The native habitat of reason

‘Lewis was an imaginative genius. But more than that, he was a man who understood that a rightly ordered imagination was a fortress for the rational capacities of man. It is not the way we normally suppose. It is easy to think that clearheadedness is the fortress and that it protects the imagination, what we are allowed to play with in our recreational hours. But Lewis’s tough-mindedness was the result of having been given a sanctified imagination. In the apostle Paul we see the same kind of thing–it is the peace of God that passes understanding that protects our “hearts and … minds” (Phil. 4:7). It is not the other way around. One of the reasons many apologists are not nearly as effective as Lewis is that they want the cold granite of reason to do everything. But true reason will collapse before a false imagination. False imagination must be answered by a true imagination, and when that happens, reason can flourish in its native habitat.’

[Doug Wilson, Writers to Read: Nine Names That Belong on your Bookshelf (Crossway, 2015), p105]

This begs the question of what “true imagination” looks like. Nevetheless, the quote above adds support to the view that a purely rational approach to apologetics is deficient, since it tends to ignore essential non-rational aspects of human nature. No apologetic should be irrational, of course, but the process of persuasion is never simply a matter of the truth value of particular propositions. Scripture speaks in such a way that our capacity for imagination, beauty, poetry, humour, and so on, must be employed to be receptive to it. So, a defence of biblical truth should likewise employ these same capacities in order to reveal more clearly the nature of that truth as well as its truth value.  For example:

Rise, heart, thy lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without delays,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him may’st rise:
That, as his death calcinèd thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and, much more, just.

[George Herbert, Easter (from The Temple)]

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

[Psalm 23, KJV]

The truth that we confess is not merely true, justified and coherent, but also beautiful.

We cannot  ignore the fact that different people differ in their appreciation of beauty and imagination, etc. Nevertheless, a truncated apologetic that only targets one dimension of human nature (i.e. rationality) will be constrained in what it can say and communicate.

Science and “I”

I’m currently reading Roger Scruton’s “The Soul of the World“, which is a typically articulate and, at times, entertaining demonstration of how a reductionist and materialist explanation of the world cannot account for intuitively necessary elements of existence, such as personality, relationships, moral intuitions, beauty, and so on. While not arguing for a purely subjective existence, Scruton argues that Science cannot explain to me who I am without destroying that which I consider most important in any full account of who I am, let alone explaining where I am.

‘”I” is an indexical term, like “here” and “now” … Although there is a sense in which I cannot mistakenly identify the place where I am as here, and the time at which I am speaking as now, I have no special privilege as to what is going on here and now, other than those privileges that depend on my use of “I”. On the other hand, it is clear that there is no place for indexical terms in science, and that, just as a unified science must replace all reference to “here” and “now” with positions identified in four-dimensional space, so must it drop the use of “I”. As Thomas Nagel has pointed out [1], however, this leads to a singular puzzle concerning the relation of the world, which identifies all the particles and fields of force, all the laws of motion that govern their changes, and which gives a complete identification of the positions of everything at some given time. But, however complete this description might be, there is one fact that it does not mention and which is, for me, the most important fact there is, namely, which of the objects in this world am I? Where am I, in the world of unified science? The identification of any object in the first-person case is ruled out by the enterprise of scientific explanation. So science cannot tell me who I am, let alone where, when or how.’

Scruton, The Soul of the World (Princeton, 2014), p31

[1] Thomas Nagel, The View from Nowhere (OUP, 1986)

Sharpening the reason of the Scripture

Now the souls of the men whose good is sought in this work are no less precious in the sight of God, though they are unacquainted with philosophical terms and ways of arguing, than the souls of the most learned. Besides, that which we account our wisdom and learning may, if too rigorously attended, be our folly. When we think to sharpen the reason of the Scripture, we may straiten the efficacy of the spirit of it. It is oftentimes more effectual in its own liberty than when restrained to our methods of arguing, and the weapons of it keener in their own soft breathings than when sharpened in the forge of Aristotle.

John Owen, From the epistle dedicatory prefixed to The Doctrine of the Saints’ Perseverance.

Perceiving God

God always uses a means – whether taken from among creatures or chosen freely – by which he reveals himself to human beings. By signs and symbols he makes his presence felt by them; by acts he proclaims his attributes; by speech and language he makes known to them his will and mind. Even in cases where he reveals himself internally in the human consciousness by his Spirit, this revelation always occurs organically and hence mediately. The distance between the Creator and creature is much too great for human beings to perceive God directly. The finite is not capable of containing the infinite.

Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (Baker, 2003), Vol. 1: Prolegomena, p309-310

Make it attractive

Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect.

Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is.

Worthy of reverence because it really understands human nature.

Attractive because it promises true good.

Pascal, Pensees, Fragment 12.

The Apologist’s Evening Prayer

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
Of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

Written by C.S.Lewis. Quoted in Dulles, A History of Apologetics (Ignatius Press, 2005), in the  first unnumbered pages. Original source is Poems, ed. Walter Hooper (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1964).

John Owen on Knowledge

The difference between believers and unbelievers as to knowledge is not so much in the matter of their knowledge as in the manner of knowing. Unbelievers, some of them, may know more and be able to say more of God, his perfections, and his will, than many believers; but they know nothing as they ought,  nothing in a right manner, nothing spiritually and savingly, nothing with a holy, heavenly light. The excellency of a believer is, not that he has a large apprehension of things, but that what he does apprehend, which perhaps may be very little, he sees it in the light of the Spirit of God, in a saving, soul-transforming light; and this is that which gives us communion with God, and not prying thoughts or curious-raised notions.

John Owen, Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers in Kapic & Taylor (eds.), Overcoming Sin & Temptation (Crossway, 2006), p117

Unintelligible Evidences

The evidences that we usually think of presenting to the unbeliever are not truly evidential of scriptural veracity unless they are interpreted by proper presuppositions [i.e. the system of scriptural truth]. Without those presuppositions, these things are not intelligible as evidences of anything.

Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic (P&R, 1998), p218n.129

Murray on the Ground of Faith

The nature of faith is acceptance on the basis of testimony, and the ground of faith is therefore testimony or evidence. In this matter it is the evidence God has provided, and God provides the evidence in his Word, and the witness the Bible itself bears to the fact that it is God’s Word, and our faith that it is infallible must rest upon no other basis than the witness the Bible bears to this fact. If the Bible does not witness to its own infallibility, then we have no right to believe that it is infallible. If it does bear witness to its infallibility then our faith in it must rest upon that witness, however much difficulty may be entertained with belief. If this position with respect to the ground of faith in Scripture is abandoned, then appeal to the Bible for the ground of faith in any other doctrine must also be abandoned.

John Murray, “The Attestation of Scripture”, The Infallible Word, ed. by N. B. Stonehouse and Paul Woolley (The Presbyterian Guardian, 1946), pp. 7-8.