C. S. Lewis’s puerile theology

As I noted last night, I’m reading C. S. Lewis’s  Mere Christianity, which, I hope, will be the last theology book I ever read. And I’m doing it not because it has knockdown arguments for God—those don’t exist—but because it’s surely the most popular and influential work of Christian apologetics in the 20th century. I’m 40 pages in, and don’t really want to finish it and then write a full review, as that would be a lot of time spent for no good purpose. But I will comment from time to time.

I can see how this book influenced Francis Collins in his conversion from atheist to evangelical Christian. (The tripartite frozen waterfalls helped, too.) As Wikipedia notes in Collins’s bio:

Collins has described his parents as “only nominally Christian” and by graduate school he considered himself an atheist. However, dealing with dying patients led him to question his religious views, and he investigated various faiths. He familiarized himself with the evidence for and against God in cosmology, and used Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis as a foundation to re-examine his religious view. He eventually came to a conclusion, and became a Christian during a hike on a fall afternoon. [JAC: Frozen waterfall!] He has described himself as a “serious Christian”.

If you’ve read Collin’s account of his religion in The Language of God, or heard his talks on faith, you’ll see that he leans heavily on what he calls “The Moral Law”: the instinctive feeling of right and wrong that, he says, is ingrained in all humans. Collins sees that as a knockdown argument for God, since he can’t envision how such a feeling could be installed in our neurons by natural selection. And if it couldn’t have evolved, well, God did it.

Of course he’s wrong: one can envision how rudiments of morality could have been selected for in our small-group-living ancestors, and we see such rudiments in our primate relatives, where it could have evolved independently. On top of an evolved morality, however, lies a veneer of culturally inculcated morality that might feel inborn but is actually indoctrinated. And that could come from aeons of experience on how to behave so our society functions well (which, after all, gives us personal well being).

It’s clear that Collins gets this argument for God from Lewis, for it’s a major argument in the first part of Mere Christianity. Not only is the Moral Law seen as evidence for God, but, in a masterpiece of sloppy thinking, Lewis argues that it was one of the few ways that God could actually give evidence to humans of His existence (my emphasis):

“The position of the question, then, is like this. We want to know whether the universe simply happens to be what it is for no reason or whether there is a power behind it that makes it what it is. Since that power, if it exists, would be not one of the observed facts [in the Universe] but a reality which makes them, no mere observation of the facts can find it. There is only one case in which we can know whether there is anything more. namely our own case. And in that one case we find there is. Or put the other way round. If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe—no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house.  The only way in which we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way. And that is just what we do find inside ourselves. Surely this ought to around our suspicions? In the only case where you can expect to get an answer, the answer turns out to be Yes; and in the other cases, where you do not get an answer, you see why you do not.” (p. 19)

Here you see two things about Lewis’s book: the extraordinarily clear prose, with no equivocation or evasion, and the easily shredded arguments for God. Lewis’s arguments here are the same as Collins’s: the “Moral Law” we feel inside ourselves must have come from God. And, more than that, Lewis makes a virtue of necessity: the only way God could reveal Himself to us is through our feelings—our realization that some behaviors are “right” and others “wrong. Ergo the dubious “architect” simile, which falls apart with a moment’s thought.

Two obvious problems immediately appear. First, why couldn’t God show himself to us by performing miracles, or by giving us other external signs of His existence? After all, He Who Is Outside the Universe managed not only to produce a virgin birth (something that Lewis accepted), but also a resurrection (ditto). It is as if, to Lewis, God, being “outside the universe”—whatever that means—entails his inability to do anything inside the universe. But of course Lewis doesn’t think that’s the case, although he pretends so here to make his argument. In fact, if God can perform miracles, he could, as the Universe’s architect, rearrange the stars to say “I am that I am” in Hebrew, bring Jesus back to Earth again, or give any number of signs right now that would evince his Being.

Second, both Lewis and his spiritual descendant Collins simply can’t see how morality could have any origin other than God. Why, then, are lifelong nonbelievers imbued with the same feelings of right and wrong? I suppose Lewis would reply that even atheists are creatures of God and have the same Moral Module installed, but he fails to consider alternative secular hypotheses like reason and evolution. Unless I miss my guess, evolution was already widely accepted at Oxford by the 1950s!

Finally, Lewis does finesse the Euthyphro argument: the argument of Plato (sort of) that morality must be antecedent to God because if God commanded us to do bad things, we’d have to do them simply because that’s what God wants. But since we wouldn’t obey those commands (unless you’re William Lane Craig), we must have an idea of right and wrong that doesn’t involve God’s will. One way of getting around that is saying that God is simply good by nature, but that presupposes some standard of goodness that is independent of God, and to which God decided to adhere. His innate goodness, so the rebuttal goes, was manifested in Scripture, from whence we derive our morals.  Or, as in Lewis’s case, God actually imbues humans with our notion of good and bad, so that we don’t need scripture to learn how to be good. Both arguments, however, still suffer from the problem that there must be external standards of good to which god adheres.

Enough for now. This book will drive me mad.

For a glimpse of Lewis, here is the only existing recording of Lewis’s BBC broadcasts that he turned into Mere Christianity. I can’t find a recording of his voice anywhere else. Pure “received pronounciation”!

And, courtesy of Pliny the in Between, Meerkat Christianity:

meerchristianity-001

93 Comments

  1. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    My sensus mundani tells me that Lewis is kidding himself. Alternatively why should the sensus divinitatus trump my sensus mundani?

  2. Posted September 14, 2016 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Oh Jerry, where were you when I was in divinity school and surrounded by Lewisophiles?

    • rickflick
      Posted September 14, 2016 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

      It would be interesting to check in with them now and see if they still felt the same way.

  3. h2ocean
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    ““The Moral Law”: the instinctive feeling of right and wrong that, he says, is ingrained in all humans.”

    Doesn’t this also ignore how we often lack morality or at least make less than optimal moral choices, and how these failures obviously stem from evolution? So many violent crimes involve sexual relationships, jealousy, and resources (power, money). Plus ignoring pain and suffering in others (especially our ability to fully appreciate large scale suffering or suffering of those outside our ingroup), etc. In terms of us showing morality, primates and various animals show various forms of morality, from concepts of equality and fairness, as well as reciprocal altruism and kin altruism. Our sense of morality seems like an obvious extension of what we see in other animals will less developed frontal lobes.

  4. miriamrburden
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Have you read The Most Dangerous Animal, by David Livingstone Smith? Although this book is primarily speculation into human behavior, it offers many alternative explanations. Why we go to war, self deception, cannibalism, racism, and its all from an evolutionary standpoint. We are hardwired to protect those who share similar genetic material, because that is how we have survived.

  5. Jeffrey Shallit
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    C. S. Lewis’s arguments are so bad that if, while traveling on a plande, you meet anyone who finds them convincing, you should probably ask to change seats.

  6. Kevin
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Lewis sounds like a child in that clip…who never learned to grow up. I loved the Chronicles when I was young, now I see them as xenophobic, provincial, and a metaphor for Crusades.

    Lewis’ moral law is based on his feeling of superiority over others.

    • Taz
      Posted September 14, 2016 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      I also loved the Narnia books as a kid, but even then I thought they would have been better without Aslan.

  7. Sastra
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Reading CS Lewis apologetics always feels like I’m a child sitting on the lap of my favorite uncle. He is wise, and kindly and gently explaining things to me in simple language so I might understand. It feels rude to interrupt him and complain. So, instead, you nod, and smile, and rest your head on his warm chest and go to Sleepy-land, where there are no more worries and everything is always okay.

    When we wake up, there’s going to be ice cream and cake.

    The only way in which we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way. And that is just what we do find inside ourselves.

    No, there’s another way Lewis and his cohorts depend on, a way which comes from inside ourselves, too. It’s the evidence of our own minds.

    All the “architecture” talk represents matter and energy, the physical universe. We are IN the building, not part of it, because we were made in God’s image. So when we think and experience and reason and feel emotions and have goals, that’s analogous to the Architect, not the building.

    The Moral Law is not the end all. The Architect is found in the only other place He can be found: by looking at ourselves and realizing that there already IS something other than the bricks and mortar of the building. Something special. Our minds.

    And we didn’t make ourselves, did we. No, we didn’t. So there must be something more special who made us, something special in the same way, but bigger and better. They’d have to be, to do all this. That’s only right, it’s what makes sense. Much, much, more special. You see? As special as CAN be. Okay?

    You want cake and ice cream? Say “yes.”

    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

    • TJR
      Posted September 14, 2016 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      The ice cream and cake is a lie.

      • steve
        Posted September 15, 2016 at 4:43 am | Permalink

        Just don’t drink the purple Kool-Aid. The orange stuff is OK though.

    • Charlie Jones
      Posted September 14, 2016 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

      Going back to the architect simile, the controlling influence within us is like, um, a thermostat in a house? Is the thermostat that controls the house evidence for an architect?

  8. Hempenstein
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    For the Moral Law in action, visit Papua New Guinea.

    Summarizing from field biologist Andy Mack’s ‘Searching for PekPek’ about his experiences there, PNG’s infested with missionaries of various stripes, each of which apparently have their own airstrips. And shortwave radios. They won’t allow landings on the airstrips by anyone other than their own tribe, and if you get on the radio from the remote jungle for help with a medical emergency, they tell you to get off the air since they need it for their own people.

