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C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion (Revised and Updated)
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2008
Format: Paperback
I write only to counter the statement that Beversluis attacks strawmen. Having gotten half-way through the book I have found no such thing as of yet.

To get bias out of the way, yes I am an atheist. I have, however, read most of Lewis' original apologetic works (Mere Christianity, etc.). Beversluis quotes extensively from Lewis' own works, and takes great pains to try and keep Lewis' quotes in context. If anything Beversluis is so cautious in setting up Lewis' arguments correctly that he makes the reading tedious at times.

I will not say that this critique is a devastating refutation of Lewis' primary arguments (that's your decision to make). I will say that Beversluis is careful, and honest in setting up Lewis' arguments and he takes pains to explain why the arguments don't hold up to careful scrutiny. Whether you believe or don't believe this book is a worthwhile read after you have taken a look at Lewis' apologetic works.

(UPDATE)
Having finished the book I would also like to respond to another counter-argument brought up. The idea that Lewis' popular works were somehow "dumbed down" for the common person, and that Lewis' more sophisticated arguments are found in his letters/essays has been batted around. This may, or may not, be true. Regardless, Beversluis cites a number of Lewis' essays throughout the book. I would have to say that I have yet to see a fair criticism of this book on amazon.

Like it or not Beversluis is meticulous in setting up Lewis' arguments. Beversluis then gives reasons that he believes destroys the rationality behind those arguments. If you're looking for a counter-point to Lewis' apologetics this is the best single volume on the market. Well worth your while.
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32 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2006
Format: Paperback
I found it interesting, given the recent success of the Chronicles of Narnia film, that the last review of Mr. Beversluis' book was more than 5 years ago. I would have guessed that the film sparked a new curiosity about the substance behind the story. Alas, I suppose most people who enjoyed the film did so because they are content with the validity of their Christian faith. However, those who want to dig deeper (as Lewis did) will find that Mr. Beversluis' book is quite thought provoking, and on many points, quite devastating.

Walter Hooper, Lewis's "official" biographer, once tried to claim that Lewis' book "A Grief Observed" was not meant to be taken as a true account of Lewis' own life, but merely a piece of fiction used to make some theological points. On this he has been overruled by the evidence. And since much of Mr. Beversluis' book centers around Lewis' crisis in "A Grief Observed," one needs to understand that book and its ultimate compromise, which Mr. Beversluis sees as critical to understanding what amounts to a flaw in Lewis' attempt to rationally defend Christianity.

As Lewis stated himself--and as Mr. Beversluis reminds us in his book--one should follow the evidence and, if it is found wanting, one should not accept the claims of Christianity as true. The great thing about this book is that you can examine the arguments advanced by Mr. Beversluis, compare them to the writings of C.S. Lewis--many of which are quoted in the book--and decide for yourself. If, that is, you have an open mind.
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36 of 45 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 2, 2008
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
C.S. Lewis has had an enormous impact on the evangelical mind. His books still top the charts in bookstores. But what about the substance of his arguments? Philosopher Dr. John Beversluis wrote the first full-length critical study of C. S. Lewis's apologetic writings, published by William B. Eerdmans, titled "C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion" (1985). For twenty-two years it was the only full-length critical study of C.S. Lewis's writings.

Beversluis was a former Christian who studied at Calvin College under Harry Jellema who inspired Christian thinkers like Alvin Plantinga (who was already in graduate school), and Nicholas Wolterstoff (who was a senior when he entered). Later he was a student at Indiana University with my former professor James D. Strauss. He became a professor at Butler University.

In this first book, Beversluis took as his point of departure Lewis's challenge where he said: "I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it" ("Mere Christianity" p. 123). Beversluis thoroughly examined that hypothesis and found the evidence Lewis presents should not lead people to accept Christianity.

According to Beversluis, his first book "elicited a mixed response-indeed, a response of extremes. Some thought I had largely succeeded. I was complimented for writing a `landmark' book that `takes up Lewis's challenge to present the evidence for Christianity and ... operates with full rigor'" (p. 9-10). But the critics were "ferocious." He said, "I had expected criticism. What I had not expected was the kind of criticism...I was christened the "bad boy" of Lewis studies and labeled the "consummate Lewis basher" (p. 10).

