Monday, November 09, 2009

Reasons for Lewis's Success as an Apologist

A redated post.

C. S. Lewis is easily the most influential Christian apologist of the 20th Century. This is remarkable in view of the fact that he only wrote three books that can be correctly said to have been devoted to Christian apologetics: The Problem of Pain, Mere Christianity, and Miracles: A Preliminary Study. There are, of course, a number of essays with considerable apologetic content, and much of even his fiction has apologetic overtones, yet if we think of what his apologetic books were, it is just those three. And those three books are fairly short.
Nevertheless, for many people C. S. Lewis succeeded in the apologist’s task, the task of showing that Christianity is worthy to be believed by modern intelligent people. I would count myself as one of those people. As an 18-year-old Christian with a powerful need for a faith that made sense, Lewis was immensely helpful in providing that. After going through seminary and doctoral work in philosophy, I find that Christianity is still believable for approximately the reasons that Lewis said that it was reasonable. That is not to say that I find everything equally acceptable or cogent, or that I think that Lewis’s developed his arguments with sufficient precision to be defensible as they stand from a philosophical perspective. The word “approximately” is in that sentence for a reason. However, if I am right about what Lewis has accomplished, this is a considerable achievement.
I think there are several important elements to Lewis’s success as an apologist.
One contributing factor is the fact that Lewis’s authorship on a wide range of topics makes it possible for those who know him in virtue of his other writings to know him as an apologist. So, for example, in the Chronicles of Narnia we see Professor Kirke using an argument in favor of believing Lucy’s claim that she has been to Narnia that is similar to his famous “Mad, Bad or God” argument in Mere Christianity. In That Hideous Strength Lewis presents an account of what happens when people seriously take ethical subjectivism to heart, in The Abolition of Man we see these views defended by philosophical argument, and in Mere Christianity we find moral objectivity used as the grounds for theistic belief. Lewis brings the historical understanding of a literary scholar, the sharpened wit of a philosopher, the keen human understanding of a novelist, and the compassion of a writer of children’s books, to his apologetics.
One striking feature of Lewis’s writings is their persistent refusal to patronize the audience. He was firmly convinced that he could explain complex philosophical and theological concepts to a popular audience without talking over their heads, using the jargon of specialists, or by talking down to them, acting as if they would be unwilling or unable to understand the relevant concepts. In the opening chapter of Beyond Personality, the last of the books the comprised Mere Christianity, we find Lewis saying this:
Everyone has warned me not to tell you what I am going to tell you in this last book. They all say “the ordinary reader does not want Theology; give him plain practical religion.” I have rejected their advice. I do not think the ordinary reader is such a fool. Theology means “the science of God, and I would think that any man who wants to think about God at all would like to have the clearest and most accurate ideas about Him which are available. You are not children: why should you be treated like children? Even in dealing with children, Lewis steadfastly refuses to insult their intelligence. In another passage in Mere Christianity he says “Most children show plenty of ‘prudence’ about the things they are really interested in, and think them out sensibly.” I think this is one reason for Lewis’s success as a writer of children’s fiction; he refused to insult the intelligence even of the children for whom he wrote.
Lewis also had a tremendous ability to know what the layperson did understand, and did not understand. This resulted in part from his visits to the RAF and talking with the airmen. He knew how lay audiences thought and what their stumbling-blocks were. Lewis knew what sorts of language, so familiar in church, would be unrecognizable to lay audiences, and he avoided it.
Another reason for Lewis’s popularity as an apologist is that his apologetics are rational without being rationalistic. Lewis firmly believed that Christian faith is supported by reason, and was not shy about presenting arguments in favor of his Christian beliefs. At the same time Lewis never made the assumption that human beings were purely and simply rational, and that the emotions or the will were insignificant.
The Christianity Lewis defended was traditional, historic Christianity, deeply committed to a thoroughgoing supernaturalism. He did emphasize central Christian doctrines like the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Deity of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, heaven, hell, and the Second Coming. The Christianity he espoused had a miraculous element for which he did not apologize. However, with respect to other issues, the bulk of Lewis’s apologetic work was neutral with respect to questions dividing Christians. I am not claiming that Lewis was completely successful in sticking to “Mere Christianity” in his apologetics and did not sometimes espouse doctrines that are at issue amongst Christians. For example, Lewis’s treatment of the problem of evil presupposes the libertarian view of free will, and his conception of hell is at odds with Calvinist theology. But what I mean is this: that his apologetics can be readily accepted and employed by people who accept the infallibility of the pope, even though he did not. It can be accepted by people who accepted biblical inerrancy, even though he did not. In fact a good deal that Lewis says can be accepted by Calvinists, even though Lewis was not a Calvinist. Lewis is arguably the most successful ecumenist of the twentieth century, bringing together Catholics and Protestants, inerrantists and anti-inerrantists, and other groups of Christians otherwise divided.
Lewis also brought the perspective of a Christian convert to his apologetics. He was an atheist, and a rather hostile one, in his teens, and came to believe in God only at the age of 31. This means that he is able to look at Christianity from the point of view. Logically, for example, there seems no good reason to suppose that the size of the universe can be used as an argument for atheism, and yet, in many minds, it does serve as such an argument, and Lewis found it necessary to respond to it.
All of these things, I believe, have contribute to Lewis’s popular success as an apologist. However, all of these achievements, which are considerable, are quite compatible with Lewis’s having provided poor and inadequate reasons for accepting Christianity. Lewis's apologetics still must be put before the bar of rational argument, just like anyone else's.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dr. Reppert,
I did not read any of C.S. Lewis’ books so I could be wrong (and if I am please correct me. I did, however, look at his arguments for God that I could find on the internet.) It seems to me all C.S. Lewis did was to make the centuries-old arguments for God, more accessible to the modern readers with his writings.
What Lewis did was no more or less than others who came before him: He proved that it may not be unreasonable to believe there is God. But this is far from proving there really is God that is conceived by Christianity.
This may be useful for those who wish to merely hold on to their Christian faith, but this is no use for those who wish to proselytize non-Christians for in order to make the case for conversion, you need to show that God exists in certainty and not in plausibility.
Hope you would respond.

