Sunday, September 29, 2019

Language of God 2

Here are some notes on chapter 2 of The Language of God.
(notes on chapter 1 here)

Chapter 2: The War of the Worldviews
  • "Doubt is an unavoidable part of belief" (33).
  • Paul Tillich: "Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith."
He treats four objections to belief in God:

1. Isn't it just wish fulfillment?
  • Freud--"at bottom God is nothing other than an exalted father" (37).
  • Countered by Lewis: wish fulfillment would likely give rise to a very different kind of God than the one described in the Bible.
  • Lewis: "Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists." (38)
  • But in a materialistic world, Annie Dillard speaks of the growing void: "We doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it." (39)
2. What about harm done in the name of religion?
  • Voltaire: "Is it any wonder that there are atheists in the world, when the church behaves so abominably?" (40-41)
  • Marx: "Religion is the opiate of the masses" (41)
  • "A real evaluation of the truth of faith depends upon looking at the clean, pure water, not at the rusty containers" (42).
3. Why would God allow suffering?
  • Lewis - It would be an inner contraction for God to give free will and yet withhold it. (43) I don't find this argument convincing. I do agree that a world with some freedom seems better than a world without it, but it seems to me that it's above our pay grade to know how true this is.
  • Polkinghorne's distinction between physical and moral evil. I personally prefer not to call natural evil evil at all. For me, evil by definition requires an agent.
  • Lewis: "God shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world" (46). Sure, sometimes, perhaps most of the time. Not sure this does all the work Lewis wants it to.
4. What about miracles?
  • "A miracle is an event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin" (48).
  • "If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say" (that the supposed miracle was an illusion of some sort).
  • Bayes' Theorem - allows you to calculate the probability of observing a particular event. (49)
  • Not only materialism will kill the notion of miracles but also "claiming of miracle status for everyday events for which natural explanations are readily at hand" (52).
  • Polkinghorn: "Miracles are not to be interpreted as divine acts against the laws of nature... but as more profound revelations of the character of the divine relationship to creation" (53).
  • What I like about Collins approach is his insistence that we not play the miracle card too quickly, especially for gaps in our scientific knowledge. He also talks about God stacking the deck of probabilities toward a miracle within the realm of possibilities.


Martin LaBar said...

Interesting comments on miracles. Thanks.

John Mark said...

I like Lewis and so I tend to give him some grace. I readily admit, all these years after publication his books do sound dated in some respects, and he never really claimed to be a theologian. I would point out that he says “God speaks to us in our conscience.” Perhaps pain is the necessary tool after pleasure and “prevenient grace” have not done the job. But as to how much he intends for this third little statement to achieve is hard to say, some 70 or so years later. The trouble with writing a book can be that your opinions are forever fixed in the mind of the reader. I do think that if he had access to today’s scholarship he would be at least open to discussion on “new” information. My opinions have changed on a number of things over the years.

I think Lewis’ gift was more often than not how he phrased things. Some of his pithier statements seem instantly memorable. His summary or explanation of the history or origins of Christianity gave me a way of looking at it I had never had before.

I am not educated enough to be affected by some of the things that have shaped your conclusions. Thus I fully understand why Lewis doesn’t command from you the kind of respect (and outright admiration) he still receives by so many today. His audience is, I’m pretty sure, the thinking layman.

Please consider this nothing more than some thoughts. I am not arguing at all.

Ken Schenck said...

Don't worry. I have many colleagues who wouldn't understand my ambivalence toward Lewis. I've never shared my thoughts. Shhh :-)