F Rosa Rubicondior: C.S.Lewis Shows His Double Standards

Thursday 2 August 2012

C.S.Lewis Shows His Double Standards

Probably one of C.S.Lewis's more careless arguments was:

Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It's like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can't trust my own thinking, of course I can't trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.

C.S.Lewis: The Case for Christianity

It is hard to believe he thought this through but perhaps he had just got carried away with his early success and was taking his target audience too much for granted and getting careless.

Of course, even if we share Lewis's genuine ignorance of neurophysiology and feigned ignorance of evolution, and accept 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.

Lewis has too obviously betrayed his double standards and ability to compartmentalise his thinking, using one standard for arguments against Atheism and a much lower standard for arguments leading to belief in gods.

He had apparently tried out various versions of this piece of sophistry:

...but did not distinguish between physical causes of beliefs and rational grounds for belief. He also claimed atomic motions in the brain are 'irrational'.

In a Socratic Club debate, G.E.M. Anscombe criticized this, accusing him of taking advantage of ambiguous meanings of the words "why", "because", and "explanation", which prompted Lewis to revise the chapter. The revised chapter presents a more detailed elucidation of the argument, distinguishing clearly between the causes of beliefs and the grounds of beliefs, and also changing most uses of "irrational" to "non-rational".

According to George Sayer, Lewis's friend and biographer, Lewis regarded the debate as a defeat, and felt humiliated by it:

He told me that he had been proved wrong, and that his argument for the existence of God had been demolished. ...The debate had been a humiliating experience, but perhaps it was ultimately good for him. In the past, he had been too proud of his logical ability. Now he was humbled ....'I can never write another book of that sort' he said to me of Miracles. And he never did. He also never wrote another theological book.

So, it seems that even C.S.Lewis realised he had gone too far with that one. Quite clearly, whatever god Lewis professed to believe in, it was at best, a God of Low Standards.

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  1. It is not by accident that spilled milk flows downhill, and it is not by accident that the particles of your brain go about the business of being you. There are physical laws which describe how milk flows and how particles interact, and one particular law involving self-replicators involves something like design by a blind idiot with no memory or foresight. While it is true that there isn't any such person as designed you, that doesn't mean you are random and not naturally selected to be what you are.

    There are no arguments for atheism. Atheism is not a belief. It's not something you trust with your fallible brain. It's the absence of a belief you do trust. You believe the arguments for Christianity. And by your own admission, you should not simply trust those thoughts.

  2. Thank you very good information

  3. There is no double standard here. C. S. Lewis is saying that if we have an ability to decide, to choose freely on merit, whether a thought is true or not, then we have an ability that is beyond that thought, SUPER-natural. An ability which is beyond the constant flow of quantum physics and the universe and the mechanics of our brain, which are all probabilistic motions arising from an original source as a stream flows down-hill.

    CONVERSELY (not a double standard) if we have no super-natural element to choose our thoughts by, if we are only a material part of the spill of the Big Bang and its scientific laws and quantum physics, then we have nothing beyond it with which to change that motion, nothing by which we can superintend and direct our thoughts so as to choose what is rational and what is not, much as it may feel like we do.

    Put simply, if we are purely and entirely material, probabilistic quantum effects, then so are our thoughts and reasonings merely probabilistic effects, not true choices.
    But if we are indeed rational, able to control our own reasonings, we have a super-natural element of choice, and can choose to believe in God if the evidence points that way.

    Anthony Rose

    1. No. Lewis was saying, "Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true?" Which of course applies to his own thinking process whatever conclusion he reaches just as it does to those who conclude that there are no gods.

      His double standard was in applying one standard to those who agree with him and a much higher standard to those who don't.

      Your argument is weakened further by Lewis' own acknowledgment that he had lost the argument and his argument for god had been demolished by G.E.M.Anscome in the Socratic Club debate.

    2. You omitted from your own source:
      "Victor Reppert, an American philosopher and proponent of Lewis' argument, has made the case that Sayer misrepresented the events at Anscombe.[2]
      Additionally, the Socratic Club did not report such a dramatic and humiliating defeat, merely recording that:
      "In general it appeared that Mr. Lewis would have to turn his argument into a rigorous analytic one, if his motion were to stand the test of all the questions put to him."
      Anscombe herself did not remember "humiliating" or "defeating" Lewis. She wrote:
      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"

    3. >You omitted from your own source:
      "Victor Reppert, an American philosopher and proponent of Lewis' argument, has made the case that Sayer misrepresented the events at Anscombe.<

      That might have had some weight had you known that Anscombe was a person, not a place.

      Did Victor Reppert manage to explain why Lewis's friend and biographer would deliberately misrepresent him, or did he just rely on people not delving too deeply beneath the assertion just so long as it gave them what they wanted?

