Re: [asa] A case of non-biological ID

From: Vernon Jenkins <>
Date: Mon Jan 21 2008 - 17:19:41 EST


Since last writing I have again read C.S.Lewis's Fern-seed and Elephants *. As you may already know, this takes the form of a reasoned response to the claims of the demythologizers - foremost among whom are your preferred authorities Bultmann and Tillich. Your stance concerning the achievements of these men is so markedly different from my own that I thought it appropriate to introduce a few of the opinions of this notable Christian apologist.

Describing himself as 'a sheep, telling shepherds what only a sheep can tell them', CSL begins by reminding the shepherds that the sheep fall into two broad groups: 'the uneducated, and those who are educated in some way but not in your (the shepherds') way.' Concerning the first group, he suggests that it would hardly do for those shepherds holding views like Bultmann's or Tillich's to tell them what they really believe, viz.

"A theology which denies the historicity of nearly everything in the Gospels to which Christian life and affections and thought have been fastened for nearly two millenia - which either denies the miraculous altogether or, more strangely, after swallowing the camel of the Resurrection strains at such gnats as the feeding of the multitudes."

CSL believes that most liberal priests, faced with this problem, "have recalled from its grave the late medieval conception of two truths: a picture-truth which can be preached to the people, and an esoteric truth for use among the clergy."

Speaking as a member of the second group - educated, but not theologically educated - CSL writes:

"The undermining of the old orthodoxy has been mainly the work of divines engaged in New Testament Criticism. The authority of experts in that discipline is the authority in deference to whom we are asked to give up a huge mass of beliefs shared in common by the early Church, the Fathers, the Middle Ages, the Reformers, and even the nineteenth century."

He is skeptical about this authority: "...whatever these men may be as Biblical critics, I distrust them as critics. They seem to me to lack literary judgement, to be imperceptive about the very quality of the texts they are reading...If he tells me that something in a Gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he has read, how well his palate is trained in detecting them by the flavour; not how many years he has spent on that Gospel."

Citing a number of examples from Bultmann's writings, he concludes "These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can't see an elephant ten yards away in broad daylight."

Again, he finds in these higher critics a constant use of the principle that the miraculous does not occur. "Thus any statement put into our Lord's mouth by the old texts, which, if he had really made it, would constitute a prediction of the future, is taken to have been put in after the occurrence which it seemed to predict."

Of course, if we know that inspired prediction can never occur, or that the miraculous is impossible, then this is a sensible position to take. But as CSL points out, whether the miraculous is possible is a philosophical question. "Scholars, as scholars, speak on it with no more authority than anyone else."

Yet another matter that concerns CSL is the critic's attempts to reconstruct the genesis of the texts he studies. Carried out with immense erudition and great ingenuity this, at first sight, may be very convincing. However, as CSL points out, he has watched reviewers reconstructing the genesis of his own books in just this way - and has usually found them to be wrong!

I conclude with one final quote from this fascinating and hard-hitting address: "Once the layman was anxious to hide the fact that he believed so much less than the vicar: he now tends to hide the fact that he believes so much more. Missionary to the priest of one's own church is an embarrassing role..."

John, I trust you will find these extracts from CS Lewis's work both interesting and challenging - and invite your comments.


* 'Fern-seed and Elephants' was read to the students of Westcott House. a theological college at Cambridge, on 11 May 1959, and was published under the title 'Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism' in Christian Reflections.

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: j burg
  To: Vernon Jenkins
  Cc: Michael Roberts ;
  Sent: Friday, January 18, 2008 5:14 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] A case of non-biological ID

  Vernon wrote: "Yes, the depredations of Bultmann, Tillich and others are well-known to informed bible believers. We all have a pretty good idea what the terms _demythologizing_ and _deliteralization_ mean; but they are not for us."

  "depredations?" I wonder if you have seriously studied these writings. In any case, the words "depredations" and "informed bible believers" in the above is simply a case of using persuasive adjectives to claim an assumed "high ground." Politicians are particulary good at this tactic.

  Vernon also wrote: "To take such liberties with the Judeo-Christian Scriptures is, in my view, madness; and, considering its clearly stated provenance and dire warnings, Revelation must be the one Book that it is least sensible to tamper with."

  The use of "liberties" and "tamper with" are likewise examples of persuasive adjectivism. Hey -- I may have coined a new word there!

  Vernon also wrote: "However, clearly, that is a matter for you and your conscience."

  No -- it is a matter of my mind. Here I stand -- I can do nothing else. I understand that you are on a crusade to argue literalism for many parts of scripture that most scholars have long decided otherwise. But your arguments appear to have more in common with astrology than reason.

  Have you considered getting a real life?


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Received on Mon Jan 21 17:21:04 2008

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