Thursday, November 18, 2010

Miracles - Knox and Lewis

I cannot recommend highly enough Father Milton Walsh's book about C. S. Lewis and Ronald Knox, Second Friends. For example, on the topic of what it takes philosophically in order to believe in the miraculous ("something that traverses the law of uniformity in nature and does so in such a way that it gives evidence of divine power directly at work"), Walsh quotes Lewis:

If the end of the world appeared in all the literal trappings of the Apocalypse, if the modern materialist saw with his own eyes the heavens rolled up and the great white throne appearing, if he had the sensation of being himself hurled into the Lake of Fire, he would continue forever, in that lake itself, to regard his experience as an illusion and to find the explanation of it in psycho-analysis, or cerebral pathology ('Miracles', God in the Dock, 25)

Walsh states that for both Knox and Lewis, post-enlightenment persons have certain prejudicial philosophical presuppositions that preclude acceptance of and belief in miracles. Note: philosophical rather than scientific presuppositions. Science, by definition, can only study the regularly recurring laws of the universe and other phenomena available to the scientific method; science, therefore, cannot even hold an opinion about the existence or non-existence of miracles. What are those 'certain prejudicial philosophical presuppositions?' The following:

- that the only reality is the spatiotemporal world in which we live

- that the laws of nature exclude the possibility of the miraculous

- that God would not 'stoop' to do miracles

It is not easy to put these presuppositions aside, because many intellectuals since the Enlightenment have claimed insistently the contrary: there is no world beyond what we can experience with our senses; miracles are impossible; God does not enter into the workings of our world. It is also challenging to put these presuppositions aside because a living, personal God makes demands on us that the Enlightenment "Watchmaker" or pantheist "Absolute" do not:

(Lewis:) Here lies the deepest tap-root of Pantheism and of the objection to traditional [biblical] imagery. It was hated, at bottom, not because it pictured Him as man but because it pictured Him as king, or even as warrior. The Pantheists' God does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you. There is no danger that at any time heaven and earth should flee away at His glance.

If any of this strikes you as being seen, heard, or felt by today's so-called New Atheism proponents, your Pantheist friends, or ignoring-of-God neighbors, once again I highly recommend Fr Walsh's book, Second Friends.

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