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C.S.Lewis Dissected

A Series of blogs examining the Christian apologetics of C.S.Lewis.

Clive Staples Lewis (29 November 1898 – 22 November 1963) was an Oxford academic, novelist, Christian apologist and broadcaster. He claimed to have been an Atheist in his youth but in all his writings about his 'new-found' faith nowhere does he explore the different possible gods and religions.

Having become convinced that some phenomena must have a supernatural origin, he seems to have concluded without further questioning that this must be the Christian god of the Bible and that the Anglican Church into which he had been baptised a child must be the True Faith. It is therefore highly likely that, rather than being an Atheist in the sense of accepting that there is no evidential reason to be otherwise, and that the only reason for belief is evidence and not merely not knowing or not understanding how something works or why something is as it appears, he was simply a non-practising believer.

His reasoning is therefore often little more than a verbose God Of The Gaps or an Argument From Ignorance fallacy which he keeps well hidden beneath his homely fire-side chat style, often adapted from his radio broadcasts which were intended to be just that. He was also obviously filling a war-time propaganda function in helping to keep the morale of the population high and secure in the belief that they had the one true faith and that therefore God could be guaranteed to be on our side.

Running through all his writing is an ingrained English upper-class snobbery and freedom from the encumbrance of self-doubt, which may have been influenced by his Belfast Protestant childhood. It often leads him to not explain the reasoning behind many of his assumptions and it underpins his condescending and patronising style. He was writing for a deferential, class-ridden audience which could be expected to accept what Lewis was saying and be in thrall that a 'brilliant Oxford academic' was confirming what they knew already - that the English had the right culture, the right church, the right religion and the right god. A god who was, of course, as English as roast beef and the smack of leather on willow.

It was probably the English class system of the 1940s and 50s which enabled C.S.Lewis to get away with so much.

C.S.Lewis, You Cannot Be Serious! 1 The Argument From Desire. An almost laughable argument that God must exist because some humans, particularly C.S.Lewis, have a desire for a god.

C.S.Lewis, You Cannot Be Serious! 2 The Trilemma Argument. Lewis presents only three options for considering the nature of Jesus - Liar, Lunatic or Lord, and neglects to mention the other equally valid options - Legendary, Invented. His argument is thus dishonest and disingenuous.

C.S.Lewis, You Cannot Be Serious! 3 The Argument from Morality. Lewis argues that, because he can't think how human morality could have a natural origin it can't be natural and must therefore be supernatural in origin. Assumes that the only possible supernatural origin is the Anglican Christian God without any explanation. A good example of a God of the Gaps Fallacy.

C.S.Lewis Turns Out To Be Too Simple. Lewis uses a non-sequitur to arrive at the conclusion he requires. He shows that, rather than Atheism being too simple, as he sets out to prove, his reasoning is too simple so he his conclusion is not established. A good example of how the detail of the argument were less important than the conclusion he wished to arrive at and how he doesn't expect too much from his audience by way of critical analysis.

More Simple C.S.Lewis. Not so much an attempt at logical argument as a lecture telling us what we should believe. Contains the common Christian ploy of the promise of a reward later if you believe what he says - a form of the Pig In A Poke confidence trick used by dishonest salesmen and shysters.

C.S.Lewis Gets It Wrong Again. Another attempt at the Argument From Morality which betrays Lewis' over-eagerness to settle for the answer he requires and which owes as much to his arrogance as to his ignorance.

C.S.Lewis Dispenses With Faith. On faith. It must be true because C.S.Lewis believes it.

C.S.Lewis Shows His Double Standards C.S.Lewis shows how he applies one set of standards to arguments against Atheism but much lower standard to arguments for his god. Even a fellow Christian took him to task for this carelessness.





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26 comments:

  1. You should read Surprised by Joy! It's C.S. Lewis's autobiography. He talks about pursuing other religions in that book. I think you should read it because you have a section of your blog dedicated to him.

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    1. Have you anything to say about this blog?

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    2. If you will permit me a voice, I have a few observations in defense of Lewis. I noticed in general throughout your section on Lewis you make several unfounded attacks.

      1) You assign him to British aristocracy and repeatedly accuse him of arrogance and snobbery common to the British upper class, implying this is good reason for distrusting him. Even if this were true, it amounts to a poisoning of the well fallacy. The claim not only exposes your contempt for Lewis as a person, but also demonstrates how parts of your arguments are unsophisticated. I think one of the main reasons Lewis continues to attract such a large readership has less to do with his logic (although I believe it is sound) than his ethos. His writing comes across (at least to me) as gentle and humble. It is also worth mentioning that he doesn’t attack people or individuals, but only disputes ideas. But, the greater point is that it is a stretch to claim Lewis was a part of the British upper class. In his early adulthood he struggled financially and in general lived a meager life, even after he made large sums of money from his writings. He gave nearly all his royalties to charity and lived a life absent of luxury.