JD Walters said...

Anonymous,

For one thing you are wrong that C.S. Lewis' writings were not effective in proselytizing non-Christians. "Mere Christianity" is hailed as the greatest single apologetic work of the 20th Century. Do a search on Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, for an example of someone who was converted by reading Lewis.

On the other hand, you are right that no amount of argumentation can 'prove' that 'God' 'exists'. I put these words in brackets because their meaning is incredible ambiguous, subject to much confusion and equivocation. Strictly speaking, the only thing that anyone can 'prove' in this life are simple tautologies: "If A then A", "A or not A", etc. You cannot 'prove' that the external world is not an illusion, that other minds exist, that the law of gravity will still hold tomorrow, or any number of other things we take for granted. All we can say is that, based on our experience, it is perhaps very likely that since the law of gravity has held for every day of our lives it will also hold tomorrow. This is not being pedantic. That's all we can really do. Similarly C.S. Lewis pointed to various aspects of our experience, such as our unique sense of right and wrong, our ability to reason and find out the truth about the world scientifically, our desire for a happiness which no earthly experience can satisfy, which (if you find the arguments convincing) make it more likely that there is a God like the Christian one. Skepticism, however, is endlessly resourceful. If you try hard enough you can always resist even the most reasoned arguments. Some atheists probably think nobody could resist their arguments for the non-existence of God but they do not convince me. The same goes vice versa. By all means read what C.S. Lewis had to say (especially Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, Miracles, his autobiographical Surprised by Joy and his essay collections The Weight of Glory, God on the Dock and The World's Last Night), what he had to say and not just summaries or quotations from the Internet, but keep in mind that he is not perfect, he did not craft the best arguments that have ever been made (in fact he made some rather embarassing mistakes that he later came to regret) for God and he is not the only, although perhaps the most popular apologist out there. And it is too tall an order to show that God exists in certainty. As I said, you cannot even prove with certainty that other minds exist. I could live with you your whole life and still come away thinking you were a peculiarly independent figment of my imagination.

Anonymous said...

Dear J.D,

My comments follow your statements.

"For one thing you are wrong that C.S. Lewis' writings were not effective in proselytizing non-Christians. "Mere Christianity" is hailed as the greatest single apologetic work of the 20th Century. Do a search on Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, for an example of someone who was converted by reading Lewis."

As I said, I do not have sufficient knowledge about C.S. Lewis’s work, and thus I could be wrong and it seems like I was.

"Similarly C.S. Lewis pointed to various aspects of our experience, such as our unique sense of right and wrong, our ability to reason and find out the truth about the world scientifically, our desire for a happiness which no earthly experience can satisfy, which (if you find the arguments convincing) make it more likely that there is a God like the Christian one."

I would not agree with the above point C.S. Lewis makes. Although this point is highly debatable (so I do not want to get into an argument), most people who do philosophy for living would say that our experience shows that it is unlikely that there is a Christian version of God. In all courses I had taken in philosophy, in religion and in Christianity, C.S. Lewis’ name never came up. I can only assume that he did not make a significant contribution to Christian theology or philosophy, even though he may be popular in general public.

Anyway, J.D,

If you think that you are qualified to answer the question below, please do so.

What sort of a Christian was C.S. Lewis? What would be his view on Christian fundamentalism?

Also, I looked at your profile, and noticed you are only 20 years old. You should be commended for your vast knowledge in this subject at such a young age. If you don’t mind me asking, what is your educational background?

JD Walters said...

