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Against the Tide: Oxford’s John Lennox Describes Kinship with C. S. Lewis

Photo: John Lennox in Against the Tide.

Oxford University mathematician John Lennox stars in the one-night-only film Against the Tide: Finding God in an Age of Science, in theaters across the country on November 19. Get your tickets here, and don’t forget to bring family and friends! Looking forward to the release, Professor Lennox took time to answer some questions from Evolution News. We’ll present those in upcoming days, starting today.

The film highlights your connection with C. S. Lewis and how you took a class from him. Your story about his lecturing style is wonderful. Do you feel any kinship to Lewis?

Yes, I do. A great deal. Lewis was from the same part of the world as I am, from Northern Ireland. And he went off to school in England and then he went to Oxford first, and then to Cambridge, although he lived his whole life in Oxford. I went to school in Ireland, unlike Lewis, then I went to Cambridge and I’ve ended up in Oxford. 

My kinship with him is that of a kind of intellectual mentor. My own family background is Christian and my parents were wonderful because they didn’t push anything down my throat. They gave me space to think and encouraged me to think. It was my father who introduced me to C. S. Lewis’s writings and they immediately appealed to me because although Lewis was not a mathematician, he was an English don. He was superb as a logical thinker and reasoner. And it was that which immensely appealed to me when I first came across his books. It was his logical thinking and because he was an atheist up until middle life, that enabled him to be a kind of mentor to me, if you see what I mean. 

Therefore, since I don’t know what it’s like to be an adult and an atheist, he showed me what atheism is like from the inside. In my intellectual development at school, I read most of his stuff before I went to Cambridge at all. And it was a phenomenal preparation for the kind of intellectual defense of Christianity that I got involved in straight away at university. 

But in detail, I owe him an immense amount because although he wasn’t a scientist, he understood science. He understood the implications and the philosophy of science. And currently, one of the very important areas of argument, which I mention in the film but in no real detail, is that it’s Lewis who pointed out that “No argument that says reason is not valid can make any sense at all.” And that was a strong defeater for naturalist philosophy that was taken up in relatively recent times by Alvin Plantinga. But also by the brilliant philosopher Thomas Nagel, who is an atheist. Plantinga is a Christian, as you know. 

This is a very important argument to my mind, at least, that atheism is not intellectually defensible because it undermines rationality. And I owe that to Lewis. Along with a great deal more, because being Irish, he is an imaginative man and being Irish, I’m an imaginative person. And therefore, his books, his science fiction books, particularly the last of the three, That Hideous Strength, was very important to me earlier on in thinking about the future. When I came to write my latest book, 2084, I found myself referring to it and quoting it quite a bit as you’ll see if you dip into the book. 

But there are many other things, many other details in his books. The way he, for example, used mathematics to illustrate Christianity. That was quite remarkable because he seemed to understand enough to really make something of it. And I find that enormously helpful.

Join us on November 19! In the meantime, you can watch Discovery Institute philosopher of science Stephen Meyer, author of the forthcoming book Return of the God Hypothesis, interview Dr. Lennox here: