F Rosa Rubicondior: C.S.Lewis, You Cannot Be Serious! 2

Thursday 22 March 2012

C.S.Lewis, You Cannot Be Serious! 2

The Trilemma. The second in a series looking at C.S.Lewis' Christian apologetics.

The trilemma argument says you must choose between believing Jesus was one of:
  1. Lunatic.
  2. Liar.
  3. Lord.

It would be doing Lewis an injustice to blame him for thinking up this appallingly dishonest argument all by himself because it was used at least as far back as the middle of the nineteenth century by preachers like Mark Hopkins, John Duncan, Reuben Archer Torrey and others, but his or not, C.S.Lewis found it to be a nice little earner, and got a BBC Radio series and a book, Mere Christianity, out of it.

It has been described as "The most important argument in Christian Apologetics" by other Christian apologists like Peter Kreeft. No! Seriously! I have certainly heard it delivered almost verbatim by some Anglican bishop or other on BBC Radio 4's Thought For Today; a religious interlude which is inserted for some unknown reason in an otherwise serious morning news programme. Nice work if you can get it.

Of course, all Lewis is doing here is producing an extended version of the false dichotomy fallacy. This fallacy is where the proponent of an otherwise unsupportable idea tries to present it as a choice between that and something completely absurd, or as the only reasonable choice. You see this used a lot when creationists attack science expecting you to believe that if science is wrong about something, the only alternative is to believe their favourite locally popular god must have been responsible. It only works if you fall for the idea that: a) science is wrong and; b) there is no other possible explanation, like a different scientific explanation, a different god, etc.

All the 'Trilemma' does is present a third option, a false trichotomy, in the hope that you won't think of a fourth, fifth or sixth, or more.

For example, there are at least two more which could (should?) be added:
  1. Made Up.
  2. Legendary.

Reading the Bible, which is, after all, the primary (indeed, only) source of any information about Jesus, and which Lewis himself used as his source of information, and seeing the several confused and often contradictory accounts of his life and teaching in it, the most vicarious explanation is one of these two, not one of the three Lewis presents as the only choices. I have previously written about these muddles and contradictions here and here.

This is also borne out by biblical historians, few, if any, would argue that: a) the Gospels were written by four different eye-witnesses to the accounts they describe; or b) that they were written contemporaneously with those events. There is very clearly development of a legend either based on a real figure or on one derived from several Jewish activists and teachers onto which the idea that he was a manifestation of the Jewish god Yahweh seems to have been grafted using old prophecies, mistranslated where necessary, to give it credence.

C.S.Lewis must have been aware of these possibilities yet chose to ignore them and present us with a narrow choice, the first two of which were almost unthinkable in those days - and indeed I know of no Atheist arguments that proposes that Jesus was mad and/or a liar, although suffering from some sort of psychosis can't be ruled out as a visit to practically any psychiatric ward can testify.

In effect, Lewis was arguing that Jesus must be God or you must be stupid. Only stupid people don't agree with Clive Staples Lewis!

And this is a person who earned his living as a thinker!

It might seem surprising that a leading Oxford academic and famous author of children's fairy tales was using the tactics of a snake-oil salesman but, as we sat round our radios in wartime Britain it must have been reassuring to be told we had the right religion and that a renowned Oxford academic no less was telling us so and could prove it with these very clever arguments which only very clever people like him could understand properly.

Like domestic violence, incest, paedophilia, the sex-lives of the upper classes and the Emperor's new clothes, the possibility that an Oxford don and a Christian theologian might be pulling the wool over our eyes was not something decent people spoke about in deferential, class-ridden Britain. It would have been as unthinkable as, say, Lord Louis Mountbatten's wife having an affair with Nehru, Winston Churchill's mother having it off with King Edward VII and the German Foreign Secretary or Bob Boothby having to satisfy Harold MacMillan's wife because she wasn't man enough for him.

Nobody believed those things in those days either, except those in the know.