    • Filippo
      Posted September 14, 2016 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      Sounds like a good gig for a NY Times reporter, inasmuch as the Times is ragging on the Russian Gov’t/Russian Orthodox Church/Paris connection today. (Reminds me that I need to refresh my understanding of the U.S. Gov’t-Military/Christian Dominionist connection.)

  9. jeffery
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    “If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe—no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house.”
    Lewis seems to forget that he’s not talking about a mere human “architect”, here; he’s talking about what, to Christians, is widely considered to be an “All-Powerful” being, but goes on to say that there’s something that this “All-Powerful” being simply “can’t” do?
    He’s trying to tell us that a being with enough power to create an entire universe out of nothing somehow can’t come up with a way to reveal Himself directly to His creation? An ill-thought-out, contrived, nonsensical argument (one could, however, postulate that this “God” could, for some reason, desire that His creation NOT be aware of His presence, which also flies in the face of Xtian dogma).

    • Posted September 14, 2016 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      It is worse than that. If god cannot show itself as one of the facts inside the universe [sic!], then *what was the Incarnation anyway*? Could Lewis walked himself into a heresy?

    • darrelle
      Posted September 14, 2016 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      I think the first thing Lewis really needs to do is make a good argument for why there is any good reason to suppose that “there was a controlling power outside the universe,” is a premise worth considering or taking seriously, let alone any answers that may be rationalized or dreamt of based on it.

      But, by all means let’s concede that for the sake of argument. HITF does that premise lead, inevitably or otherwise, to “it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe.” Trite (and non-equivalent) analogies don’t cut it. Logically this is indistinguishable from any of an infinite number of if-then statements about imaginary things that could be made up out of thin air and sound superficially plausible but for which there is no evident reason why the then should follow from the if.

      The only legitimate response is, “What? Wait a minute, back up, you skipped over about 42 things there.”

    • josh
      Posted September 14, 2016 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      Before we even get to God’s putative powers, the analogy is hopelessly inane. An architect could absolutely stand in a house, hold up a chandelier, and act as part of the house. It’s a silly example but it shows how little thought Lewis put into his arguments. And of course, showing themselves via facts of the “house” does not require literally being part of the house. Does he not know that architects literally put their names on buildings?!

      • steve
        Posted September 15, 2016 at 4:50 am | Permalink

        An architect who knows he will die in a year, could design a house that has his long bones as part of a bannister and his skull as the light on the porch. His preserved heart could be used in a mixed-media “portrait” of the “burning heart of Jesus” — the type Catholics used to hang in their bedrooms.

        I would be surprised if this has not already been done (haven’t Googled it —— yet)

      • steve
        Posted September 15, 2016 at 4:55 am | Permalink

        An architect who knows he will very soon die, could design a house with the long bones of his cleaned skeleton as part of a staircase bannister. His skull could be used for the porch light. He could have his preserved heart used in a mixed-media “portrait” of the “flaming heart of Jesus” — The sort that Catholics used to? hang in their bedrooms.

        I would be surprised if this sort of thing has not been done already. (Not Googled —— yet).

  10. Geoff Toscano
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I grew up absolutely loving the Narnia tales. From age 8 they were an absolute favourite; I used to discuss them with friends and, even at an early age, we were able to recognise the Christian analogies. Then we started recognising the massive inconsistencies, both between different books and within the books themselves.

    This last point led us to compare it to the bible, not that we were very well religiously immersed, and we started asking in class about bible inconsistencies. One teacher was almost angry at us for doing this, saying all the usual things about god’s mysterious ways and the like. Another teacher just told us that the bible wasn’t meant to be read like a book, and from there led my way to solid atheism.

    I never bothered reading any more Lewis and, though I still have great affection for the books and many of the characters, I thank him from r turning me away religion.

  11. Zado
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    At least Lewis’s casuistry is easy to follow; he doesn’t try to dress up his primitive morality with fancy philosopher-talk. This is to the good, for his primitive morality is what demands scrutiny most.

    Why is it that so many of our fellow humans, whether they’re intelligent or not, find it so difficult to conceive a moral sense without an omnipotent patriarch to instill/enforce it?

  12. Posted September 14, 2016 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    It must feel odd reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich at the same time that you are reading a book claiming a universal human moral law.

    • Posted September 14, 2016 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      Indeed it does. Hitler was surrounded by people who apparently thought they were doing good, but not in the way any of us would construe it.

      • Historian
        Posted September 14, 2016 at 11:06 am | Permalink

        Yes, I have little doubt that Hitler and his henchmen thought they were doing good. Stalin and all the other mass-murdering despots of history thought they were doing good according to their morality. As you note, this morality is radically different from that of most people. If this is the case, how could Collins make an argument for a universal morality of right and wrong?

