Saturday, 13 October 2012

Nonsense from C S Lewis

These surprising things come not from a man who is alleged to be a poor thinker, as theists often say of Richard Dawkins - unfairly in my opinion.

No - these surprising words come from C S Lewis.

“You will never know how much you believe something until it is a matter of life and death.” “If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.” – God in the Dock, page 52.

“One of the things that distinguishes man from the other animals is that he wants to know things, wants to find out what reality is like, simply for the sake of knowing. When that desire is completely quenched in anyone, I think he has become something less than human.” – God in the Dock, page 108.

Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself. – The Problem of Pain

"Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning. . ." – Mere Christianity

"Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable." – Mere Christianity

"A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere -- 'Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,' as Herbert says, 'fine nets and stratagems.' God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous." – Surprised by Joy

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? - Mere Christianity

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. – Mere Christianity, pages 40-41.

"You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England." – Surprised by Joy

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. – Is Theology Poetry?

Now who is the poor thinker?


Anonymous said...

I have to C.S. Lewis is greatly overrated, I am actually reading his book mere Christianity, And I am not impressed.

"Before you offer commentary on Biblical stories, you should probably spend some time actually studying your Bible. Of course that can be dangerous to your Christian faith. Reading the Bible has probably produced more atheists than any other activity." -Patrick Quigley

CJ said...

Hmm. I have been an atheist for 2/3rds of my life. When reading Mere Christianity the amount of convenient rationalizing made my brain ache.

That said, I see no problem with about half of what you posted. Perhaps some are not wonderful apologetics by themselves, perhaps some are said from the perspective of a Christian rather than an apologetic, but several of those do make sense if you aren't making an effort to see them as foolish.

The first one for example seems intended to console the unhappy (maybe even effectively), not to justify suffering. The second is about the human spirit, not a literal statement that a human is not actually human if he stops seeking. The third is a convenient understanding of free will that negates God's power so - ok, I will give you that that is a careless argument. Forth one, agreed, sloppy. Fifth, he's just being honest about doubts, which is something every scientist or careful thinker must do. Sixth, insufficient background to judge. Seventh - a standard theist argument that we are somehow imprinted with God's sense of right and wrong - my counterargument would be the processes of evolution can easily explain these things. Eighth is perfectly reasonable if you accept the Bible as divinely inspired. Ninth, what does that have to do with poor thinking? It describes his emotional struggle with admitting he was wrong. Last one - another standard fare argument; I think it's possible for an intelligent person to find the world improbable without engaging in numerous errors in thought. He may have, but that's the only assertion you included.

Anyway, I'm totally with you that CS is laughable and appears incapable of a truly convincing argument, but your case is still as weak as any he makes.

James said...

Yes, I've never understood what some Christians see in Lewis. I had a high school English teacher (at a Christian school) who raved about him and his apologetics.

Got to say I wasn't impressed myself. Nothing Lewis wrote strikes me as profound. His arguments in favor of religion aren't really intellectual arguments, backed by solid evidence. They are merely wordplay - cute rhetorical devices and poses that establish nothing.

Lewis's own reasons for being a Christian are emotional. That's fine. There's nothing wrong with trusting your emotions or gut instincts. But he should have been more forthright about the basis of his faith. He wasn't a great intellectual and very little intellect of any sort goes into his arguments.

Dawkins, on the other hand, at least can create an argument you can agree with or disagree with, supported by evidence. Lewis just relies on cute tricks and what ifs, which are purely rhetorical devices designed to win arguments and apply to human emotion.

Let's not pretend Lewis was anything other than what he is - a master of rhetoric, not reason.