In his "Revised and Updated" book published by Prometheus Books, which was prompted by Keith Parsons and Charles Echelbarger, Beversluis claims "this is not just a revised and updated second edition, but a very different book that supercedes the first edition on every point" (p.11). According to him: "Part of my purpose in this book to show, by means of example after example, the extent to which the apparent cogency of his arguments depends on his rhetoric rather than on his logic...Once his arguments are stripped of their powerful rhetorical content, their apparent cogency largely vanishes and their apparent persuasiveness largely evaporates. The reason is clear: it is not the logic, but the rhetoric that is doing most of the work. We will have occasion to see this again and again. In short, my purpose in this book is not just to show that Lewis's arguments are flawed. I also want to account for their apparent plausibility and explain why they have managed to convince so many readers" (pp. 20,22).

Additionally, Beversluis tells us, "My aim in this revised and updated edition is twofold. First, I will revisit and reexamine Lewis's arguments in light of my more recent thoughts about them. Second, I will to reply to my critics and examine their attempts to reformulate and defend his arguments, thereby responding not only to Lewis but to the whole Lewis movement--that cadre of expositors, popular apologists, and philosophers who continue to be inspired by him and his books. I will argue that their objections can be met and that even when Lewis's arguments are formulated more rigorously than he formulated them, they still fail" (p. 11).

C.S. Lewis' writings contain three arguments for God's existence, the "Argument from Desire," the "Moral Argument," and the "Argument From Reason." Lewis furthermore argued that the Liar, Lunatic, Lord dilemma/trilemma shows Jesus is God. Lewis also deals with the major skeptical objection known as the Problem of Evil. Beversluis examines all of these arguments and finds them defective, some are even fundamentally flawed. Lastly Beversluis examines Lewis' crisis of faith when he lost the love of his life, his wife. (He denies he ever said Lewis lost his faith).

I can only briefly articulate what Beversluis says about these arguments here, but his analysis of them is brilliant and devastating to Lewis' whole case. The Argument From Desire echoes Augustine's sentiment in his "Confessions" when addressing God that "You have made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you." Lewis develops this into an argument for God's existence which can be formulated in several ways, but the bottom line is that since humans have a desire for joy beyond the natural world, which is what he means by "joy," there must be an object to satisfy that desire in God. Beversluis subjects this argument to criticism on several fronts. How universal is this desire for joy? Is joy even a desire? Is Lewis' description of joy a natural desire at all, since desires are biological and instinctive? Do all our desires have fulfillment? What about people who have been satisfied by things other than God, with their careers, spouses and children? In what I consider the most devastating question, he asks if there is any propositional content to the object of Lewis' argument. Surely if there is an object that corresponds to the desire for joy then one who finds this object should be able to describe it from such an experience. Based upon Lewis' argument she can't. In fact, Beversluis argues if she cannot do that then how does she even know its an object that corresponds to her desire for joy in the first place?

Lewis' Moral Argument is basically that all people have a notion of right and wrong, and the only explanation for this inner sense of morality must come from a Power behind the moral law known as God. Beversluis claims this argument is based on a few questionable assumptions related to the Euthyphro dilemma, and it depends on the theory of ethical subjectivism from which Lewis only critiques straw man versions rather than the robust versions of Hume and Hobbes. And if that isn't enough to diminish his case, deductively arguing that there is a Power behind this moral law is committing "the fallacy of affirming the consequent." (p. 99). 1) If there is a Power behind the moral law then it must make itself known internally within us. 2) We do find this moral law internally within us. .: Therefore, there is a Power behind the moral law. As such this argument is invalid. Of course, there is much more here in Beversluis' argument.

The Argument From Reason, as best seen in Lewis' book, "Miracles", "is the philosophical backbone of the whole book," from which "his case for miracles depends." (p. 145). Lewis champions the idea that if naturalism is true such a theory "impugns the validity of reason and rational inference," and as such, naturalists contradict themselves if they use reason to argue their case. If you as a naturalist have ever been troubled by such an argument you need to read Beversluis' response to it, which is the largest chapter in his book, and something I can't adequately summarize in a few short sentences. Suffice it to say, he approvingly quotes Keith Parsons who said: "surely Lewis cannot mean that if naturalism is true, then there is no such thing as valid reasoning. If he really thought this, he would have to endorse the hypothetical `If naturalism is true, then modus ponens is invalid.' But since the consequent is necessarily false, then the hypothetical is false if we suppose naturalism is true (which is what the antecedent asserts), and Lewis has no argument." (p. 174).

Lewis' Liar, Lunatic, Lord Dilemma/Trilemma is one of the most widely used arguments among popular apologists, in variations, where since Jesus claimed he was God, the only other options are that he was either a liar or a lunatic, or both, which Lewis argues isn't reasonable. Therefore Jesus is God, who he claimed he was. Even William Lane Craig defends it in his book "Reasonable Faith." But it is widely heralded as Lewis' weakest argument as he defended it, and fundamentally flawed. Beversluis subjects Lewis' defense of it and his defenders to a barrage of rigorous intellectual attacks. There is the problem of knowing what Jesus claimed, which by itself "is sufficient to rebut the Trilemma." (p. 115). Also it is a false dilemma. Even if Jesus claimed he was God he could simply be mistaken, not a lunatic, for lunatics can be very reasonable in everyday life and still have delusions of grandeur. And it's quite possible for someone to be a good moral teacher and yet be wrong about whether he was God. Furthermore, the New Testament itself indicates many people around him including his own family thought he was crazy. In the end, Beversluis claims, "we can now dispense of the Lunatic or Fiend Dilemma once and for all....If the dilemma fails, as I have argued, the trilemma goes with it. In the future, let us hear no more about these arguments." (p. 135). I agree.

In Lewis' book, "The Problem of Pain," he deals head on with the Problem of Evil coming at the heels of WWII. Suffice it to say, as Victor Reppert summarized the argument of his first book, Beversluis: "If the word `good' must mean approximately the same thing when we apply it to God as what it means when we apply it to human beings, then the fact of suffering provides a clear empirical refutation of the existence of a being who is both omnipotent and perfectly good. If on the other hand, we are prepared to give up the idea that `good' in reference to God means anything like what it means when we refer to humans as good, then the problem of evil can be sidestepped, but any hope of a rational defense of the Christian God goes by the boards."

This is must reading if you think C.S. Lewis was a great apologist, and it's part of the Debunking Christianity Challenge (go to [...]). Beversluis' arguments are brilliant and devastating to the apologetics of Lewis and company.

-----------

I'm the author of "Why I Became an Atheist," and the edited book, "The Christian Delusion."
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26 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2008
Format: Paperback
Philosophers and theologians have largely tended to ignore the Christian apologetics of C.S. Lewis perhaps because Lewis was neither a philosopher nor a theologian or perhaps due to a reluctance amongst such professionals to engage popular culture and to write for a general audience. But if nothing else the vast influence of Lewis' apologetic work demands a response from a professional philosopher with the ability to be rigorous in his argument while still being accessible to a general audience. John Beversluis admirably accepts this challenge and meets Lewis on his own terms: an insistence to follow where the evidence leads. It should be good news to both Lewis' fans and critics that Beversluis' C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion is back in print and furthermore has been revised and updated to address critics of the first edition.

Beversluis thoroughly examines Lewis's three principal arguments for believing in the God of Christianity: the Argument from Desire, the Moral Argument, and the Argument from Reason and ultimately finds them all lacking. Beversluis slows down the fast pace that Lewis often sets in his writing and by doing so is able to point out the gaps in argument and the reoccurring fallacies that Lewis's very engaging writing style often conceals.

Lewis is found routinely attacking straw men: characterizing the position he is arguing against in its weakest possible form and then refuting it in very short order. Lewis rarely responds to the views of specific thinkers who hold the position he is arguing against and seemingly overlooks or is unaware of criticisms of his own position which one could legitimately expect him to address. Beversluis provides the reader with more plausible versions of the positions that Lewis, intentionally or not, tends to caricature.

False dilemmas are revealed with startling frequency such as when Lewis addresses the alleged divine status of Jesus Christ. Lewis confronts his readers with a choice claiming that either Jesus Christ was the son of God or that he must have been some kind of lunatic. If one is reluctant to deem Christ a lunatic, Lewis's false dilemma gives the impression that one must acknowledge him as the son of God. The position that Jesus may have been mistaken about his divine status but still had some worthwhile moral advice to dispense is ruled out as an impossible position to maintain. The position that the Gospels are not historically reliable accounts of Jesus' life is also not considered. Beversluis documents many false dilemmas in Lewis' work.

In addition to successfully reconstructing and responding to Lewis's arguments, Beversluis also helps explain why despite the flaws, Lewis's work has been so influential. Lewis was writing largely for a very receptive audience who tended to already be convinced of Lewis's conclusions prior to even hearing the arguments. Furthermore, while Lewis was not a philosopher or a theologian he was undoubtedly a very skilled and persuasive writer. It should not be surprising that good writing and charged rhetoric can often change more minds than can rigorous and careful argument. This is evident in the fact that many of Lewis' fans are most impressed with Lewis' clever one-liners and rhetorical flourishes than with the arguments themselves. When Beversluis presents Lewis's arguments in plain language they are revealed as surprisingly weak.
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34 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
I was rather surprised that someone believes this book is guilty of the straw man fallacy. On the contrary, Beversluis first systematically described each of Lewis's arguments in such a way that I was being convinced all over again, until of course, he continued on with his objections. This book served as a key turning point in my life so I'd be more than willing to listen to particular details concerning where Beversluis falls short in his critique. (I can be reached at johnku@uiuc.edu) Being a devout Christian and a huge fan of Lewis at the time, this book had a profound impact on my life and I think it's a shame that it is no longer in print.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2008
Format: Paperback
Dr. Beversluis has presented an excellent, intelligent critique of Lewis' sometimes contradictory exposition of why one should be a christian. In this expanded and revised edition, Dr. Beversluis respectfully but without hesitation exposes Lewis' all to often poorly reasoned, ad hominem ladened apologetics offering finely reasoned explanations point to point. Beversluis also takes on his critics to the first edition demolishing their objections. The book is a joy to read, finely reasoned and written and I highly recommend it.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Whether you are a Christian fundamentalist, an atheist or somewhere in-between you might be surprised at the notion that the existence of God and the truth of Christian theology could be arrived at through rational reasoning and logical argument rather than through, say, faith or revelation. But amazingly enough C.S. Lewis was such a skilled and clever wordsmith that he was able to convince many people that he had done exactly that. Starting with 10 minute British radio addresses during World War II and then in numerous books C.S. Lewis presented arguments that convinced my hearers and readers that rationality and logical reasoning lead inexorably to the existence of God and (even more amazingly) to the truth of Christian theology (rather than Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or other religious truths.)
In his book "C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion" John Beversluis convincingly and thoroughly demolishes Lewis' arguments. Beneath Lewis' rhetorical flourishes were very weak arguments that completely collapse upon critical examination. Christians may continue to believe in Christian truths and God but they can no longer claim the support of logic, reason, evidence and rationality. They must now admit that they choose to believe on the basis of faith, in spite of the evidence, rational thought and argument rather than because of them.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 5, 2012
Format: Paperback
C.S. Lewis is often regarded as one of the best Christian apologists. He is certainly one of the most widely read Christian writers. I've seen English, Swedish and Czech editions of his works. "Mere Christianity" was one of the first Christian books I've ever read. And yes, "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" may have been my first sustained exposure to the Christian message (without realizing it).

While the more hardnosed sceptics love to hate Jack (as Lewis was called by his friends), many other sceptics and seekers consider him to be their favourite apologist. The reason isn't necessarily the quality of his arguments, but rather the fact that Lewis put forward arguments at all! Aren't we all getting tired of fundamentalists who simply quote the Bible or liberals who claim that religious language is non-empirical and therefore beyond criticism? And while Lewis doubted Darwinian evolution in private, he never seems to have distorted scientific facts in his public works. His arguments can be checked or rationally discussed.

John Beversluis is an atheist and materialist who have weighed Lewis and found him wanting. This is the second, revised edition of his book "C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion", which apparently is considered to be quite the bombshell. The author's main points of contention are that Lewis often substituted rhetoric for cogent argument, advanced contradictory or self-contradictory ideas, and attacked straw-men. He also believes that Lewis gradually changed his view of God, from a relatively sympathetic view with Platonist affinities to a decidedly less sympathetic (and bizarrely incoherent) Ockhamist standpoint. Somehow, this is contrary to everything we thought we knew about Jack! I guess you could call this John Beversluis' dangerous idea...

I've always considered Lewis' works to be a bewildering mixture of thoughtful arguments, cogent existential observations and claims that are almost bewilderingly bad. Sometimes, he *does* resort to arguments from authority, as when he says that he believes in the efficacy of the sacraments because Jesus said so (in this case, the appeal would be to Catholic and Anglican tradition rather than the Bible itself). At other times, he does seem oblivious to higher criticism of the New Testament, while accepting higher criticism of the Old Testament ("the chosen mythology"). The dilemma or "trilemma" about Jesus being either mad, bad or God is remarkably silly. In Lewis' defence, it could perhaps be said that he put it forward at a time when even atheists and agnostics considered Jesus to have been a great moral teacher. Today, many sceptics *would* consider Jesus either mad or bad, in effect turning the dilemma against Christianity! Also, I suspect that the results of higher criticism are more widely known today. In the United States, Bart Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus" was a commercial bestseller a few years ago. A moderate sceptic who doesn't consider Jesus to be mad or bad, might still coherently deny that he was God.

As avid readers of my review know, I nevertheless consider some of Lewis' arguments to be largely correct, the most obvious being the objective character of morality (an argument Beversluis would consider Platonist). Others are at least interesting, such as his discussions about Eros or the numinous. Naturally, this colours my reaction to Beversluis' critique of Lewis. I think he is weak when attacking Lewis' view of objective morality. That A.J. Ayer and other positivists were deeply moral anti-Nazis, simply prove that their actual philosophy was unlivable. In other words, Ayer & Co were cheating. Nor do I find Beversluis' attack on Lewis' attempted synthesis of God and the Good entirely convincing. On many other points, however, I would concur with the author. I found the chapter on "The Argument from Reason" particularly interesting. I never really understood Lewis' point in the first place, and always suspected that there was something weird or fishy about it. (If Beversluis have managed to prove naturalism, is another thing entirely. He has not.)

I don't know who John Beversluis might be (an professor emeritus, according to the back matter) or what prompted him to dissect Clive Staples Lewis of all people, but he seems to have corresponded with Lewis himself (how old is this guy? 80?). Despite sustained attempts to sound objective, there is a passion in this book, a passion sometimes bordering on strong frustration. I wonder what relationship the author really had to Lewis and his writings, and why he felt compelled to launch an attack of this kind against him. I almost sense a personal disappointment in-between the lines. Nothing wrong with that. It makes the book more interesting. Otherwise, it would just have been a dry, philosophical tome.

In the end, I award it fours stars and await further developments.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 16, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
CS Lewis has been lauded as the premier Christian apologist of the 20th century by priests, bishops and many Christian apologists even today. Outside his clique of fawning sycophants, however, he is often regarded as shallow, vapid and unconvincing, although most agree that Lewis was an expert rhetorician and erudite wordsmith.

In this second edition, Beversluis expertly ripostes the major rebuttals by Christians who have been quick to leap to Lewis' defense. Having not read the original work, I cannot make any comparisons. Having said that, I will say that Beversluis does an exemplary job at exposing Lewis' hollow arguments for what they are. Mere Christianity and Miracles are two of the primary targets. Most people who take a critical eye to MC will be frustrated and disillusioned when the "best" case Lewis can offer for Jesus' divinity is the Liar/Lunatic/Fiend dilemma. Not only does this presuppose that Jesus was a good moral teacher (the fig tree incident and breaking the 5th and 8th commandments), but it also assumes that the historical claims made in the gospels are accurate. They aren't. They weren't even made by people who lived around the time of Jesus' estimated lifetime.

The Argument from Reason (in a nutshell, if consciousness evolved, then we can't trust our brains, so it must have a supernatural source) is shown for the lemon it is. That Alvin Plantinga and more recently Sye Ten Bruggencate and Eric Hovind are using it is something that should be more than enough to make Lewis spin in his grave.

The Problem of Pain is given its own chapter, and in it Beversluis contrasts the Platonist view (god only commands what is moral) with the Ockhamist view (whatever god decrees is moral, even if he sends all Christians to hell and all atheists to heaven) of morality. Many readers will notice that they are the two responses to the Euthyphro Dilemma, articulated by Plato. Beversluis expertly exposes Lewis' god with Lewis' own arguments. Any reasonable person must conclude that CS Lewis worships a paternalistic tyrant who treats humans as pawns in an effort to convert more Christians and bring more people to him. And no matter what misery, torments and sufferings are inflicted or apathetically ignored in service of this goal, everything is "justified" in the mind of Lewis since god is infallible and can do no wrong. It ALMOST makes me celebrate when I imagine Lewis' in the abyss of grief brought about by the death of his wife.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
A great book for those who have had a hard time with CS Lewis' works. I found this book's critiques helped to explain CS Lewis' ideas in a way that I could understand like never before. Then it was refreshing to get critical examinations of those ideas. Clear logic and fair treatment were highlights of this book. Highly recommended for anyone reading CS Lewis or conversing with people who tend to quote CS Lewis.
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