‘Do Science and God Mix?’ Oxford’s John Lennox comes to Claremont to share his views

A eldery white man wearing a suite stands on a stage, speaking towards the camera
John Lennox, a science philosopher at the University of Oxford, visited Harvey Mudd College on Thursday to discuss whether science and God can mix. (Courtesy of Anna Lutz)

People tend to pick one to believe in: science or God. 

But as University of Oxford science philosopher John Lennox explained to a crowd of over 300 people in Harvey Mudd College’s Shanahan Center on Thursday night, you can have both.

“The real conflict is not between science and God,” he told the crowd. “It’s between worldviews. Namely, in the West … views of theism and atheism clearly conflict.”

Lennox said the tendency to immediately separate religion and science has its root in the fact that humans often believe the word “faith” only pertains to those who believe in God. He asserted the contrary, positing that the practice of faith is not just religious and applies to everyone.

“You see, all scientists, in order to do their science, have to have faith, not in God, but in the rational intelligibility of the universe,” Lennox said. “Everyone, without exception, is a person of faith. They have basic faith commitments. They believe certain things.” 

To Lennox, both atheism and science are a set of beliefs, just like theism. Consequently, he challenged the dual assumption that atheism and science complement one another, while theism and science do not. 

Referencing the lecture’s title — “Do Science and God Mix?” — Lennox said, “We need to ask this question the other way around: Do science and atheism really mix?”

To explain his line of questioning, Lennox quoted and subsequently critiqued various scientific thinkers, like Stephen Hawking, who rejected the possibility of God’s existence. Lennox claimed these individuals were making incredible claims outside the realm of science, instead delving into their own philosophical beliefs unrelated to their research.

“Statements by scientists are not necessarily statements of science,” Lennox said. “The trouble is that scientists in our contemporary world have such authority that any[time] a scientist makes a statement, people tend to think it’s got the authority of science behind it. We need to learn to distinguish [science and scientists].”

Lennox then referenced theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, winner of the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics who once said “I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.” 

The auditorium filled with laughter.

Lennox has written a number of books on the subject of God and science and often holds public debates with prominent philosophers and social critics to defend the validity of his claims. 

Zooey Meznarich HM ’23 noted that conversations concerning religion can often end in disagreement, and that Lennox’s speech broke down some of those barriers and created a healthy platform for discussion. 

“It’s good for an intellectual environment to have this sort of discussion panel and an open conversation about religion because I feel like a lot of times it’s treated as a taboo,” Meznarich said. “It’s really beneficial for us to be able to just talk about our beliefs openly without discrimination.” 

Although Lennox’s lecture defended theism, Kate Phillips HM ’23 still believed that Lennox’s perspectives helped develop her understanding for all types of belief systems.

“He was able to really break down a lot of the core arguments for atheism and that belief system,” Phillips said. “That was really powerful for me, because I’m close with [many] people who don’t share my faith, so [the lecture] definitely gave me a new perspective on their worldview and being able to engage [with] that in a loving and understanding way.” 

No matter one’s religious beliefs, Meznarich believes that everyone can benefit from hearing Lennox’s thoughts. To her, hearing from people whose perspectives are contrary to one’s own should be an essential part of 5C students’ college career.

“Whether I agree with this speaker or not, I think it’s always good for us to have discourse and be able to discuss these things,” Meznarich said. “Because that’s the reason we came here, right? To get an education and figure out our way in the world and how we understand the world. So I think, no matter who [the speaker] is, I would encourage people to attend and be open to discussion.”

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