Friday, January 16, 2009

Elemental questions in apologetics

Can we prove the existence of God? As anyone acquainted with contemporary philosophy of religion knows, the apparent simplicity and straightforwardness of this question is deceptive. Many subsidiary questions must be asked before any informative answer is forthcoming. Chief among these questions are: (1) What do you mean by "prove"? (2) What do you mean by "God"? and (3) Prove to whom?
(James F. Sennett, Review of Denys Turner's Faith, Reason, and the Existence of God)

The book that jump-start me to read theology, philosophy, biblical studies, and koine Greek (!) is C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. The most famous apologetic book to the post-babyboomers, gen-X, and probably gen-Y too. I've come across many testimonies by prominent people whose lives are influenced by this small book.

To highlight the point further, you have to know a bit about me to appreciate the impact this book has on me.

Prior to Mere Christianity, I read only comics and comics only. No memory of reading any book besides school's textbooks during SPM (O level).

I reached home in the noon, at about 2pm, during form 5 (Sec 5). I spent the noon drawing comic characters or painting.

No revision, nothing.

And now, I read whenever I get the chance to do so. I read in MRT, buses, on the road. I read when I wake up in the weekends. I read before I sleep.

All had its beginning in Mere Christianity.

Anyway, this is not about me or Mere Christianity. It's about proving the existence of God.

James Sennett sublimed the complexity of this exercise. Before one starts to release all the arguments for the existence of God (like the cosmological, teleological, ontological, ethical etc arguments), one has to clarify the 3 questions Sennett highlighted. Whether you are an apologist in the heritage of Cornelius Van Til (Presuppositionalism), Thomas Aquinas (Classical Apologetics), Alvin Plantinga (Reformed Epistemology), or others, you have to first lay out the definition of 'prove' and 'God'. And this is the elementary task which apologetic cannot ignore or taken for granted.

Looking back, I had an obsession towards apologetics. This can be seen in my 2005 naive draft of something that I comically called "Supreme Systematic Apologetic" (I'm laughing at myself when reading it again). Then there is this rather brief introduction to apologetic which was a presentation to my fellow friends at Agora Singapore.

Now, the more I'm aware of our frail and limited condition in the face of the vast and rich data of reality, the more careful I need to be. Hence Sennett's caution has to be well appreciated, or at least by me. And my obsession has changed its object. Not really obsess to defend a faith but more on getting to learn more about it.

3 comments:

pearlie said...

What are the other Lewis' book you have read and loved?

He is favourite author, though later I haven't the gumption to read him.

Sze Zeng said...

Actually I love only Mere Christianity. I've tried reading The Four Loves, Miracles, Surprised by Joy, and his miscellaneous essays, but find none can compared to Mere Christianity. The Great Divorce comes close though.

I didn't touch his Narnia series. My philosophy is "Why read when u can watch?"

How about yourself? Which book u enjoy most?

Rubati Rabbit said...

I was also sort of impressed with C.S. Lewis treatment of the problem of evil... that was until I read Dostovesky's Brothers Karamazov. Now, I can't help but feel that compared with Ivan Karamazov's problem of evil, C.S. Lewis treatment of it is akin to a child interrupting the conversations of grown ups.