Thursday, May 20, 2021

Did C. S. Lewis come to think that Christian Apologetics is a Misguided Enterprise?


The Anscombe incident is often trotted out as an object lesson for those foolish enough to engage in Christian apologetics. An example of this comes from Ruth Tucker, a Christian author from Calvin Theological Seminary who uses the Anscombe incident as part of her critique of Christian apologetics and defense of fideism. Tucker thinks it was a good thing that Lewis left some of his apologetics behind and came to the foot of the cross, taking the line that Lewis gave up apologetics for, mostly children’s fantasy tales, after the Anscombe incident.  She thinks this was good because apologetics is an enterprise that renders the Christian intellectually arrogant and domineering (and, of course, we all love Narnia). She does note that Lewis revised his chapter to repair the “serious hitch” that Anscombe had revealed (something not usually mentioned by those who use the Anscombe incident to prove some anti-apologetic point), but seems not to ask the question of why anyone would bother to revise an apologetic argument if they had been persuaded that this argument was simply bad, or that arguments for God don’t work, or that apologetics is a bad idea. In fact Lewis wrote lots of fiction prior to the Anscombe incident, and plenty of apologetics after it,

She chides me as someone who defends Lewis’s original argument (I don’t, I defend his revised argument, with amendments), and she thinks it telling that I wasn’t able to persuade my dissertation committee that my argument was a good one. Hers seems to be a version of the argument against the apologetic enterprise that says, “Well, these arguments don’t persuade people, so why spend time on them?”

But anyone who spends time in secular academic circles knows that one can be made to feel that Christianity, or even theism, is a nonstarter and that everyone is entitled to simply assume its claims are false. I remember a friend of mine once telling me about a philosophy professor who told his students “Let me clue you in. There’s no God.” Many discussions in the philosophy of mind take materialism for granted as a basic assumption. Encountering this, as many do, I asked whether this was the result of overwhelming evidence, of whether there were deep and serious problems with atheistic materialism toward which Lewis was pointing. Studying the argument in grad school (it took me awhile to be fully convinced), I concluded that the latter was true. I’ve never assumed that the case for Christianity is necessarily going to overwhelm people, or even to provide absolute certainty for the believer, but rather that, at the end of the day, there are good enough reasons for reasonable people to conclude that Christian theism provides the most adequate understanding of the world. If people are persuaded that intelligent people don’t accept Christian beliefs, then faith tends to suffocate. Austin Farrer put it very nicely in his essay on Lewis as an apologist.

It is commonly said that if rational argument is so seldom the cause of conviction, philosophical apologists must largely be wasting their shot. The premise is true, but the conclusion does not follow. For though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish. So the apologist who does nothing but defend may play a useful, though preparatory, part.


bmiller said...

But anyone who spends time in secular academic circles knows that one can be made to feel that Christianity, or even theism, is a nonstarter and that everyone is entitled to simply assume its claims are false.

Which is a good reason to think that those members of the secular academic circles are simply selling their own "religion" rather than seeking truth. I saw the nonsense in the first sociology course I took long ago.

I assume that this sentiment only used to refer to the humanities but it seems now that it has metastasized itself onto the hard sciences too. We better regain our rationality as a society soon or kiss civilization goodbye.

bmiller said...

So the question is why should a young impressionable Christian agree to be trained by a cult?

Certainly philosophy is taught at Christian Universities.

bmiller said...

In fact Lewis wrote lots of fiction prior to the Anscombe incident, and plenty of apologetics after it,

Anscombe agrees

Anscombe's own recollection of the meeting is quite different. The meeting was 'an occasion of sober discussion of certain quite definite criticisms, which Lewis' rethinking and rewriting [of that chapter of his book] showed he thought were accurate' [11]. She suggests that the dramatic accounts of the humiliation of the great Lewis were more a projection of the feelings of those observers than of Lewis himself. One should also note that, rather than abandoning popular theology, CS Lewis went on five years later to revise his wartime broadcasts as Mere Christianity, perhaps his most significant work in this area.

I wonder why this is such a big deal. It looks like Anscombe helped Lewis tighten up his argument. Was it because she was only 29 and a woman when she brought this up at the Socrates Society and the observers were keen to see Lewis sunk by such a "lowly" source?

Victor Reppert said...

I think sexism could have played a role in explaining why this was taken to be so embarrassing for Lewis, mostly, I think sexism on the part of Oxford society. What has puzzled me about the entire Anscombe incident is that it seems so much like ordinary philosophical practice. I think Lewis did find it disturbing because a fellow Christian was attacking his argument, but not presenting her own reasons for rejecting naturalism, thus, perhaps inadvertently supporting the atheistic culture of the time. She thought Lewis's original argument was just a sloppy argument, and claimed at the end of her paper that you couldn't refute the naturalist appealing to the validity of reasoning. In her responses subsequently, she thinks Lewis's revision raised a serious question to which she didn't have a answer on behalf of the naturalist, but she stops short of endorsing Lewis's argument. She didn't go as far as her husband, who said this:

When we hear of some new attempt to explain reasoning or language or choice naturalistically, we ought to react as if we were told that someone had squared the circle or proved the square root of 2 to be rational: only the mildest curiosity is in order-how well has the fallacy been concealed?