From the Sandhills of Nebraska to the Universe Next Door
Arrogance seems to be the signature sin among Christian intellectuals (and intellectuals of all sorts). I appreciated the honesty in Rim and in some of your other books about your own struggles in this area. Why is intellectual arrogance so pervasive among educated believers, and what advice would you give about detecting and confronting it?
One cause of arrogance is that it really is better to know something than to not know something. There is value in knowledge. Combined with wisdom, it's perfect. The problem is that we often lack the virtue of recognizing that people who are not quite as smart are just as good in terms of the values they hold. That's hard for an intellectual to agree to because they are constantly thinking they are smarter than everyone else. I don't know anyone who is really bright who doesn't think that. The temptation is there.
In Habits of the Mind, I talk about the intellectual virtues, and humility has to be one. What has helped me is the constant reading of both old and new texts by Christians and others. When you read them you say, "Oh my goodness, I didn't know that." It's not difficult to find people who know more than you do.
Books that encourage philosophical introspection do not generally fly off the shelf. However, The Universe Next Door has sold over 350,000 copies and has been translated into 18 languages. It continues to be a strong seller after 36 years and 5 editions. To what do you attribute the amazing success of Universe?
It was the right book at the right time. Schaeffer prepared people for thinking about the impact and meaning of culture for the Christian faith. Escape from ReasonandThe God Who Is Thereboth were very much worldview books. I had been taught to read "worldview-ishly" during my graduate work at the University of Missouri. I learned to read Renaissance literature by recognizing I couldn't take my own worldview into that literature and find it of interest.
I was ready to write that book, and was given an opportunity to give some lectures before I did so. The book came out at just the right time, and it would not be flying off the shelves today if it had not been immediately adopted as a textbook in Christian colleges, seminaries, and high schools. It helped students in secular schools understand what was going on in their secular classrooms, and it helped students in Christian colleges analyze the difference Christian faith makes in their own studies.
As a Ph.D. in English, you speak about being captivated by the beautiful, the imaginative, and the creative. However, you also appreciate a finely-tuned argument or demonstration. How does good apologetics bring those dimensions together?
All I can say is that it certainly should. My next book makes the argument, not from rational apologetics, but from what the sociologist Peter Berger has called "signals of transcendence," these intensely imaginative and visual experiences we have that seem to point to a world beyond our own. This follows my own shift from emphasizing the rational to emphasizing pre-rational or non-rational beliefs that can nevertheless be evaluated by rational criteria. The role of experience, especially the seeming experience of the supernatural, needs to be recognized.
In the final analysis, you don't know something because you are recounting all of the logic behind it. You recognize that your conviction is not something you prove, but you can give evidence for it. The main point is that you know it. So you don't constantly wonder about whether Jesus was raised from the dead or whether he lived as the Bible said he did. This is immediate and direct knowledge. It is an emphasis on the sensus divinitatus, which Alvin Plantinga says is very much involved in one's immediate grasp of the existence of God without argument.