Arnold Lunn (1888-1974) – Skiing Expert, Agnostic, and Christian Apologist


Arnold Lunn was born to a Methodist minister, but he was himself agnostic and a critic of Christianity—until he was 45 years old, when he converted to the faith. Today is the anniversary of his death in 1974.

Lunn was a professional skier and full-time enthusiast. He founded the Alpine Ski Club and the Kandahar Ski Club. He brought slalom skiing to the racing world, and he’s the namesake for a double black diamond ski trail at Taos Ski Valley.

Lunn credited his agnosticism to the wholly unconvincing cause of Anglicanism. He looked in vain for persuasive arguments for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity. Later he Book Cover-Arnold Lunn-The Third Daywould say that “an odd hour or two at the end of a boy’s school life might not be unprofitably spend in armouring him against the half-baked dupes of ill informed secularists” (The Third Day, xvii). He wrote in criticism of the faith and debated Christianity’s prominent defenders.

Despite his religiously agnostic stance, Lunn found that problems for scientific naturalism proved equally recalcitrant. This created a dilemma for him. But his vigorous opposition to Christianity was guided by an intellectual honesty that was helpless before the evidence he exhumed. In due course he gave up and converted to Christianity. All the energy he had devoted in the cause against Christianity he now mustered on behalf of Christianity. He published several books in support of Christian belief.

He famously debated two major critics, C. E. M. Joad and J. B. S. Haldane. The inside flap of his book The Third Day observes that Lunn was an effective apologist “because he has learnt apologetics in the controversial arena.” But Lunn is unusual for having taken alternate sides in this arena. As he wrote in a pamphlet, “I can imagine no better training for the Church than to spend, as I did, a year arguing the case against Catholicism with a Catholic, and a second year in defending the Catholic position against an agnostic.”

Lunn was prolific. He wrote manuals in skiing and mountaineering, fiction, memoirs, and popular books of Christian evidences. Personal letters between himself and both Joad (Is Christianity True?, 1933) and Haldane (Science and the Supernatural, 1935) were published, as well.

Here are a few excerpts from his book in defense of the resurrection of Jesus:

Substantial Truth Under Circumstantial Variety

William Paley pointed out that human testimony is generally to be accepted when the “substantial truth” of witnesses survives despite “circumstantial variety.” This principle is practiced in courts of law when evaluating testimonial evidence presented during trial. The rule applies also in weighing the testimony of eyewitnesses to Jesus following his resurrection from the dead. Arnold Lunn puts the point this way:

If it could be proved that the various accounts which we possess of the events of the first Easter Sunday and of the subsequent appearances of Jesus to the disciples were not wholly consistent so far as details are concerned, this fact might be difficult to reconcile with any theory of direct inspiration or Biblical inerrancy but would not invalidate the evidence so far as the central fact of the Resurrection is concerned. (70-71)

Lunn is not conceding anything. He is not supposing that there are real contradictions in the eyewitness testimony. His point is that even if there were discrepancies, this would not disqualify their common testimony that Jesus did rise from the dead.

The “Collective Hallucination” Hypothesis

Lunn writes with good humor when he responds to a longstanding objection to the resurrection claim.

The anti-miraculist does not deny that the disciples believed that they had seen the risen Lord, but he asserts that they were victims of ‘collective hallucinations’. Anti-miraculists suffer from the collective illusion that a polysyllabic phrase is a satisfactory substitute, both for proof and for explanation (74, with italics added here).

So, was it the risen Lord whom the disciples saw in the flesh, or did they merely imagine that they did?

To begin, circumstances must be abnormal for any normal person to hallucinate, and more so for groups of people. Next, eyewitnesses were slow to acknowledge that it was Jesus whom they had encountered during his post-resurrection appearances. It is a curious thing that Mary Magdalen, for example “saw our Lord and mistook him for the gardener” (75). This happened, as well, when a group of disciples encountered Jesus on their way to Emmaus. The disciples in the Upper Room thought they saw a ghost. In each case, those who were present had to be persuaded that it was, in fact, Jesus who appeared to them. Whatever it was that did the trick for them, it wasn’t some hallucinatory experience. Their initial experiences did not immediately issue in recognition or faint apprehension. For they had no genuine expectation that Jesus would be raised from the dead. “They didn’t run away with their first impressions, and tell unauthenticated stories of a miracle. They examined their first impressions and only by examination learned of their miraculous truth” (75). The disciple Thomas (the “doubter”) sought to preserve the utmost sobriety in consideration of evidence and would not even accept the testimony of his closest peers without firsthand experience.