Ten Reasons To Lose Faith: And Why You Are Better Off Without It

This book explains why faith is a fallacy and serves no useful purpose other than providing an excuse for pretending to know things that are unknown. It also explains how losing faith liberates former sufferers from fear, delusion and the control of others, freeing them to see the world in a different light, to recognise the injustices that religions cause and to accept people for who they are, not which group they happened to be born in. A society based on atheist, Humanist principles would be a less divided, more inclusive, more peaceful society and one more appreciative of the one opportunity that life gives us to enjoy and wonder at the world we live in.

Available in Hardcover, Paperback or ebook for Kindle


Thank you for sharing!

submit to reddit


  1. Forgive me for being ignorant, but what is the difference between "made up" and "legendary"?

    C.S. Lewis presumably held to the idea that the Jesus portrayed in the Bible existed.

    In any case, C.S. Lewis was not wrong to assert that anyone making those claims was either a lunatic, a liar, or telling the truth.

    1. You do realise, I take it, that things aren't right simply because you type them out. You need to explain your reasoning, if you used any.

  2. "Made up" would be a complete fiction, like "To Kill a Mockingbird" or "Great Expectations". Stories about people who never existed.

    "Legendary" could be about people who never existed, but could also be about people who actually lived, but whose exploits were exaggerated. The story of George Washington cutting down the cherry tree is a legend, and it is unlikely that it actually happened.

    In any case, C.S. Lewis was completely wrong to assert that anyone making those claims was either a lunatic, a liar, or telling the truth. Like the people who make the claims today, they may simply be mistaken. They may be rational people who sincerely believe irrational things. None of the gospel writers were eyewitnesses to the events described, and it is not necessary to believe they were being deliberately deceptive to believe they were being wildly inaccurate.

  3. Several more possibilities exist:

    6. Mistaken
    7. Misinterpreted
    8. Misreported

    1. It is interesting to note that a theme of the earliest gospel, Mark, was the Messianic Secret, that Jesus was the Messiah. The Gospel says it was a secret and Jesus told his disciples to keep quiet about it. This implies that Jesus never publically claimed to be the Messiah and that such claims that he was emerged after his death.

  4. The reason this argument is so widely promulgated in Christian circles is because it is actually a rather good argument. Now, on its own? By no means. This argument made in conjunction with a series of others, however? A much better one.

    First, we must understand the premise. Lewis is arguing that Jesus was either a lunatic, liar, or Lord because of one thing: His claim to be the Son of God. If someone were to claim this, then obviously there are only three options. 1) He truly believes it and is wrong (lunatic); 2) He does not believe it but says it is true anyway (liar); or 3) He actually is the Son of God (Lord). Logically, if He did indeed make that claim, He must be one of these three possibilities. Fair enough?

    Now, to address the idea that there are other options. This is true. There are other options, I won't disagree, and they are as follows:
    4) Jesus never made the claim, but his followers later did (i.e. story changed on purpose);
    5) Jesus made some other claim, but it somehow got altered into this (i.e. story changed on accident)

    Notice, I threw away your numbers 4 and 5. I really just merged them into my numbers 4 and 5. I thought your 4 and 5 weren't descriptive enough, and I think you'll agree that my 4 and 5 are just elaborations of yours. As for "The Anti-Myth"s comment, his 6 and 7 are really the same and fall under our 5, and his 8 falls under our 4. Fair enough?

    Now to the "pre-argument:"
    The first argument that must be made is this: Either the man Jesus did or did not claim to be the Son of God. There is no third option here. If he did not actually claim to be the Son of God, then our only real options are 4 and 5. If he did claim to be the Son of God, however, our options are 1, 2, or 3. Lewis' argument operates on the basis that Jesus did in fact make that claim.

    What does this mean for you? It means that you cannot really follow this argument until you have followed the first argument. So instead of doing this post, you should have backtracked and done a post on whether or not Jesus actually/truly/historically made the claim that He was the Son of God. Basically, I'm not even saying you're wrong. I'm just saying you are attacking the wrong argument.

    1. Unfortunately you have failed to deal with the central issue: Lewis presented a dishonest false trichotomy and failed to include the far more plausible, but inconvenient, explanations for 'Jesus' - legend, invented, mistaken, misreported, misinterpreted, etc.

