C. S. Lewis: Apologist for the Christian Faith

by Terry Heames

Introduction:

Larry has gone sailing, so he asked me to say a few words.

I chose the simple question of why did a confirmed atheist like CS Lewis accept the concept of God.  What is his God like?  Is it God you are familiar with?

Biographical Sketch:

C. S. Lewis was born in Belfast in 1898 and educated in England.  He joined the army and fought in the trenches during World War I and was wounded at Arras.  He returned to England, finished his studies in 1922 and joined the faculty at Oxford's Magdalen College in 1925 where he taught English literature. He became a Christian in 1931.  He was an air raid warden in World War II and became famous for his wartime religious talks on the BBC.  In 1954 he went to Cambridge as professor of Medieval and Renaissance English and died on November 22, 1963.

His Works:

His more famous books include: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Four Loves, Miracles, The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity.

The Question of God's Existence:

Today I only plan to cover the first concept of:  "Is there a God and if so, what can we know about Him?"

Just so you know why I looked at this one, I have a friend that is at best agnostic and I wanted to be able to discuss the concept of God with him.  After all, if a thinking atheist can convert, why not a thinking agnostic?

Genesis 2:26-27 says,

So what is this image?  What might these characteristics be?

In this presentation I will only give an overview of the two concepts that Lewis derived:

  1. That rational thought can not come from mere evolution and
  2. That the concept of right and wrong is inherent in man.
The first implies that God is rational and the second implies that God is just.

Rational Thought:

Lewis starts by defining two opposing views on existence.

We infer conclusions from data.

For example, the theory of evolution is based on fossil evidence (it may be a single bone fragment or a limited group of bones but the theories they generate can be interesting).  Or more simply, we believe we have a brain because of CAT scans, MRI's, and autopsies that find brains in other men's skulls.  Hence, knowledge depends upon the validity of reasoning.  Validity means that feelings can't be counted on, they may lead the way but reality (evidential data) is needed.

But where did reasoning come from?

The Naturalists would say "by natural selection" --  those responses that were beneficial would be strengthened and those that were not would be weakened.  Clearly, reasoning would be beneficial.

This also implies that at one time thoughts were not rational, but merely subjective events.  Those thoughts which had an external cause are called "responses to stimuli".  Now "natural selection" would eliminate those responses that were harmful (not beneficial) and enhance those that enhanced survival.  But the relationship between "stimulus and response" is not at all like the relationship between "rational thought and knowledge".  Stimulus and response would, for example, favor those with great eyesight but no amount of perfection of the eye would increase the knowledge of it.  The knowledge comes from rational thought, experimentation, and study.

Experience:

Now some would say that you are forgetting experience. After all, where there is smoke there is fire. That's great, but the linking of smoke and fire is the guiding principle for animal behavior, not rational behavior. Reason only comes in when you start to question the relationship between the events that have been connected, like smoke and fire.

The Naturalists counter with "We don't know how, as of yet, but random thoughts became inferences (smoke is related to fire) and inferences became rational thoughts because it obviously happened".  What they are implying is that rational thoughts came from "mindless nature", order from disorder.  As Lewis points out this is a truth without a cause.  This is not some trivial point, it is the crux of the problem.  Rational thought from inferences is the dramatic leap between animal consciousness and man.

Nature:

How does rational thought connect with nature?  Think of our fire -- how the underbrush dries and a lightening strike ignites it, how the fire grows following the wind patterns until it becomes so large it creates its own pattern, that's rational thought.  The inference that a burning tree may cause a fire near me and hurt me, that's inference, or nature.  Rational thought is connected to nature but differently.  The damage caused by previous fires may cause one to think about how to reduce the effect of fire, like by removing underbrush or cutting down some trees or in some way limiting the fuel available to a fire.

Nature's actions can cause Rational Thought to start, but it is rational thought that changes nature. Rational thought says do this and that will happen. Rational thought says eliminate underbrush (or fuel) to reduce fire spreading.

