Sunday, October 04, 2009

A J Mattill on Lewis's "Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism"

A redated post.

This is a new posting on Ed Babinski's website. Some Jack-hammering from the mid-1980s.


Edward T. Babinski said...

Thanks for the plug.

unkle e said...

I am a great fan of CS Lewis, and this talk/essay would be one of my favourites. I think it still stands as an extremely useful "bleat" (as Lewis describes his comments) against some Biblical scholarship.

NT scholars try to keep their conclusions free of metaphysical assumptions, so it ought to be possible for scholars who are christians to come to the same historical conclusions as scholars who are atheists. (It doesn't always happen, but that is the ideal!)

I agree with this approach, but it leads to 2 problems:

(1) Scholars who specialise in NT study tend to be more sceptical, and require more historical evidence before drawing a conclusion, than do historians of the Roman Empire generally. I have read RL Fox, M Grant and AN Sherwin-White say exactly that, and Grant's book on Jesus, while reflecting his agnosticism, nevertheless accepts as historical many things that many NT scholars baulk at. This supports a major contention in Lewis's paper.

(2) Keeping historical conclusions "metaphysics-free" is sensible when dealing with secular histories, where the miraculous can be easily dismissed without changing much. But obviously "methodological naturalism" begs the question when dealing with the life of Jesus, where the miraculous and a theistic metaphysic is core. Another Lewis point.

It seems to me then that we need a two-stage approach. Step 1 is to discover what can be reasonably judged as historical in the NT using methodological naturalism. But Step 2 is to then make a judgment, informed by faith as well as history, on what more we may reasonably believe when we let go of methodological naturalism.

Many christians jump straight to step 2, which is fair enough, but some christians, especially apologists, need to do both, I think.

I think reading Lewis's paper in this light makes a lot of sense. His main argument is against those who confuse the two steps, and apply methodological naturalism where it should not be applied.

Gregory said...

Here's a link to an interesting and relevant article by Bob and Gretchen Passantino called "The Mysterious Case of the Missing Q Document", found here:

I don't agree with the conclusions reached by Mr. Babinski, but I can sympathize with his autobiographical sketch. My own experience was the reverse, though. A skeptical and hostile anti-relgious home led me to seek, rather than reject, God. Which is to say, that I have found arrogance, sociopathology (i.e. "enlighntened self-interest" and "Machiavellianism"), logical contradictions, half-truths and outright lies prevalent....nay, more prevalent....among skeptics than amongst "religious" people.

If a person's ethics begin and end with "self-interest", then sociopathology is almost sure to follow. And I have yet to find an atheist who has provided a convincing avenue out of the ghetto of "ethical egoism".

When atheists tell us that they live "ethical" lives, they are only telling us that their actions are consistent with some selfish motive, in an ontologically compatibilistic universe of, in that very restricted sense, atheists cannot help but be "good". Of course, there is going to be those atheists who will attempt to appeal to some non-subjective sense of "value", as well as some explanation of how morality coheres with determinism, in order to escape/dodge criticism. Yet, these appeals, as I have come across them, look more like Ad Hoc strategems that are intended to help avoid unpleasant logical and axiological disparities between "theory" and "practice", rather than offering some genuine, plausible metaethical option.

And atheists must, at all costs, try to salvage "objective" ethics, because it forms one of their biggest objections to religion....the so-called "problem of evil".