      2) You seem to claim in general that Lewis argues for the truth of Anglican Christianity over other forms of Christianity. Lewis did a good job of making his writings Christian neutral to avoid the very perception that he believed Anglicanism was the only true form of Christianity. This, in fact, is one of the purposes behind the title, “Mere Christianity.” He discusses that in the forward of the book. He never makes the claim, and he even states in the forward to “Mere Christianity” that his purpose in writing the book is only to get the reader into the “hall” of the Christian house, and that once there, one should choose the “room” that he/she believes best.

      3) Most of your objections to Lewis come from what he wrote in “Mere Christianity.” I think this is unfair. The book was written for laymen (like me) who just want to know the basic claims and reasoning behind Christian thinking. It is a sort of “Christianity for Dummies” approach. We cannot expect Lewis (who repeatedly reminds us he is a layman himself, not a theologian), to write an air-tight, exhaustive apologetic on Christianity in 200-plus pages. For the most part he has left details to theologians and philosophers. But he has writings with more in-depth accounts of why he thinks the way he does, (Consider his numerous essays, some of which are found in, “God in the Docks: Essays on Theology …”). Also, we know he performed well in numerous debates with some of the most renowned and intelligent skeptics of his time at Oxford and Cambridge. It is dishonest to reduce the whole of Lewis’ reasoning and intellect to these few hundred pages. You bring a level of rhetorical sophistication the book was never meant to contend with, though Lewis himself proved capable of rising to that level of debate. But using this book as a primary tool to discredit the sum of all Lewis’ positions and thinking amounts to trying to pull down a tree by one of its leaves. Your section on Lewis disproportionally focuses on this small book, considering he wrote numerous books and essays.

      The overall impression I get from your writings about Lewis is that you consider him to be irrational, simple-minded, unimpressive and a man unmatched to the true rigors of intellectual discipline. If this is true, I wonder, why do you have not a post, not a series, but an entire section of your blog devoted to him? That, to me, is a tacit tribute the greatness of the man himself.

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    3. I'm sorry you got that impression.

      I had intended to convey the impression that I found him to be a disingenuous charlatan or at best an intellectual pygmy, who relied on the over-confidence of his class to avoid the encumbrance of self-doubt and on the obsequious deference of his target audience in the context of the English class system as it was then, and to some extent, the cultural uncertainties of the time to get away with it.

      I hope that's clarified things.

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    4. You do get that you just essentially said, "I'm sorry you got that impression. I had intended to convey all the things you just criticized me for." There are legitimate things to criticize Lewis for. He is certainly guilty of setting up straw men in his arguments to make his points seem irrefutable, and of posing questions as if there could only be one or two answers (which he then supplies). As Russ points out, he is probably more guilty of this in Mere Christianity than elsewhere, but it is a general hole in his rhetorical style. But you criticize Lewis for things he certainly wasn't guilty of, clearly because you don't personally like him. To be a "disingenuous charlatan" you'd have to be able to show that he wasn't just "wrong," but that he didn't believe what he preached and was intentionally misleading others. That's quite an accusation, and completely unsubstantiated. What's more, it's petty. Christopher Hitchens, for example, was often guilty of the same rhetorical faults as Lewis--but both men could claim an authenticity, an authority, that made them worth listening to. They spoke from true experience of their lives, as honestly as they could. There are enough real charlatans out there for you to legitimately get upset about. Lewis, whatever his faults of rhetoric, was not one of them. If you want to argue about his ideas, do so. But consider doing it with some integrity, and not just because you're angry that so many people happen to like him.

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    5. Disingenuous charlatans use arguments they know to be false.

      Lewis' use of dishonest false dichotomies, for example (which I see you've acknowledged already) shows he was attempting to mislead his readers/radio listeners with tricks which depended for their success on an assumed parochial ignorance in those he was attempting to mislead (and still misleads, apparently).

      I believe I have made these points before. Maybe you just haven't read them.

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    6. "You should read Surprised by Joy! It's C.S. Lewis's autobiography..."

