Friday, December 14, 2007

How Not to Defend C. S. Lewis

This post, by Keith Parsons on John Beversluis's new edition, highlights the kinds of harsh criticism Beversluis received when the first edition of his book came out. The passages quoted there, however go beyond simply harsh to criticizing Beversluis's competence and intellectual honesty. As I understand it from him, I'm the prime example of a Beversluis critic who managed to avoid denunciatory rhetoric. I can understand what upset some of Beversluis's other critics, but what they forgot is that however much we may like some thinker, real progress in understanding and developing that thinker's thought is a product of debate between critics and supporters. My main beef with many books that have been written about Lewis is that they show little sense of what someone who is completely skeptical of what Lewis is doing is likely to say. Without an interaction with a critical perspective, you might as well not write your book, because nine times out of ten Lewis said it better than you ever could.

It may be a little while before I get to this book, but when I do, I will give it a full and fair response. I had a boatload of disagreements with the first edition, and unless I change my mind in a huge way when I read the new edition, I'll have plenty of disagreements with it as well. But while it is sometimes necessary to be sharply critical, charges of bad faith against an opponent are impossible to prove and of little value anyway. Once they start flying around, it becomes difficult or impossible to restore the discussion to a civilized tone. Discussion surrounding Intelligent Design is an excellent example.

Since he considers my replies to him to be fair and competent, I confidently anticipate that admirers of my book will find his to be an enlightening though challenging read, where discussion of my book is concerned.

Lewis is a figure that attracts strong reactions, both positively and negatively. Because he does, people on both sides ought to make a special effort to keep the discussion civil and productive.


exapologist said...

I don't get it. I'm an agnostic, and I *love* Lewis. I wish I could write as well as him. I also think his arguments are interesting, and deserving of careful consideration. It is sad when someone is unable to enjoy and admire people with whom they disagree. Speaks volumes about them.

Tim said...


I, too, had a very long list of criticisms of the first edition of Beversluis's book. My copy is well annotated. I haven't seen the revised edition yet, but some of the early indications (from reviews by people who like it) are not too promising. Still, when time permits, I will read it.