Dear Anonymous,

Right now I am a sophomore at Princeton University interested in neuroscience and the philosophy of religion. I think I can answer your question about C.S. Lewis. He belonged to the Anglican Church and he was a regular church-goer. He was certainly not a fundamentalist. He accepted that many parts of the Bible expressed truth in the form of myths and folktales and he accepted evolution and actually had quite a good understanding of it. He did not claim to have greater certainty or surer knowledge than other people and was not dogmatic about his own arguments. In fact he substantially rewrote a whole chapter of one of his books in response to philosophical criticism. Though he believed in the Second Coming he did not believe that the time and order of events could be read off the surface of the books of Revelation and Daniel.

Anyway, I don't have to remind you that the fact that many people believe something does not make it true, for Christianity or unbelief. You are right about the predominant worldview in secular philosophy, but there are many reasons other than logical or evidential for this. Research shows that many people adopt unbelief or skepticism when they join the academy because of uncomfortable social pressure, and use intellectual arguments to rationalize after-the-fact. But don't just argue with my one-sentence summary of C.S. Lewis' work, read it for yourself and see if you find his arguments convincing. I don't guarantee that you will, but it's worth the effort. Aside from the strength of his arguments he is also a witty, enjoyable writer.

You're right about C.S. Lewis' impact on mainstream theology, but C.S. Lewis wanted to take the more serious theological work and present it in a popular, easy-to-understand format. You can find most of his arguments developed in much more sophisticated forms in the work of Alvin Plantinga, William Alston, Marilynne McCord Adams, James M. Gustafson, etc. but how many people outside the academy read their work? C.S. Lewis' gift was being able to communicate theology to the common man, which is why he is immensely popular with the general public. Hope this helps with some of your questions.

Anonymous said...

J.D,

Thanks for your answer. It was very helpful.

However, I am still puzzled about the popularity of C.S. Lewis among fundamentalists.
If Lewis was not a fundamentalist, how then is it possible that his apologetics can be accepted and employed by fundamentalists, more specifically those who read the Bible literally and believe in biblical inerrancy?


Although I value your comments and learn a lot from them, I think that you are not fair to academic philosophers. I do not think that they are semi-forced into believing that it is unlikely that there is a Christian God because of social pressure. There may be some, like you suggested, adopt skepticism because of social pressure. However, my guess would be that there are far more people who became agnostics because they cannot reconcile the existence of evil and the concept of all loving and powerful God. It would be very unproductive to characterize a group of people who hold a different opinion in this fashion.

JD Walters said...

Dear Anonymous,

Well, you know many people selectively retain evidence which supports their own view. In the case of fundamentalists and C.S. Lewis, my guess is that they choose the parts of his work which support their positions. Remember, fundamentalists are not wrong (from the Christian point of view) to believe in miracles or the Resurrection. That is orthodox Christian belief. They are wrong about many other things, but Lewis' apologia for Christianity bolsters fundamentalist views as well, almost as a side effect.

I agree that maybe I was a bit unfair about secular philosophers. The problem of evil is difficult for me to deal with as well. But think about it this way: might not our moral outrage at horrendous evil and suffering point to a transcendent standard of right and wrong, and hence to the God of the Christians? If there exists true evil in this world, might not there be true good as well? C.S. Lewis said that pain was God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

Anonymous said...

Dear J.D,

Thanks for your answer.

My interests in C.S. Lewis stems from the conversation I had with a fundamentalist friend of mine. He seems to think that C.S. Lewis supports his view. I believe that the most problematic belief of the fundamentalism is that of biblical literalism (the belief that the Bible is true in every word). I pointed out the two contradicting creation stories in the bible, however, he insists still that there is no contradiction. His argument as I can understand it is that the bible is true since it says it is the word of God. This is not an argument at all; it is a statement which may or may not be true.
Would you know of any coherent argument from the fundamentalists to support their belief in the biblical literalism? I could not find it on the internet. I would be interested in knowing their argument which I can examine it for myself.
Now, with regard to the problem of evil:

You wrote “might not our moral outrage at horrendous evil and suffering point to a transcendent standard of right and wrong, and hence to the God of the Christians?

No it may not, since
1. a transcendent standard of right and wrong can exist without the Christian God.
2. our moral outrage can be explained by the evolutionary process. (A group of people who tend to be outraged at suffering and to help each other might have a greater chance to survive than the group that does not in the long run)

You wrote, “if there exists true evil in this world, might not there be true good as well”

Sure, but true good my not be the Christina God.

You wrote, “C.S. Lewis said that pain was God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world”

If the God is all loving and all powerful, He sure could have used a less painful thing than pain as his megaphone.

I think that the problem of evil would not and should not go away for any thoughtful Christian.

JD Walters said...

Anonymous,

Well, there are various Scriptures which might be taken to support biblical literalism, but Scripture as a whole supports no such conclusion, and neither does Lewis. He was fully aware of the gradual development of the Scriptures, while still maintaining that they were divinely inspired. The two are not mutually exclusive.

The same goes for the evolutionary story of the origin of moral outrage. The evolutionary account is not an alternative to the theistic account. And be careful about invoking evolution too much to explain why things are the way they are without hard facts. You can come up with a just-so evolutionary tale for just about anything.