        • Mike Cracraft
          Posted September 14, 2016 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

          That’s right. But the thing that strikes me is that Collins and Lewis are completely oblivious to history and historical development (ahistorical). No archeology, no anthropology, no natural history needed. So why would they want to consider Hitler and Stalin and be bothered about the history and conditions that caused these regimes to come into existence.

          • frednotfaith2
            Posted September 14, 2016 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

            Based on what little I’ve read of Lewis’ apologist arguments for god, it comes off as sheer triteness masquerading as “simple profound truth”. I’ll assume that Lewis either doesn’t address at all or attempts to whitewash the immoral behavior of god as described in the bible. How can such a monster possibly be the source of morality especially when there are much more likely answers that don’t involve supernatural mass murderers or any supernatural source at all?

      • eric
        Posted September 14, 2016 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

        Mere Christianity on its own will likely be jarring to kids growing up today. After all, IIRC they’re going to read Lewis as saying:
        Chapter 1: we all share the same universal morality. Everyone has an intuitive sense of right and wrong.
        Chapter 4: …and oh by the way, mine tells me gays are bad!

        I expect most people in the next generation will take the latter Lewis proclamation as undermining the former.

        • Posted September 15, 2016 at 11:25 am | Permalink

          This illustrates why I try to support what I take to be ethical progress *for everyone*, and not my group, whatever it may be.

      • Posted September 16, 2016 at 6:11 am | Permalink

        + 1

  13. chris moffatt
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    pretty good review of it at:

    https://www.rationalresponders.com/mere_christianity_c_s_lewis

  14. busterggi
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    “The Moral Law”: the instinctive feeling of right and wrong that, he says, is ingrained in all humans.”

    Except, of course, for those in which it isn’t.

    Is god handing out defective souls at random?

    • Filippo
      Posted September 14, 2016 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      “The Moral Law”: the instinctive feeling of right and wrong that, he says, is ingrained in all humans.”

      I’d like to hear Lewis’s and Collins’s thoughts on that in relation to slavery in the U.S. and elsewhere. Would they reply, “Different time, different standards” and if so, must the reader be necessarily satisfied with that response?

      • Ralph Esposito
        Posted September 14, 2016 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        For atheistic materiality morality can only be subjective. Consensus and convention differ vastly in groups and individuals. Materiality means we operate because of chemicals and other actions in our brains and thinking process. Yours is not the sameas those of others.

  15. Flemur
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    instinctive feeling of right and wrong that, he says, is ingrained in all humans.

    I always wonder: why just humans?

    E.g., did god tell those peregrine falcons (or wolves/cats/etc) to feed their offspring rather than eating them? (‘course that’s behavior, not ‘feelings’).

    And if it couldn’t have evolved, well, God did it.

    Here’s one:
    “Darwin Unhinged: The Bugs in Evolution”

    • Taz
      Posted September 14, 2016 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      Exactly! Is a mother putting herself in danger to protect her young not morality?

  16. Posted September 14, 2016 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Crap in, crap out.

    • busterggi
      Posted September 14, 2016 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      Crap ad populum.

  17. Posted September 14, 2016 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    “The Moral Law”: the instinctive feeling of right and wrong that, he says, is ingrained in all humans…

    I don’t dispute that the instinctive feeling is there, but I think the problem is that people don’t understand where it comes from. And since they can’t adequately account for that moral instinct, i.e. the desirability of simply being “good for goodness sake”, they attempt to persuade others with a fabricated promise of reward. This attitude is consistent with the very definition of cynicism, and Jesus (as described by Matthew) was very much a cynic.

  18. Posted September 14, 2016 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    What about all those other internal ‘influences and command’ “trying to get us to behave in a certain way”? Like feeding, fighting, fleeing and having sex… are they evidence of God too?!

    • Filippo
      Posted September 14, 2016 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      Alliteration has its necessary civil limitations, eh? 😉

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted September 14, 2016 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

        🙂

        Nicely put.

        Well, in the last case, it is rumoured that some chicks scream “Oh God!!! Oh Jesus!!!” at the crucial moment… I suppose that’s evidence?

        cr

  19. Posted September 14, 2016 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    I read MC about 25 years ago. All of the arguments for theism I’d heard had been awful but I knew there were much more sophisticated ones out there. I thought Lewis was the place to go for the best of the best and I thought even if it didnt convert me to Christianity I’d have a new found respect for the religious.
    Needless to say I found it lacking. I still remember the one argument that almost led me to throw the book across the room- it was that we should believe the Bible and the Gospels in particular precisely because they were so implausible! It reminded me of the advice that Hitler gave that if you’re going to lie to people tell big lies rather than small because they’re more likely to believe big lies.

    • eric
      Posted September 14, 2016 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      I still remember the one argument that almost led me to throw the book across the room- it was that we should believe the Bible and the Gospels in particular precisely because they were so implausible!