      No - please, no: Do not read Surprised By Joy, certainly not if you aren't already in thrall to this towering mediocrity and reactionary. I sure wish we could leave the great & worthless paperback "priests" of the last century behind and never look back: Don't read C.S. Lewis's apologetics, and don't read Ayn Rand...And my reaction is to the literary form & content of Surprised By Joy (I won't even touch his pettifogging metaphysics). This book is like a half-formed thing hatched out-of-time--I couldn't and still can't believe that it was published in the middle of the twentieth century. I have only the text by which to judge - because C.S. Lewis is too repulsive on the basis of this book to look deeper - but the man seems to have been allergic to all aspects of canonical cultural modernity of the last century (phenomena coinciding with much of the prime of his life); and he seems fortified against it all in a boringly boyish/unmanly way. There's a cranky little plaint he hurls out in Surprised By Joy, for instance - it's a non-sequitur, but the book's a mess, anyway - on the destruction of human enjoyment of "space" due to modern speed, due to the car...Rebarbative bigots like Eliot and Pound were, at least, capable of hurling out something of great formal beauty; while Lewis, who inhabits a world without those men, is just a sententious pop hack be-robed in his petty personal superstitions...

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    7. Don't forget the middle-class snobbery and condescending cultural arrogance too. :-)

      Delete
  2. Very well said, RosaRubicondior, but I agree with Russ. And whomever the anonymous person was, Lewis' autobiography is an interesting book and one that might be able to shed further light into Lewis' status if that's the premise here. Just a thought.

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  3. Why did you not address his "Argument from Reason"?

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    1. Why did you not give your name or say exactly what his argument was?

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  4. I did not give my name because the option was there to post Anon. I was not aware a reason was for posting Anon was required. Additionally it would be interesting to analyse the results of statistics regarding the numbers of accounts that exist under Avatar's which essentially is akin to Anon and investigating why these accounts are Anon.

    As you covered C.S. Lewis's other Arguments I was curious as to why the "Argument from Reason" was not covered. It really is an argument that asserts if naturalism and thought is simply a causation of physical processes any knowledge is not the product of conscious reasoning therefore is un-knowable.


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    1. Still Anonymous

      Ah! Had you read it you would have seen that I dealt with that in C.S.Lewis Shows His Double Standards. According to his biographer, Lewis' embarrassment and humiliation at having been shown to have failed with this argument was his reason for never writing another thing about Christianity.

      Enjoy.

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  5. This "humiliation" is a myth. The argument is a valid argument.

    ^ from the introduction to her Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Mind, 1981. [1]

    The fact that Lewis rewrote that chapter, and rewrote it so that it now has those qualities, shows his honesty and seriousness. The meeting of the Socratic Club at which I read my paper has been described by several of his friends as a horrible and shocking experience which upset him very much. Neither Dr. Havard (who had Lewis and me to dinner a few weeks later) nor Professor Jack Bennet remembered any such feelings on Lewis's part... My own recollection is that it was an occasion of sober discussion of certain quite definite criticisms, which Lewis's rethinking and rewriting showed he thought was accurate. I am inclined to construe the odd accounts of the matter by some of his friends -- who seem not to have been interested in the actual arguments of the subject-matter -- as an interesting example of the phenomenon called projection.

    —Elizabeth Anscombe

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    1. Still Anonymous

      >This "humiliation" is a myth.<

      You'll need to take that up with George Sayer, Lewis' friend and biographer, who reported otherwise.

      > The argument is a valid argument.<

      Which is not what the members of the Socratic Club, Elizabeth Anscombe who was widely credited with having won the debate, and Lewis himself, who radically revised his argument in view of his humiliating defeat, thought at the time, of course.

      I take your neglecting to apologise for accusing me of not dealing with one of Lewis' 'argument' which I had dealt with, as you would have seen had you read far enough, was merely an oversight on your part?

      Is it significant that you have singularly failed to deal with anything I said in my rebuttal of Lewis' 'argument', particularly on the vary obvious double standards he is applying to his though processes compared to those of atheists?

      Or do you see nothing wrong with double standards when used in Christian apologetics?


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  6. The quote was directly from the person (Elizabeth Anscombe) that Lewis is supposed to have been humiliated by. This is a quote directly from Anscombe who states "Lewis's rethinking and rewriting showed he thought was accurate". Anscombe clearly corrects this myth

    The example you use is not the example Lewis originally posted;

    One absolutely central inconsistency ruins [the popular scientific philosophy]. The whole picture professes to depend on inferences from observed facts. Unless inference is valid, the whole picture disappears... unless Reason is an absolute[,] all is in ruins. Yet those who ask me to believe this world picture also ask me to believe that Reason is simply the unforeseen and unintended by-product of mindless matter at one stage of its endless and aimless becoming. Here is flat contradiction. They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based."
    —C.S. Lewis, Is Theology Poetry

    The argument as I mentioned in my original post is against the assertions made by naturalistic materialism. The rebuttal you made is simply a rehash of his argument but applied back to Lewis which does nothing to argue against his argument.