      He of course relied on the audience whom he knew could be relied on to assume Jesus actually existed and was as claimed by the church, and so not to question the missing explanations.

      Once again, he has started off with the conclusion he wanted to foist on his audience and worked backwards from it, then dressed it up as an intellectual argument from first principles.

      I know of a man who believes himself to be Jesus. Using Lewis argument, clearly he is Jesus. Can you spot the error here?

    2. Well the error is in assuming that the man you know is not a liar or a lunatic, I would address those possibilities first.

      Also, here is the passage that we are writing about, in case you or I need to reference it:
      "I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God."

      So it seems to me that Lewis was specifically writing to people that A) believed Jesus was a real man and existed; B) was a great teacher; and C) got this information from Biblical sources.

      Therefore, Lewis was never trying to address the possibilities of it being a legend or made up. Lewis was aware of these alternate possibilities, but he was quoted as saying "I have read a great deal of legend and I am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing." Now, I'm not saying you cannot disagree with him on this issue; he has left that open to you and I will, too. If you believe Jesus' claim to be the Son of God to be a legend or made up by someone else, then that is a different argument. It is only after that argument has been settled that this argument would be appropriate to address.

    3. >Well the error is in assuming that the man you know is not a liar or a lunatic, <

      No. The issue was why Lewis presented us with a dishonest false trichotomy and so eliminated, with no possible justification, the far more plausible explanations for the origin of the Jesus stories.

      Can you address that issue please, or would you rather not?

      To simplify things for you, try arguing that Harry Potter must have been based on a real person because he is either a liar, a lunatic or a wizard. If that doesn't work for Harry Potter, you may understand why it doesn't work for Jesus either.

      But I don't think the real problem here is with you seeing the dishonest fallacy in Lewis's argument. I suspect the problem is with you not wanting to see it and having to find ways of not looking at it.

    4. No no. I completely understand what you're saying. I do see the comparison you're trying to make with Harry Potter. I get that. I don't think you understand what I'm saying.

      I see how the "legend" or "made up" possibilities would work logically. I do see that. And Lewis saw that. Lewis chose to not address those policies, because for himself and for his readers, they were already at the point where they did not believe those two possibilities to be true. That's why he says that this passage is addressed at people who call Jesus a great moral teacher.

      Here is the basic reasoning for why it is not *likely* that those two possibilities are true.

      First, the idea that the disciples made up the claim that Jesus was the Son of God. Primary reason: they had nothing to gain from such a claim. In fact, by preaching such a claim and by proclaiming it as true, they lost everything. They lost their status in society, they lost families and friends, and in the end, most of them lost their lives defending the claim that Jesus was the Son of God. None of them gained wealth or power or influence. They were despised by both the Jews and the Romans and pretty much anyone in a position of power. Their lives, by human standards, were terrible. I don't believe that anyone would suffer through such torment their entire life to defend a story that they made up. And it wasn't just one person, there were tens and hundreds of these people. And their stories are recorded by both religious and secular historians as early as the first century.

      The reason why Lewis (and Christians in general) don't consider Jesus' claim to be the Son of God as part of a legend is semi-similar in reasoning. First, no one would die for such a claim unless they were absolutely sure it was true. And second, no one was going to believe such a drastic claim unless it was true. Think about how "crazy" the claim is, that this living, breathing man is the "Son of God." No one is going to casually let that become a legend. The idea that Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God is a pretty recent idea, within the last few centuries or so. It was not an accepted idea in the first few centuries after His death.

      People were either for Him (and thus believed that he was the Son of God) or they were against Him (and thus believed Him to be a liar or a lunatic), but no one in the years following Christ's death disputed that he made the claim to be the Son of God. That's why He was killed in the first place. We see that in Jewish writings of the time that Jesus was killed because He claimed equality with God.

      So that's a basic overview of why Christians don't think the "legend" and "made up" ideas are actual possibilities; they defy all human logic. Therefore, as Lewis concluded the same thing, here he reasons that there are only three possibilities *left*.