      Fortunately for Lewis, Scientology wasn’t around at the time. Otherwise he would’ve realized his argument was actually an argument in favor of a different religion.

      • Posted September 15, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        Unfortunately, that argument wasn’t new at the time, either. That’s Kierkegaard, though I cannot remember whether Lewis would have read K.

        • Posted September 16, 2016 at 6:15 am | Permalink

          “I believe because it is absurd” is from Tertulian (2nd-3rd century AD).

  20. Posted September 14, 2016 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    This idea that this “Moral Law” comes from God is really shallow thinking. I think when one learns of human morality in all of its complexity one quickly comes to the opposite conclusion.

    Most of us have the sense that murdering or abusing another is immoral. But many have pointed out ( I think J Haidt might be one) that we have a tendency to interpret morality differently for people who are “outsiders” versus people who are within our own “group”, whatever we perceive tour group to be – our race, nation, religion etc. The idea that we’re all in this together is a relatively modern idea and for most of our history this tribal way of thinking has been the norm. This tribal way of thinking makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective but makes no sense if God programmed morality into us so we’d behave better. Why didnt he just program in a universal sense of morality? After all, the tribal way of thinking has led to an unimaginable amount of misery over the millenia.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted September 14, 2016 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Yes. Our altruistic behaviors and our agonistic behaviors are consistently applied along the lines expected by kin selection. All aspects that I know about of these behaviors indicate that they had evolved.

      Mere Evolution would be a title of a much better book.

  21. Posted September 14, 2016 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    If God imbued all humans with an innate sense of morality, how come what is considered moral changes or evolves over time?

  22. GodlessMarkets
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Lewis’s wise-old uncle talk just seems pathetic when juxtaposed with Sam Harris’s YouTube clip describing how every minute 17 children under the age of 5 perish. Nearly every one of those children has a parent or two vainly begging some merciless God with a purpose to spare their child. Along these lines, what divine logic does pediatric cancer serve? Could the Intelligent Designer have figured out a way around it. Perhaps because I read and believed the Lewis crap as a much younger man, it just annoys the hell out of me today.

  23. Kevin Colquitt
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think that anyone has addressed the architect metaphor correctly.

    Lewis likens the “God” to the architect of the universe to the architect of a house, then he mangles the metaphor by claiming that “it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe—no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house.”  The error is, of course, that the architect of a house by no means would manifest herself as an element of the construction of the house but could obviously stand inside or outside of the house…so, where is “God”?

    • eric
      Posted September 14, 2016 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      …the architect of a house by no means would manifest herself as an element of the construction of the house…

      But, even worse for Lewis, they could if they wanted to. It would probably be simple enough to create a structure with a temporary but load-bearing support about 5′ tall. Then you have the architect come in, stand next to it, support the load with their hands, and kick out the temporary beam.

      And while that seems a bit silly, we humans do something like the reverse of that a lot in our DIY building projects. Has anyone here not held some beam or board in place while someone else nails/screws it together? That was you being an architect-in-the-architecture – doing what Lewis claims is philosophically impossible.

  24. barriejohn
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    When I was at college (1960s!), I was an evangelical Christian (quite the fanatic, too), and was introduced to Lewis as if he were God. I naively though that here I would find all the answers to those niggling questions that had been bothering me, and to which no one seemed to have the answer. (How many times was I told that “It’s good to have doubts”, but no one ever explained why.) Well, what can I say? Little that Jerry hasn’t said above. “The Screwtape Letters” reminded me of those awful books that we were given at Sunday School prizegivings in those days – except that the Jungle Doctor books were actually better! Pilgrim’s Progress, and some theology books that I had read at school, had really impressed me, but this was childish, and I felt that I could almost have written it myself, as I did a bit of writing for Christian children’s magazines. What is it that people see in Lewis, and why has he been so influential? I am still at a loss to explain this.

  25. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    A triumph of style over substance is the best way to construe “Mere Christianity”.

    The British writer A.N.Wilson actually abandoned Christianity while working on his 1990 biography of Lewis, as he became increasingly aware of the rather flimsy gossamer that some of his arguments consisted of. (Wilson returned to Christianity in 2010. He wrote his books on Jesus and on atheism in the 19th century [“God’s Funeral”] during his period of nonbelief.)

    The best thing about the book is that Lewis sidesteps some of the more draconian and inhumane teachings of Christianity.

    I am reasonably certain that Lewis cobbled together his notion of what Christianity is largely from Christian creative artists and poets like Milton and Spencer rather than from theologians like Aquinas or Luther.

  26. eric
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    I view Lewis’ ‘moral law’ as a kind of human-psychological karma.

    Old fogey says: “kids these days!”
    Young folk respond with the moral law: “you should’ve known better!”

