Monday, June 25, 2007

The Last Word

In his book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins has a bad habit of arguing with people who are already dead, and thus can't answer back. Worse, he frequently reinterprets them so that--despite what they actually said and wrote--we might believe that they really meant to agree with Dawkins' beliefs. But in debate with C.S. Lewis, it is the dead apologist and author who has the last word.

Lewis gave us what's known affectionately as the "trilemma." From Mere Christianity,
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg--or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
To this, Dawkins responds,
A common argument, attributed among others to C. S. Lewis (who should have known better), states that, since Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, he must have been either right or else insane or a liar: 'Mad, Bad or God'. Or, with artless alliteration, 'Lunatic, Liar or Lord'.
Dawkins spends the next several pages trying to convince us that the gospels are unreliable accounts of Jesus' life. (I have--in past posts--demonstrated how fallacious are the assertions made by Dawkins in this regard.) Toward the end of this argument, he comes back to the issue of who Jesus was, landing on a fourth (and currently popular) option: Jesus was legend.
All [the four Gospels, along with later false 'gospels'] have the status of [with equally artless alliteration?] legends, as factually dubious as the stories of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.
But here, because Dawkins hasn't read enough Lewis nor understood his expertise, Dawkins is directly refuted by the very words of his dead antagonist, an expert in the area of mythology and legend. This is from Lewis' "What are we to make of Jesus Christ?" in God in the Dock...
Now, as a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the Gospels are they are not legends. I have read a great deal of legend and I am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing. They are not artistic enough to be legends. From an imaginative point of view they are clumsy, they don't work up to things properly. Most of the life of Jesus is totally unknown to us, as is the life of anyone else who lived at that time, and no people building up a legend would allow that to be so. Apart from bits of the Platonic dialogues, there are no conversations that I know of in ancient literature like the Fourth Gospel. There is nothing, even in modern literature, until about a hundred years ago when the realistic novel came into existence.
Let this be a lesson to us... When in over your head in written arguments with an opponent long dead, read all of his stuff, lest that which you miss might directly refute your unfounded assertions.

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