It is indeed ironical that those who cannot accept the Resurrection of Jesus because it is unique are driven to postulate something no less unique, a ‘collective hallucination’ of a type not paralleled in all the records of human illusion, an illusion which has had an infinitely greater effect on the course of history than any admitted fact. (77)

The Origin of Primitive Belief in the Resurrection of Jesus

The real difficulty for any critic is to make sense of “the origin of a belief so contrary . . . to human experience” and to the expectations of Jesus’ disciples. They would have to have been desperate fanatics to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus before the gaze of those who had crucified their Lord, and to endure physical persecution and martyrdom. Somehow they managed to rock their world with their message, as countless numbers came to believe on the basis of their testimony.

The Empty Tomb

It has always impressed me that, though the tomb of Jesus was well-known to his disciples, there is no evidence of veneration, such as you would expect from family and friends with deep affection for a charismatic leader. As Lunn says, “From the moment that the women return from the Garden the tomb of Jesus passes, historically, into complete oblivion” (The Third Day, 83). If the disciples had not been convinced of the resurrection, they might well have regarded it as a shrine; they would have remained in Jerusalem rather than devote themselves to worldwide proclamation of a gospel they knew to be false.

Lunn examines several anti-miraculist hypotheses meant to explain the empty tomb. He calls these “anti-miraculist” because they are, without exception, motivated by a positive denial of the supernatural:

  1. Jesus did not die on the cross, but recovered in the tomb from which he subsequently escaped.
  2. The women made a mistake and went to the wrong tomb.
  3. The sepulchre in which Jesus was first buried was never intended to be a permanent tomb. Joseph of Arithmathea removed the body and transferred it to another sepulchre.
  4. Strauss’s proposal: It is quite possible that it [the body] was thrown into some dishonourable place with those of other executed criminals, and in this case his disciples may have, at first, had no opportunity of seeing the body. Later, when they preached the Resurrection, even their opponents would have found it difficult to recognise his body and to provide proofs of its identity.
  5. The disciples stole the body from the tomb.

Lunn demonstrates that “a reconstruction of the situation” answers each of these objections and reveals them to be due to an anti-miraculist bias.

Secularism and the Decline of Morality

Lunn had a way with the pen. “If a man be nothing more than first cousin to the chimpanzee, he has no logical ground of complaint if he is put behind bars” (The Third Day, xi; italics are mine). As religion declines, so too does morality decline. Atheism dooms humanity to a denial of what makes human persons human and worthy of moral respect. Even if true, the effect is most unpleasant. I would add that if we are little more than a bundle of nerves and their impulses, operating mechanically in a purely physical and deterministic world, it should come as a a real surprise that we are capable of noticing this “fact” and finding it disturbing.

The “Aesthetics of Argument”

Lunn lamented the Revolt Against Reason (the title of a book published in DATE), manifest not only among notional Christians but also by scientific materialists. He happily owned the accusation that he was a Christian rationalist. Evidence was, for him, the only sure path to responsible belief. Emotionalism and the general neglect of reason exact a costly loss of confidence and a failure of witness.

To counter this trend, Lunn called for what he termed an “aesthetic of argument.” He says, in the introduction to his book that details the case for the resurrection, that his aim is to convert the unconverted. He was converted under the pressure of evidence, and ever after it was his lifelong ambition to assist others along that path. He was convinced that public debate, especially at universities, was a valuable investment in this cause. For it ensured that more would attend to the arguments out of curiosity about the outcome of a debate than they would at a church-sponsored meeting.

This has been my experience, too.

* * *

For any young person who aspires to the work of an apologist, I cannot recommend enough a close study of the life and work of Arnold Lunn. One could do with more admirable leaders in this field of Christian theology and practice.

