On life beyond the Iron Curtain

John Lennox describes what happened when he met with Russian scientists in the 1990s.



John Lennox describes what happened when he met with Russian scientists in the 1990s.


I first went to Russia after the Wall fell. I spent many years, actually, travelling back and forward to the former Iron Curtain countries, particularly East Germany where I speak the language. And there was a great sense of oppression there, because the country was spied on. They almost out-Stalined Stalin, so to speak.

When I turned up in Russia, it was a time of initial euphoria, because everything was loosening up and so on. And I made some wonderful friends. And my insights of course are narrow, because they mainly concern my visits in terms of the Academy of Sciences. And I entered there at a time where they were very generous, being interested in my mathematics, and I lectured on it and all the rest of it. But it was very noticeable that even in official seminars in the university, they would politely ask me about my results in algebra and then they would say, can we ask you other questions? And I would say well, for example, what?

Well, we hear you believe in God, why is that? And then you’d enter a very deep discussion which would never happen in Oxford or Cambridge or any other university in a mathematics seminar – you were there to talk mathematics. And these were very prestigious seminar situations. There was a tremendous desire, almost as if a plug had been pulled. And people wanted to talk. 

But the very revealing thing was, they didn’t know how to talk about these things. I remember once being in the home of a very distinguished applied mathematician. And about halfway through the evening, he stopped everybody and he said, everybody in this room except our visitor (and I was the visitor) knows that I’m one of the hardest atheists in this town. But he said, tonight in my own home I hear arguments for which I have no answer. Indeed, I don’t even think I’ve got the intellectual processing power to deal with them. So he turned to me and he said, very humbly, he said, you must give me time. Because these ideas are so new. I’d never heard anything like them before. You must give me time so that I can orientate them. 

There was enormous interest in the Christian worldview, especially coming from a scientist. That was their main thing. And in those early days I got a lot of unparalleled opportunities to explain why I, as a scientist, could possibly be a committed Christian. And managed to publish that in the Academy of Sciences newspaper, for example, and elsewhere. They were very open to it.