Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Answers of C. S. Lewis: Genocide, Vessels of Wrath, and the Bible

The influence the moral argument against the Bible had on me was not so much as a positive argument itself, but rather as a rebuttal to the moral and anthropomorphic arguments for the existence of the Christian God. It was through Lewis that I learned about the moral argument for God, so I find his rebuttal quite interesting.

John Beversluis noticed an inconsistency in the way Lewis dealt with the problem of pain and wrote to him about it. The entirety of his reply follows:

"Dear Mr. Beversluis

"Yes. On my view one must apply something of the same sort of explanation to, say, the atrocities (and treacheries) of Joshua. I see the grave danger we run by doing so; but the dangers of believing in a God whom we cannot but regard as evil, and then, in mere terrified flattery calling Him 'good' and worshiping Him, is still greater danger. The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scriptures is to prevail when they conflict. I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two. Indeed, only that doctrine renders this worship of Him obligatory or even permissible.

"To this some will reply 'ah, but we are fallen and don't recognize good when we see it.' But God Himself does not say that we are as fallen at all that. He constantly, in Scripture, appeals to our conscience: 'Why do ye not of yourselves judge what is right?' -- 'What fault hath my people found in me?' And so on. Socrates' answer to Euthyphro is used in Christian form by Hooker. Things are not good because God commands them; God commands certain things because he sees them to be good. (In other words, the Divine Will is the obedient servant to the Divine Reason.) The opposite view (Ockham's, Paley's) leads to an absurdity. If 'good' means 'what God wills' then to say 'God is good' can mean only 'God wills what he wills.' Which is equally true of you or me or Judas or Satan.

"But of course having said all this, we must apply it with fear and trembling. Some things which seem to us bad may be good. But we must not consult our consciences by trying to feel a thing good when it seems to us totally evil. We can only pray that if there is an invisible goodness hidden in such things, God, in His own good time will enable us to see it. If we need to. For perhaps sometimes God's answer might be What is that to thee?' The passage may not be 'addressed to our (your or my) condition' at all.

"I think we are v. much in agreement, aren't we?

"Yours sincerely, C. S. Lewis"

So Lewis would agree with me – the same moral arguments that get one to the existence of a God get one away from the concept of God as revealed in the Bible. Lewis got around this by holding some parts of the Bible to not be inspired.

This quotation comes from pages 295-296 of C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion by John Beversluis, a book which I highly recommend. As Beversluis writes in the introduction:

"C. S. Lewis needs to rescued: not only from the evils of excessive loyalty. His apologetic writings deserve better than cavalier rejection or uncritical acceptance. He believed that Christianity is not only true but rationally defensible, and he was willing to debate it with all comers. An open forum of this kind is rare. In the following chapters, I take up his challenge and reconstruct and critically examine his 'case for Christianity.'"


  1. I've read Beversluis's book. He misunderstand's Lewis's argument for the existence of God. Beversluis reads it:
    1) There is an absolute, universal moral law.
    2) If the religious view is correct, then there is an absolute, universal moral law.
    3) Therefore, the religious view is correct.

    But I think a careful reading of Lewis's third chapter of Mere Christianity clearly shows something like:
    1) There is an absolute, universal moral law.
    2) Either the materilaist view is correct or the religious view, but not both.
    3) If the materialist view is correct, there is no moral law.
    4) The materialist view is incorrect. (Modus Tollens, 1 & 3)
    5) Therefore, the religious view is correct. (Disjunctive Syllogism, 2 & 4)
    The argument is valid.

  2. I agree. Beversluis' more useful critique was his arguments against the premises. (And there's this letter, which is used to show that Lewis case for 3 just as easily undermines the theistic case for a universal moral law.)

    I'll assume you meant "3) If the materialist view is correct, there is no absolute, universal moral law."

    With that change, it's valid, and a plausible interpretation of Lewis. Although, Lewis didn't do himself any favors and spell it out clearly.