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The Christian, the Skeptic, and the Club

The lively article ``Bridging the Science-Religion Divide,'' July 27, about the debate initiated by the establishment of a chair at Cambridge University whose purpose is to study the relationship between religion and science, brings to mind the Oxford University Socratic Club. According to biographers of C.S. Lewis, the club was begun by Stella Aldwinkle in response to a student's complaint that ``no one in Oxford seemed ready to discuss the questions agnostics raised about God.''

Ms. Aldwinkle immediately put up a notice that invited ``all atheists, agnostics, and those who are disillusioned about religion or think they are'' to meet with her at Somerville College. Shortly after that, she stated, ``An open forum for the discussion of the intellectual difficulties connected with religion in general and with Christianity in particular was the obvious solution, and Mr. C.S. Lewis the obvious president.''

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Lewis did indeed become the first president and, from 1941 until 1954, presided at most of the Socratic Club's weekly meetings. There were usually two speakers - one an agnostic or atheist, and the other a Christian. Lewis only spoke officially 11 times during that period, but his vigorous style of debate and almost irrefutable arguments made each meeting a lively occasion.

Lewis faced a good deal of hostility from some members of the Oxford faculty, who considered his affirmation of Christ ``unintellectual.'' An appointment to a professorship was even withheld from him because of opposition to his open convictions. In 1954, Cambridge University established a chair in Medieval and Renaissance English with Lewis in mind, and he was received there with enthusiastic support. Phyllis Levers, Woodland, Calif.

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