    4. I cannot speak for the biography but your own argument is weak. Lewis is only holding naturalism to it's own claims of truth. Atheists believe that there is no designer behind anything; Christianity claims that there is a designer. Atheists must explain how non-rational forces (meaning forces that are not guided by a rational mind) can produce rational thought; Christians do not have to because they believe that God's rational and thinking mind produced our own rational and thinking minds. C.S. Lewis did not believe that the midn was produced by non-rational forces; but atheists do. You act as if Lewis believed that atheism was true.

    5. > Atheists believe that there is no designer behind anything<

      You might want to try your apologetic again, this time without the straw man fallacy.

      Atheists simply accept that there is no evidence for a god.

      See if your argument works when you use honesty. Sorry to impose such a difficult condition but your statements are risible without it.

      But I'd rather you actually dealt with the blog itself, rather than ignoring it and simply using it as an excuse to practice sophistry.


    6. According to Oxford University Press "Atheist: a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods" Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God, gods, etc. When I said that Atheists believe that there is no designer behind anything, this is what I meant. Perhaps I should have been more clear.

      If we can agree Oxford's definition then perhaps what I should of said was that Atheists, because they do not believe in a higher power that created everything, tend to believe that life (and everything else) came about through the unguided and unpurposed laws of nature acting on matter and energy. If you hold this view then you must believe that the human mind has also been produced by unguided and unpurposed reactions to the natural laws of the universe. Thus there is no "designer" behind the mind, or anything else.

      My only point was that Lewis's argument is that if there is no "designer" and the mind is only the result of natural and inevitable reactions based on the laws of nature, then we cannot trust that the human mind actually understands anything about the universe. Maybe this argument holds water and maybe it doesn't. My only concern was that your attack on his argument comes from a false understanding of what he is saying. He, as a Christian, believes that the mind is the product of a rational being that designed it to be capable of understanding the world around us. You appear to be arguing that he is being hypocritical because "if...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." But Lewis does not believe that thinking is a random process. He is arguing that the Atheistic (or rather the naturalistic) point of view, if true, would mean that thinking is random.

      You asked me to see if my argument works when I use honesty. I am trying my hardest to honestly express my thinking. If my thinking is wrong then please correct it; it is insulting to assume that I am being dishonest just because I made a mistake. I admit readily that I do not know everything and can be wrong, but to call me dishonest without ever meeting me is a cruel blow indeed. Please consider next time that I may simply be a fool.

    7. I have already explained what Atheism is.

      As I though I had indicated, pretending it is something else to make it easier to attack is the straw man fallacy.

      Showing that you know you need to use it tells me you know you can't attack the real thing.

    8. I'm sorry, but could you please respond to the my actual argument instead of making insulting assumptions about my intentions? You say that I "pretended (atheism) is something else to make it easier to attack". I did not pretend; if I was wrong then I was simply wrong. But now I have accepted your definition of atheist and rephrased my argument accordingly. So please, honestly, teach me where I am wrong. I want to believe that you are a logical and rational person who has good reasons for saying the things you say, but the more you avoid answering my concerns the more I feel that you know you can't attack my real arguments and are forced to resort to ad hominem attacks because of it.

    9. All you need to do is the read C.S. Lewis' argument to see that he is applying one standard to the thought processes of Athiests and a different, lower, standard to his own. If an atheist can't trust his/her own thinking process then nor can C.S.Lewis.

      In fact, of course, he was using a form of special pleading indicating that he knew his claim couldn't compete on an equal footing with that of Atheism and so needed to be exempted from the tests he was demanding Atheism pass. This is a deliberately dishonest tactic designed to mislead and trick people into believing something he knew to be false.

      Why do you think he was doing that?

    10. Yes, I have read his argument. I get the feeling that you haven't read mine. Lewis is saying that IF atheists are right and there is no God or gods THEN our thinking can't be trusted and we have no reason to believe that there is no God or gods. Of course IF atheists are right then of course Christianity is wrong. But C.S. Lewis does not believe that the atheists are right. IF Christianity is correct THEN we have a reason to believe that our thinking can be trusted. You seem to believe that his argument is BECAUSE all thinking can't be trusted THEN atheism can't be true. But that's not his argument at all. He is applying the same standard to both Christianity and atheism; the standard of whether each worldview can account for rational and accurate thought. He is not exempting Christianity from the tests he demands that atheism pass. His test is "Can your philosophy account for rational thought? By his argument atheism cannot account for rational thought, but Christianity can. If you want to critique his argument then you must understand it first.

      Of course I could assume that you knew that was his argument all along, and that you dishonestly misrepresented his argument in order to mislead and trick people into believing something that you knew to be false. But I would rather assume that you are a good person who has simply misunderstood his argument. I wish you would extend the same benifit of the doubt to C.S. Lewis and everyone else who happens to disagree with you.

    11. In other words, C.S.Lewis simply declares his thinking processes are different and therefore more reliable because he believes in a god, and so this proves his god is real because his thinking processes tell him so.

      And we are expect to concur.

      As I said, double standards.

      Why do you think C.S.Lewis used these double standards and how did he know he needed to use deception?


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