I agree that moral outrage doesn't necessarily point to the Christian God. But it might play a part in a cumulative case along with other considerations. There's no one argument that takes you from experience to God in a single step. "Seek and you shall find".

Of course my thought doesn't make the problem of evil go away. It's still a problem for me, one of the main sticking points. It's just that my way of thinking about it makes it a little more bearable. It's still a matter of faith and trust.

And judging by the extent to which the world remains 'deaf' to God's calls for love and compassion and reconciliation with Him and others, I'd say that pain, far from being too 'loud', is not a loud enough megaphone. If moral outrage helped some of our hominid ancestors survive better than others, it sure doesn't show.

Anonymous said...

Dear J.D,

I suppose from reading your answer that there is no coherent argument from the fundamentalists to support their belief in the biblical literalism (or at least you don’t know of any.) If it is the case then I wonder how mainstream Christians should respond to their claim. I believe that when non-Christians think of Christianity, they first think of the fundamentalism and thus the hostility towards the Christianity in general.
I would like to run an idea by you.
If you realize there is no God, would your moral judgments and actions change? To put it more concretely, would you care less about others? Now, if you feel that your moral judgments are not going to change at all, would the existence of God become irrelevant in terms of morality? However, if you feel that your moral judgments will change then does this mean that you are morally immature and you do need God for guiding your moral judgments?
If what I stated above can be accepted, might this lead to the notion that God may be irrelevant, morally at least, for a morally mature person? And that the preoccupation of wanting to know the existence of God is a sign of moral immaturity?

Anonymous said...

Dear J.D,

I suppose from reading your answer that there is no coherent argument from the fundamentalists to support their belief in the biblical literalism (or at least you don’t know of any.) If it is the case then I wonder how mainstream Christians should respond to their claim. I believe that when non-Christians think of Christianity, they first think of the fundamentalism and thus the hostility towards the Christianity in general.
I would like to run an idea by you.
If you realize there is no God, would your moral judgments and actions change? To put it more concretely, would you care less about others? Now, if you feel that your moral judgments are not going to change at all, would the existence of God become irrelevant in terms of morality? However, if you feel that your moral judgments will change then does this mean that you are morally immature and you do need God for guiding your moral judgments?
If what I stated above can be accepted, might this lead to the notion that God may be irrelevant, morally at least, for a morally mature person? And that the preoccupation of wanting to know the existence of God is a sign of moral immaturity?

JD Walters said...

Dear Anonymous,

Well, the best thing 'mainstream' (I would prefer the term orthodox myself, as referring to someone committed to the Christian tradition as a whole as opposed to one tiny bundle of dogmatic ideas) Christians can do is do the best they can to be faithful witnesses to the Gospel and live by example. BTW, an excellent book by a theologian whom I greatly admire, Keith Ward, is called "What the Bible really teaches" and it directly challenges fundamentalists' misperception of the Gospel.

As to your second idea, that is indeed a very complex question, just what God has to do with morality. Can people lead good, moral, meaningful lives without believing in God? Yes, absolutely. Just like you can take out a large loan from the bank and live in luxury for a while-until you have to pay it back, that is. I believe that atheists, secular humanists, etc. are living on borrowed moral and epistemological capital, which they inherited from Christian Western civilization. Ultimately you have to give some sort of accounting, some justification, and the humanistic rationale, that we should be devoted to community, raising our children, enjoying the pleasures of life, etc. and that should be enough, rings hollow in my ears. But that is a huge discussion. I might get around to writing something about that, and I realize the above might sound a bit presumptious and over-simplistic, but I won't go into more detail here.

Now in response to your question, I'd like to make a distinction between behavior and conviction or psychology. If I were to realize there was no God, it would be to realize that there is no ultimate meaning to life. Let's not beat around the bush here. Bertrand Russell, Arthur Schopenhaur, Friedrich Nietzche and the rest have it right. They at least were honest about what an atheist universe entails for the meaning of life. My moral judgments certainly would change, but my external behavior wouldn't. I'm sure even Nietzche was kind and courteous and even loving to his family, but his writings reflect what he really believed about the human condition. It is perfectly possible to live a charade, holding two incompatible ideas, the absence of God and a meaningful life in a sort of cognitive dissonance. I would still be kind, respectful and all the rest, while knowing inwardly that it is all a sham. Now a point C.S. Lewis makes is interesting here about the dimensions of morality. People tend to think morality is solely defined in a social context, but actually it is as much about the inner life of a person as how he/she treats other people. Both are essential for true morality. All that to say, I would still treat people the same if I realize there is no God, but I would be living half a life.

As to your question about moral immaturity: I do not consider an honest expression of need to be immature. Is a baby immature when it cries out for a mother's milk and protection? Your sense of 'moral immaturity' sounds like you deliberately define it so as to mean 'irrelevant to the question of God'. It may well be very immature to hold to independence and autonomy, like a young child who insists on wandering away from its parents in a dangerous neighborhood. I believe that moral maturity is to confess our helplessness to justify our morality by ourselves, and our need for salvation. It might seem like people are generally decent, but look how little it takes to turn us into ferocious monsters. The whole point of Christianity, really, is a diagnosis of the human condition, namely sin and depravity, and the offer of a cure in Jesus Christ. Is it mature for an extremely sick person to refuse medicine from a doctor because to do so would be to surrender some of his independence from relying on other people?

