Monday, May 14, 2012

God and Reason

God and the Reach of Reason : C.S. Lewis, David Hume, and Bertrand Russell by Erik J. Wielenberg. New York : Cambridge University Press, 2008. 243 pp. $21.99 (pbk). ISBN 9780521707107.

Originally published in The Christian Librarian 52:134 no. 3 2009.

Erik J. Wielenberg teaches in the Philosophy Department at DePauw University. He is author of Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe (2005), published by Cambridge University Press. In God and the Reach of Reason, Wielenberg attempts to bring C.S. Lewis, David Hume and Bertrand Russell into a conversation, discussing such meaty topics as the existence of God, suffering, morality, reason, joy, miracles and faith. He focuses most of his attention on Lewis because he believes Lewis has been unfairly neglected by professional philosophers. The book consists of four chapters. These chapters examine (1) The Problem of Evil, (2) The Arguments for God’s existence, (3) Miracles, and (4) The Design Argument and the Nature of True Religion.
The first chapter brings Lewis into dialogue with David Hume over the problem of evil. He presents Lewis’s  views in an even-handed way and demonstrates a thorough familiarity with Lewis’s writings on the problem of evil. Wielenberg thinks, ultimately, that the suffering of children, while compatible with both the theist and atheist positions  is more compatible with the atheistic hypothesis. He does not think this settles the issue. In chapters two and three, he looks at Lewis’s positive arguments for Christianity. In chapter two, Wielenberg considers three arguments for the existence of God: The Moral Argument, The Argument from Reason, and the Argument from Desire. He thinks Lewis’s argument from reason is the strongest of the three. In chapter three, Wielenberg has Lewis debating with Hume and Russell over the possibility of miracles. He thinks Hume was right in thinking that experience presented a “formidable obstacle to any historical case for the resurrection of Christ,” but not “insurmountable”; “Lewis correctly saw that the historical case could succeed despite Hume’s argument”… (151). In chapter four, the author focuses on areas of agreement between Lewis, Hume, and Russell. He thinks that all three rejected the design argument, and that all three endorsed the separation of church and state.
Wielenberg’s analysis of the philosophical writings of C.S. Lewis is done critically, but fairly. He shows a thorough familiarity with these writings. He admires Lewis’s commitment to follow the evidence wherever it leads. He believes Lewis shared this commitment with Russell and Hume. “Within the writings of Lewis, Hume, and Russell,” observes Wielenberg, “you will find arguments made, reasons offered in support of the positions put forth, and objections acknowledged. You will find a burning passion for truth and respect – indeed reverence – for evidence. This shared passion and reverence not only unites these three intellectual giants; it makes them exemplars we would do well to emulate.” This book is recommended for all academic libraries.

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