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"Humans are amphibians - half spirit and half animal. As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time." -- CS Lewis

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Bulverism: It's Here, Too

Ezekiel Bulver led an easy life. After all, how hard could it be to go through one's day in arrogant denial? Every time someone made a comment Ezekiel disagreed with, he would just respond with "You're wrong because you're old," or "You only say that because you have brown eyes," and they would melt and go along with his delusion. He was the self-proclaimed king of his world, unable to be disproven due to the barrier of obtuseness he so cleverly upheld around his ignorance. His mother could be credited for his rise to power; it was in hearing her dismiss his father simply "because [he was] a man" one day that Ezekiel understood the secret to debating: Present causes with no reasons and you will win automatically.

Fortunately, both Ezekiel Bulver and his world are fictitious, but how far from accurate are they, really?

In fact, the guidelines within which Bulver debates are close representations of society today, CS Lewis would have us believe. In his essay on "Bulverism," Lewis calls our attention to the infuriating belief that "refutation is no necessary part of argument," as people often seem to think today. Politicians’ campaigns focus largely on deteriorating the opposition’s public acclaim by attacking the person’s family life rather than their proposed policies or agendas. History students dismiss scientists from the time of the Roman Empire as complete imbeciles because they believed that the earth was flat. Simple, categorical, arrogant rejection of another’s point of view with little to no grounds to support this dismissal has grown in our culture, remarks Lewis, and he attributes the title of “Bulverism” to this phenomenon. Causes are presented for rejecting an opponent’s proposition, but no reasons follow it to give the argument weight or credibility.

In light of Lewis’ observation, the class was then asked a challenging question: Are we guilty, here at Calvin College, of being Bulverists ourselves? The answer, unfortunately, is yes. Of course, every person on this earth is guilty of Bulverism, but certain aspects of this cultural parasite rear their heads particularly often in a Christian college setting.

The most visible example is probably the debate between so-called creationists and theistic evolutionists here at Calvin. The creationists accuse the evolutionists of refuting the authority of God’s Word, whereas the evolutionists accuse them of being blind, closed-minded mules, too stubborn to open their eyes to the dynamic reality we live in. Both sides bicker and fight with the other, never really stepping back and discussing their different viewpoints without the brandished swords and the slinging mud. This is creating a chasm even within the circle of Christianity, and Christians are divided despite our same Lord and same desire to serve Him. God explicitly states in His Word that we must “be careful [...] that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block” to other fellow believers (1 Cor. 8:9), but this is precisely what we are doing by attacking each other from within. Calvin, being an academic institution, is highly engaged with the debate, to the point where the fight becomes an intensely personal battle of wits, and this blatant Bulverism seems to be running with little restraint through the faculty and students.

Furthermore, we must be aware of the danger of Bulverism we could create by just being Christians in a Christian environment. We must resist the temptation to refute non-Christian thought as flawed or ungodly because it originated from outside of Christianity. As Lewis says, we mustn’t discredit a thought because of the underlying wishes of its presenter, and we must therefore be open to examining all thoughts and disregard the origin of the thought, so long as the thought is valid. These areas are pitfalls that lead to Bulverism, and we must especially aware of them and bring humility to the table to create an environment of acceptance and listening, at Calvin College, in our respective communities, and in the world in general.


  1. Thank you for making this so applicable and for exhorting us here at Calvin to watch out for the danger of Bulverism. you example of the creation vs. Evolution argument is right on and it saddens me to see it splitting a Christian community apart. If we cannot have respect for each other enough to argue rationally among the church where we have the same ultimate goals, how can we expect to argue rationally and convince those outside the church that our faith is indeed true.

  2. Good comments.
    In the creation vs. Evolution debate it is interesting that over time (maybe a few years from now) the argument will have shifted to another level, as there will be more information available, and some of the arguments on either side will be considered flawed. This alone should be cause enough to keep us humble!
    We will talk more on this in the article on chronological snobbery…

  3. Word. Your last paragraph echoes the sentiments of Dante in the Inferno/Purgatorio, where Virgil, the personification of Human Reason, is his guide through Hell and Purgatory. Dante doesn't reject Human Reason as flawed; rather, he recognizes it as an essential part of discovering truth. However, he also recognizes the need for Divine Illumination as a part of our quest for truth.

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  5. I think your point about old scientists is great. We seem to be so preoccupied by finding the next thing that we will catagorically dismiss the old simply for being old, wich fits bulverism to the tee. Sorry about the deleted previous post, there was a missing word.

  6. i enjoyed your example of evolutionist bickering with creationist even within Christianity this argument won't go away so both side need to take a better look at the others argument or at least try to see it from the others viepoint