  27. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Whenever I hear Francis Collins talk about pure biology, I can see that he is very smart(smarter than me, certainly), and he says all the right things with just the right objectivity and attention to accuracy.
    But when the subject turns to religion, I swear his head must rotate 180o to show a different F.C. face b/c that face spouts pure, gullible nonsense.

    His idea about “The Moral Law” is an example of his seeming blindness to the elevated nature of our fellow mammals. All of our special human behaviors are demonstrably biologically based in humans, and exactly those behaviors, and their organic underpinnings, are found in animals. Want to see altruistic behaviors like those found in humans? Look to other primates, canids, cetaceans, and so on. How about a sense of fairness? Anger? Revenge? Joy? Again, humans are far from unique.

    It was Darwin who pointed out that the behavioral differences between Man and Ape was only in degree, not in kind.

    • busterggi
      Posted September 14, 2016 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      ” the behavioral differences between Man and Ape was only in degree”

      True, we are much worse than any mere ape.

      • Posted September 16, 2016 at 6:19 am | Permalink

        I read in Sagan about a bunch of protein-hungry female chimpanzees who ate the baby of one of them while she wasn’t around. When she returned and was in great distress to find that her baby was gone, the others comforted her. I think these “ladies” could be regarded as honorary humans.

  28. darrelle
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Echoing a few other comments, I’ve never understood the liking and respect for the writings of C.S. Lewis. I was never religious so never looked to him for comfort concerning personal doubts about my faith. I’ve only read him from the perspective of hoping to find something good to read. After reading several of his books and having liked none of them I gave up.

    I first read the Narnia books as a boy after having read Tolkien and having learned of the Inklings. My adolescent conclusion was that Tolkien mopped the floor with Lewis.

    Tolkien was simply a better (I know this is largely subjective) word smith than Lewis but the thing that struck me most was Lewis’s distinct lack of imagination. That was giving him the benefit of the doubt. My alternative explanation was that Lewis thought I was an idiot, along with the rest of his audience.

    As I got older I came to associate a distinct lack of imagination with Christian apologetics in general.

    • eric
      Posted September 14, 2016 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      IMO Tolkien is a bit of high bar; in terms of wordsmithing he mops the floor with a lot of perfectly readable fantasy authors, not just Lewis. Having said that, I thought Lewis’ sci-fi trilogy was so bad that I never went on to read the Narnia books, so I agree that (at least from my experience), his fiction wasn’t very good.

  29. Vaal
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Lewis: “If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe—no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house. “

    Uh…The Architect of a house can build a house that he can walk in to. They kind of do that all the time.

    In fact…that’s just the type of house you’d expect an Architect to build if he wanted to interact with and have a relationship with it’s occupants. It would be irrational for an Architect to desire a relationship with me, but build a house for me that somehow makes it impossible for him to get in.

    Aside from raising that complete non-sequitur of the architect example, it blows my mind how Lewis’s apologetic for why God seems nowhere to be found to casually tosses away the foundations of Christianity, which is built upon the premise God CAN and DID manifest empirically in the world, in a way that was so convincing as to start the religion in the first place!

    Apologetics is always like watching the little Dutch boy plugging the dyke with his finger. A problem springs up over *there,* they rush and put their finger in it
    and declare “there, fixed” while remaining oblivious or uncaring about all the other leaks around them they have just cause to burst out of the dyke.

  30. J. Quinton
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Thinking that there’s a such thing as One Argument To Rule Them All, such as Collins’ Moral Law, is itself evidence of poor reasoning ability.

    If I say I have a glass of clear liquid in my hand, for someone to say “it’s clear liquid, therefore this is a KNOCKDOWN ARGUMENT that you’re holding water” is a bit too trigger happy.

    While it might be likely based on no other information that the clear liquid that the average person has ready access to is water, you would need a lot more evidence (smell, taste, does it freeze at 0C at sea level/boil at 100C etc.) to arrive at the conclusion that what I have is indeed water with the same level of Collins’ confidence in god.

    The major reason this analogy fails is that water is itself pretty ordinary. Gods are not. As they say, extraordinary claims require extraordinary (and lots of it!) evidence: As Dr. Ceiling Cat noted, morality itself has rudimentary examples in other animals and is thus a lot less extraordinary than god.

  31. Roger
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Not only is the Moral Law seen as evidence for God, but, in a masterpiece of sloppy thinking, Lewis argues that it was one of the few ways that God could actually give evidence to humans of His existence

    Presumably apologetics would be another way God could give evidence of its existence. Luckily enough for C. S. Lewis’s bank account lol.

  32. Posted September 14, 2016 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    In social animals, cooperation is an adaptive trait, and every social species has “rules of behavior”. Wolves, starlings, schooling fish — you name it. An individual that doesn’t “play by the rules” is less likely to have reproductive success. Humans are a social species, and we have inborn social behaviors, too.

