Thursday, September 21, 2006

Further (and final?) thoughts on the argument from desire

Of course, I would be very surprised if someone with entrenched naturalist convictions like BDK were to lose sleep over the argument from desire. I did a Bayesian calculation awhile ago in the combox about what the Bayesian AFD would do for someone whose prior for theism was 0.01 and the result was, well, pretty underwhelming. In spite of what a lot of people seem to assume, a surprisingly small percentage of Lewis's own apologetical writigns are about the existence of God, and when the existence of God does come up, I don't see Lewis using the AFD. It comes up in Lewis's treatment of hope in Mere Christianity and his treatment of Heaven in The Problem of Pain. The Weight of Glory was preached in a church. In Surprised by joy Lewis seems to have lost his faith in naturalism for reasons completely independent of Joy (his discussions with Owen Barfield seem to have caused that, based on a combination of the Argument from Reason and the Moral Argument). As a result, some Lewis students wonder whether there is an Argument from Desire in Lewis at all.

At the same time Lewis seems to have a good "in-house" argument for a desire for heaven on the part of Christians; a way of telling Christians how have trouble visualizing their future hope (and there are Christians in the predicament), that we have reason to believe that humans were really made for heaven. And Lewis did seem to think that the fact that his beliefs as a theist and a Christian made more sense of his "joy" experiences (which he certainly had and which were important to him) than his previous atheistic perspective. The fact that Joy "fits in" with his Christian perspective seemed in his mind to provide confirmation that the other lines of thought leading toward theism and ultimately Christianity were correct. Was he wrong in so thinking?

Hence my interest in developing this argument in Bayesian confirmationist terms, a suggestion first made by Thomas V. Morris in his critique of Beversluis's book, a critique that is reproduced in full in Richard Purtill's essay "Did C. S. Lewis Lose His Faith" in A Christian for All Christians.

I do think the arguments for reason and morality are more challenging to evolutionary naturalism than is the argument from desire.


Mike Darus said...

It seems that you are suggesting something I suspect that Lewis' apologetic was targeted more to struggling believers that to skeptics?

Anonymous said...


Victor Reppert said...

No. This is not what I want to say. Notice the enthusiastic response of the anonymous commenter, who is probably an atheist. You say something like that, and they will say "See, you admit it. Your arguments are just there to buck up people on your own side, not to challenge us!" I mean, what if I said that about the arguments found on Internet Infidels?

There's plenty in C. S. Lewis that ought to challenge nonbelievers, including the stuff that once challenged C. S. Lewis the nonbleiever. In the case of the argument from reason, for example, it is designed to show that the nonbeliever's worldview is incoherent. That's pretty darn challenging to the nonbeliever. It may not persuade the nonbeliever, but it has to be regarded as a serious challenge.

What I was saying had to do with the argument from desire. It was my contention that it probably has more force as an in-house argument in favor of a vivid anticipation of heaven than it has as a challenge to skeptics like Blue Devil Knight. It's not as if the argument should have no impact on skeptics; that's what why I use Bayes' theorem to make the case that there is a confirmationist argument to be had here. However, I don't think I want to put so much weight on this argument, as opposed to others.

Conversions from one world-view to another are complex matter that typically occur because various types of evidence converge. They often function something like paradigm shifts in science. Human beings are, I think rightly, fairly conservative about changing world-views, we come to be at home in our universes. But they do happen, and arguments do play a role when they do happen. To deny this would be absurd.

Anonymous said...

So far I have found Lewis' arguments anything but compelling. I was a theist for many, many, many years and only became an atheist less than a year ago after studying religion in more depth. I do not believe I am invested particularly in atheism. I am certainly open to arguments and evidence from theists. So far, though, I have seen nothing that is at all compelling. All the evidence seems to me to be on the side of atheism, and all that theists appear to have is myths and wishful thinking. And frankly, the AFD is one of the lamest arguments I have seen.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Victor's point in the last paragraph is important. I find it cute when atheists and theists provide a proof that will settle the question. It ain't how we operate: I think we come to a reflective equilibrium by weighing tons of factors (only one of which is philosophical argumentation, and most people don't even have that as a factor).

I am skeptical of all this Bayesian stuff about God, but it is an interesting curiosity. Kind of like the Drake equation in SETI, but with even less reason to take any of the individual probabilities seriously, or to know if we have taken into account all the possible conditionals (which are essentially infinite).

Anonymous said...

"No. This is not what I want to say. Notice the enthusiastic response of the anonymous commenter, who is probably an atheist. You say something like that, and they will say "See, you admit it. Your arguments are just there to buck up people on your own side, not to challenge us!" "

That was my experience. Lewis' books were used to help me keep the faith. They failed.
Nor were they helpful when I returned to the faith years later.

Based on my personal experience, I really have a hard time understanding how the argument from reason would persuade someone to convert. It certainly is not part of the gospel message.
Apart from whatever philosophical value it may or may not have, I find the argument to be bad theology like the kind practiced by the ID folks. But then we Christians never have agreed much about what is important to the faith.