In the world of apologetics, there are few arguments more famous than C.S. Lewis‘ trilemma, which is found in his most popular apologetic work, Mere Christianity. Even classic arguments like Anselm’s famous ontological argument for the â€œbeing greater than which nothing can be conceivedâ€ and Pascal’s wager, while still part of the discussion of apologetics, have not in recent years been as popular, or reviled, as Lewis’ trilemma. It even spawned a book (Josh McDowell’s More Than a Carpenter) and a song (Dana Key’s â€œLiar, Lunatic or Lordâ€ from the album, Part of the Mystery). [On a side note, both of these are guilty in my mind of the problems which Alister McGrath points to when you make the trilemma try to function as a proof of divinity. I think McDowell in particular creates misunderstanding regarding the trilemma, which should be critiqued. However, since this piece is about Lewisâ€™ trilemma, and not McDowellâ€™s misapplication, I will only state here that I do not think McDowell is an example of how to understand Lewis.] However, just because an argument is famous, does not mean that is valid as an argument or even that it provides some kind of compelling existential draw. As an example of what I mean, I would look to Anselm’s ontological argument. While I recognize it has flaws as an argument, it continues to fascinate me. I find something existentially compelling to it, and how it has been used (and abused) through history. Conversely, I have never found Pascalâ€™s wager that interesting, though many do. Lewis’ trilemma is one of those arguments which seems to have flaws built into it, but still many people are drawn to it. But do those who critique the argument really land on what Lewis is doing in the trilemma? I do not believe that they do. To demonstrate this, we will consider the argument itself, look at the problems which people have with it and see if these problems really fit with what Lewis wants to do in the trilemma. [Read more…] about Re-Examining Lewis’ Trilemma
This is the second of a two-part series addressing the question of whether nature can be used as a Christian apologetic. Natural theology is a discipline that systematically explores the proposed link between God and nature. The traditional approach to natural theology seeks to prove God’s existence from what is observed in nature without reference to the Bible or other religious texts. The problem with this approach is that nature is ambiguous with respect to the question of God’s existence. In my last blog post, I discussed a second approach, proposed by Alister McGrath. In this approach nature is viewed as an “open secret” which is publicly accessible but its true meaning can only be known from the perspective of Christian faith. This Christian natural theology does not attempt to prove the existence of God from nature but rather sees what is observed in nature as reinforcing an existing belief in God.
In this post, I want to revisit the intelligent design argument (see blog post 10) from the perspective of McGrathâ€™s idea of a Christian natural theology. There are two types of intelligent design: biological and cosmological. Biological intelligent design asserts that some biological structures are too complex to have been produced by natural selection. Cosmological intelligent design asserts that science is not able to answer certain basic questions about the origin of the universe and its basic properties. In this post we are going to focus on cosmological intelligent design and in particular a phenomenon known as cosmic fine-tuning which is perhaps the strongest argument for intelligent design. [Read more…] about Nature as a Christian Apologetic: Intelligent Design Revisited
In previous blogs, weâ€™ve seen that God reveals himself to man through nature and through scripture and weâ€™ve been addressing questions about how manâ€™s interpretations of these revelations can be reconciled. In the next two blogs we are going to address a different question: can nature be used as a Christian apologetic? In other words can Christians use nature in some way for evangelism?
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.Â — Psalm 19:1-2
For since the creation of the world Godâ€™s invisible qualitiesâ€”his eternal power and divine natureâ€”have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.Â — Romans 1:20
These verses imply that something about God can be known from nature. Romans 1:20 further suggests that there is moral accountability for what is revealed in nature. Natural theology is a discipline that systematically explores a proposed link between God and nature. The traditional approach to natural theology sought to â€œproveâ€ Godâ€™s existence from what is observed in nature without reference to the Bible or other sacred documents. William Alston, a Christian philosopher, defined natural theology as
the enterprise of providing support for religious beliefs by starting from premises that neither are nor pre-suppose any religious beliefs.
