- Series: Sciences
- Paperback: 363 pages
- Publisher: University Press of America (September 13, 1990)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0819178381
- ISBN-13: 978-0819178381
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,520,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Testing Christianity's Truth Claims: Approaches to Christian Apologetics (Sciences) Paperback – September 13, 1990
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Lewis' analysis is clear, precise and insightful...This volume is a valuable introduction to the apologetic systems of the mid-twentieth century.>>>> (Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society)
Lewis' analysis is clear, precise and insightful...This volume is a valuable introduction to the apologetic systems of the mid-twentieth century. (Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society)
About the Author
Gordon R. Lewis is the Chairman of the Philosophy of Religion Department and a Professor of Philosophy and Theology at Denver Seminary in Colorado.
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The six different approaches (and representatives) are pure empiricism (Oliver Buswell), rational empiricism (Stuart Hackett), rationalism (Gordon Clark), biblical authoritarianism (Cornelius Van Til), mysticism (Earl Barrett) and the verificational approach (Edward Carnell). Lewis shows appreciation to all systems, while he also offers critique to all of them save one (Carnell), with whom he agrees.
Buswell is commended for his appreciation of facts as a pointer to truth, but is criticized for his tabula rasa epistemology; Clark acknowledges that man has innate thought-forms but appeals only to non-contradiction and not to facts; and Barrett stresses the religious experience, something other apologists often forget to talk about, but he offers no further test for truth. The difference between Carnell and Hackett can at first be hard to see. Both appeal to both the mind's thought-forms and facts, though Carnell appeals also to other kinds of experience such as morality and love. The main difference, however, is that Carnell argues from a hypothesis about the existence of the God of the Bible, and tries to test this hypothesis. Hackett on the other hand goes the other way: he starts with the mind's thought-forms and facts and argues to the God of the Bible. The problem with Hackett's apologetic seems to be that he doesn't take the presuppositions of people into due account. "What constitutes evidence from one perspective is not considered evidence from the other", Lewis writes in his evaluation (p.98). According to Van Til's apologetic God is the ultimate reference point for everything. God knows all facts, has interpreted them and given us (part of) His interpretation in the Bible. Man has only finite knowledge and cannot relate all facts, so without God's interpretation of reality everything becomes meaningless. If the unbeliever were consitent in his non-christian presuppositions, he would deny all truth. However, since we are created by God and live in God's world, unbelievers do know things, inconsitently with their denial of Christianity. We all share the knowledge of God and that we are sinners, though unbelievers try to supress that knowledge. Since the unbeliever in principle is opposed to Christianity, Van Til denies that he is in a position to test Christianity's truth claims. Lewis offers some critique on this point. Since Van Til "seeks to show the unbeliever that Christianity makes sense out of life", he is appealing to the something in the unbeliever to test and recognize this (p.147). Moreover, Lewis gives biblical support to the idea of testing whether a revelation is God's revelation (p.145).
Carnell is given four chapters in the book: facts, values, psychology and ethics. When taken together they form a challenging hypothesis. Not everything can be tested, but as far as we can test it, Christianity fits the facts and experience better than any other system. Studying Christianity's relevance in many areas makes us both better apologists and better disciples, since we learn more about it's relevance ourselves. Carnell's approach to apologetics seems to be a sensible one, and Lewis' book makes a good case for it. And if you're not convinced that apologetics is worth while, the introductory chapter makes a good case for the Christian defence of the faith.
One word of warning. If you're looking for a book that is doing apologetics, that is arguing for the truth of Christianity, you need to look elsewhere. This book is only about how to think about apologetics. But if you're content with that rather limited subject matter, this is a good presentation of different options.
On page 18, Lewis states "The open-minded will carefully examine the evidence of Christianity's best apologists and follow the evidence where it leads." This plea for open-mindedness is revealing in that it deftly ignores Christianity's critics. Indeed, nothing in the entire book suggests that critics need be taken seriously, for Lewis shows outright contempt for those who question the claims he purports to test. On page 88 Lewis approvingly quotes Floyd Hamilton: "...our belief in the trustworthiness of the whole Bible is so strong that we are not afraid of descending to the level of destructive critics of the Bible, for the sake of argument, confident that the Bible will stand every critical test that may be proposed." On page 55 Lewis proclaims "Those who turn away from the evidence do so willfully and culpably. Before God,... they are morally reprehensible and without excuse." Apparently Lewis believes that skepticism is destructive and that non-believers are reprehensible. So much for objectivity.
Even more disturbing is Lewis's penchant for begging the question. In attempting to establish Christianity's claims Lewis and his associates invariably assume precisely what they set out to show, often without even flinching at blatant circularity. Page 55: "The most probable source of the biblical idea of God is God Himself. No other cause adequately accounts for the idea of God which men possess." Lewis appeals to the "probability" of an explanation, and even asserts that it is the only one possible. One would think that such statements would require lengthy justification; yet Lewis merely observes that ideas must come from somewhere, in analogy with literary invention. This pattern is repeated throughout the book; Lewis asserts that something is "highly probable" or "logically sound" when that is precisely what is at issue.
On page 78 Lewis raises Hume's skepticism about causal explanations and laments that a causal principle is needed to prove the truth of Christianity; without it all argument is futile. Here is how Lewis rescues the principle from Hume's criticism: "The causal principle is 'self-evidently true' because implanted in all men at creation as a bridge to the external world." Translation: we need causal principles to prove Christianity and, as luck would have it, Christianity assures us that the principle is true. Another vicious circle.
On page 84 Lewis paraphrases an argument based on the "supreme end", which I take to mean the ultimate purpose of mankind: "The supreme end is not instrumental to any other end; it is the final intrinsic good which all else serves. And that highest good imposes an absolute moral imperative upon human activity. So the meaningfulness of our moral experience requires that the Cause of man be morally good." Convinced? To be safe Lewis quotes the original:
1) Rational selves are confronted with a transsubjective and transtemporal supreme end to the realization of which they are unconditionally obligated.
2) Such an eternally valid end cannot subsist alone but must be existentially based on an eternal mind whose nature both recognizes and embodies the absolute good.
3) There exists, consequently, just such an eternal mind whose nature is absolute goodness.
The premises 1 and 2 are laden with haughty language and tacit assumptions that beg the question. What independent support is there for these "transsubjective" ends? How do we know that they cannot subsist but through and "eternal mind"? These premises are explicated neither by Lewis nor, presumably, by their original proponent. Yet Lewis makes the astonishing claim that this non-sequitur is a "syllogistic certainty" and constitutes a "logical demonstration"!
Page 244: "Since our available records of Christ's words and works are in the New Testament, some might ask for evidence in addition to it. Since there is no counter-evidence from the times to call the reports into question, we have no reason not to believe them." Apparently Lewis is unaware of Gnostic refutations of Christianity. But far more troubling is Lewis's assertion that we are obliged to accept any claim that is not accompanied by a contemporaneous refutation. Lewis continues "Should we question the testimony of these reports to Christ's life we have ended all critical investigation." According to Lewis, critical investigation ends as soon as we begin to question! But Lewis goes further still: "Historical claims are neither established nor refuted by science and philosophy. They can only be judged by the sort of common sense that takes pleasure in submitting to things as they are." Ultimately, Lewis casts off science and philosophy, embracing common sense as the ultimate arbiter. Dare I ask what the point of the previous 243 pages was, then?
Like an inebriate who misconstrues everything in terms of drink, Lewis shouts "Eureka!" at every turn; he need only survey the contents of his pencil drawer to discern the unmistakable hand of god. His polemics are supported by nothing but wishful thinking and approval of uncritical peers. The resulting work cannot even articulate a useful question, let alone discern truth.
Christians who enjoy pseudo-philosophical apologetics and are not put off by brazen lack of objectivity may get something out of this book. There are several brief discussions that could get one thinking in a new direction. However, I implore you to pursue more respectable treatments, such as those by Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, Kelly James Clark, or even C. S. Lewis, all of whom are well worth reading. Non-believers (like me) seeking an intelligent discussion of Christian evidences will wish they had spent their time and money elsewhere.