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.

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).

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.

The Lord of Apologetics

In the words of 1 Peter 3:15, the personal prerequisite for offering a reasoned defense of the Christian faith is to have “set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts.” Christ must be the ultimate authority over our philosophy, our reasoning, and our argumentation–not just at the end, but at the beginning, of the apologetical endeavor. If we are to “cast down reasonings and every high thing exalted against the knowledge of God,” said Paul, then we must “bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ”  (2 Cor. 10:5). An ultimate commitment to Christ covers the entire range of human activity, including every aspect of intellectual endeavor. To reason in a way that does not recognize this is to transgress the first and great commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with … all your mind” (Mt. 22:37). In light of this, our apologetical method, not merely our apologetical conclusions, should be controlled by the word of God.”

Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic (P&R, 1998), p2.

The religion of materialism

From Edward Feser, The Last Superstition (Kindle edition), Location 363-387:

…the so-called “war between science and religion” is really a war between two rival philosophical worldviews, and not at bottom a scientific or theological dispute at all. Occasionally you’ll find a secularist who admits as much. Nagel is one example [See this post].  Another is biologist Richard Lewontin [See this post] … Similarly, physicist Paul Davis tell us that “science takes as its starting point the assumption that life wasn’t made by a god or a supernatural being,” and acknowledges that, partially out of fear of “open[ing] the door to religious fundamentalists … many investigators feel uneasy about stating in public that the origin of life is a mystery, even though behind closed doors they freely admit that they are baffled.” [1] Among prominent contemporary philosophers, Tyler Burge opines that “materialism is not established, or even clearly supported, by science” and that its hold over his peers is analogous to that of a “political or religious ideology”[2]; John Searle tells us that “materialism is the religion of our time,” that “like more traditional religions, it is accepted without question and … provides the framework within which other questions can be posed, addressed, and answered,” and that “materialists are convinced, with a quasi-religious faith, that their view must be right” [3]; and William Lycan admits, in what he himself calls “an uncharacteristic exercise in intellectual honesty,” that the arguments for materialism are no better than the arguments against it, that his “own faith in materialism is based on science-worship,” and that “we also always hold our opponents to higher standards of argumentation than we obey ourselves.” [4]

Feser’s footnotes:

[1] Paul Davis, The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life (Simon and Schuster, 1999), pp. 17-18, emphasis added.
[2] Tyler Burge, “Mind-Body Causation and Explanatory Practice,” in John Heil and Alfred Mele, eds., Mental Causation (Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 117.
[3] John R. Searle, Mind: A Brief Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 48.
[4] William G. Lycan, “Giving Dualism Its Due,” a paper presented at the 2007 Australasian Association of Philosophy conference at the University of New England. The draft is available on Lycan’s website.

The cosmic authority problem

Edward Feser in his book The Last Superstition (Location 321-332, Kindle edition) quotes Thomas Nagel (Professor of Philosophy and Law at NYU) who believes that a “fear of religion” is not merely subjectively felt by secularist intellectuals but that it often underlies their work, leading to “large and often pernicious consequences for modern intellectual life” (Nagel’s words). Nagel confesses:

I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about human life, including everything about the human mind.[1]

Feser comments:

…as the philosophy C.F.J. Martin has pointed out, the element of divine punishment – traditionally understood in the monotheistic religions as a sentence of eternal damnation in Hell – shows that atheism is hardly less plausibly motivated by wishful thinking than theism is. For while it is hard to understand why someone would want to believe that he is in danger of everlasting hellfire, it is not at all hard to see why one would desperately want not to believe this. [2]

[1] Thomas Nagel, The Last Word (Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 130-131
[2] see C.F.J. Martin, Thomas Aquinas: God and Explanations (Edinburgh University Press, 1997), pp. 98-99.

Follow the evidence?

The following is a transcript from a fascinating informal debate between John Lennox and Peter Atkins, which can be viewed here. This particular section starts around the 1hr 4min mark. The following exchange betrays Atkins a priori presupposition of atheism in the face of conflicting evidence.

Lennox: Do you think it’s an illegitimate thing from a scientific perspective, Peter, to see whether scientifically one can establish whether intelligence needs to be involved … in the origin of life.
Atkins: I think the scientific method is Occam again, to see whether you can account for everything that is reliably known, without elaborating the hypothesis. So, let’s just take the laws of nature … and seeing that letting them run free in the environment that we can speculate existed – and we’ve got evidence of the type of environment existed billions of years ago, seeing whether that sort of process leads to life and if it does that seems to me to abnegate the need for the imposition of intelligence.
Lennox: And, if it doesn’t?
Atkins: Then if we go on trying – we may have to try for 100 years – but if we, in the end, come to the conclusion that an external intelligence must have done it, then we will have to accept that.
Lennox: Would you be prepared to accept that?
Atkins: No.