Problems with the traditional approach to natural theology
This is the third in a series of blog posts concerned with Christian questions about evolution. In my last post we saw that science does not rule out God because it is not competent to address the question of God. But, is evolution compatible with belief in God as the Creator? That is the topic of this post.
A major concern for some Christians is that there is no need for God in the process of evolution. Ironically, this is also the view of atheists. In his book The God Delusion, the atheist biologist Richard DawkinsÂ claims that evolution is not compatible with belief in a Creator God because of the automatic nature of the evolutionary process. He talks about a book Creation Revisited by another atheist scientist Peter Atkins. In this book Atkins
postulates a hypothetically lazy God who tries to get away with as little as possible in order to make a universe containing life. Atkinsâ€™s lazy god is even lazier than the deist God of the 18th-century Enlightenment: deus otiosus – literally, God at leisure, unoccupied, unemployed, superfluous, useless. Step-by-step Atkins succeeds in reducing the amount of work the lazy God has to do until he finally ends up doing nothing at all; he might as well not bother to exist.
A related concern for many Christians is that evolution can only be accepted by accommodating Biblical interpretation to fit contemporary scientific theories. [Read more…] about Is Evolution Compatible with belief in God as the Creator?
Review of Alister McGrath, C.S. Lewis — A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant ProphetÂ (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2013) for the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). Part II. Click here for Part I.
Things which I felt did not work:
Moving on to things that I found difficult about the work, I think the biggest thing was that the writing style was confusing to me. At times, McGrath seemed to fall into the awkward habit in his writing style of announcing his transitions in a way that seemed unnecessary. For instance, he ends the section on the Inklings with the following, â€œYet this is to run ahead of our narrative. We must now consider the work which established Lewis’s reputation as a serious literary scholar â€“ and which remains widely read to this day â€“ the 1936 classicÂ The Allegory of Loveâ€Â (181-2). This leads to his next heading: â€œThe Allegory of LoveÂ (1936)â€ (182). At least once, he set up the next section or transition with an entire paragraph that was an explanation of what he was going to say next. At some point, it became very noticeable in the narrative, similar to the way that someoneâ€™s verbal tick in a speech becomes noticeable if it is repeated enough times. While this is not a substantive complaint, books are narratives which are meant to be read and it made the flow very awkward and these explicit transitions seemed very unnecessary to the writing and should have been caught by an editor. It is possible this is more of an English (as opposed to American) writing style (he does favor English spellings over American spellings), but compared to several other biographies that I have read recently, this stylistically did not work and became distracting.
The big issue that McGrath takes up in this work, which he acknowledges places him alone among Lewis scholars, is the dating of Lewis’ conversion (135-146). While it is certainly true that autobiographical memory is open to critical evaluation by later generations of scholars and this may in fact become the standard view with further consideration, I was left wondering why the issue seemed to be such a big deal for McGrath. McGrath set up the issue around one of his central themes for the biography, connecting Lewis’ inner and external worlds by looking at Lewis’ own account inÂ Surprised by JoyÂ and comparing that with Lewis’ correspondence and known behavioral changes. This led him to the conclusion that Lewis converted to theism in 1930 and not 1929 as Lewis states in his autobiography. Of more interest to me, and an issue which is largely lacking in this biography, is the transformation of Lewis from the person that we meet in the early pages of the biography, one who is willing to experiment with sexual pain and S&M to the admittedly conservative Lewis who we encounter later in life (cf. 236). McGrath does not really take up that issue other than a couple of oblique references to issues like Lewis’ transition from a more low church expression to a high church Anglican. Considering the veiled implications (or not so veiled depending on how you read McGrath) which McGrath makes about Lewis’ relationship with Mrs. Moore â€“ an admittedly thorny issue for Lewis scholars â€“ it would seem that some more of these transitional blanks could have been addressed (or at least explored). One gets the impression that Lewis converted and was simply and immediately transformed, but it would seem that it is unlikely.
Finally, I have two issues with the way that McGrath took up Lewis’ corpus. [Read more…] about Review of Alister McGrath, C.S. Lewis — A Life. Part II