    Also, if the social graces are inborn in all of us, why to do we have to teach children to behave?

    • barriejohn
      Posted September 14, 2016 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      It’s because of The Fall, silly. See? They have an answer to everything!

    • tsbardella
      Posted September 14, 2016 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      You are teaching kids to be civilized which is the same as teaching them anything. Kids and marmocets are inately fair and look for just outcomes but both will throw poop at you if they think its funny

  33. tsbardella
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    The argument is also circular because if gods don’t need to show us they are real why do they need to even “be” (real) and if they are gods there is no real reason to want to please one because how are you going to know what that god is and which and why even worry because obviously they dont care and you can never know if you are even thinking straight about it. And on top of it being god-free is a much more moral posistion as you are not making shit up.

  34. Jonathan Dore
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    What’s to stop an architect entering a house he’s designed and built? Even the analogy doesn’t work.

  35. Posted September 14, 2016 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Looks like Pliny’s pretty good with Photoshop.

    • Pliny the in Between
      Posted September 14, 2016 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

      At one time I was very good with Photoshop – the Meer Christianity image though was done in Apple Keynote.

  36. Ralph Esposito
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    All evolution proves is a process called evolution. It neither proves nor dsproves anything about God. Too bad atheists really have no real appreciation of that.

    • David Evans
      Posted September 14, 2016 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

      Well, it does rather disprove the idea that God created all species in one six-day period, which if true would be a fact about God, and one which a surprising number of people apparently believe and think important.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted September 14, 2016 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

        Further, what biology or natural history does prove is that, IF G*d created all this in detail, he was an ingeniously sadistic, utterly perverse bastard.

        cr

    • darrelle
      Posted September 14, 2016 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

      You’ve got things all mixed up.

      It is Christians, and similar Believers, who believe that the scientific Theory of Evolution and the fact of evolution are a direct threat to their religious beliefs. Rationalists and atheists who have some understanding of the TOE think that everything that is known, that there is any good reason to suppose is accurate, is evidence against the claims of Christianity and similar religions. The TOE is just one of myriad pieces of evidence that together cause rationalists / atheists to reject god claims.

      It is Believers’ claims that lack support. Worse, there are mountains of evidence that contradict their claims. You are the one making a positive claim for existence, not me. Show me good evidence that your god exists. Full disclosure, I’ve pretty much seen it all and none of it is remotely convincing. If you ask yourself why you don’t find any of the claims for the existence of Thor, Brama, Xenu, or any of the thousands of gods that are not yours, convincing, then you might understand why I don’t find your claim of your god’s existence convincing.

      It really is too bad that believer’s don’t understand these things.

    • Posted September 16, 2016 at 6:24 am | Permalink

      I think it would be perfectly OK if theologians agree that some parts of their Scriptures are allegorical. Instead, however, theologians go after science, as they did in Galileo’s time. I am amazed that Christians, who claim to be better than us atheists, are more concerned with the theory of evolution than with the persecution and genocide of their brethen in many parts of the world.

  37. Fletch
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    ps, a very, very good article (and very long, too) by an atheist on why the argument for evolution doesn’t pass muster.

    http://www.theburningplatform.com/2016/09/11/darwin-unhinged-the-bugs-in-evolution/

    • Posted September 14, 2016 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      No it’s not very, very good; it’s just plain old Intelligent design creationism. If you think evolution doesn’t pass muster, I urge you to frequent the Intelligent Design websites.

      • nicky
        Posted September 16, 2016 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

        I fully agree: “not very, very good” is still charitable, it is ill-informed and silly.
        Started to debunk, but it is a bit like the Gish gallop (Gish also involves the Big Bang, a sure sign he hasn’t got a clue), you can’t keep up and realise you spend a lot of time and get nowhere. So I cut that post short.

    • Posted September 16, 2016 at 6:27 am | Permalink

      If someone has arguments against evolution, he should publish them in peer-reviewed journals before throwing them at lay audience. Brainwashing lay people about expert topics is a hallmark of quackery (cf. antivaxers and “natural” birth).

      • rickflick
        Posted September 16, 2016 at 7:08 am | Permalink

        True enough. But, not many people know what a peer-reviewed journal is. What we have here is a massive failure to educate and the willingness of a few to take advantage of so much ignorance.

