Friday, April 10, 2009

Dawkins on C. S. Lewis and the trilemma

I redated this post on the God Delusion, in case people think I'm not interested in the substance of Dawkins' arguments.

From p. 92 of The God Delusion


"There are still some people who are persuaded by scriptural evidence to believe in God. A common argument, attributed among others to C.S. Lewis ... states that, since Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, he must have been either right or else insane of a liar: 'Mad, Bad or God'. Or, with artless alliteration, "Lunatic, Liar or Lord'.

Wrong already. Lewis doesn't use the argument as a theistic argument. It's an argument for Christ's divinity, or perhaps even less than that, an argument against a certain misunderstandings of who Jesus was.

The historical evidence that Jesus claimed any sort of divine status is minimal.

Supporting argument for this claim please?

But even if that evidence were good, the trilemma on offer would be ludicrously inadequate. A fourth possibility, almost too obvious to need mentioning, is that Jesus was honestly mistaken. Plenty of people are. In any case, as I said, there is no good historical evidence that he ever thought he was divine.

OK, so now we get the head-slap argument. There's a third option, he was sincerely mistaken! I never thought of that, therefore I disappear in a puff of logic! Let's see, if I were to tell my intoductory philosophy class that I was God almighty, they wouldn't call the men in the white coats to come and take me away. They'd just figure I was sincerely mistaken.

The fact that something is written down is persuasive to people not used to asking questions like" 'Who wrote it, and when?' 'How did they know what to write?' 'Did they, in their time, really mean what we, in our time, understand them to be saying?' 'Were they unbiased observers, or did they have an agenda that coloured their writing?' Ever since the nineteenth century, scholarly theologians have made an overwhelming case that the gospels are not reliable accounts of what happened in the history of the real world. All were written long after the death of Jesus, and also after the epistles of Paul, which mention almost none of the alleged facts of Jesus' life. All were then copied and recopied, through many scribes who, in any case, had their own religious agendas."

This is how we settle the question of the reliability of the New Testament? An effective refutation of everyone from C. S. Lewis to William Lane Craig to Stephen Davis to N. T. Wright and Joachim Jeremias?? Many theologians and biblical scholars have studied the evidence and the arguments and concluded that the Scriptures are largely reliable. Dawkins makes it sound like there is some kind of a consensus here. There is a consensus amongst those with Humean presuppositions. Big deal.

Lewis himself was one of the leading literary critics of his time. He offered reasons, based on his reading of a lot of ancient literature, that the NT was, as ancient documents go, a reliable document. He could be very wrong, but he can't be refuted by the kind of hand-waving two-paragraph argument Dawkins offers. Read the two Stephen Davis articles on the trilemma, and even the Howard-Snyder essay that is critical of Davis, and contrast it with this two-paragraph demolition by Dawkins, and ask yourself which of these two men has done his homework.

It may be that although Lewis's argument was rhetorically stronger using this multiple choice format, I prefer changing to to a fill in the blank. Given what the Scriptures say that Jesus said an implied about himself, what could he have been if he wasn't God. It's one thing to mention a possibility, it's another to show that, on close examination, that alternative is plausible. Ken Samples offers sevem alternatives: Man, Myth, Madman, Menace, Mystic, Martian or the Messiah. But hey, there could be still more. Bring them on! Fill in the blank.But then show me that, on close analysis the alternative is plausible, that it makes sense of the facts.

The argument may be a bad one. But it can't be refuted on the cheap, without doing your homework.

The following is a link to a set of articles on the trilemma, see especially those by Davis. (Actually, apollos.ws is no longer a free site).

37 comments:

jeff g said...

"Supporting argument for this claim please?"

So let me get this straight. You want him to provide evidence that there is no evidence for something? What exactly would such evidence look like? Is such evidence even possible?

Anonymous said...

Just curious: which NT scholars on the historical Jesus have *you* read? How many of them are aren't from orthodox Christians?

Also, I assume that you don't dismiss the arguments of non-orthodox NT critics out of hand, as you claim that Dawkins does of orthodox NT scholars. Would you please refer me to your writings in which you offer principled reasons for rejecting the conclusions of non-orthodox NT critics? If so, I'd greatly appreciate it.

Keep up the good work

Victor Reppert said...

