The Vision of Thomas B. Warren
In his book, A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken describes his friend and mentor, C. S. Lewis, as “a man who could so swiftly cut through anything that even approached fuzzy thinking.” Van (as he was called by Lewis) goes on to say that C. S. Lewis “in brilliance, in wit, and in incisiveness, could hold his own with any man that ever lived” (of course, excluding the God-Man, Jesus Christ).
When I first read Vanauken’s portrayal of Lewis, I recall thinking that his words describe Thomas B. Warren. By the way, Lewis and Warren had in common an unusual experience as apologists—both debated the 20th century champion of atheistic philosophy, Antony Flew. While C. S. Lewis was president of the Socratic Club at Oxford (1942-1954), Flew and Lewis “locked horns” in an ongoing “arena specially devoted to conflict” between Christianity and atheism. Years later in 1976, Warren and Flew met on four consecutive September nights in a debate on the campus of North Texas State University, now the University of North Texas. The Warren-Flew debate can be described as the most significant public debate held in the 20th century on the question, “Does God exist?” I attended this debate which attracted audiences in the thousands. I have heard some estimates as high as 9,000. In my judgment, the Warren-Flew debate may have resulted in the most devastating defeat handed to atheistic philosophy since the beginning of Christianity. I do not make this observation without considerable thought. It is a conclusion drawn in light of more than forty years of reading and studying from the realm of what William F. Buckley, Jr. once called the most important battle in the world—“the duel between Christianity and atheism.”
Thomas B. Warren was a remarkable thinker. He was a master logician. Some have said he was ahead of his time. Perhaps, in one sense, this is true. In another sense, it is accurate to say he simply “understood the times” in which he lived. Many did not. Warren, along with a few other brilliant leaders from a variety of positions during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s understood the reality of the cultural revolution, influenced by skeptical philosophy, transpiring after World War II and concluding around 1970 (cf. Gelernter, David. America–Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Cultural, 2012). Today we are experiencing fallout from the culture bomb dropped during those times.
Dr. Warren understood what was happening and the sources of it. He said, “Skepticism has not grown because the case for Christianity is weak but because there is so much skepticism being taught in our schools and colleges and because so many Christians are asleep to the danger.” Buckley had seen it at Yale (God and Man at Yale, 1951). Forty-five years later he wrote, “What happened would not surprise any faculty member in upscale higher education: the abandonment of Christianity” (Nearer, My God, 1997). Ronald Reagan saw it as he was influenced by writers such as the great communist defector, Whittaker Chambers, who said “history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations that became indifferent to God, and died.” Reagan, in his speeches, often quoted Chambers.
David Gelernter, a professor of computer science at Yale University, wrote a brief article for The Weekly Standard, published September 30, 2013, in which he proposed “a reclamation project for higher education.” The reason why this should matter to every American, even more to every Christian, is summed up by Gelernter in the following:
Since the cultural revolution culminating in the 1970s, the left has run nearly all of the nation’s most influential prestigious universities. Their alumni, in turn, run American culture-the broadcast networks, newspapers, the legal and many other professions, Hollywood, book publishing, and, most important, the massive, insensate, crush-everything-in-your-path mega-glacier known as the U. S. federal bureaucracy—and even more important than that, the education establishment charged with indoctrinating our children from kindergarten up.
Thirty-seven years before Gerlernter uttered his words in 2013, challenging Americans to wake up and do more to attack the negative influence elite colleges and universities are having on culture, Dr. Warren wrote the following in 1976 as he was preparing for his debate with Professor Flew:
The world in which we live is in a chaotic and bewildered state. . . . The loss of faith in God . . . has led to the abandonment of religion and the rejection of objective standards of morality. . . . How has this situation come about? . . . Without doubt an important factor has been (and continues to be) the fact that so many colleges and universities around the world are now veritable ‘hotbeds’ of atheism and agnosticism. Since these schools train those who become teachers, writers (of newspapers, books, plays, television programs, movies), political leaders, etc., it is obvious they play a crucial role in advancing skepticism.
Look at the amazing similarity between Warren’s observations in 1976 and those of Gerlernter in 2013. How could this happen? Surely it should be obvious that, among other factors, as Warren had observed earlier “many Christians are asleep to the danger” of skepticism, and many have remained asleep since Warren made his keen observation. Gerlernter’s thesis is that academia has dismantled Western culture. This is because it fails “to see that faith in God is the keystone of two crossed arches [Judeo-Christian roots], those two soaring arches at right angles that shelter Western civilization beneath the great span of a dramatic roof. . . . The nation’s most serious problems are not economic or political. They are social, cultural, educational and (above all) spiritual. Conservative thinkers and leaders tend to ignore such problems. But our cultural oxygen is being displaced by a steady seep of poison. We had better act soon; in fact, now.”
Thomas B. Warren saw it more than 50 years ago. Many would not listen to him. Will we listen now? Warren Apologetics Center is addressing the most crucial question at a most critical time in history—Does God exist? It is making a difference. The difference will become greater as the support becomes larger. Pray for this great work, and please send your tax-deductible gift of support today. The hour is late.