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The World's Last Night and Other Essays

"On Obstinacy in Belief"

(A paper read to the Oxford Socratic Club and published in the Sewanee Review, LXIII (Autumn 1955))

1.  What initial contrasts does Lewis make between a scientist's approach to belief and a Christian's?




2.  How does Lewis define belief?  What effect does proof (or disproof) have on belief?



3.  How is "authority" a type of evidence?  On what evidence do you base your Christian beliefs?




4.  What conclusion does Lewis draw from the many arguments made against religion?




5.  How does Lewis rebut the wish fulfillment argument (i.e. "the doctrine of the concealed wish")?




6.  Lewis makes a distinction between the way a person first assents to propositions of the Christian faith and the way he/she afterwards adheres to them.  He would not expect a person to assent to Christianity in the first place without evidence.  However, obstinacy in the face of contrary evidence is a virtue to the seasoned believer.  Lewis likens it to removing a thorn from a child's finger, teaching a boy to swim, etc.  We ask the child and the boy to believe us in the face of seeming contrary evidence.  On what does this latter belief rest?




7.  If we believe in a beneficient, wise God, what must we expect?




8.  Lewis suggests that we are warned to expect evidence against Christianity.  Read Mark 13:22-23.  What two facts aid us in the face of such evidence?




9.  Read John 20:24-29 about Thomas' encounter with the resurrected Jesus.  How does Lewis characterize Jesus' rebuke to Thomas? 




10.  Ultimately, is it laudatory to adhere to one's Christian faith in the face of contrary evidence?  What answer does the "logic of personal relations" offer?




Notes:

Solipsism:  the theory that the self can be aware of nothing but its own experiences; nothing is real but the self

Dante, fisici e metafisici argomenti:  trans. "physical or metaphysical arguments," i.e. theistic proofs favored by classical apologetics

Statius (45-96):  a Roman poet; wrote "The Thebaid," which chronicled the battle between two brothers for the throne of Thebes

primus in orbe deos fecit timor:  trans. "fear in the world first created the gods" (from Thebaid iii, 661)

Euhemerus (330-260 BCE): Greek mythographer who saw myth as disguised history.  The gods were men who because of a great feat, accomplishment or virtue were deified upon death.

Sir Edward Burnett Tylor (1832-1917):  author of Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Language, Art and Custom (1871); held the view that religion comes from animism; suggested that dreams were a source for the belief in the existence of a soul; every man had two parts - a life and a phantom

Sir James Frazer (1854-1941): Scottish social anthropologist and author of The Golden Bough: a Study in Magic and Religion (1890); he believed that recurring stories among primitive peoples about a dying and resurrecting god were derived from the agricultural seasons

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939):  "Religion is an attempt to get control over the sensory world, in which we are placed, by means of the wish-world, which we have developed inside us as a result of biological and psychological necessities."  (from Moses and Monotheism)

Que chacun regagne sa place: trans. Each person regains his place.

Credere Deum esse: trans. to believe God exists

Credere in Deum: trans. to believe [in] God

© 2008 by Allyson Wieland