    If anything you are agreeing with Lewis. Are you agreeing with Lewis?




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    1. Still Anonymous

      I'm really not interested in refereeing in a disagreement between Elizabeth Anscombe's possibly gracious attempt to reduce the hurt and humiliation Lewis was feeling and Lewis' friend and biographer, George Sayer, who was probably more concerned with factual accuracy.

      However, the fact remains that Lewis never published another Christian apologetic.

      Will you be dealing with the fact of your false accusation and my rebuttal of Lewis' argument soon, or is this attempted diversion to continue for a while longer?

      Delete
  7. Elizabeth Anscombe's rebuttal is first hand clarification.

    Can you please clarify your rebuttal of Lewis' argument? I interpreted it as simply using his own argument back on himself to be sceptical of his own claims.

    However this reasoning also validates his argument against naturalistic materialism. If this is not correct please clarify your objections to Lewis's "Argument from Reason".

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Still Anonymous.

      You are, of course, free to read the above blog, and rebut my arguments if you can, whenever you feel your present attempts at diversion have been played out.

      Neither the blog nor my arguments are going to go away.

      Delete
  8. The only argument I can find of yours states

    "for the sake of argument that thinking is a random process, it is unavoidable to any honest thinking person that the same logic applies equally to his argument leading to belief in a god as to arguments leading to Atheism."

    I cannot find anything else. What are you trying to say here? When you say the "same logic...leading to a belief in a god" also apply to atheism, what aspects of the logic? From my understanding his argument disproves the concept of naturalistic materialism which is a view most atheists hold. How would this logic perform the opposite as you assert and "leading to atheism".

    I am really looking for some clarification and explication of your argument on how it leads to atheism?


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    1. Well done! You got there at last.

      Obviously, you see nothing wrong with using hypocrisy and double standards in Christian apologetics. On the other hand, honest people will wonder why you need to and will conclude that it's probably because you know that honesty won't work.

      For decent people that's probably argument enough.

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  9. It's rather convoluted for non-Christian like myself to understand how people, or rather general Christians public, love C.S. Lewis. I've read several of Lewis' and other creationists/theologists work, and most of them tend to imply the impression, which to non-Christian is not so obvious. In Lewis' book, especially in "Mere Christianity," tends to argue whatever the points he is trying to make is obvious, Jesus had to be god, because he must not be either a biggest liar in the history or simply mental. But in reality, or logically speaking, bible is not exactly the paragon of academically-historical scripture. No one has found the tomb of Jesus nor his body. What makes this argument so deliciously irrefutable is, Lewis' awkward tendency of abusing "yet" at the sentence. True, no one has found the tom of Jesus nor his body YET. But by that itself does not prove anything.

    In my opinion, C.S. Lewis, although more polite, is not so different from Lee Strobel, the author of "The Case of A Creator." Both of the authors sound very academically well-founded, which is never true in either of the cases, and pretend to be a voice of an objective general public. In reality, both authors clearly show their agendas in the book. It would be ridiculous not to count the fact that they held agendas way before they started typing the first page of the book. Obviously, this entire complaints of 'personally hating C.S. Lewis' do not make a single chance. C.S. Lewis DID have agendas and there is nothing new about it. There is NO Ad Hominem fallacy.

    Besides, isn't it bit ironic that the supporters of Lewis are accusing Rosa for committing Ad Hominem while they are committing Ad Hominem by doing amateur-psych-evaluations?

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  10. Both claim to have once been Atheists too and yet they both 'forget' to explain how, as a former Atheist who would have known that there is no more evidence for one god than for another, and how all their arguments can apply equally to any arbitrarily chosen god, they knew which god to believe in and assign causality to. Nor do they explain how they were able to examine the supernatural to exclude all other hypothetical supernatural explanations, not how they systematically eliminated all possible natural explanations.

    We are expected to assume there is only one god on offer and it is, of course, the locally popular one. We are also expected to fall for the false dichotomy fallacy and assume all possible natural explanations can be eliminated because they haven't been discovered yet, leaving only the god they are pushing.

    In short, they are both charlatans who cater for a credulous and already convinced, parochial and mostly scientifically illiterate audience, and are merely selling help with overcoming the cognitive dissonance caused by being superstitious but having to live in a material world.