    5. Even if Jesus had actually made the claim that he was the Messiah and or God incarnate that does not leave just three options, i.e., liar, lunatic, lord. Perfectly sane people have believed nonsense, even nonsense that is "lunatic" and been sane otherwise. He could simply have been sincerely mistaken about himself.

  5. Lewis assumed we would not become ignorant enough to believe Jesus the person did not actually exist. The Bible is not actually one book. It is a compilation of many writers over many years who were completely unconnected, yet all agreed with no inconsistency. How could so many people over so many years all agree on the existence of Jesus if he was simply made up? The Bible also does not stand alone, there are many supporting historical documents. If you don't believe those historical documents that Jesus existed, do you believe that Alexander the Great conquered much of the known word for Greece even before Jesus was alive? Do you believe Christians even existed in the first century to make up the "story"? My point is, if you are going to believe any history, you have to believe historians or else the whole system breaks down. Why should ancient historians who speak of Jesus be any more wrong than historians who simply provide facts of Julius Ceasar for example? You are going in to the argument with a bias against the exsistence of the man Jesus, or else there would be no conceivable reason to doubt that the man lived.

    1. Ryan , many inconsistencies! Ah, that one of prattling that where one gospel speaks of one Gerasenes demonic-possessed man and another of two, no inconsistency ensues, because the former just concentrates on the one whilst the other demoniac has plays no role whilst the latter notes both demoniacs with a complete picture. Why, maybe there were a hundred but no author thought the other ninety-eight relevant whatsoever! Yes, you apologists ever revel in and rely on rationalizations to obviate confessing that why,yes, inconsistencies abound!
      Those historians just took as true what they heard from the Christ-addicted sheep and others.Many artifacts exhume Caesar's existence whilst phony relics reflect the naivety of Christ-addicted sheep! Why ,other than gullibility, do you take the words of unverifiable authors who contradicted each other! Ah, you are in the most exalted company of William Lane Craig! All his putative facts are unverifiable! Your inner witness is ever telling you poppycock! To let the holy Ghost do His duty is to self-brainwash! You have no warrant, despite the sophistry of Alvin Plantinga and William Alston!

    2. Actually, there are historical artifacts pointing to truths of the Bible. You call those phony presumably because you are biased against its truth. Also, you are using the very ad hominem Rosa clearly says in unnacceptable logic on this blog when you claim ancient historians got their reports from "Christ-addicted sheep." You also say others. That means perhaps sources you don't know about or even, dare I say it,verifiable sources? Please explain. I don't see that you have any conclusive evidence to support your claim that all Bible-supporting artifacts are phony and that any historians that point to Biblical events are "inverifiable." You must take great pride in yourself that you are the single person who can decide what evidences and historical figures are "verifiable" and what are not. I still hold to the infalibility of scripture. If you want to point out specific instances of supposed inconsistencies, please use specific passages not just vague references.

    3. >Actually, there are historical artifacts pointing to truths of the Bible.<

      You forgot to list any or to explain where these may be seen and how they validate the 'truth of the Bible'.

      I assume this was that merely an oversight as true Christians are forbidden from bearing false witness - i.e. claiming as a fact something for which they have no evidence.

    4. Here is a list of some. http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/nab/does-archaeology-support-the-bible Also I find it interesting how you ignored the rest of what I said and focussed on that one statement. Invalidating the rest of what I said based on that is called ad hominem in case you were unaware.

    5. LOL! You've fallen for the creation pseudo-science scams, eh? That explains things.

      Here is a site which refutes each of those lies in detail Talkorigins Archive. many of them are also comprehensively exposed as bogus by Bad Archaeology. I bet you don't have the courage to visit them.

      Maybe you should look in real science books and websites for science information than you might avoid being fooled by people who lie professionally for money and specialise in parasitising credulous simpletons for a living.

      Did you know the people who write this stuff swear an oath to lie as a condition for getting money and publishing on creationist pseudo-science websites? Of course, they never ever present their stuff for peer review or to an audience of real scientists. Why do you think that is?

      You can read the creation 'scientists' oath here: 'Creationists Promise To Lie For Money'.