Now if rational thought can not be evolved through nature then there must be another process active. It must have either come from outside nature or else something outside nature forced "mindless nature" to make it happen. Thus we return to Lewis' initial definition of "supernaturalism" or God.

Now because He is the one putting rational thought into the system, then of necessity He must also be rational.

Justice:

Have you ever heard someone say:

What interested Professor Lewis in these comments was that whoever was making them, was appealing to some kind of standard of behavior, which they expected the other party to not only know about, but also adhere to.

In the 19th century it was called the "Law of Human Nature", as opposed to the "Law of gravity, or motion, or entropy, or whatever".  The "Law of Human Nature" only applies to man and can be ignored, i.e. you can be mean, selfish, and unloving.  But these other "Laws" can not be disobeyed.  Also, these other laws apply to everything (rocks, animals, and man) and can not be ignored.

Now, not everyone agrees that this "Law of Human Nature" exists.  There is a finite percentage that doesn't believe in any theory you want to have, and I will not discuss those at this point.  There is another much larger group that believes that there was no consistency between civilizations and ages, therefore there is no "Law of Decency or Human Nature".  Their claim is that every civilization had significant differences when it came to right and wrong.  Well yes, but there are differences.  Some civilizations thought that four wives was great, some, one -- and some, like King David thought there was no defined limit (boy was he a better man than I).  However, none of them thought that any woman, any time, was a valid concept.  Likewise, murder, theft, and sadism are always frowned on in every civilization.

Now if decency depends on what age one lives in, then try to imagine a society where one would receive accolades for selfishness, double-crossing ones friends, and admiration for murdering ones rivals, sounds like total chaos to me.  What does happen is that the definition of the lesser evils changes as man tries to expand what is "normal" behavior.

Another common argument against the "Law of Human Nature" is that it is instinctual, like eating, or loving mom and apple pie.  It is only a strong desire to act in a certain way.  Lewis uses the analogy of a piano, where the keys are the instincts but the music is the moral law.  Depending upon the music (right conduct) the keys you play (your instincts) can be right or wrong.  The key isn't wrong only the playing of it. Instinctual sex can be good or bad, it depends on the situation.  Thus this "Law:" is more than instinct.

Another common argument is that it is something learned from society, a convention like driving on the right side of the street (after all the Brits drive on the left side) as opposed to a real truth (like 9 x 7 =63).  If you say it is just a convention then it brings up the problem of: "Is one group's morality better than another's?"  If not, then Saddam was OK and euthanasia can be acceptable.  But once you start to compare these conventions, aren't you really saying how well they compare to some standard?  What is the highest moral standard?  Is this why most people respect Jesus?  Larry's prayer breakfast friends seem to think that this is an unarguable point.  The "Law" is more than a convention.

But people don't always follow this "Law of Human Nature".  Typically, when they don't, they have an excuse.  We are all excellent at blame shifting, or at least I am.  Lewis was fascinated by this discrepancy.  "Why a law of right and wrong, when no one follows it all the time?"  The "Law of Gravity" tells us what stones will do every time after you drop them, but the "Law of Human Nature" only tells us what people should do in a given situation.  A significant difference, the former is an explanation of facts while the latter is something beyond the actual facts.

Lewis' argument then states that if there were a power beyond Nature, then how would it communicate and show itself to us?  Would it do it by facts that are reproducible all of the time or by something outside of the facts?  Would an architect communicate with the buyer by becoming a wall in the house?  No.  I guess he could become a disappearing then reappearing wall, but that wouldn't reveal what he was trying to say.  If God made us to think and behave in a certain way, now that would be communication.  And that's what the Law of Nature does.  It also shows us that God knows right and wrong, just as we do.

Next Week:

Larry will be back to resume our study in Ephesians.  He plans to finish Chapter 5, revealing that fourth reason why God instituted marriage.