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.
The film includes a fascinating section where it covers how you were invited to lecture at universities in Communist countries. Communist intellectuals were known for explicitly embracing materialist explanations for the origin and development of life and being intolerant of anything that went beyond materialism. Are you worried that universities in the UK and America are embracing the same sort of intolerance you saw in Communist countries?
Well, of course. Although, I wouldn’t call myself an expert on exactly what’s going on. But culturally, one can see it. I experienced it in the former Soviet Union all over the place, where their commitment to materialism had actually in my view left them intellectually weak. It was very dogmatic.
It was associated with an attitude to education that was learning by rote. You learned what the professor said, and you reproduced that. There was no learning how to think. Universities are supposed to be places where people are taught to think. The difficulty today is that there are certain cultural movements, some of them coming from Marxism, some of them coming from elsewhere, that are reversing the idea of a university. They are forbidding free speech and de-platforming people and saying that the students mustn’t be exposed to this idea or that idea. That contradicts the very definition of a university.
The idea of tolerance has changed its meaning in a tragic and very dangerous way. The Latin verb “tolerāre” means, If I tolerate you, I disagree with you but I will defend your right publicly to say what you believe. We need to get back to that but we’re losing it. This is a complex story, and I’m not an expert on culture, but at least from what I observe there is a huge danger today in putting on colored glasses that see everything in terms of power, oppression, and oppressors. There’s an element of what’s often called critical theory, pejoratively called cultural Marxism, that is sweeping around on the left side of political academic thinking. It’s been very influential in the university world. And to my mind, anything that stops freedom of speech is the exact opposite of a university.
One of the things that I never tire of saying is: Look to the origin of the great universities. They were mostly founded on Christian thinking. That is extremely important. Now what we’ve got is the dominance of naturalism, with universities going against their very foundation.
In the really ancient world, the Christians fought the pagans. They got involved in the debate, but now we’re afraid to debate in case we upset somebody. It is very important because it is damaging. This looking at things in terms of oppressor-oppressed, the victim culture, is blinding people to real issues. The trouble is once you lose the kind of stabilizing influence of rational thought and respect, then you can end up with violence, as we have seen.
No stranger to public argument, Professor Lennox has debated famed atheists including Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. See the event with the late Mr. Hitchens — “Is God Great?” — here:
For some related reflections on stultifying materialism, see also, “Inside the Evolution Silo — Darwinism as a Cult.”