210: God and the Reach of Reason by Erik Wielenberg

by Gerard

210.92241: Wielenberg, Erik J. God and the Reach of Reason: C. S. Lewis, David Hume, and Bertrand Russell. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 202 pp. ISBN 978-0-521-70710-7.

When you start thinking about something as heady and partisan as religion, sometimes it helps to take a step back, pare down the arguments, and go fundamental. Luckily, Dewey has a division for that: the 210s, the place for books on natural theology. Natural theology is the branch of theology (the study of God) based on ordinary reason and experience. The first section of the 210s is 210 (of course) and that’s the place for the philosophy and theory of religion. So, here we go.

Erik Wielenberg’s God and the Reach of Reason is a compact treatise comparing the philosophies of C. S. Lewis, David Hume, and Bertrand Russell. C. S. Lewis is the celebrated author of the Narnia books and an equally famous 20th century Christian apologist. David Hume, on the other hand was an 18th century Scottish philosopher whose natural skepticism led him to question both the basis of modern morality and religion. Bertrand Russell (who gets less face time than the others in the book) was a co-founder of the 20th century school of analytic philosophy as well as an ardent and sometimes antagonistic atheist.

Wielenberg uses the writings of the each of the “characters” as the basis of a conversation that leads through the Problem of Pain, Lewis’s Trilemma, and the Arguments from Reason and Desire. When you read about philosophical debates that have gained the status of capital letters, it can get a little intense, but Wielenberg has a way of making the arguments very clear and easy-to-follow.

Right from the first page, it was immediately necessary that I had to take a little more time with this book. The author’s simple movement from argument to counter-argument, from point to counterpoint, through the various texts and evidence is executed with a Zen-like serenity. The book allows the reader to sit quietly with the presented arguments and work through them without the bombastic rhetoric we hear from the picket lines and cable news programs. There are times (but only few) when it feels like you’re reading a book of mathematic proofs, but even then, they are simple and profound. If you believe, there is much here for you; if you don’t, the same applies.