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  11. Exemplary article, Rosa. Undoubtedly the most disturbing of Lewis' works is his callous attempt to justify needless suffering in The Problem of Pain. I have reviewed his work on Amazon.

    "Copouts, Evasions and Hidden Assumptions Aplenty

    This review is from: The Problem of Pain (Paperback)
    CS Lewis is held by many to be the premier Christian apologist of the 20th century. Unless one is morbidly naive, or has yet to encounter the counterarguments to Christianity in particular and theism in general, I honestly cannot see where his appeal lies.

    The Problem of Evil is an insurmountable one for Christians (and all other theists who believe in a perfectly loving, all-powerful and all-knowing god). There have been intense and motivated efforts over the past two millennia to defend such a position rationally, and they have all failed. Miserably. Utterly. And in many cases, dishonestly.

    Some approached involve invoking an unknown "greater good" defense (which throws god's omnipotence under the bus. An omnipotent deity could simply actualise a desired goal without needing to use suffering as a "middle man"). Attempts to shift the problem by asserting that human happiness is not the goal of life (but knowing god is) removes the omnibenevolence and omnipotence of god (if you love someone, you don't want them to suffer. It really is that simple). On page 104, Lewis concedes that not everyone suffers equally. He does not give a reason for this, and indeed, admits that our puny human minds cannot understand why god would allow some to live decades in comfort and luxury while others suffer for months or years on end. To quote Lewis himself: "The causes of this distribution I do not know; but from our present point of view it ought to be clear that the real problem is not why some humble, pious, believing people suffer, but why some do NOT (emphasis Lewis', in italics). Our Lord Himself, it will be remembered, explained the salvation of those who are fortunate in this world only by referring to the unsearchable omnipotence of God."

    That's not an explanation. Lewis is falling back on the ancient and ubiquitous appeal to ignorance. God's mysterious ways are beyond us. Well, by that "logic," he could send all Christians to hell and everyone else to heaven, and Lewis, by his own admission, would just have to suck up an eternity of torture.

    The old canard of free will is often invoked. Unfortunately, free will is meaningless unless everyone has an equal amount of it. This is undeniably NOT the case. Not everyone is given the same lifespan, physical strength, mental acuity, political clout, financial resources, and so on. Lewis is pontificating from the luxurious confines of his residence, funded by conveniently gullible sheep. This has certainly damaged his ability to empathise with the billions who live on less than a dollar each day. And the thousands who starve to death every time the Earth completes a full rotation."

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  12. "Lewis also, perhaps unwittingly, advocates a social Darwinism in which the rich and physically powerful are able to murder, rape and steal from weaker individuals (and are therefore less able to exercise their own free will to prevent their own suffering). Lewis worships a cosmic pedophile who revels in granting freedom to abhorrent individuals while getting his jollies from seeing the most vulnerable suffer and die in agony (only to get thrown into even more torture in the Christian vision of hell).

    Lastly, a loving god would take away free will from those who would willingly surrender it in return for a life without suffering. Funnily enough, Lewis seems to believe in a heaven without suffering but with all the bells and whistles of freedom. So why not create that universe from the get-go and stick with it? Why create a universe with even the possibility of corruption? It certainly is not something a perfect god would do. Then again, a perfect god would not blackmail beings he supposedly loves for eternal worship.

    While Lewis is usually a good writer, capable of spinning yarns to attract the attention of children and young teenagers, he also assumes that there is a deep, overriding purpose behind suffering. This purpose is so important that it is more critical to his god to NOT end suffering now, but to let things run their "natural" course until his plan is complete. In service of this goal, he creates a short story that is akin to an essay on theistic evolution, and how man is ultimately responsible for the Fall and his own corruption. If god knows everything, including the future, then he orchestrated the fall (and everything else) before setting his plan into motion. Arguing that god exists outside of time is a lazy copout, nothing more.

    As a 'loudspeaker' for the Christian god, pain has done more to drive people away from him than anything else. An all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good god would not allow any suffering, even in the service of a so-called "greater good." And if such a god desires suffering for a greater good, then it would follow logically that his followers should cause suffering to convert more people. After all, that is god's best tool for getting our attention, is it not? Fortunately, CS Lewis and most Christians today do not follow this logic to its end point. Those who do open hospitals and hospices and waste money on bibles rather than food (explaining why only 25% of tithes go to benefit indigent people around the world)."

    The attempts at justifying atrocities as "Well, anything is justified if it brings people closer to god" is borderline psychopathic. It also ignores the fact of an omnipotent being, and how they would not need to use suffering to achieve any "greater" goods."

    ReplyDelete

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