The Fallacy of Reducing All Life to Physics and Chemistry

John Lennox’ book God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? explains the futility of trying to explain all of life using only matter and energy. The atheist believes in what has several names: naturalism, physicalism, or materialism. All these names refer to the same thing: that the universe only consists of physical stuff, and all of life can eventually be explained by physics and chemistry. As Lennox explains the naturalist’s position:

Chemistry can ultimately be explained physics; biochemistry by chemistry; biology by biochemistry; psychology by biology; sociology by brain science; and theology by sociology. As the Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist Francis Crick puts it: ‘The ultimate aim of the modern development in biology is, in fact, to explain all biology in terms of physics and chemistry.’ (p.54)

This view is called reductionism, which claims that if we reduce something to how its parts work, we can explain the thing. Now Lennox had already stated the mathematical proof that this type of reductionism cannot be true (see here). Lennox goes on to show how atheist author Richard Dawkins falls into the same fallacy.

Lennox shows that the principles that explain one area of study are quite useless in trying to explain another. The principles used in explaining biology cannot be used in sociology. The principles used in physics are not helpful in linguistics. Lennox uses an example of a building being made from bricks. The techniques used in brick making are of no use in helping the architect know where to put the door to the room. Lennox explains another example:

Consider the page you are reading just now. It consists of paper imprinted with ink (or perhaps it is a series of dots on the computer screen in front of you). It is surely obvious that the physics and chemistry of ink and paper (or pixels on a computer screen) can never, even in principle, tell you anything about the significance of the shapes of the letters on the page; and this has nothing to do with the fact that physics and chemistry are not yet sufficiently advanced to deal with this question. Even if we allow these sciences another 1,000 years of development it will make no difference, because the shapes of those letters demand a totally new and higher level of explanation than physics and chemistry are capable of giving. (p.54-55)

Therefore Lennox has pointed out a rather basic and important flaw in the atheist position. They claim that all of life is explained with molecules in motion, physics and chemistry. But these tools are totally incapable of being used to explain the information in the DNA code, or explain why something exists rather than nothing. Physics and chemistry cannot explain why music is considered beautiful or awful, or the meaning of the information in the physics textbook. The atheist materialist is forced to fudge, as in when I asked an atheist earning a PhD in biology whether DNA included information. His answer was that it contained “sort of information.”

In fact, physics and chemistry cannot provide any meaning about anything whatsoever, for meaning only comes from a mind. We again show that we must start from a Mind that has given purpose to the world, and this we call God.


About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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3 Responses to The Fallacy of Reducing All Life to Physics and Chemistry

  1. scaryreasoner says:

    Typical misapplication of Godel’s work.

  2. humblesmith says:

    To be fair to Dr. Lennox, I would encourage everyone to read his book. He mentions Godel briefly as part of a larger point, and I may have made a larger conclusion out of it than he. Please do not take my feeble attempts here to be representative of his work.

    But it strikes me that Lennox has a point. The astrophysicists live and die by their formulas, holding them as absolute explanations of reality. The definitions given in the Wikipedia article about Godel are “We can never find an all-encompassing axiomatic system which is able to prove all mathematical truths, but no falsehoods.” and “‘If an axiomatic system can be proven to be consistent from within itself, then it is inconsistent.” If we compare these to an astrophysicists attempt to sit inside the unviverse and explain all of the universe in a math formula, then it strikes me that Lennox is on to something.

    But again, I am an admitted mathematical embicile, and will gladly defer to anyone who can speak authoritatively on this. So far the only source I’ve seen is the person who teaches math at Oxford, Dr. Lennox.

  3. Pingback: Atheist and Christian Dialog About Morals | Thomistic Bent

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