Notes:

  1. There is a brief interesting review of the Lunn-Joad correspondence in here.
  2. C. E. M. Joad, a vociferous critic of Christianity, later converted to Christianity, and subsequently was, in his own way, a defender of the faith. See The Recovery of Belief (1952).
  3. There is an inspiring brief biography, written by Bernard O’Connor, Archibishop of Melbourne. Here’s the link to my own marked copy.
  4. A review of Lunn’s book The Third Day is to be found in Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 35.137 (March 1946): 118-21.
  5. Science and the Supernatural, a compilation of the letters between Lunn and Haldane, is available online here.

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Other posts in this series . . .

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Henry Boynton Smith (1815-1876)


February 7

On this date in 1877, Henry Boynton Smith died in New York City, age 61. This theologian, who was born in Portland, Maine, studied at Bowdoin College and at Andover and Bangor theological seminaries. Later, he studied in Germany, getting to know Friedrich Tholuck and Hermann Ulrici at Halle, and August Neander and Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg at Berlin.

I have long had an interest in Tholuck (1799-1877) for his work in Christian apologetics as a German evangelical. Henry B. Smith lectured in apologetics at Union Theological Seminary during the academic years 1874-1875 and 1875-1876. His course of lectures was published in 1882 by A. C. Armstrong & Son.

Smith adopted a three-fold division of Christian apologetics:

  1. Fundamental Apologetics
  2. Historical Apologetics
  3. Philosophical Apologetics

His system is sophisticated and worthy of close study. He begins with the question whether the supernatural can be known (considering first general questions of epistemology) then moves on to “the proof of the Being of God” (p. 46).

Here is how he begins to address the question, “How can we know God?”

The very question implies some knowledge. Unless we had some conception of God we could and would nevermore ask, How can and do we know God? Unless man had some belief in God he would not ask, any more than an animal, Can you prove His being—can you demonstrate His existence?

The questions implies a need, a craving—seeks for an answer to a demand of our rational and moral being. This is the very least that can be said. There is a strong subjective belief—that is the starting-point; and the question is, Is there a corresponding objective reality? Are there sufficient grounds for full belief, binding on all rational and moral beings?

Hence the question is not at all about knowing some unknown thing, about proving the existence of a mere abstraction—as a theorem in geometry. It is as to the proving the existence of a being in whom, somehow, in some wise, we already believe. It is not going from the known to the unknown—but showing that there are valid and final reasons for a strong, universal, native, human belief.

—Smith, Apologetics: A Course of Lectures (1882), pp. 71-72

Later, Smith writes:

  1. As the starting-point show that man’s whole nature and man’s whole history prove the need to him of a God; that man by nature and reason is irresistibly prompted to seek for Deity, and cannot else be satisfied. This is not the proof of God’s being, but the basis of proof.
  2. That all the phenomena and facts of the universe (so far as known) demand the recognition of a God as their source and unity—a personal God, the necessary complement of the world.
  3. That man’s reason (a priori) demonstrates the existence of a real, infinite, absolute being.
  4. The combination of 2 and 3 gives is the result and proof.

In its ultimate philosophical principles the proof for the being of God consists of three arguments resting upon three ideas:

(a) The ontological argument, on the idea of being.

(b) The cosmological argument, on the idea of cause.

(c) The teleological argument, on the idea of design.

—Smith, Apologetics, p. 87

In chapter 4, Smith distinguishes between “the Supernatural” and “the Miraculous.” He develops the case for Christian miracles against pantheism and materialism, which both consider the impossibility of miracles to be an axiom. Not only are miracles possible, but on sufficient evidence, it is reasonable to believe that miracles have happened.

Smith says, “Besides having an adequate cause, miracles have also a sufficient end or object, and are never to be considered apart from, or dissociated from that” (p. 102).

Miracles are:

possible, if there is a God;

probable, if a positive revelation is needed; and

they have been [i.e., they have happened], if Christ and his apostles can be believed.

(p. 104)

Smith held that “Christian Apologetics is essentially Vindication. It seeks to vindicate, and in vindicating to establish, the value and authority of the Christian faith” (p. 118). His published lectures are a credit to his effort to do just that.

Note: It was also on this date, in 1664, that Gottfried Leibniz completed his master’s degree in philosophy.

 

Gottfried Leibniz

Interview with Brian Auten


I was interviewed recently by Brian Auten. Most of Brian’s questions concern the topic of miracles. Today Brian has posted this audio interview at his website and can be heard here.

Doug’s other posts on the subject of miracles:

Do Miracles Happen Today?