A nice rebuttal of one attempt to show otherwise would do. Since evidence has been offered by lots of people, acknowledgement of their existence might be nice, along with a rebuttal.

Victor Reppert said...

I don't dismiss these people out of hand, nor do any of my arguments imply that you should. Different people can reach opposed conclusions without irrationality im virtue of bringing different presuppositions to the table. I'm not saying Dawkins is being irrational for rejecting Christian miracle claims. I am saying he is being presumptuous by failing to consider the arguments that oppose his conclusion, even assuming that there is a scholarly consensus (scholars have shown...) which in fact does not exist.

And yes, I have read all kinds of heterodox scholarship on these matters. Bultmann was big when I went to seminary, and I went to a "liberal", not an evangelical seminary. http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/victor_reppert/miracles.html

Blue Devil Knight said...

Victor: I agree with your analysis. I was disappointed that much of Dawkins book has a similar level of scholarship. Part of me doesn't mind, as it is just a popular work where he is kind of purging his long-fermenting vitriole against religion. But more of me is disappointed, as he does it in such a condescending arrogant way, and in a way that disguised shoddy scholarship as real scholarship. This is exactly the kind of shotgun scholarship crap the creationists squeeze out. It looks bad on them, and it looks bad on Dawkins.

Bilbo Bloggins said...

Amen to what BDK said. What makes Dawkins dangerous is that he's apparently convincing not just the philosophically unsophisticated lay person but the philosophically unsophisticated scientists out there as well. It is shocking to see otherwise brilliant scientists buy into his reasoning and get all riled up to offer half-baked critiques of religion of their own. And it's not just Christian creationists who do this kind of stuff as well - there are quite a few Christian apologists who do the same.

I've thought about the problem alot and the only conclusion I can come up with sounds a bit elitist, but....

It seems to me that perhaps people who don't have any philosophical training (or at least heavy reading in the relevant fields) shouldn't be publically arguing about some of the deepest philosophical issues of our generation?

Is there any value in what these folks are doing? Perhaps they bring attention to important issues. Perhaps they serve as gateways for members of their own flock into what are some very interesting arguments (design argument, problem of evil, etc.), though their treatments, however easy to grasp, are faulty. After all, isn't it true that the level of detail that *most* of these issues need to be analyzed at, is just way over the head of the neophyte?

I can see a value in this kind of work for that reason, but unfortunately the lack of humility, pretense of certitude, and the fact that it usually abounds with errors of reasoning probably make it so that these folks are doing more harm than good.

I have to say, in the defense of the more philosophically inclined atheists, I *have* seen alot of critical reviews of Dawkins' new book from the atheistic camp.

Bilbo Bloggins

Victor Reppert said...

BDK's comment is an excellent example of how to avoid being a fundy atheist.

Edward T. Babinski said...

DAWKINS: The historical evidence that Jesus claimed any sort of divine status is minimal.

REPPERT: Supporting argument for this claim please?

ED: Are you saying you are personally interested in supporting arguments and references? Or, are you simply exclaiming, "How can he say such a thing and not include references?"

Actually, the point is moot because anyone given to studying and researching the topic is bound to find plenty of references on that topic, including admissions even by folks like Luke Timothy Johnson that the statements in the Fourth Gospel, which are usually taken as the basis for Lewis (and G.K.'s earlier version) LLL argument, are of questionable historical value.

If you mean that you personally are interested in reading about such references, you can check out the latest magnum opus of N.T. theologian James D. G. Dunn (moderate Anglican). He writes thick well referenced books. More on his views below.

Or check out The Teaching Company lectures of Bart Ehrman (agnostic) on the N.T., or even the Teaching Company lectures on the N.T. by Luke Timothy Johnson (Catholic), for some interesting questions along the same lines.

James D. G. Dunn in his latest work (with plenty of references), Jesus Remembered, argues that The Gospel of John's narrative is not reliable, nor the claims it makes for Jesus' quasi-divine status. (In his earlier work, Evidence for Jesus, Dunn didn't imagine that Jesus spoke even one word reported in John.) Dunn admits there is little to support the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke, and little evidence that Jesus supported a mission to the gentiles, and no evidence that Jesus saw himself as any kind of messiah. (The term does not even appear in Q.) Nor is there much left of the "Son of Man," except for a few uncertain eschatological allusions. Dunn argues that Jesus did not claim any title for himself. Jesus may have believed that he was going to die, but he did not believe he was dying to redeem the sins of the world. "If Jesus hoped for resurrection it was presumably to share in the general and final resurrection of the dead." There is astonishingly little support for what Jesus' last words were. Dunn admits that Jesus believed in an imminent eschatological climax that, of course, did not happen. "Putting it bluntly, Jesus was proved wrong by the course of events."

Jason said...

I think Victor is well aware already of arguments (such as they are) to the effect that “the historical evidence that Jesus claimed any sort of divine status is minimal.” His point then would be that Mr. D shouldn’t be saying such a thing without actually giving some of those arguments himself. (Including references would be somewhat beside the point--references are okay, but references aren’t _themselves_ arguments. And Dawkins was himself _at that moment_ supposedly making a broadscale counter-apologetic. That means _he_ needed to be including the arguments themselves, if _he_ was going to be making the claim.)


{{the statements in the Fourth Gospel... are usually taken as the basis for Lewis (and G.K.'s earlier version) LLL argument, are of questionable historical value.}}

Actually, neither Lewis nor GKC made all that much use of GosJohn statements for their LLL (and nothing at all of the infancy narratives). Explicit and implicit authority claims factor a lot more into their reckoning--and those claims are spread across the synoptics, too. (Lewis tends to make much of Jesus’ claim of authority to send away the sins of other people, for instance. This is absolutely a synoptic feature.)

Anyone given to studying and researching those writers would know that. {g}

{{There is astonishingly little support for what Jesus' last words were.}}

A groan; an “It is accomplished”; and the first words of a Psalm where the Davidic Suffering Servant is eventually vindicated by God in the presence of his enemies: a typical rabbinic shout-out that would make sense to a certain group supposedly there on the scene (chief priests), but which could be easily misunderstood to be something else entirely. It wouldn’t be surprising for this cry to not be mentioned in two texts (especially if one of those texts was written as an addendum to an earlier synoptic.) Furthermore, the story contexts are historically plausible, and (if historical) would easily explain why some things were heard and others not. (Especially over a period of hours, from a man being executed in a fashion that doesn't leave over much breath for talking in the first place. A crucified man isn't going to have the breath for giving a sermon while his scribes take illegal notes nearby. Compare with Peter supposedly giving a long sermon while being crucified upside-down in one of the apocryphal Acts.)


{{Dunn admits there is... no evidence that Jesus saw himself as any kind of messiah. (The term does not even appear in Q.) Nor is there much left of the "Son of Man," except for a few uncertain eschatological allusions.}}

I wouldn’t hang a whole lot on Q to expel the authority claims. For one thing, so much authority remains even in Q that Kloppenborg has to resort to a triple-layer stratification to weed those claims out--and his grounds for doing so are manifestly circular. (I recall someone subsequently being so unsatisfied even with this that he went to a five layer stratification--a process so ridiculously conceived even Kloppenborg called coup against it. Burton Mack?)

For another thing, it requires a curiously thick-headed level of squinting to see references to “the son of man” (with the articles in Greek, even) in an early 1st c Palestinian context to mean anything other or less than the Danielic reference: which is absolutely eschatological, not to say maximally high in authority claim. People knew the timing of Daniel--that’s why there were “messiahs by the sackful” (to borrow Webber’s fine phrase. {g}) Someone wandering early 1st c. Palestine, the time of popular recognition and expectation of fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy, claiming to Jews to be the Son of Man, is not making “uncertain eschatological allusions.”

Also, I would think some caution would be in order, when portraits of what a person really was (or was not) like, depend so strongly on hypothetically reconstructed source texts extrapolated from actually extant material dating to within the first or (at worst) early second generation of that person’s key activities.

The most accurate thing we can say about Q, is that there are swatches of GosMatt and GosLuke that (more-or-less; sometimes "less"!) parallel each other, but aren’t found in GosMark. After that, things get very fuzzy very quickly. Granted, _post hoc_ we can subdivide Q up into categorizations; and in so doing get rid of (some of? most of?) the authority claims. But for this to be anything more than an entirely subjective afternoon project, there has to be a historical theory attached to it: something involving these stratifications or categorizations being _actually_ developed by 1st c groups (or individuals?) on the ground (as it were).

The problem, is that positing such a theory ends up involving no less than five entirely hypothetical speculations:

(a) Q actually existed as a document, or as an oral-tradition equivalent thereof. (Notably, revisionist Q theorists tend to need Q to be a written document, because they _also_ tend to present the oral tradition as being too free-floating and amorphous to result in clear stratifications of the sort that supposedly can be found in Q. That would bring the entirely hypothetical speculations to six, btw.)

(b) the general contents of Q can be inferred from the common tradition of Matt and Luke.

(c) the original wording of Q can be accurately reproduced from these extant sources.

(d) the original _order_ of Q’s contents can be accurately determined.

(e) the literary _pre-history_ can be uncovered from all this.

(HT: Gregory Boyd for the wording there.)

This is aside from going on further (as some have done) to imagine what can be concluded (!) about the social groups who supposedly did all this; or even from looking at the methodologies for identifying the stratifications in the first place. Nor does this even take into account the total speculativeness involved in making statements to the effect that other portions than Q (or Q1 or pre-Q1 or whatever) have been invented. (e.g. Jesus “did not believe he was dying to redeem the sins of the world.”)


The aptitude of story-analysis involved, in short, does not seem very competent to me.

(Which might explain why Mr. D didn't bother to give any details on those theories--assuming Victor's report of that lack is accurate, of course. Clearly Dawkins doesn't do it where quoted, but perhaps he does it elsewhere? {shrug})

Jason Pratt

Anonymous said...

Did Jesus claim to be Divide?

"Before Abraham was I am."
"I and the Father are one."
"I put my life down and I take I take it up again."
"Your sins are fogiven."
...
These are of course only the few that popped into my head. A careful treatment would find quite a bit more.

It is impossible to read what Jesus said and did and not conclude that he was claiming Divinity. Now the Gnostics took this not as identity with God but as something like the Demiurge which is hard to distinguish from a kind of divinity just sort of not ultimate Godhood. Even the Arians took a position that Jesus was more than just a man. I don't think there is any Christian group that held that he was merely a man.

So the long and short of it is Dawkins simply doesn't know what he is talking about. But I've always known that.

Cheers, Ray

philip m said...

Apparently Dawkins thinks there is a difference between being *honestly mistaken* that you are God, and being a *lunatic*.

Now Mr. Dawkins has published quite a few books more than I have, but I really must insist that I fail to grok a distinction.

Perhaps a medical definition of lunacy has a factor of dishonest intention in it. All the people that claim to be Superman are sent straight to the insane asylum, EXCEPT the ones that *really* thought so. In that case, it's not lunacy, because after all, we all make honest mistakes sometimes, right?

Anonymous said...

'Lewis himself was one of the leading literary critics of his time. He offered reasons, based on his reading of a lot of ancient literature, that the NT was, as ancient documents go, a reliable document.'

Literary critic = historian?

Why have a history department in universities when you can get people who write essays on 'The Tin Drum' to do it all for you?

Why doesn't Victor get his dentist to say that 'The New Testament must be reliable'?

Anonymous said...

Still at least Victor is now backing the lunatic argiment.

If Victor claimed the Queen of Sheba would rise from her grave to condemn people who did not believe in him, then most people would lock him up (except CS Lewis who knows that Vicor is an honest person who says nice things, therefore the Queen of Sheba really is going to judge non-believers)

Anonymous said...

Was Jesus 'sincerely mistaken' when he talked about what happened in the days of the Flood?

Anonymous said...

Victor claims that Dswkins is ignorant when he says that some people use the trilemma as an argument for God.

Dawkins is right. That argument is sometimes used for proof of God.

But Victor simply twists what Dawkins said to mean that Dawkims said that Lewis himself used it as an argument for God.

Dawkins never wrote any such thing.

But that doesn't stop Victor.

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

What astonishes me is that Dawkins chose such a ludicrous "fourth fork." There are plenty of other additional possibilities for a person who claims to be God.

For example, Jesus may have meant it in something like a pantheistic sense: "I am God, but then, there's nothing special about that; everybody and everything is God."

Or more refinedly, a sense similar to Hindu/Buddhist belief: "I am God, because I have awakened to myself as God. You can too."

There are plenty of other possibilities. Yes, I know that most possibilities are outside the epistemé of first-century Judaea; but then, Jesus spent some time outside of Judaea -- even the most orthodox of sources (the Gospels) has it that he spent significant time in Egypt. For a first-century Judaean, he would have been unusually cosmopolitan.

I bow to none in my overall regard for Lewis, but the "trilemma" has always struck me as one of his less-inspired moments.

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

Aside to "bilbo bloggins": Yes, that is a very elitist approach. If "the unexamined life is not worth living," then such an approach would condemn the majority to futile lives. I am not philosophically "trained," but after twenty-plus years of self-education in the subject I like to think I can at least follow an argument.

Buridan said...

An argument, attributed to Anonymous (who should have known better), states that:

"But Victor simply twists what Dawkins said to mean that Dawkims said that Lewis himself used it as an argument for God.

Dawkins never wrote any such thing."

OK, to see does the twisting here (not to mention the shouting), let's simply quote Dawkins on this:

"A common argument, attributed among others to C. S. Lewis (who should have known better), states that, since Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, he must have been either right or else insane or a liar: 'Mad, Bad or God'. Or, with artless alliteration, 'Lunatic, Liar or Lord'".

It is a bit beyond me how one could interpret Dawkins (even though he perhaps should have known better) not to mean precisely that Lewis, directly or indirectly, himself used it as an argument for God.

The context is also significant. Dawkins places the argument in his chapter on arguments for Gods eksistence (page 92), which to most readers would imply he viewed it as an argument for God's existence. So when the only person he mentions here is C. S. Lewis, the message is clear.

Dawkins does not even leave room for himself being honestly mistaken either, as he never makes any qualifications about how Lewis used the argument.

Anonymous said...

'It's one thing to mention a possibility, it's another to show that, on close examination, that alternative is plausible.'

One thing Plantinga has taught us is that arguments are refuted by finding possibilities that don't have to be plausible.

Dawkins is perfectly logically consistent by finding a possibility that demonstrates that Lewis argumemt is just not logically sound.

Buridan said...

Anonymous (probably the same who insisted that Dawkins didn't say that Lewis himself used the trilemma as an argument for God;-) continued:

"Dawkins is perfectly logically consistent by finding a possibility that demonstrates that Lewis argumemt is just not logically sound."

Dawkins' error in this area is so obvious that it is a bit puzzling why you don't see it...

To repeat what others have said: He quite simply lists as a "fourth alternative" one of Lewis's original three.

The "could be honestly mistaken" is actually covered by Lewis alternative "mad".

However, if you want to argue that people who are honestly mistaken to be the Creator of the universe, the Judge of living and dead, the Source of being, are sane and sound, please go on.

mattghg said...

So do you think Jesus could have been 'honestly mistaken' about being God without also being insane, then? If so, why the Queen of Sheba comment? If not, then Dawkins obviously hasn't done what you claim.
(I'm assuming the same 'Anonymous' is behind all the anonymous comments)

terri said...

In regards to the reliability of the NT:

I have always found it interesting that scholars who refute the reliability of the NT do so on the basis that modern scholarship is so much better at piecing together texts from almost 2,000 years ago. while in the same breath stating that they can't be reliable because they were written decades after the events occured.

Obviously, things which are clear and fresh in the mind to analyze after 2,000 years, are impossible to remember and record accurately after only 20 years have passed.

Alva Baptist Church said...

"The historical evidence that Jesus claimed any sort of divine status is minimal."

The new testament a historical document. It is an anthology of contemporary literature recording the history of Jesus. It consists of the separate contributions of six eyewitness testimonies (Matthew, John, James, Peter, Jude & Paul) and a biographer (Marc) and a researcher/historian (Luke)

At lease five of these writers claim to present recorded words of Jesus.

What could be more historical? An auto-biography?

Ilíon said...

"It consists of the separate contributions of six eyewitness testimonies (Matthew, John, James, Peter, Jude & Paul) ..."

As a Christian and thus accepting as fact that Christ lives, one has no difficulty in regarding Paul as an eyewitness to Christ. However, to someone who does not accept the fact that Christ lives, it comes across as an absurdity to list Paul as an eyewitness to Jesus' life and words.

Ilíon said...

[it's too bad the blog software doesn't include a date-stamp with responses]

VR: "It may be that although Lewis's argument was rhetorically stronger using this multiple choice format, I prefer changing to to a fill in the blank. Given what the Scriptures say that Jesus said an implied about himself, what could he have been if he wasn't God. It's one thing to mention a possibility, it's another to show that, on close examination, that alternative is plausible. Ken Samples offers sevem alternatives: Man, Myth, Madman, Menace, Mystic, Martian or the Messiah. But hey, there could be still more. Bring them on! Fill in the blank.But then show me that, on close analysis the alternative is plausible, that it makes sense of the facts. "

Mr Dawkins' so keen analysis notwithstanding, any proffered alternative will reduce to one of the two "not-divine" options: a madman or a liar. For instance, if Jesus was "honestly mistaken," then (as Lewis points out), he was a madman. Or, as another example, if the Jesus presented by the Gospels is a myth (in the pejorative sense of the word), then he is a lie.


Lewis had it right:

Lewis: "I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

Lewis was also right in stating that if we (as individuals) do not believe that Jesus' claims are explicable as madness or lies, then logically we must conclude that he is indeed God:

Lewis: " ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God."

There are no other options.

One Brow said...

Let's see, if I were to tell my intoductory philosophy class that I was God almighty, they wouldn't call the men in the white coats to come and take me away. They'd just figure I was sincerely mistaken.

Will the men in white coats be arriving for Reverend Moon any time soon? Do you think he is insane, or have any evidence to think he is lying? Perhaps he's just sincerely mistaken.

One Brow said...

Given what the Scriptures say that Jesus said an implied about himself, what could he have been if he wasn't God.

Jehovah's Witnesses believe he was God's first creation, and his assistant in the rest of creation. Back when I studied, I went just a little bit further, in that I thought was created by God from God's own substance. Either veiw is compatible with Biblical literalism, in many ways more so than Trinitarianism.

Alva Baptist Church said...

"However, to someone who does not accept the fact that Christ lives, it comes across as an absurdity to list Paul as an eyewitness to Jesus' life and words."

Can't help that. Paul saw Him and Christ is alive. They can ask Him when they see Him.

Paul presided over the arrest and murder of lots of Christians and was likely present at the crucifiction of Christ. Paul's testimony is regarding the ongoing work of Christ post death and resurrection. A fact that will be contested until His return.

Believe it or not, it is still true.

Ilíon said...

Alva: "Paul presided over the arrest and murder of lots of Christians and was likely present at the crucifiction of Christ."

There is no reason whatsoever to believe that Paul was present at the Crucifiction, and reason to believe that he was not. Furthermore, he explicitly says of himself and his apostleship "And last of all he [Christ] was seen by me also, as one born out of time."

Paul never knew the man Jesus before the Crucifixion ... he knew the risen Christ/Messiah after the Resurrection.


"Believe it or not, it is still true."

That's quite a different matter, and doesn't address the fact ... attempts, in fact, to avoid it altogether ... that one must meet non-Christians where they are, not where we are.

Eric said...

eymansfieldIt seems to me that many of the alternatives people present when trying to knock Lewis's trilemma down are very much point-missing, and thus suggest that the people presenting them have never read Lewis themselves.

For example, people often say, "What about these alternatives: Jesus was a myth, or Jesus never said what is recorded in the NT." But these alternatives obviously fail when you consider the context of Lewis's argument.

Since he is addressing those who say Jesus is a good moral teacher but not God, it couldn't be the case that Jesus didn't exist, since "Jesus was a good moral teacher, but he wasn't God, and he never existed" is clearly incoherent. Also, it's hard to conceive how someone who concludes, presumably on the basis of Jesus' words in the NT, that Jesus was a good moral teacher, can do so after having judged that Jesus never said what is attributed to him in the NT. In other words, it's also incoherent to say, "Jesus was a good moral teacher, judging from what he says in the NT, but he wasn't God, and the NT doesn't actually record what Jesus said."

Again, it seems to me that these people have never even read Lewis himself, but are commenting on mistaken versions of his arguments picked up from secondary sources.

mattghg said...

An effective refutation of everyone from C. S. Lewis to William Lane Craig to Stephen Davis to N. T. Wright and Joachim Jeremias??

Those aren't "scholarly theologians", because they make a case that the Gospels are reliable accounts of what happened in the history of the real world.

Hey, it's not circular; it's elliptically parabolic.

Mark Frank said...

I have not read the original Lewis - all I have to go on is Ilion's quote - but from this the argument seems so absurd there has to be more to it.

To say:

... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God."

Is equivalent to saying. "He says he's the Son of God. Seems like he is honest and sensible. Therefore he is the Son of God." So anyone who is otherwise sane and honest who claims they are the Son of God - must be!

The flaw is obvious. People are not neatly sane/insane or honest/dishonest. They are saner about some things than others. They are more honest about some things than others, in particular they are more honest with themselves about some things than others. Someone can easily be a good egg in most respects but have a bee in their bonnet about Aliens or vaccines or whatever. So some one may well be otherwise sane and intelligent and yet deluded into thinking they are the Son of God. Whether you want to call that delusion madness or a mistake is rather beside the point.

What am I missing? There must be more to this to justify all this debate. After all CS Lewis was an intelligent man.

K. Signal Eingang said...

I wish there were date stamps here, I'm guessing I'm way too late to contribute meaningfully here, but certainly there is a distinction between earnestly believing something false, and insanity.

Suppose I were an honest, unquestioning believer in psychic powers, and supposing everybody else I knew was too - in fact, suppose I lived in a world where belief in psychic phenomena was more or less mainstream and common.

I observe one day, as I'm driving in my car, that drumming my fingers on the dashboard a certain way seems to cause the traffic lights to turn green more quickly. I'm mistaken, of course, led astray by subjectivity and confirmation bias (I tend to forget about all the times it didn't work, or chalk it up to me not drumming my fingers exactly the right way). When I tell my friends I have this power, they have no trouble believing it, and neither do most of their friends, and given the weight of social prejudice that insists that my light-changing power is at least possible, there's really very little to incline me to doubt myself.

Now, my belief is unsound, but under the circumstances, it's not irrational. Nor, for that matter, does it preclude me from having very sane and sensible ideas about morality, social justice, or the importance of signaling turns.

So, yes, actually, I think even if we restrict the trilemma to a question of Jesus' character, it fails. It is absolutely, certainly possible that an otherwise sensible and moral man living in 1st century Palestine could have ideas of his own divinity that would, at least to us, seem bewilderingly weird, and other ideas that would seem reasonable and even inspired. It probably wouldn't be hard to find such a person there (or in parts of India or southeast Asia) today.

Matthew said...

Ah, the trilemma again. Actually, I believe there is some good evidence that Jesus claimed divinity. Just read Hurtado's "Lord Jesus Christ".

J said...

Misreadings of Hume (or non-reading), as per usual on Doc Reppert's site.

(let's grant Hume was probably a scumbag. OK. Not relevant).

Hume asserts we can only judge scripture (and really any old text) per our own awareness of the uniformity of experience. We can't prove that people never rose from the Dead, but it's a fairly safe bet (given our experience, and "public reason") they don't. Nor are there virgin births, seas parting, ho's on beasts. When some ancient text like the Good Book has writing asserting these supernatural events occurred, it's no longer authoritative, and does not count as evidence; indeed it's become even more problematic than verifying the reports from ancient history. It might be a powerful story, but hardly inerrant, or to be used as a theocratic foundation (and politically, Hume was showing the need for secularism).

Hume therefore does not indulge in the sort of quasi-detective work of the theological historians. Regardless if there were 10 reports of a ghost, or 1,000, those reports do not count as evidence, especially when the reports are second or third hand, hearsay, possibly exaggerated, a hoax, a mistake, etc. That said, the Resurrection could still be meaningful: just as the story of Osiris and Isis has meaning.

Halle-loo-jah

Steven Carr said...

'Let's see, if I were to tell my intoductory philosophy class that I was God almighty, they wouldn't call the men in the white coats to come and take me away.'

Not at all.

You could walk into any Orthodox Jewish synagogue in Jerusalem, tell people that you are God Incarnate and you would not be stoned to death as a blaspheming idolator.

That is as true now , as it was 2000 years ago.

Joel said...

I think a lot of people project McDowell's use of the trilemma back onto Lewis. McDowell makes it a much more central part of his case than Lewis does. And Lewis's version is for people who accept the truth of the Gospels (or at least mostly) but don't think Jesus was divine, while McDowell uses the trilemma to argue for the truth of the Gospels.