A Different Wentworth and a Different Letter. B. H. Roberts on Faith Crisis, Part II of IV(?): Wentworth Tells of His Loss of Faith.

Part I came out a few weeks ago. Sorry for the big delay. Philip Wentworth told of his upbringing in a faithful Presbyterian household, his admiration for his minister, and his desire to pursue the ministry by going to HARVARD of all places. His preacher warned him of the slick temptations of academia, but the local church board voted to finance his education. That was the last post in a nutshell. Wentworth will tell us, “What happens to this nicely rationalized system of religious beliefs when scientific notions are superimposed upon them?”

From his Harvard experience at least, Wentworth observes that college does something to nine out of ten students’ faith. Education, he claims, is poison to faith. It’s all about reasoning (thinking critically). It’s like a virus. Sometimes it’s just mild skepticism, but for many, it’s acid that eats all the way through credulity.

Devout parents and clergymen have frequently observed this phenomenon and deplored it. When they discuss it, however, as they often do, they betray a common failure to understand the intellectual chemistry which has produced this wholesale apostasy of the younger generation.

Wentworth outlines his own troubled journey through university.

  1. History. Society evolved by laws of Cause and Effect. One lecture on the history of God was memorable: Yahweh began as a blood-thirsty fierce tribal deity of some Semitic nomads who through well-defined stages emerged in the New Testament the loving Father of mankind.
  2. Science. The universe was an orderly system whose successive states could be traced with mathematical predictive precision. No place for a wonder-working outlaw God.
  3. Morals. Without the omnipotent God to reward virtue and punish evil, was the “good life” illusory? He couldn’t answer convincingly.

Wentworth believed that these matters might be shunted aside by setting God as the First Cause. The power behind the throne of natural law. This Deistic move looked good to him, but then God seemed to lose all the other cherished meaning of the speaking, moving, prayer-responding all-hearing, all-seeing, all-loving being of Scripture. Identifying a philosophical reductive-logic-being as God seemed empty. Wentworth and his fellow students were deeply interested in the Scopes trial proceedings. For them, Scopes was really about their hometown versions of Genesis and the science of evolution. They saw Scopes as a trap for God if God was within natural law. God was deprived of his freedom to act outside natural law, no longer the “Cosmic Policeman,” God was policed by the laws of physics. The behavioral strictures of religion lost force. Besides that, the now visible growing conflict between Protestant fundamentalists and “modernists” made the former look bad, even foolish.

Wentworth stayed in Boston over summers but he wrote home about all his internal deliberations. His parents and new pastor were concerned. And they responded in ways that seem familiar: pray more with more earnestness, and read scripture constantly. “If I did this, doubts would surely pass, for God was testing me and would not desert me if I proved steadfast.” Finally, they wrote that his going to Harvard “had been a ghastly mistake.” Wentworth and his father exchanged many letters, the former insisting that a return to the hothouse Presbyterian home college would never work. His father gave it up and let him stay at Harvard. Wentworth went on to graduate school. His musing on the experience ends with caution: religion, in beginning to lose hold of many it took for granted, has turned to the government to enforce its former restrictions in temperance, birth control, etc. And he finds a dark side for youth who leave faith behind: where do they get a moral compass now?

Next, Roberts responds.


  1. Looking forward for the response

  2. I’m dramatically condensing Philip Wentworth’s thoughts. His arguments are more robust than I suggest here. But you can see the gist of it.

  3. Carey F. says:

    Cliff hanger!

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