Anonymous said...

Dear J.D,

“But that is a huge discussion…and I realize the above might sound a bit presumptious and over-simplistic…..”

My guess is that you wrote your response in a spur of the moment, but let’s be a little more careful ( I'm sure I am also guilty of being carelessness far more than I care to know) . I have no doubt you can do much better. One must not assume his experience will be the same as that of others.

You are correct in saying that the discussion was too broad, so let me narrow it to a manageable level.

If you and I can agree on the notion that inner moral conviction is related to moral maturity, then isn’t it possible to think that a person who would not change his moral judgments with a change in either internal or external factors (e.g. change in his perception of God) would be considered more mature in morality than a person who would change? Now, would the existence of God be irrelevant to this morally mature person in terms of morality?

You said, “if I were to realize there was no God, it would be to realize that there is no ultimate meaning to life.” And that your moral judgments certainly would change.
Please explain why you feel this way: 1. Even if there is no ultimate meaning life, isn’t possible that you would not change your moral judgments? 2. Why would non-existence of God necessarily translate into no ultimate meaning of life?

When I was in college, one of my professors (a Catholic theologian) thought that heaven and hell and salvation are to be understood metaphorically, and he also thought that salvation is certainly possible without having Christian faith. Are his views considered mainstream? How do your beliefs of orthodox (mainstream) Christianity differ from liberal and fundamental Christianity?

JD Walters said...

Dear Anonymous,

Maybe I should emphasize again the distinction between moral judgment and behavior. Moral judgment is what I do "inside myself" and how I behave with others can be entirely different.

I agree with you about the quality of inner moral conviction being the halmark of moral maturity. Why would my moral judgments change if I realized there is no God? Because my whole frame of reference would change. Right now I value the world and everything in it because I believe that the One who created it pronounced it "very good". My appreciation is sanctioned by a much greater intelligence and power than my own. I know that I am driven by all sorts of devious impulses and self-serving motives and am a very small and limited being. I know that I do not have the knowledge or objectivity to pronounce judgment on the value of the world and creation. Furthermore, my assessment of it would change from moment to moment. If no higher standard is imposed on me from "above" I have no reason to value anything that does not gratify my selfish impulses. Furthermore, if the Universe is going to end in heat death and that's the end of it, then all of our present existence is fleeting anyway. When I die I will have nothing to regret whatsoever. Now this doesn't mean that my behavior would change. I might selfishly want to stay alive as long as possible (for whatever absurd reason) so it would be in my interests to stay in the good graces of those who provide for me. Inwardly, though, I would know and acknowledge that everything is for nothing.

I stand by what I said about moral maturity. I think the morally mature thing to do is acknowledge our helplessness and dependence. To insist on independence is pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking.

I don't have time right now to go deeper into the whole salvation issue. Maybe on my next comment.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Reppert,
I am a Divinity Student from India. I am doing my Thesis on C S Lewis as a Creative Theologian. The main focus is on his writings on Theology through Stories. Why do you feel that Systematic Theology or Theology as propositional statements has failed to reach the common man? I am encouraging Christians to communicate Theology through Stories like Lewis did...can you comment also on the need for theology to be communicated to the common man and the problems of Systematic or Popular theology as compared to Theology through Stories

Ilíon said...

VR: "So, for example, in the Chronicles of Narnia we see Professor Kirke using an argument in favor of believing Lucy’s claim that she has been to Narnia that is similar to his famous “Mad, Bad or God” argument in Mere Christianity."

I think this exchange can also be seen as an answer to the silly "lesson" that some 'atheologians' like to claim is being taught in the post-Resurrection Doubting Thomas episode.

One Brow said...

All we can say is that, based on our experience, it is perhaps very likely that since the law of gravity has held for every day of our lives it will also hold tomorrow. This is not being pedantic. That's all we can really do.
Well, we can do a little more than that. We can take the law of gravity, and a few other facts, and the general knowledge of the theory of gravity, then use these things to make predictions about what gravity will do tomorrow. This has been done for hundreds of years.

Skepticism, however, is endlessly resourceful. If you try hard enough you can always resist even the most reasoned arguments.
I'm not aware of any skeptics who dispute gravitation theory. It's not a question of resourcefulness, but evidence.

Some atheists probably think nobody could resist their arguments for the non-existence of God but they do not convince me.
Well, whose would be highly foolish atheists. You can no more disprove God that you can prove Him.

Mike Darus said...

Victor,
I hope I do not interupt the exchange between anonymous and JD. It is excellent. However, I want to weigh-in on your characterization of CS Lewis as an ecumenist. One of the major contributions of Mere Christianity was to ignore the bickering over trivial issues among Christian and to focus on the beliefs that Christians hold in common. This turned the apologetic energy away from theological issues that are not clearly defined in Chrisitan revelation and focused the energy on the real issue of winning the hearts of those who do not yet believe. His re-identification of the fundamentals of orthodoxy opened a path for the modern non-denominational evangelical Christianity. He also showed that someone committed to the fundamentals is permitted to think creatively about peripheral doctrines. This is the spirit of many of the successful para-church endeavors like Young Life, Campus Crusade, and even Billie Graham.

JD Walters said...

Mike,

This is actually a redated post. Me and anonymous started and ended this exchange quite a long time ago...Don't worry, you're not interrupting anything. But I'm glad you liked it:)

JD

anon-i-balm said...

Well, we can do a little more than that. We can take the law of gravity, and a few other facts, and the general knowledge of the theory of gravity, then use these things to make predictions about what gravity will do tomorrow. This has been done for hundreds of years.

One brow, how is this any different from what JD is saying? You toss in the word 'prediction', great. So what? JD's statement still holds all he would have to do is add the word 'prediction' and ta da, the statement remains valid.

I'm not aware of any skeptics who dispute gravitation theory. It's not a question of resourcefulness, but evidence.

Sure it is. Are you honestly going to claim that no skeptic has denied evidence that may indeed point in the direction of a transcendant Creator because, philosophically, they found the notion "distasteful"?
You should read up on when evidence supporting a universe with a beginning began to surface, because there certainly appears to have been alot of that going on. More honest skeptics, such as Robert Jastrow, have admitted as much.

Well, whose would be highly foolish atheists. You can no more disprove God that you can prove Him.

I disagree. Because you yourself probably carry on, on a day to day basis, under various assumptions that have no support in a purely materialistic reality. That you truly love your family, that you can provide reasons for your beliefs and that the recipient of your reasons could possibly 'understand' the point you are trying to make, that the universe is rational and follows laws, that you actually have goals/desires and that you can structure your behavior in such a way to obtain those goals/desires.

Also, did you ever consider that maybe God never intended reason to be the only way to Him? What kind of reality would that be? The greatest possible thing: God... in all of His glory could only be obtained via reason. *D.D.* "reason is aristocratic, faith is democratic".
The path to God is cleared for all. If you could only reason your way to His existence, to a relationship with Him then I guess those not smart enough would mis out on His love, or at least the knowledge of Him.

Hans said...

Fundamentalists embarrass Christianity by claiming that science cannot explain how information can get into a string of DNA

Lewis success as an apologist is that he does not embarass Christianity by such fundie misconceptions of science.

Instead, he embarrasses sceptics by pointing out that a string of DNA cannot contain information, as it is a material object.

One Brow said...

anon-i-balm said...

One brow, how is this any different from what JD is saying? You toss in the word 'prediction', great. So what? JD's statement still holds all he would have to do is add the word 'prediction' and ta da, the statement remains valid.

Well, there is a difference. In statistical terms, it is the difference between an observational study and a designed experiment. Less technically, it is the difference between not being able to manipulate objects to show the effect and being able to do so. The first situation is much more likely to be prey to unseen and unknown effects, the second is better able to rule them out.

Sure it is. Are you honestly going to claim that no skeptic has denied evidence that may indeed point in the direction of a transcendant Creator because, philosophically, they found the notion "distasteful"?

I rarely make blanket universal statements about the behavior of humans.

You should read up on when evidence supporting a universe with a beginning began to surface, because there certainly appears to have been alot of that going on. More honest skeptics, such as Robert Jastrow, have admitted as much.

I believe that there were both skeptics and theists that were opposed to the notion out of reasons of personal disbelief.

I disagree. Because you yourself probably carry on, on a day to day basis, under various assumptions that have no support in a purely materialistic reality. That you truly love your family, that you can provide reasons for your beliefs and that the recipient of your reasons could possibly 'understand' the point you are trying to make, that the universe is rational and follows laws, that you actually have goals/desires and that you can structure your behavior in such a way to obtain those goals/desires.

I am not aware how the third sentence in that paragraph is related in any way to the second. Was that a deliberate non sequitur? At any rate, I certainly don’t know of any non-materialistic assumptions that I proceed under.

Also, did you ever consider that maybe God never intended reason to be the only way to Him?

I have considered many things in my life, in which I have had many different belief notions, that one among them.

One Brow said...

Lewis success as an apologist is that he does not embarass Christianity by such fundie misconceptions of science.

Instead, he embarrasses sceptics by pointing out that a string of DNA cannot contain information, as it is a material object.


There are two different types of information theory for two different mechanistic setting, which rely only on materialistic notions.

Ilíon said...

Hans: "Fundamentalists embarrass Christianity by claiming that science cannot explain how information can get into a string of DNA

Lewis success as an apologist is that he does not embarass Christianity by such fundie misconceptions of science.