  38. Charles
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    I don’t find Lewis’s arguments convincing either. However, I’m still a Christian. So while there are many Christians that have been persuaded by Lewis’s arguments, it isn’t necessary that all Christians find the arguments persuasive. I enjoy the latter part of Mere Christianity wherein Lewis discusses Christianity and not apologetics. He does it make it clear, if I remember correctly, that he does not pretend to be some kind of apologist — he’s a writer first and foremost and he knows that. I think what seems to be happening on this forum is a common fallacy: set up Mere Christianity and the Moral Argument as a straw man, attack it, and disprove Christianity. That’s bad logic folks. You know that. Apologists like William Lane Craig don’t defend Christianity with the Moral Argument alone because they know it’s not decisive. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad argument, it’s just not decisive. I’m not personally compelled by the moral argument. I find teleological and historical arguments for the Resurrection more convincing.

    • darrelle
      Posted September 15, 2016 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      No, your straw man claim is completely invalid. This was a discussion of one rather specific topic regarding a specific book about Christian religious belief that is very popular with and much cited by Christian believers.

      If you look at what you have said you will see that it is you that have constructed a straw man here. Your straw man is that based only on refutation of one of many arguments for Christian belief, the Moral Argument, that we have concluded that Christianity is false. No one here but you has said that.

      Do you really expect that we would discuss all of the arguments Christian theologians and apologists have made here in this one little conversation? Do you really think we aren’t aware that there are many other arguments or that they haven’t been discussed by the people here before? I recommend asking for clarification before attributing things to others that they have not said and that are not clearly evident from what they have said.

    • Vaal
      Posted September 15, 2016 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      “I think what seems to be happening on this forum is a common fallacy: set up Mere Christianity and the Moral Argument as a straw man, attack it, and disprove Christianity. That’s bad logic folks. You know that. “

      No one here is saying that, upon discrediting a single argument – the moral argument – they have disproved Christianity.

      If you don’t like strawmen, why would post this strawman?

    • Posted September 16, 2016 at 6:32 am | Permalink

      Resurrection or not, I am deeply troubled by the cornerstone idea of Christianity that humanity as a whole is guilty and needs salvation (allegedly provided by Jesus). To me, Paul’s “argument” that all humans before Jesus, and all after him who do not accept him, deserve eternal damnation because the ancestress of mankind allegedly wanted knowledge, is utterly repulsive. Kant dismissed the idea of the Original Sin, but I do not know how the mission of Jesus could be explained without it.

      • rickflick
        Posted September 16, 2016 at 7:18 am | Permalink

        That’s a good summary of the core skeptical view. When stated like this, Christianity is seen to resemble a very early myth culture you might find today in certain remote tribes. Colorful just-so stories meant to explain reality without science. Outlandish and implausible stories which by constant repetition and institutionalization have become accepted by millions.

  39. Posted September 16, 2016 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    I realize now why Collins is Christian: he just couldn’t find another way to cope with the death of loved ones. I am amazed how poorly humans, a 100% mortal species, are “equipped” for dealing with death.

    • nicky
      Posted September 16, 2016 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      That is so true Maya. My wife died of breastcancer a month ago. I’m still distraught. She was so young. Some Pentecoastal church offered her solace, and I’m grateful for that.
      However, I the best I found for me was Darwin’s answer to Kingsley(?) when offered religious solace after the death of his beloved Annie. It does not really help though.

      • Posted September 17, 2016 at 1:36 am | Permalink

        I am sorry for your wife. Be strong!

      • rickflick
        Posted September 17, 2016 at 6:15 am | Permalink

        Sorry for your loss.

  40. Posted September 16, 2016 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    The best text I have found about the religion – morality relationship is in “The Greeks and the Irrational” by E. Dodds:

    “I need hardly say that religion and morals were not initially interdependent, in Greece or elsewhere; they had their separate mots. I suppose that, broadly speaking, religion grows out of man’s relationship to his total environment, morals out of his relation to his fallow-men. But sooner or later in most cultures there comes a time of suffering when most people refuse to be content with Achilles’ view, the view that “God’s in his
    Heaven, all’s wrong with the world.” Man projects into the cosmos his own nascent demand for social justice; and when from the outer spaces the magnified echo of his own voice returns to him, promising punishment for the guilty, he draws from it courage and reassurance.”

  41. Posted September 16, 2016 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I’m so glad that you pointed out that the “God’s nature” argument doesn’t solve the Euthyphro dilemma, since if God can control his nature then he must’ve chosen it and if he couldn’t choose it then he isn’t omnipotent. In the first case the standard is external to him and in the second morality just becomes fiat declarations by God and loses all meaning.

    I also feel that when Theists claim it is God’s nature what they are actually saying is not that God is good but that good = God.

    Though most Christians when pressed will admit many things in the bible commanded by God are not good.

  42. Greg Peterson
    Posted September 16, 2016 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    I certainly agree that Lewis’s arguments are ultimately not cogent. I still love Lewis, though, for–as you say, Jerry–his clear and often eloquent, aphoristic prose. And because at Lewis’s version of Christianity, contra biblical Christianity, is of a sort that one might plausibly WISH to be true.


%d bloggers like this: