Last Friday, I interviewed Dr. John Lennox, Oxford University mathematician and Christian apologist. He’s authored several books, such as Can Science Explain Everything? and most recently, 2084: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity. The upcoming film Against the Tide features Doctor Lennox’s thought.
What follows is an excerpt of our delightful conversation. You can watch the full conversation here.
Christian Faith and Science
How have Christian faith and science come together in your life?
Well, Christianity for me started with my parents, and their Christianity was credible. They lived it. And not only did they live it, it was for them an endless source of stimulation. So, the way in which they presented it to me was absolutely fascinating. They encouraged me, of course, to think about the Bible and the stories and the implications. But they encouraged me to look at other worldviews as well because they felt I needed to know what, so to speak, the competition was.
The wonderful thing about my parents was that they gave me space to think for myself. They didn’t force Christianity down my throat. I grew up making decisions for myself, and so when I came in 1962 to Cambridge University, I knew where I stood. I believed that the Christian faith was true, and therefore I made a conscious decision that I wouldn’t fudge it or duck it. I would open myself to questioning, and I would defend it as best I could. I’ve spent my life doing that.
I owe a great debt to my parents and the fact that they didn’t try to force me into a mold. For many of my contemporaries in Northern Ireland at the time, the moment they got away from home, any semblance of Christianity disappeared because there’d be no inner conviction about it.
That sounds like the kind of environment in which you could explore your faith and discover God’s truth. If you follow the metaphor, you pursued the Book of nature and the Book of Scripture together.
That is correct, and both of those things were very important to me from the beginning.
C.S. Lewis and Scientism
In his inaugural address at Cambridge, C. S. Lewis talked about how we had moved in the 19th century to understanding human beings as a machine—how dangerous that was and what that could result in.
Lewis was prescient, and I think that’s why some scientists hate him—because he saw through the kind of scientism that he predicted would engulf us, which has the idea that science is the only way to truth. He was very clear on analyzing that science has its limits.
And that’s why I found him enormously helpful, particularly because I have no idea what it’s like to be an adult and not a Christian. But he did. And I needed that a kind of guide to what it feels like to walk in an atheist’s shoes and come to wrestle with Christianity from the outside, so I’ve learned a massive amount from C. S. Lewis.
I have a quotation from your book by Lewis. “Men became scientific because they expected a law of nature and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator.” I guess this is more of a softball pitch—What does it evoke for you?
Well, it may be softball, but it’s extremely important, and it’s hardball for a lot of people because what that’s pointing up is the faith that all scientists have to have. These days, very frequently, science and faith are pitched as enemies, which is sheer nonsense. Faith is understood by many people—as a result of Dawkins and Hitchens and so on—as believing where there’s no evidence. And that’s blind faith. That isn’t faith. Faith comes from the Latin fide, from which we get fidelity. It has an element of trust and reliability. The big question that Lewis himself asked years and years ago was, “How can you trust your mind to do science?”
Lewis was summarizing Alfred North Whitehead, who was a great philosopher and historian of science, telling us what most historians agree with. Modern science is really the gift to the world of the Christian Church.
Against the Tide
I was asked to do an endorsement for Against the Tide. Here it is: The film “movingly presents the profound and provocative ideas of Oxford mathematician John Lennox and why it’s irrational to conclude that science disproves God.” Does that work for you?
I believe that’s true, and so it works for me. I want to step into the public space and give people something to think about.
I feel it’s extremely important to articulate these things in the name of free speech and what our universities stand for.
...Here’s the trailer for Against the Tide, showing in theaters November 19, 20, and 23.
...Dr. Lennox comments directly on C.S. Lewis and science here.
...C.S. Lewis’s inaugural address at Cambridge University is certainly worth reading.
...Dr. Lennox often speaks for the Veritas Forum. Check out this brief excerpt or a full-length video.
...When churches proclaim the resurrection, Dr. Lennox’s reflections may be helpful.
...In July, Dr. Lennox took audience questions on the Unbelievable? radio show and podcast.
The Church Engaging Science
Do you have any particular message about the engagement of science with local congregations?
A survey was done in England asking why people were leaving the church. The number one answer was, “they don’t answer our questions.” I think it’s vastly important for churches to engage with the questions—not only the questions about science, but the questions arising from our culture and taking them seriously.
Many pastors have a good education, but it doesn’t cover everything. I encourage pastors to use members of their congregation and get them involved. Get people into a public dialogue.
Instead of giving a sermon, I simply stand up with a piece of paper that says, “What are your questions?” People are full of questions and we ought to do much more communication by dialogue. This is why I enjoy doing the kind of thing we’re doing just now. It communicates in an idiom that’s far more powerful than simply one talking head.
And that would include getting scientists from the congregation involved…
I would insist on doing that. Get people who are experts and encourage them because it can get them going. I do not agree with this idea that the pastor does all the talking of the church. We need to use all our gifts, and therefore churches need to provide an arena for all the gifted members of the congregation.
People must learn that if they can’t answer questions—and they’re going to come across questions they can’t answer—they should honestly say so. Christians are not defined by saying they are those who can answer every question.
People need to see that we’re vulnerable, and we’re human. And if we do that and say to folks, “Look, I don’t even really grasp your questions. But I’d love to think about it. Why don’t we meet for coffee next week and discuss it?” That’s a much better way forward. Let’s be real rather than pretending to possess knowledge that we don’t have.
That seems like a great place to end. Is it OK if I say thank you, Dr. John Lennox, Oxford mathematician and apologist extraordinaire?
Thank you very much. It’s been a sheer delight to talk with you.
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Strengthening the church through engaging with science
We believe that churches are strengthened by engaging with science. Science for the Church looks to a day when science accompanies Scripture as a tool for discipleship, catalyzes expressions of worship, illustrates sermons, elucidates biblical teachings, and supplements theological wisdom for the life of the world. We even wonder if wrestling with science might draw some of the “nones” (those who affiliate with no religion) and the “dones” (those who have left the church) to Christian communities once again.