    6. By the way, I'd prefer it if you stuck to the subject of this blog rather than using it as somewhere to dump your creationist garbage. There are plenty of sites you could use for that, as you've probably found, having asked these questions there already and ignored the answers, almost certainly multiple times.

    7. Actually you were the one that focussed on that one statement I made and took the conversation off topic. I'm not going to try to have an intelligent conversation if you keep your double standard and write off everything I say. Remember you seem to pride yourself on the ad hominem.

    8. >Actually you were the one that focussed on that one statement I made and took the conversation off topic<

      You mean that irrelevant lie about the archaeology supporting the 'truth of the Bible' which you have been unable to support? That was the one 'I' took the conversation off topic with, was it?

      Can I suggest you start trying to imitate a grown up - and preferably an honest one - if you want to be taken seriously?

    9. I'm not going to let you do that. You fault me for taking it off topic then admit you were the one that did it. You didn't answer all my arguments or questions. All you are doing is focusing in on specific sentences and discrediting everything. Either that or you are too afraid to answer, I'm not sure which. I truthfully do not understand why you even write this blog if you are unable to go into an argument with an open mind. You look at everything anyone says with the intent to shoot it down with arguments that are convincing to the naive ear. I say that based on my observations, not because I claim to know your mind. If you are not willing to take me seriously and have an intelligent debate, I don't know why you even try other than to make yourself feel good that you have "buried another naive idiot Bible thumper." What do you accomplish by doing that? I'm not saying this as an attack, I am truly interested in where you find purpose.

  6. Those who blithely take the Gospels seriously as history, this includes nonfundamentalists- errantist- revel in their naivety and gullibility to trust unverifiable, anonymoous authors who proclaim miralcles!
    The real problem for Christians that Yeshua as the Gospels describe him is a cult leader, calling on his sheep to love him over all others,spligging families asunder, bringing a sword,not peace, urging logicide-faith and reveling in Hell with his false dichotomy of either loving him or hating him when people could just ignore the jerk! This goes to the core of Christ-insanity!
    What goes at the core of all religion is that we per Lamberth's argument from autonomy, owe putative God nothing and He deserve no worship, but instead He faces that one-way street of Fr. Meslier's the problem of Heaven: He merits punishment for not putting us into a better situation in the first place! The Garden myth is so irrelevant!
    Sophistical,solecistic speciousness makes me a gnu atheist, besides the evils of any religion!Theologians rank with paranormalists,despite their high-faluting language1 As Paul Kurtz calls the twins superstitions of the supernatural and the paranormal" The Transcendental Temptation," a must read book.

  7. Here is a list of some. http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/nab/does-archaeology-support-the-bible Also I find it interesting how you ignored the rest of what I said and focussed on that one statement. Invalidating the rest of what I said based on that is called ad hominem in case you were unaware.

    1. I didn't mean to post this here, I posted the same message in response to the feed above. I would have deleted it but I don't have permissions to do so on the blog. Sorry for the error.

  8. Lewis used this argument against people who believed 2 things:
    1) That Jesus existed
    2) That he was only a "good" man

    Lewis is arguing that a person who made the statements that Jesus made would have to be either lying, stark raving mad or telling the truth. If the kind of people I mentioned above believe Jesus existed from what was written in the Bible, then they are oblivious of what is actually written OF him in the New Testament. Lewis is calling those people out on their blindness.

    HOWEVER, those whom Lewis is NOT addressing in this argument are those who believe that Jesus did not exist. While I understand your point, you have to be aware that Lewis is addressing only a particular group of people. It is obvious that his argument holds no water against people who believe Jesus to be a myth, and he would agree with that. In fact, he has an entire book devoted to those people and this argument is not in it. Lewis himself was an atheist who believed Jesus to be a myth. And he would have laughed in the face of someone who tried to use this argument to prove Jesus' diety to him. Why? Because it doesn't work when arguing that Jesus was made up or legendary--it's not supposed to.

    It seems to me that if you believe Jesus existed, you would label him as either a "liar" or a "lunatic" and Lewis would say that you're consistent. But it's hard to deny that this argument is a valid argument against those who believe Jesus was only a "good man."