In the comments section of a post I made some months ago, I was recently asked if I believe that a severely damaged eye could be restored immediately following a Christian prayer meeting.

Here’s my reply, made more accessible with a separate and exclusive post. Read more of this post

In Defense of Miracles Reviewed


Albert McIlhenny briefly reviews my book In Defense of Miracles here, and gives it a strong recommendation. Thank you, Albert!

Doug’s other posts on the subject of miracles:

This Is Only a Test


Wanna’ hear hip hop that’s hip to God? And to spiritual discernment, when someone claims a manifestation of the supernatural? Check out the tune called “Test It,” by the group Cross Movement. For the MP3, go here. For the lyrics, go here.

You don’t have to fall for every miracle claim to believe in miracles. You’re not a naturalist—or a deist—if you want to test it. So test it.

If God expects you to believe that a miracle has happened, he will supply the evidence. So test it.

If someone, human or nonhuman, wants to usurp God’s authority, then there will be the illusion of miracles. So test it.

Check out the New Testament and ask this question: “What’s the worst thing that happened to someone who had trouble believing a miracle had happened when it was a genuine miracle?” You’re not a reprobate if you need evidence. So test it.

Something to ponder: “If you believe that Jesus literally rose bodily from the dead, do you need another miracle?”

***

I blogged on July 7, 2008 about an MSNBC article about the Todd Bentley “revival” phenomenon in Lakeland, Florida. I was interviewed for the article, and there were many readers who commented and sent me mail. They were scandalized by my skepticism. Many have watched Bentley on YouTube and happily boarded the bandwagon of non-discriminating miracle mongers. It is possible to be duped. So test it. And test every claim of supernatural revelation and the miraculous. It’s only a test.

MSNBC Reports on the Todd Bentley “Revival”


On May 29, 2008, in an article titled “Revivalist Claims Hundreds of Healings,” MSNBC reported on Todd Bentley and the alleged revival happening in Florida. I was interviewed for this article. Almost instantly, reader responses came pouring in about my comments in the article. And most of them expressed some degree of irritation with me. They weren’t happy with my statement that “Mr. Bentley’s worldview appears to be a mixture of New Age notions, an obsession with the paranormal, and an untutored grasp of Christian theology.” In addition to the readers’ comments at the end of the article, I have so far received one letter by regular mail and an abundance of email messages expressing disagreement and concern.

Eventually, I may respond from this blog to some of the more interesting objections that have been made. In this post, I simply want to give brief answers to a few questions some might have about the Todd Bentley phenomenon.

1. Is there biblical support for the events associated with the “Bentley revival”? Many of this movement’s alleged miracles diverge from the pattern of miracles recounted in the New Testament (in the Book of Acts, for example). Several of Mr. Bentley’s “prophetic utterances” frankly resemble occultic practices, quite in contrast with the biblical prophets.

2. How would you describe this branch of Christianity? As I say in the MSNBC article, the Bentley phenomenon doesn’t it fit neatly into any branch of Christianity. Mr. Bentley’s worldview does indeed appear to be “an admixture of New Age notions, an obsession with the paranormal, and an untutored grasp of Christian theology.” His core message is a vague conception of life-transforming power, rather than the clear message of salvation from sin and revival of the soul through faith in Jesus Christ.

3. How “mainstream” are these beliefs among the mainstream evangelical Christian population in America? The Bentley phenomenon is better known for spectacle than for doctrine. Mr. Bentley’s website stresses the continuation of divine revelation in our time, in manifest tension with its own statement that “Scripture is our source of revelation of God . . . the final Court of Appeal on all points of doctrine, life and godliness.”

4. What should non-Christians make of these meetings? If people have no way of confirming his claims or the authenticity of his “powers,” they are better off simply ignoring Todd Bentley. This is true for Christians and non-Christians alike. In my view, there is no evidence that he is a legitimate heir to apostolic authority.

***

There has been quite of lot of blog action about Todd Bentley and his “revival.” Most of it is either supremely sympathetic or relentlessly critical. And almost all that I’ve seen has been more emotional than thoughtful. But there is one blog entry that I recommend: Dan Phillips, “What I Think of ‘the Florida Revival,'” at the PyroManiacs blog. Check it out—and let me know what you think.

Doug’s other posts on the subject of miracles:

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