Saturday, January 26, 2008

On C. S. Lewis and success

Ed Babinski and John Loftus: Was it so difficult to understand that in the post on reasons for Lewis's success as an apologist I meant that success in being popular and persuasive? After all, if you read to the end of the post, you would have seen that I said that:

All of these things, I believe, have contribute to Lewis’s popular success as an apologist. However, all of these achievements, which are considerable, are quite compatible with Lewis’s having provided poor and inadequate reasons for accepting Christianity. Lewis's apologetics still must be put before the bar of rational argument, just like anyone else's.

Actually, this was the beginning of an essay I eventually published in a four-volume Lewis encyclopedia in which I replied to Beversluis's first edition on the problem of evil, A Grief Observed, and ethical subjectivism. I am linking to a page on the encyclopedia set here. I think some of the points in this essay could be carried over to the new edition, while others of course would not.

Obviously, people are going to be debating Lewis's arguments long after Beversluis and I are both dead. I think that they provide at least the foundations of good apologetical arguments by and large, and he does not. I think, for instance that he missed some important points in my development of the argument from reason, which I plan to discuss either here or at DI2 in the near future.

As for Ed's question as to whether I am the only Christian philosopher that references Lewis very often, just read Beversluis's book and count the number of Christian defenders of Lewis he responds to. Big hint: the number is much higher than 1.

12 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, if you mean "success" as "being popular and persuasive," then all you're saying is that Lewis was popular and persuasive. As such, what does that tell us? It tells us he was popular and persuasive! That's like saying Reagan was popular and persuasive, or that Hitler was popular and persuasive. And while that is something, it isn't much all by itself.

Among their followers, David Koresh, Jim Jones and Joseph Smith were persuasive and popular. Surely you'll argue C.S. Lewis was more popular than any of them. But what does that show us? Only that CS Lewis was more persuasive and popular than they were! Lewis was indeed better than Al Capone, who was only persuasive but not popular, and he's better than me, for while I can be persuasive, I'm not popular. But if this is all you're saying, that's not saying very much.

Sorry for this, but why do you stake your reputation on arguing and defending CS Lewis? You're a much more capable philosopher than to stay within this particular niche. The way you defend Lewis is like if his arguments fail somehow your arguments fail. That does not follow. Your argument are yours. Use them. Argue for them. Divorce yourself from Lewis as much as you can. Don't treat his arguments with kid gloves or we'll see you have a double standard when treating arguments as a whole, and that's not good for your perceived fairness of mind.

Anonymous said...

"Among their followers, David Koresh, Jim Jones and Joseph Smith were persuasive and popular. Surely you'll argue C.S. Lewis was more popular than any of them. But what does that show us? Only that CS Lewis was more persuasive and popular than they were!"

What does it show? What does it show that Elvis was so popular? Maybe that he was a damn good singer!!! Maybe the appeal to Lewis is because he is damn good at what he does; namely, "explaining and defending the belief that has been common to nearly all Xians at all times."

He does this with children's books, philosophy, satire, essays, letters, science-fiction, fantasy, myth, sermons, allegory, etc.

We defend Lewis because he has been an invaluable help to many a Xian. We defend his arguments, as well as develop them, because they are good ones.

Some folks are worthy of honor John. Not just because they are popular and persuasive, but because the gifts they have are used for others and not for themselves. The man gave away 2/3’s of his income, never tired of responding to those who wrote to him, not because he wasn't tired, but because that is who he was. It is just a bonus that he makes some really good arguments.

Anonymous said...

John,

You were the one who stuck up for Dawkins because he was popular and successful, so by saying that's not saying anything, you've sunk your own ship.

You probably shouldn't patronize Victor by telling him what to do. You could have just said that you misunderstood the post, and people probably would have respected you for it.

Other than that, success in the realm of Christian apologetics is obviously much different than succeeding as a cult or crime leader, and needs quite a different explanation. Generally, arguments and ideas are usually never divorced from the person who thought of them or the historical period in which they originated. This is true of all philosophy, not just Lewis.

John W. Loftus said...

Success is just that, success. But when it comes to the arguments, it depends on whom we think has the better arguments, that's all.

Remember, Aquinas' argument that heretics should be killed was quite popular for several centuries. And while Lewis didn't advocate anything like this, his arguments are incorrect as well, as seen in Beversluis and Wielenberg's two recent books.

anon-i-balm said...

Wait, isn't John W. Loftus the guy who created a phoney site to discredit a certain Christian apologist? All this under the guise of not being John W. Loftus?

If so, you'd have to question what he'd consider to be a good argument in support of a position contrary to one that he was in agreement with.

Victor Reppert said...

Oh dear. I just thought that Lewis's effectiveness as an apologist needed explaining, given the fact that he did not dedicate his life to apologetics the way, say, William Lane Craig has. The point here is to explain Lewis's popular success.

Neither Wielenberg's book, which in a lot of ways is inconclusive, nor Beversluis's, constitues a defintive refutation of Lewis's apologetics by any stretch of the imagination, any more than my book represents a definitive vindication of Lewis's work.

Certainly, a good deal of the actual argument that I develop is the work of William Hasker or myself as much as it is Lewis. But Lewis made it popular, and defended it against criticism by well-known philosopher Anscombe. The fundamental question he poses, "Even if grounds do exist, what have the got to do with the actual occurrence of belief as a psychological event," a question ANSCOMBE HERSELF SAID SHE COULDN'T ANSWER (sorry for shouting), is really the basis for the argument as I develop it.

I don't treat Lewis's argument with kid gloves. I develop one of his arguments, which I think shows a profound problem for philosophical naturalism, (actually, several profound problems). If I am right, if Hasker is right, if Plantinga is right, then Lewis had an very interesting and, well, dangerous idea that is still to be reckoned with. The fact that Lewis didn't formulate it with the precision necessary to get it to float in philosophical discourse some 48 years after he revised his chapter should hardly be surprising.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Lewis was successful because he studied literature, human nature and the Bible, and was able to take some of the best aspects of all three and stir them together into a broth one might call "Lewisianity" but which he called "mere Christianity."

Personally, I think calling one's views "mere Christianity" is a bit disingenuous. Lewis is a greater artist than he realizes in having created the type and kind and flavor of "Christianity" (and manner of story-telling), that he did.

On the other hand, how does one explain the popularity of things like Star Wars, Star Trek, the Simpsons, Beatles songs, or even the Christian "end times" books that have outsold Lewis in various ways, shapes and forms?

Success is relative.

Of course you're focused on the success of one "C. S. Lewis." Frankly, there was a church that my masseuse attends and everyone was reading "Mere Christianity" as part of a bookclub because the first Narnia movie had appeared and the church was using the advent of that film as an evangelism outreach project and to try and get more people interested in Lewis's apologetics. She was not thrilled reading Lewis. She found his endless analogizing tiresome, "It's like this," "It's like that," and told me so. (Neither is she someone who even knows what I believe, though I was interested when she mentioned her church was reading Lewis and I told he I had also read Lewis.)

As for all those defenders of Lewis in Beversluis's book, I haven't seen the book. I rejected "mere Christianity" without the help of Bever., but via a study of the Bible itself.
And just who are the philosophers? Are we talking about Plantinga, Swineburne, Hicks, and other relatively large names in the world of Christianity and philosophy? You're not even a particularly large name, and you've probably cited Lewis more than those other names combined, all in your own book alone.

Edward T. Babinski said...

I've responded to the Argument from Reason. Google:

"C. S. LEWIS AND THE CARDINAL DIFFICULTY OF NATURALISM"

Your philosophical precision adds nothing to the argument's effectiveness since all we have is the question of how mind arises from "matter." It's a great question an essential question. But the question of just what "matter" is and what its inherent limits are when arranged in a highly particular fashion, remains unanswered. Just as the question of matter arranged in either rocks or a super computer.

As for "reason," the question of just what "reasoning" is, also remains unanswered except in the practical sense of "being able to distinquish A from non-A." So one must be able to discriminate bewteen things, and known you have discriminated between things. But this takes a physical body receiving sensory input, a memory, and a brain that makes distinctions. And we see such things in NATURE, from the tiniest cells to hive minds to fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, monkeys, apes, upright apes, early human species (99% of which became extinct), and finally modern day human beings, whose development of language and the storage of previous generations of knowledge has helped make us what we are today, all such advancements being gained over time and via more trouble than you seem willing to admit, since your argument simply begins with modern day logic and all of humankind's modern day consciousness and knowledge.

In a word, logic does not seem to exist outside of a body with senses and memory and discriminatory functions. And earlier in evolutionary time, those did not exist to the degree they now do in one species, ours.

Lewis shrugs all that aside because he "knows" it was "all part of God's plan to attain the human species" in the first place, and because he's sure human logic is merely part of "Divine reason."

Are those strong explanations? Or do those types of facile explanations become cardinal difficulties in the eyes of non-Christians?

anon-i-balm said...

Lewis was successful because he studied literature, human nature and the Bible, and was able to take some of the best aspects of all three and stir them together into a broth one might call "Lewisianity" but which he called "mere Christianity."

Personally, I think calling one's views "mere Christianity" is a bit disingenuous. Lewis is a greater artist than he realizes in having created the type and kind and flavor of "Christianity" (and manner of story-telling), that he did.


Sure reading alot into it, Babs.
Couldn't it be that he was trying to find a common talking point consistent with as many Christians as possible? Or do you just prefer the random gumbo mix better because it makes it appear less deliberate on the part of Lewis.

IlĂ­on said...

"Couldn't it be that he was trying to find a common talking point consistent with as many Christians [sic] as possible?"

Which, ironically enough (given Lewis' views on fundamentalists), is what the Fundamentalist movement was up to.

Victor Reppert said...

EB: And just who are the philosophers? Are we talking about Plantinga, Swineburne, Hicks, and other relatively large names in the world of Christianity and philosophy? You're not even a particularly large name, and you've probably cited Lewis more than those other names combined, all in your own book alone.

VR: I couldn't care less how big someone's name is. When the "mine's bigger than yours" game starts, I get bored.

Most Christian philosophers that I ran into at conferences thought that Lewis's ideas could be profitably developed. Plantinga was happy to acknowledge the similarity between his Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism and Lewis's arguments in chapter 3 and 13 of Miracles when I pointed it out to him and he read those chapters. Hasker told me that Lewis's was the first version of the argument from reason that he read.

But who cares who cites Lewis more than who? I thought that Lewis suffered from a certain amount of unjustified academic snobbery even from within the Christian philosophical community, and part of my motivation as a philosopher has been to argue that that such snobbery is indeed unjustified. At least Beversluis bothers to write a book arguing for his negative assessment of Lewis's apologetics.

Victor Reppert said...

EB: Your philosophical precision adds nothing to the argument's effectiveness since all we have is the question of how mind arises from "matter." It's a great question an essential question. But the question of just what "matter" is and what its inherent limits are when arranged in a highly particular fashion, remains unanswered. Just as the question of matter arranged in either rocks or a super computer.

VR: Your failure to pay attention to salient features of the argument has made me, for the most part, unwilling to engage you in debate concerning it. I have analyzed the concept of "matter" and what characteristics something has to have in order to be recognizably material.

Of course, the arrangement of material particles can mimic the causes and effects of certain mental states. Whether that is sufficient for the actual possession of those mental states is open to dispute.

Since Lewis acknowledges an evolutionary process, I have no idea what this little biology lesson is supposed to show. The question is whether "effective response to the environment" leads to "knowing the truth about the environment. There is also the issue of whether any amount of non-mental information can entail that someone is in a particular, determinate mental state with particular mental content.

The difference between you and someone like Blue Devil Knight is that BDK really makes an effort to understand what people on the other side are claiming. You keep advancing objections to the human uniqueness thesis as if my argument depends on it, when it doesn't, you consistently ignore my definition of materialism, you consistently presume that your experience of "leaving the fold" and "seeing through" C. S. Lewis entitles you to take an attitude of intellectual superiority to those who see some philosophical merit in his work. You assume that since you were once an evangelical Christian, you don't have to make an effort to understand the perspective of a Christian philosopher. But once you develop a hostility to something, it does take an effort to understand someone coming from that perspective.