorts to an argument from ignorance, it is an argument from explanatory power. We don’t necessarily have to understand everything completely for the concept to have explanatory power.

Keen to hear thoughts on this.


From → Bible

  1. Steven Carr permalink

    So Jesus was simultaneously a contingent being and a necessary being?

    Isn’t this like saying that my pet is both fully dog and fully cat?

    Did Jesus die? How could your god die? When Jesus was dead, was he still alive? Or was God dead when Jesus was dead, as Jesus was God?

    • I think this is part of the difficulty that Lennox is trying to explain. i.e. this is a difficult topic. I think your question about Jesus simultaneously being a contingent and necessary being is a good one – but part of the dilemma. I think Lennox would say that he doesn’t fully know, but that Jesus being God and man is the best explanation of the data.

      • Steven Carr permalink

        Yes, Lennox would just repeat himself – explaining nothing.

        Did Jesus die? Did your god die? If there is a thing which is both dead and not-dead , it is two different things.

    • Chris Mentalist permalink

      That’s why it completely makes sense to say that Jesus was both a man and God. The man died, but God did not. Keep in mind that John Lennox was not answering the question “How can Jesus be both a man and God?”, but he was answering the question “How can you believe that Jesus was both a man and God?”. To which he answered “it makes sense to me because it explains everything.” The answer to the former question is “it’s complicated to answer such a sophisticated question” when we can even answer the questions “what is consciousness?’ and “what is energy?”

  2. Steven Carr permalink

    As a scientist, how does Lennox account for the ascenscion, when the (ahem) ‘eyewitnesses’ saw Jesus flying into the sky on his way to Heaven?

    • Why would that be a difficulty? CS Lewis describes Jesus ascending through a ‘rift in time’.

      • Steven Carr permalink

        Yes, but that is not how the Bible describes Jesus ascending. Who cares what Lewis wrote, when he tried to rewrite history?

        The Bible says Jesus flew into the sky, because that was the cosmology taken for granted by Jews in that time era.

        Of course, we now know better, but when they were making up their stories about Jesus, they didn’t know that there is no Heaven above the firmament, let alone the different levels of Heaven that Christians like Paul took for granted.

  3. Isn’t that a strawmen, as every physicist should be able to give a better definition of “energy” than that?

    • Steven Carr permalink

      And apparently, Lennox can’t explain what a ‘man’ is, assuming his analogy of ‘man’ to ‘energy’ is valid.

      Still, at least we know that Dawkins is correct – faith is believing without understanding, as Lennox claims he does not understand what he believes.

      • I think you misunderstand the analogy. Lennox understands what a ‘man’ is. He is demonstrating that we can still not fully understand something to explain other things. As his quote: “They have a kind of explanatory power, and you don’t have to understand them completely in order to use them to explain other things”.

      • Steven Carr permalink

        So it is not analogous, as Lennox knows what a man is, while he claims not to understand what energy is.

        I agree that Christians don’t have to be able to explain their dogmas before they are allowed to believe them.

    • That may be the case. It’s unfortunate that it is a strawman. How then can you define energy?

      • Steven Carr permalink

        How does Lennox’s best explanation explain that his god allegedly walked the earth for 30 years and Jesus’s family never even noticed that Jesus was a god?

        if my brother was a god in human form, I would not be sceptical as James allegedly was.

        Especially if he had been born of a virgin.

        But the Gospel writers never got together to sort out these continuity errors in their plots.

      • So, you are asking a non-physicist for a physically correct definition of “energy” and expect an answer you can trust? Go ask a real physicist. Of course, you should bring enough time to learn a lot, because it isn’t an easy topic with a simple answer.

  4. Steven Carr permalink

    Contrast the latitude believers give themselves when they try even to explain what they believe, with the demands by Christians that atheists explain consciousness in every detail.

    Or take what the Reverend John Polkinghorne wrote – ‘ It goes against the grain for a scientist to be so intellectually lazy. The meta-question of the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics insists on being answered. ‘

    Atheists must fully account for everything (consciousness, morality, truth, the laws of physics) or they will be accused of having no grounds for denying God, while believers are allowed to retreat into mystery when asked the simplest of questions about their faith.

  5. Steven Carr permalink

    Perhaps we could have a new article ‘Why “I don’t know” is not an extra option to explain how Jesus could be both God and man’

  6. Philip Wraight permalink

    Jesus wasn’t both man and god!, “IF” he existed in the first place, he was just a man!. We, regard ourselves as intelligent, yet, when I read that people believe the written religious texts are FACT!, it makes me despair. There are innocent people of all races being pointlessly killed in the name of these imaginary gods!, yet we still insist on calling ourselves INTELLIGENT!!, GO FIGURE!!!.

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