Instead, he embarrasses sceptics by pointing out that a string of DNA cannot contain information, as it is a material object.
"

Which is to say, these "fundies" you speak of are correct as far as it goes ... for they are going by the "scientific" (mis)understanding and (mis)statement of what information is.

anon-I-balm said...

Well, there is a difference. In statistical terms, it is the difference between an observational study and a designed experiment. Less technically, it is the difference between not being able to manipulate objects to show the effect and being able to do so. The first situation is much more likely to be prey to unseen and unknown effects, the second is better able to rule them out.

So we can know for certain that the laws of gravity will hold tomorrow?
There still seems to be no difference from what JD said and what you are claiming.

I believe that there were both skeptics and theists that were opposed to the notion out of reasons of personal disbelief.

But the idea of a universe that came to exist at a particular moment certainly doesn't support the claim of a universe as a brute fact that must be accepted because that's all there is, all there ever was, or ever will be.

I am not aware how the third sentence in that paragraph is related in any way to the second.

Notions of intention & agency. Notions of a rational universe (what does rationality hint at, one brow?). Ideas of framing an argument to support a belief (including agency, intention and the argument from reason)... do these have groundings in a purely materialistc account of reality? Why don't they make sense to you again?

I am not aware how the third sentence in that paragraph is related in any way to the second.

Nice underhanded comment, one brow. Is that a product of your beliefs? Try to be more direct, upfront and honest.

At any rate, I certainly don’t know of any non-materialistic assumptions that I proceed under.

You're not looking close enough then. Do you have beliefs? Do you support your beliefs with rational argument? Can you apprehend the rationality of the universe? How?
You either don't know them, or you don't acknowledge them... but they are there.

Edward T. Babinski said...

HOW "SUCCESSFUL" WAS LEWIS AS AN "APOLOGIST?"

Why is "success" important? When did "success" become the measure of truth in philosophy? Oh, wait, you're talking about "apologetics" not philosophy. And apparently truth to the Christan apologist simply depends on how many unsophisticated minds he can bend to believing in all the detailed doctrines and dogmas that that apologist preaches must lie behind the metaphysical curtain

Do any major Christian philosophers today cite Lewis regularly except for Vic Reppert?

Lewis has had an effect on less philosophically astute readers of course.

I read Lewis as a Christian and loved him, and after that I couldn't get enough of every other Christian author whom he suggested reading.

But later I grew disillusioned with Lewis's pro-Christian arguments and those of others. So did philosophers like Beversluis and John Ku, and others (including others like myself who eventually left the Christian fold). Even some theistic/deistic philosophers as well as some Christian scholars have grown suspicious of Lewis's apologetics arguments.

The well known Christian scholar, N.T. Wright, criticized Lewis's lack of discussion or knowledge of essential biblical knowledge, especially when viewed in its historical context, and said that he felt Lewis's arguments reflect his Platonism more than anything else.

WHAT FOLLOWS IS N.T. WRIGHT ON LEWIS'S APOLOGETICS

[In C. S. Lewis's apologetics]there is virtually no mention, and certainly no treatment, of Israel and the Old Testament, and consequently no attempt to place Jesus in his historical or theological context. (One of the “Screwtape Letters” contains a scornful denunciation of all such attempts, and lays Lewis wide open to the charge of ignoring the historical context of the writings he is using—a charge that, in his own professional field, he would have regarded as serious.)

I am well aware that some in our day, too, see the historical context of Jesus as part of what you teach Christians later on rather than part of how you explain the gospel to outsiders. I think this is simply mistaken. Every step towards a de-Judaized Jesus is a step away from Scripture, away from Christian wisdom, and out into the world of . . . yes, Plato and the rest,
which is of course where Lewis partly lived. If you don’t put Jesus in his proper context, you will inevitably put him in a different one, where he, his message, and his achievement will be considerably distorted.

This deficit shows particularly in Lewis’s treatment of incarnation. Famously, as in his well-known slogan, “Liar, Lunatic or Lord,” he argued that Jesus must have been bad or mad or God. This argument has worn well in some circles and extremely badly in others, and the others were not merely being cynical.

What Lewis totally failed to see—as have, of course, many scholars in the field—was that Judaism already had a strong incarnational principle, namely the Temple, and that the language used of Shekinah, Torah, Wisdom, Word, and Spirit in the Old Testament—the language, in other words, upon which the earliest Christians drew when they were exploring and expounding what we have called Christology—was a language designed, long before Jesus’ day, to explain how the one true God could be both transcendent over the world and living and active within it, particularly within Israel.

Lewis, at best, drastically short-circuits the argument. When Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven,” he is not claiming straightforwardly to be God, but to give people, out on the street, what they would normally get BY GOING TO THE TEMPLE [caps were originally in italics in the original article]. [...]

Lewis has indeed built a fine building with lots of splendid features, and many people have been properly and rightly attracted to buy up apartments in it and move in. Some parts of the building have remained in great shape, and are still well worth inhabiting. But I fear that those who move in to other parts will find that the foundations are indeed shaky, and that the roof leaks a bit.

