Monday, January 15, 2007

Mere Christianity - Book 1 - Some Thoughts

It may be helpful for my own understanding to simply recreate Lewis's argument in an abbreviated manner. The book is entitled Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe. His argument proceeds thus:

1. Through intuition, we know that there is an objective morality, which we may call "The Law of Nature."

2. This law is different than other natural laws, such as gravity, in that we may choose whether or not to follow it.

3. Scientific knowledge depends on observable fact--another form of acquisition of knowledge is intuition. It is through the latter we comprehend morality.

4. If there is a reason behind the universe, it cannot in itself be a fact of the universe: it must be external to it. And, being external to the universe, it is thus unobservable through fact-gathering methods--thus science is of no use in looking for such a reason.

5. If there were an external controlling power to the universe, a deity, "[t]he only way we 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."

6. As per number 1, we indeed find such a command.

7. Therefore, our evidence suggests the existence of a god.

My response to step 2:

While true that physical laws do seem to differ from moral laws, we can reformulate a moral law to be as inviolable as a physical law. Consider rephrasing "Thou shalt not murder" (assume the truth of this command for argument) as "You may not rightly murder." Such a law cannot be violated--it is impossible to murder and be in the right, just as surely as it is impossible to defy gravity and other physical laws.

My response to step 3:

Much depends on Lewis' characterization of morality as being sensible by a altogether different faculty than fact. If morality were simply another external fact to be observed, then by Lewis's own argument, it could no more convey to us meaning about God than any of our other senses could (step 4 & 5).

I, however, think morality is perceived by a similar faculty as fact. Light flashes--I take this in through some sense and, based on it, judge an object to be in front of me. A moral situation presents itself--I take this in through some sense and, based on it, judge rightness or wrongness to obtain.

A weakness in my response:

There is a difference in kind between morality and vision. I know how my eyes work (roughly)--I do not know how I am able to perceive morality. If I have no way of so perceiving, no evident sense, and yet the belief that such morality exists persists, then there are few other explanations for the sensation than some kind of "intuition" of the kind Lewis is arguing for.

In my defense, Aristotle didn't know how his eyes worked, and yet he trusted them as reliable tools for acquiring external fact, and was justified in doing so. Maybe moral epistemology will be cleared up in the future.

My response to step 5:

This seems unfounded. A god could just as easily reveal himself through a message, grasped by intuition, flashing "I am real" or some such. But, which is probably more problematic, Lewis seems to have robbed his god of any ability to influence the material world in an observable fashion. It is hard to see why such a restriction should hold.

To use one of Lewis's metaphors, if the architect must indeed be external to the house as a god must be external to the universe, it does not follow that the architect is unable to make his presence known in the house--he could autograph a brick somewhere. It is unclear why God would not be able to communicate in a similar fashion--even if he is beyond his creation by necessity.

If God could make himself known through all channels, fact and intuition alike, then even granting the existence of morality as evidence in his favor, we must also count the lack of evidence in the observable world as evidence against his existence. And it seems to me that the dearth should weigh significantly more.

Zach, below, has questioned my representation of Lewis's God as being unable to influence the world in an observable manner. I admit that this is flatly contradicted by other things Lewis admits to believing, but I know of no other way to read this passage: "If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself as one of the facts inside the universe--no more than an architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house."


Zach said...

Hi there... I ran across your blog by "next blog"ing with the NavBar.

Fun find... I'm taking a philosophy class in school right now, and we've been talking logic, and about many of the questions you raised here. Its neat to see this content outside the realm of academia.

In response to "My response to step 5", I wonder if you are misinterpretting Lewis in saying that he "robbed his god of any ability to influence the material world in an observable fashion." I only suggest this because of how its contrary to the Biblical portrayal of God that Lewis wrote of where there are several instances all throughout the Biblical text og God indeed revealing himself in tangible ways (such as when he passed by Moses, the writing on the wall, Christ's transfiguration, to name a few). You may be talking more about the present, not the Biblical account...? I'm wondering if perhaps evidence of God's existence has just been explained away in other terms. Perhaps there is no lack of evidence at all, its just how people choose to look at it. Sort of like how it would be hard to acknowledge evidence for murder stacking up against a close friend or lover.

I do believe in the God of the Bible. And sometimes I too have wondered why God has not been more overt in making himself known. Yet, I also feel that convincing evidence is not contingent on being overt. I have an abundance of reasons to believe in God, though none of them include messages in the clouds, angels appearing to me, or the ground opening up into giant chasms.

Anyway, I've said enough for today.

Scott said...


Thanks for your thoughtful reply. As it stands, Lewis is making his case without any specific reference to Christianity (he explicitly states this). I have not moved on to his more specific apologies for Christianity in particular as of yet.

Heidi said...


I have enjoyed your comments both on Amazon and your blog.

On step #5 you question Lewis's quote, "If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself as one of the facts inside the universe--no more than an architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house." You mention that an architect could easily autograph a brick within the house, but I say he still would not _be_ the autograph, any more than he would actually be a wall.

I do believe that God has "autographed" a brick in this house he has made, and that His influences are all around us. Not everyone will believe that the autograph or influences are His, just as it would be hard to prove the authenticity of an architect's signature in a brick, without witnessing its actual occurence.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I found them very thought-provoking myself.

Scott said...


You are correct. I misread Lewis, and thus my response to step 5 is nonsense.

Nonetheless, I'm not sure why an extra-universal deity should be able to show himself in one way only, e.g. as an incorporeal command, rather than other ways. It would seem, by your explanation of Lewis's metaphor, that Lewis is implying that the command is not only God's expression, but indeed, it is a part of God.

Thus equating the two is odd, and I don't quite understand the rationale for it.

Scott said...


I forgot to say:

Thank you for both the correction, which is very helpful, and for the compliments.

Heidi said...

I was thinking about this a bit more today, and I wonder exactly what sort of "autograph" God might leave that would not be open to misinterpretation (or that could be misattributed). Your idea of the incorporeal command is an interesting one. Possibly the reason He did not create us already knowing and feeling His exsistence without a doubt could be part of the free will argument. There must be choice involved. We must choose Him in faith. Without that choice, there is no relationship worth having.

If not an absolute knowledge or command possessed by each and every one of us, then what? I can't imagine a better way to tell us about Himself than to become one of us. Who better could we understand? Or could understand us? Something like an author writing himself into a story.

I appreciate you responding earlier. I rarely (or never) get involved in this sort of discussion, but your attitude is terrific.