Saturday, March 11, 2006

Another misguided attack on Lewis from Austin Cline

Here is another misguided attack on Lewis from Austin Cline. His comments are in bold, mine are not.

Christian apologist C.S. Lewis had a curious relationship with faith. On the one hand, he couldn’t very well deny the importance of faith because it has been a core component of Christianity since the very beginning — both Jesus and Paul praise it as vital. At the same time, however, his overall goal was to provide a rational apologetic that justified acceptance of Christianity on intellectual grounds. This would make faith superfluous.

Only if faith is a matter of believing what is contrary to the evidence. This is not what we means by faith. "I am not asking anyone to believe in Christianity if his best reasoning tells him the weight of the evidence is against it. That is not where faith comes in. Even after you give a lot of evidence in support of Christainity, there is still prenty of room for faith, since the evidence is less than an immediate sensory demonstration.

To get around this, Lewis attempted to distinguish between two different senses of the word “faith” to correspond with two different senses of the word “God.” The first sense of the word “God” is the philosophical God, a moral lawgiver or cosmic designer which philosophy can plausible prove the existence of. Acceptance of the existence of this sort of god Lewis called Faith-A. Lewis recognized, however, that this philosophical God could not automatically be identified with the Christian God.

Wrong. Faith-A is the intellectual assent to Christian claims, whether it is the existence of God or the resurrection of Christ. Lewis does give arguments for his Christian beliefs as well as his theistic beliefs.

The religious belief which Lewis designated Faith-B is no mere intellectual assent; instead, it’s a belief in God — a trust in God that represents a religious relationship between the person and the divine.

It is a preparedness to act in accordance with one's beliefs. it involves a state of the will, and not merely a state of one's beliefs.

Faith-A is a prerequisite for Faith-B, but it does not necessarily and always lead to Faith-B. C.S. Lewis’ apologetics were designed to demonstrate that reasonableness of Faith-A (and, in fact, that it is more reasonable than atheism), but his ultimate goal was for people to accept Faith-B as well. Although he did not believe that he could provide philosophical arguments leading to Faith-B, he hoped that be removing intellectual barriers to belief in the existence of any sort of god, he might pave the way to believe in the Christian god. Thus the goal of his books was to provide the basis for an intellectual conversion to one sort of theism which, he hoped, would lead to an emotional conversion to a different sort of theism later on.

Calling Faith-B emotional is another mistake. Feelings are bound to come and go.

Consider the following case: someone is tempted to break their wedding vows and commit adultery. Merely believing that adultery is wrong won't prevent the adultery. And feelings are what is pushing the person toward the adulterous affair. What is required is an act of the will to act in accordance with what one believes and not in accordance with what one feels. That is the virtue of faith. Book 3, chapter 11 of Mere Christianity makes that so clear that I can't see how anyone could miss it.

This isn’t a surprising state of affairs — C.S. Lewis often acted as though the only real reason atheists had for rejecting Christianity was emotional rather than intellectual. If this were the case, then it makes perfect sense to believe that making Christianity less emotionally distant would be an appropriate apologetical tactic.

See my previous comment.

Lewis’ ideas about faith create problems for his apologetics as well, however. He presents his philosophical arguments with the request that skeptics give them a fair shake and only accept them if they believe that the weight of evidence is in favor of them. In other words, he tells nonbelievers that they should not believe Christianity if they think that the weight of evidence is against it, even if some evidence appears to be in favor of it.

He has an entirely different message for believers, though: to them, he argues that they must hold fast to their Christian beliefs regardless of the evidence which comes out against Christianity. They must be “obstinate” in their beliefs and to remain loyal, regardless of changing “moods” (he doesn’t seem to have thought that serious doubts would have occurred to a Christian for any reason other than shifting moods). It’s praiseworthy for the Christian to be “obstinate,” but he criticizes atheists whom he accuses of avoiding facts that contradict their beliefs.

This difference, which skeptics will immediately reject as a form of special pleading, can be traced directly to the different senses of faith which Lewis relies upon. Christians’ Faith-B is a form of loyalty, trust, allegiance, and commitment which is not reducible to evidence. It goes beyond the immediate evidence and logic; Christian belief and Christian doctrine are not related to the scientific principle of proportioning belief to evidence.

The difference is that Christians, in addition to the rational evidence that supported their beliefs, have a difference sort of evidence, a type of evidence based on their own experience of God's presence as Christians. And complete obstinacy in the light of just any evidence is not required of the believer. Also, the Christian has a commitment to a Person, and not merely a commitment to a proposition. Should a husband or wife proportion belief to the evidence in considering possible infidelity? Or should a spouse put a higher-than-normal burden of proof on an infidelity claim? This is not special pleading, this is built into the idea that a person can know God by acquaintance as a believer.

The Faith-A which Lewis promote to skeptics, though, isn’t a form of commitment — it’s just an intellectual assent, like how someone might intellectually assent to the existence of Paris in France. This is the sort of thing for which Lewis accepted that one should proportion one’s belief to the evidence.

That is the most rational discourse can do. Arguing for Faith-B is like giving someone arguments for being a faithful wife or husband. If one has made a wedding vow, the arguments have already been given. The will to uphold them is what is now needed.

Unfortunately, Lewis never provided any basis for moving from Faith-A to Faith-B, from belief in the existence of a Power behind Moral Law to faith in the Christian God. He also doesn’t provide any good reason why the commitment of Faith-B shouldn’t be subject to basic standards of evidence; by endorsing “obstinate” faith in the face of contrary evidence, he effectively endorses religious fanaticism.

If one comes to believe that there is a God, the Christ is the Second Person, that Christ rose from the dead, that the Holy Spirit is at work in the soul of the believer, then it is rational to act as if that is so. It would not be rational to sleep in on Sunday and save ten percent. However, an act of the will, not the intellect, is required.

Lewis offers reasons why the situation of the believer is different from the situation of the nonbeliever, in that the believer think himself to have direct personal experience of the Christian God, and that there is a personal relationship involved, which is not present in the case of the nonbeliever. Cline ignores the reasons Lewis offers, and accuses Lewis of advocating fanaticism.

I can imagine possible evidence which might lead me to think it rational to think that Christianity had been shown to be false. But as a believer I consider these situations to be counterfactual. That doesn't mean that I won't ever feel like it isn't true, or that reasons to be skeptical might not arise, and I have already subjected many of my beliefs as a Christian to scrutiny and have changed my mind about various things over time.

Lewis does say, in Book 3 Chapter 11 of Mere Christianity:

“I am not talking about moments at which any new reasons against Christianity come up. These have to be faced and that is a different matter.” (p. 125 in my edition).

I don't like to think of it as "Imagine any situation that might arise, and realize that it is your job, regardless of the evidence that might arise, to hold onto your faith." I don't think God wants to pit my faith against my reason, having created my reason in the first place. It is more like "there may be temptations to faith that come along the way, but when they do, I trust that God will always be there to provide a way to rationally affirm my faith." If Cline wants to call that fanaticism, let him.

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