Someone who converted to the Christian faith through reading Mere Christianity, and who never moved on or grew up theologically or historically, would be in a dangerous position when faced even with proper, non-skeptical historical investigation, let alone the regular improper, skeptical sort. Lewis didn’t give such a person sufficient grounding in who Jesus really was.

Similarly, I don’t know how his line of argument in the first part would stand up against the rigorous and relentless assault from the determined atheists of our own day. He was well used to arguing with their predecessors, of course, but I don’t think the first section would be seen in such circles as anything more than arm-waving about moral perceptions and dilemmas that today’s robust cynic would dismiss as atavistic fantasy.

N.T. Wright, "Simply Lewis: Reflections on a Master Apologist After 60 Years," http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=20-02-028-f

Hans said...

'Which is to say, these "fundies" you speak of are correct as far as it goes ... for they are going by the scientific" (mis)understanding and (mis)statement of what information is.'

Ilion is right.

This is how Lewis arguments are embarasing for scientists as he points out how their work on information is not supported on any philosophical foundation.

This is how he differs from fundies, who buy into scientists claims that material objects, such as DNA, really do contain information.

But as Lewis pointed out - how can a piece of matter be about anything?

Hans said...

Babinksi writes '...the one true God could be both transcendent over the world and living and active within it.'

Ed is like Dawkins and has totally misunderstood Christian theology.

God is not something WITHIN our world.

Why do people like Ed feel they can comment on Christian theology when they clearly do not understand it?

One Brow said...

So we can know for certain that the laws of gravity will hold tomorrow?
There still seems to be no difference from what JD said and what you are claiming.

You seem to be saying that if we do not have proof, we have no certainty. Proof is for formal systems and alcohol. People have enough certainty that we don't bolt funriture to the floor or buy magnetic boots in case gravity stops working.

Howeer, I was referring not to just the fact that gravity will keep working, but that we can predict its effects with a high degree of accuracy.

But the idea of a universe that came to exist at a particular moment certainly doesn't support the claim of a universe as a brute fact that must be accepted because that's all there is, all there ever was, or ever will be.
Which erxplains the reluctance in both camps.

I am not aware how the third sentence in that paragraph is related in any way to the second.,
Notions of intention & agency. Notions of a rational universe (what does rationality hint at, one brow?).
In my case, it hints at very complex processes being carried out in the brain.

Ideas of framing an argument to support a belief (including agency, intention and the argument from reason)... do these have groundings in a purely materialistc account of reality?
Yes.

Why don't they make sense to you again?
The concepts make fine sense. I understand the concepts of love, duty, etc., as well as most humans. What I don't see is that they entail non-aterialistic assumptions.

Nice underhanded comment, one brow. Is that a product of your beliefs? Try to be more direct, upfront and honest.
I suppose I could have said: you have provided no good reason for me to accept that notions such as love require any non-materialistic basis, and therfore I find what you said in the third statement offers no support at all to your position of the seconde statement. Is that better for you?

At any rate, I certainly don’t know of any non-materialistic assumptions that I proceed under.
You're not looking close enough then.
Do you think you can support that assertion?

Do you have beliefs?
Yes.

Do you support your beliefs with rational argument?
Yes.

Can you apprehend the rationality of the universe?
Rationality is the application of a formal system. It exists at our need and whim, independent of the universe.

You either don't know them, or you don't acknowledge them... but they are there.
Well, you have so far failed to name any non-materialsitic assumptions to which I hold.

John W. Loftus said...

"Success" is an interesting word when discussing Lewis' career as an apologist. Are Josh McDowell's apologetics successful? His Evidences books have changed the minds of many, and are still bestsellers. How does one go about measuring success? Wouldn't you think Jeremiah's prophetic ministry was unsuccessful on one level but successful on another level? And who's doing the judging and from what vantage point? If we count the number of books sold, then wouldn't you have to conclude Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchen's are successful as skeptical apologists too? And given the numbers of people they have convinced, or convinced to come out of the closet, then isn't that a criteria for success too?

In any case, one criteria for "success" is correctness of approach as judged from the vantage point of history. And we are already seeing that history will have a different conclusion upon Lewis' apologetics after people take into consideration Beversluis and Wielenberg's two books that are critical of Lewis.

What I mean is that there were many movements that could be judged successful which were sparked by a thinker or politician, but from a later perspective, historians see that thinker and movement as ignorant and/or misguided.

Cheers.

unkle e said...

Round 3 of discussion of this post!

"As an 18-year-old Christian with a powerful need for a faith that made sense, Lewis was immensely helpful in providing that. After going through seminary and doctoral work in philosophy, I find that Christianity is still believable for approximately the reasons that Lewis said that it was reasonable."

I was similarly influenced by CS Lewis at a similar age, and although I didn't do the further study that you did Vic, I have kept reading and investigating and have found his general lines of thought stand up very well.

So he was "successful" in helping to convert me, and he was also "successful" in educating me and opening up arguments that have stood the test of time. I'll always be a grateful fan.