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 . . .

Karl Marx Is Dead—And So Is Dialectical Materialism (for the most part)


Nietzsche famously said, “God is dead.” His great intellectual forebear, Karl Marx, was born on this date in 1818, just five years after Søren Kierkegaard, who has the same birthday. Marx is perhaps the best-known atheist of the 19th century. He grew up in a German-Jewish home. But it is said that he converted to Lutheranism when he was only six years old. Either it didn’t take, or it didn’t last.

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

He was a militant atheist during his college years at Bonn and Berlin. He was drawn to a group called “the Young Hegelians.” A major figure of this group was Ludwig Feuerbach, who influenced Marx and probably inspired much of the atheist element in Marx’s “dialectical materialism.” For Feuerbach, God is nothing more than a projection of the human imagination. Religion is but a dream. And it is a dream with a mixed reputation. It expresses the guilt and remorse characteristic of the human condition, and then pretends to offer a solution. Humans find it pretty hard to escape this fantasy, since it serves a useful purpose.

Marx extended the motif, calling religion “the opiate of the people.” More drug than dream. The corrective he envisioned would replace the need for a beneficent transcendent being with a social arrangement that would ensure tranquility and economic stability. His dialectical materialism provided the metaphysical framework for his communist utopianism. As materialist, he asserted that all is matter, including the human person. But his materialism affirms an evolutionary history that leads dialectically to utopian finality, where society progresses from “each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” The path to this ideal condition would be painful but necessary. It would be mediated by revolution.

Sadly, this much of the Marxist vision has been realized; but its glorious outcome has been more nightmare than dream. Neither Marx nor Feuerbach offered any real arguments against the existence of God. Instead, they embrace the nonexistence of God as a kind of article of faith. They imagined that all who believe in God do so without objective warrant. But pervasive belief in God must be explained—and got rid of—somehow. Thus they offered psychological and sociological explanations for religious belief. This created space for Marx’s theoretical speculations, which gained surprising traction in his day. His dialectical materialism is mostly a thing of the past. Communism has been exposed as a vicious means for dictatorship rather than equality. But the attitude persists that religion is a private matter that tends rather to debase humanity than to realize humanity’s highest aspirations.

This is a powerful catalyst for secularism. If religion is ungrounded, the most it can offer is private solace. But the heart grows restless with solace that has no objective ground. And so humanity turns to substitutes, seeking always to make a better life without God. It matters not whether God is dead—as Nietzsche proclaimed. What matters is whether the heart appropriates what reason supports. Our need for spiritual solutions to pervasive problems is some evidence that spiritual solutions do exist. But that possibility can only be taken seriously if evidence for religious truth is considered fairly and objectively. No path to a better world is worth trying if it doesn’t start there.

As I noted in a previous post for today, Søren Kiekegaard sought to awaken recognition of these facts about humanity and spiritual values. Too bad Marx didn’t listen to Kiekegaard.

Secularist Faith and College Football


There’s an interesting story in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week. It reports on the football program at Clemson University, where the coaching staff is openly Christian. They have prayer meetings for students and baptize those who come to faith.

Apparently, this is controversial.

Anne Laurie Gaylor is co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. She asserts that “a culture of evangelizing on a football team has got to stop.” She adds that a state-funded institution is an inappropriate place for repeated religious messages.

This is ironic and hypocritical. It is ironic because the university exists for the purpose of influencing impressionable young men and women. Ms. Gaylor knows this. It’s what she does when she advocates for “freedom from religion,” and trains her powers of influence on young adults to persuade them to adopt a liberal, religiously pluralistic, and secular, perhaps even atheist, perspective. Her agenda is threatened by the presence of equally vocal religious believers on turf where she and other secularists have staked a claim and are used to getting their way.

Advocacy of a religious point of view or another is not equivalent to “pushing religion” on others, any more than Ms. Gaylor’s secularist advocacy amounts, in principle, to pushing her religion on others. I say “in principle” because her tactics are exclusivist. She has no tolerance for ideological competition. Her basic outlook on life is her own take on religious questions. It defines her religion. And her religious outlook is reflected in her advocacy. Her organization exists principally for advocacy for this religion.

A football program differs from a religious advocacy group like the Freedom from Religion Foundation. A football program prepares young men for leadership through discipline and sport. At Clemson, the leaders of this program happen to be Christians who, exercising their own freedom of conscience, are openly Christian and interested in the souls of their players. The Freedom from Religion Foundation is all about pushing a set of ideas on impressionable students. Their ideas are overtly secularist and anti-Christian. Apart from that, they have nothing to contribute. They do not even advocate for vigorous public discussion and comparison of Christian and non-Christian perspectives, including their own. They do not invite scrutiny of their agenda, nor do they submit their own worldview commitments to examination suited to university life. They are preachers and missionaries. They expect to exercise the freedom that they insist should not be allowed to others in the university world.

Ms. Gaylor herself probably was an impressionable young student at one time; she, too, probably was influenced by people she wished to please. It is likely that she fell under the spell of an ideology that she now seeks to promote, because she thinks that what she believes is true and that others should believe as she does. She has beliefs about what counts as religion, what it means to be free from religion, what it takes to be free from religion, and how freedom from religion can be fostered through her organization. And she expects others to believe this, too. It is peculiar that she expects religious believers like those on the coaching staff at Clemson to agree with her. She claims that what they believe is their own business. But they should not “evangelize.” They should, in other words, keep their faith to themselves, while she and her kin promote a secular agenda in the resulting vacuum. How convenient for her.

Secularists seek enforcement of the privatization of Christian belief. They do this publicly and generally without censure. But Christian belief is compromised when it is privatized. So the effect of Ms. Gaylor’s missionary enterprise would be the privatization of a faith that is essentially interpersonal and the social advancement of a cult of irreligion that she would not keep to herself.

For the article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, click http://chronicle.com/article/With-God-on-Our-Side/143231/?cid=wb&utm_source=wb&utm_medium=en.

 

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