    I've read a few other of your blog posts and I think you raise good points, but you're attacking Lewis from the wrong angle here. Some Christians are guilty of absorbing what is fed to them without thinking through it. And the points you bring up are challenging and Christians *should* think about them. Lewis is far from perfect, but if you want to prove it, you need to pick your battles a little more wisely.


    1. In other words, it's not the argument for a god that Christians like to pretend, but merely an attempt to sell them spurious confirmation of their superstition and cash in on their gullible credulity.

    2. No, it is still an argument for God, but only directed at a certain group of people. Professors spar intellectually with their peers in a different manner than they challenge their students. In all areas of life, you have to approach different people in different ways. I'm merely pointing out that Lewis is doing that here. I'm not trying to judge his motive for doing so--or even the motives or understanding of other Christians when they use this argument. I'm just explaining that your argument would only work if Lewis was trying to convince people who don't believe that Jesus existed at all. Just as Lewis' argument only works when directed at people who already acknowledge his existence.


    3. Certain groups of people who desperately want their delusion confirmed and are prepared to pay good money for it - i.e. the same victims modern parasitic creationist pseudo-scientists feed on for a living.

    4. I'm sorry if what I have written has been unclear. However, it's obvious to me that you find most (if not all) Christians to be illogical and unreasonable. In your attempt to prove that, you have become what you despise.


    5. What you wrote was perfectly clear. You couldn't deal with the subject of the blog so you went for an ad hominem as a way to cope with the cognitive dissonance you were experiencing.

      It wasn't an honest response, or anything like one, so it can be dismissed with the same ease with which you wrote it.

      Readers might like to consider why you felt unable to use logic, reason or honesty...

    6. No Rosa. You are the one not dealing with the argument at hand. What she wrote was perfectly clear. You are misrepresenting Lewis's argument and tearing him down personally. Simple as that. This is obvious because you never responded to her actual argument (which was actually a simple definition of Lewis's, all that was in order on this blog). All you did is provide short one line attacks at Abby and at Christians. Un-called-for and out of place in intellectual discussion. Abby, don't be discouraged, simple common-sense (uncommon rather) doesn't suffice as it should on this blog. In order to fit in you need to learn how to conjure up low blows and psuedo arguments that don't even apply. It's not worth it.

    7. "HOWEVER, those whom Lewis is NOT addressing in this argument are those who believe that Jesus did not exist."

      What then, is the point of citing Lewis' trilemma? For that mythical set which only doubts that he is the son of God?

      And if so how does it exclude

      4. Embellished

      Surely people who believe he existed can believe that his life was embellished. It's logically acceptable to believe that a human named Jesus existed, that he was pronounced as the son of God *and* that was an embellishment.

      No, Lewis's trilemma only works if you believe Jesus existed exactly as claimed by the Bible. That is the only way you can even exclude anything else, or not including anything else.

    8. Apparently, if you make up a story about someone who claims to be a god, according to people who are persuaded by Lewis' argument, that person must be a god because they aren't liars or lunatics and because it is not possible to have made up a story about someone who claims to be a god.

      In Christian circles, I believe this is called 'logic' because it gives the required conclusion.

  9. This is a non-argument Rosa. You really aren't disagreeing with Lewis. You are refuting a claim he didn't make. This argument isn't worth your time.

    1. >This is a non-argument Rosa. You really aren't disagreeing with Lewis.<

      True. I'm showing the disingenuous dishonesty he employed, which is why I wrote the final two paragraphs, which you seem not to have read. Did you read the full article or did you just scroll quickly down to the comments section?

    2. I read the whole thing. He wasn't being dishonest either. Here is what he said before making the argument under discussion. "I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say." It seems clear here that Lewis is only saying by his argument that is is foolish to say Jesus was only a great moral teacher. You are not claiming that he was that, so Lewis would admit himself that this argument does not apply.

    3. The fact remains that Lewis presented a false trichotomy and excluded the far more reasonable and likely explanations for the Jesus stories. He was not a stupid or ignorant man, therefore we can only assume he did this deliberately with intent to mislead at worst, or to cover the vacuosity of his own argument at best.

      Either way, it was dishonest, morally bankrupt and depended on the uncritical credulity of the audience to work, as with so many of his patronising arguments.

    4. That's not true. It was not a false trichotomy because he specified that the "trichotomy" only applied when already assuming Jesus' existence. He said nothing dishonest, you are putting words in his mouth. He said what you can't do is take Jesus as simply a great moral teacher, and went on to use the argument above. It is a perfectly legitamate argument because it assumes Jesus' existence and goes from there. If you don't believe Jesus ever lived, don't touch the argumen. It wasn't meant for you. What you can't do is misrepresent what Lewis said and based on that call him dishonest and morally bankrupt, when that is what you are being by misrepresenting his words and then accusing him.

    5. Maybe you should tell that to your Christian colleagues who take this argument out of context and tell us Lewis proved Jesus proved existed with it, whereas, if you are right, he merely assumed Jesus existed and wrapped that up in the illusion of an honest argument.

      You are wrong to exclude mythical and made up, even if you assume Jesus existed since the only way you know anything about Jesus is via the accounts of intermediaries, either those who wrote about him or those who related the stories to those who wrote about him. There is no reason at all that myth cannot be based on a real person nor that people can make up stories about real people. (cf King Arthur, St Patrick, St Nicholas, etc)

      But even if you were right, there are of course other explanations for the Jesus as described in the Bible even if the person upon whom the stories may be based was a real person or real people.

      He may of course, have been genuinely mistaken about his divinity and no more insane than any modern preachers who believes he had divine authority/inspiration/magic invisible friend. Unless you think religious delusion is a form of insanity and/or mental disorder, in which case Lewis's, 'lunatic' seems to be the best explanation he allows us.

      He may of course have been lied about by those who wrote about him. The mutually contradictory accounts of his birth, life, death and alleged resurrection, coupled with the impossibility of some of the writers knowing what they claimed to have know suggests that lies is a very real possibility somewhere along the line.

      So which is it? Assuming the biblical Jesus was a single individual and that all the accounts of him were genuine and truthful (and that somehow the mutually contradictory claims can be explained away) was he mistaken or mad? Or did those who told you about him lie?

      (You cannot assume he was a god, incidentally, until you have a priori proven gods exist, otherwise you could with equal ease, prove he was anything you wish to pluck out of thin air and to which you have arbitrarily assigned magical powers).

    6. Just because I find fault with your argument, you assume I am a Christian? You also I assume I believe God even exists. This reveals to me the root of some of the problems in conversation on your blog. You are assuming things about people who comment without any way of knowing. All you can do is respond to what is written at face value if you want to include discussion on your blog. As far as the "mistaken" possibility, Lewis included that in the "insane" category. I will grant you the fact that some people have taken this argument out of context, but take it up with them specifically, don't rip on Lewis when his argument was justified. I don't see legend as a real possibility either. If Jesus did exist (which is where we are starting from since that is where Lewis did)and the majority of the facts of his life were simply made up by his followers, how do you explain the fact that 11 of his closest followers gave their lives standing up for the "story." Understandably, someone might give their life for something they THOUGHT was true, but if they simply made the story up as you say is a possibility,this is a different situation. I don't know anyone who would give his or her life for a story they simply made up.

    7. Oh good god! Lewis' argument is NOT logical in the slightest. If you assume that Jesus existed Lewis' three possibilities are NOT the only ones that spring to mind about the claims of him Jesus being the Messiah / God. Mistaken, legend etc. easily come to mind. And if Lewis did indeed include mistaken in the "insane" category than he was engaging in propaganda and hot button polemics, because mistaken is NOT the same has "insane", it is simply mistaken.

      As for the stuff about you just cannot take Jesus has a great moral teacher if you accept that he existed. Well actually you can quite easily. Lewis saying you can't is nonsense. First there is no need to accept the notion that Jesus ever claimed to be the Messiah / God, after all in the earliest Gospel, (Mark), Jesus being the Messiah is supposed to be a secret, which likely indicates he never publically claimed to be the Messiah. Secondly if he made the claim he simply could be mistaken, in which case he could still be a great moral teacher and this applies even if he was an actual "lunatic", whatever that actually means.

      I further suggest a bit of reading about how legends, etc., emerge around historical figures. A good example is the Buddha, who very quickly had legends and miracle tales revolve around him after his death.

      As for the argument about Jesus' disciples could not have made things up if they died for these beliefs. The number of assumptions in this large.

      It assumes that the accounts we have of the doings and fates of the Disciples are accurate. Well that's an assumption.

      It assumes that we know clearly just what the Disciples actually believed about Jesus. Well it is possible that they thought Jesus was the Messiah but not God. Paul's letters, (The authentic ones anyway.), are open to interpretation on the matter.

      I could go on.

      As for not knowing anyone giving their life for a story that isn't true. Well let me introduce you to the Rosenbergs.

  10. This post appears to be a straw man argument.

    The author takes the Lewis argument out of context, suggesting that the Lord, Liar, Lunatic reference from Lewis was a broad argument about the historicity of Jesus. To the best of my knowledge, it was not. It was an argument in response to a very specific claim by some that Jesus was an historical character, and that he was a great moral teacher who never claimed to be God. If Lewis were responding specifically to that belief by some, why would he include the legend possibility? The people to whom he was responding already believed that Jesus was not a legend. So, this is not an argument starting at the foundation. The context clearly indicates that he was responding to a group of individuals who already shared certain beliefs in common with Lewis (that Jesus was an historical character, that the Gospel accounts are a way of gaining insight into this historical Jesus, etc.). Note that one can disagree with the position of Lewis as well as the group to who he was responding, but it must be noted that criticism from one outside either of those positions is indeed an outsider in the conversation. In such instances, it is always easy to pick apart either person's arguments, as these are common ground conversations and the person with the outside critique doesn't necessarily accept the common ground.

    Now, given that Lewis doesn't reference a specific person who holds to that position, it can be argued that Lewis made up such a person and that Lewis was creating a straw man. That is possible, but I'm not sure if that makes for good radio...perhaps it does. I mean, if none hold to the position that Jesus was a good moral teacher who never claimed to be God, then I'm not sure if it is worthwhile to critique the Lewis argument. It just makes Lewis into someone who argues with imaginary people. To say that Lewis created a false trichotomy appears to be a claim that Lewis was engaging in a masterful deception of the broad listening audience. Perhaps Lewis believed that listeners of the BBC would never consider that there are other possibilities (other than the three), that they would be persistently convinced that these are the only three options about broad claims to the historical Jesus, and that they would therefore remain safely in the arms of the Anglican Church until they die. Does the historical record really support that characterization of C.S. Lewis? Did he really think that little of the British intellect? I do not see the evidence to support that.

    I would interested in the author's response to this. If the author does respond, I would very much appreciate if the response avoided argumentum ad hominem.

    1. "I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say."

      is at odds with >To the best of my knowledge, it was not. It was an argument in response to a very specific claim by some that Jesus was an historical character, and that he was a great moral teacher who never claimed to be God.<

      "The people to whom he was responding already believed that Jesus was not a legend. "

      How do we know about his audience who he was addressing either in his book or when he spoke?

  11. I think this is original - I haven't seen it elsewhere. But Lewis has unwittingly set himself a trap. To wit:
    Mohamed was either a liar, lunatic or true prophet of God.
    Mohamed's life was well-documented contemporaneously, so we can dismiss a suggestion he was a lunatic as in raving padded-cell lunatic, and there is no more reason to believe him a liar, any more than Jesus.
    QED True prophet of God.

    1. Good point. And valid if you accept Lewis' fallacious argument. :-)


Obscene, threatening or obnoxious messages, preaching, abuse and spam will be removed, as will anything by known Internet trolls and stalkers, by known sock-puppet accounts and anything not connected with the post,

A claim made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. Remember: your opinion is not an established fact unless corroborated.

Web Analytics