A Critique Of C. S. Lewis
"A Relativist said, 'The world does not exist,
does not exist, Oxford does not exist and I am confident that I do not Exist!' When Lewis was asked to reply, he stood up and said, 'How am I to talk to a man who's not there?'" C. S. Lewis: A Biography Clive Staples Lewis was born, in 1898, in Belfast. C. S. Lewis was educated at various schools in England. In 1914, Lewis began studying Latin, Greek, French, German and Italian under the private tutelage of W. T. Kirkpatrick. He then moved to Oxford where his studies were interrupted by World War I (1917). Two years later he was back in Oxford resuming his studies. In 1924, Lewis was "elected" to teach Literature and Language at Magdalen College, Oxford and remained there until 1954. During this time period in his life, Lewis wrote the majority of his work. Lewis moved to Cambridge for the remainder of his life, teaching Medieval and Renaissance Literature. C. S. Lewis was a man dedicated to the pursuit of truth who "believed in argument, in disputation, and in the dialectic of Reason. . ." He began his pursuit of truth as an atheist and ended up as a Christian. His works "The Problem of Pain" and "Mere Christianity" dealt with issues that were problematic for him. "Mere Christianity" consists of three separate radio broadcasts. One of the broadcasts was titled "The Case For Christianity", wherein Lewis discussed two crucial topics in his apologetic defense of Christianity. They were the "Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe" and "What Christians Believe". "Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe", can be broken into three parts: moral law and its existence, the idea of a power or mind behind the universe that is truthful and intensely interested in right conduct, and the attributes of Christianity and why it was necessary for the long" round-about" approach . The law of nature binds humans as would the laws of gravity apply to a falling stone. It is called the law of nature because it does not need to be taught. Lewis points out that an odd individual may exist "here and there who didn't know it, just as you find a few people who are colour-blind or have no ear for tune. But taking the race as a whole, they thought that the human idea of Decent Behavior was obvious to every one." Lewis brilliantly defended his statement of natural law's existence. Two arguments, which argue for relativity, posted against him are the "herd" instincts or genetic inborn behavior ( i.e. motherly love, survival or sexual impulses) and that which is taught socially or learned. Historically, these two interpretations of human behavior have clashed, however, he suggest that "reason" is above both. He clarifies his position by classifying impulses as separate from the decision to follow the impulse itself. The "learned" argument is refuted by his analogy of a boy on the island who is unaware of the existence of the process of multiplication. He never attended school and learned them. The education would be classified as "human convention". This human convention, consequently, did not invent multiplication just as it did not invent the law of nature. However, this comparison is based on a false assumption. The law of nature, as Lewis argued, is not taught but somehow exists as an inherent part of the human psyche. This law also presents itself in the form of decisions and actions in line with what ought to be done. There is no school-room which imparts this law and the practice of it. Consequently, mathematics needs to be taught and learned. The attempts to equate the law of nature with mathematics in an analogy is misleading. The only connection between mathematics and the law is the nature of its existence and the commonality of not being a human convention. Lewis classified a natural law or the existence of a system of absolutes as crucial in religion and especially in Christianity. Lewis developed an argument through the comparison of moral systems and what is judged as right or rather what ought to be. Using extremes, such as Christianity and the Nazi systems of morality, he concludes his analysis. In this comparison one might say that the Christian morality is preferable to the one employed by the Nazis. Why? and by what standard has the Nazi system been rejected? Lewis explains this as an underlying right or absolute. This absolute system is based on those things which ought to take place. In conclusion of this point, Lewis states that the law of nature exists, dictating what humans ought to do or right and wrong. The second part of his argument dealt with questions of the existence of the universe and the power or mind behind it. He addressed the possibility of evolution and its feasibility. The idea that matter just exists and by a fluke came together in perfection producing what we see around us today, was one of the two possibilities that Lewis proposed. The second possibility is that behind the universe is a calculating "mind". He brilliantly refutes science's ability to find out what is behind the formation of the universe. For even if science completely answered the mysteries surrounding how the universe is here, it cannot discern the reason "why" it is here. Thus he concluded that a mind is behind the universe's existence and this mind cannot be seen. The reasons for the invisibility or intangibility of the mind is, again brilliantly, explained in an analogy. Lewis states,"If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of those facts inside the universe- no more than an architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house."4 The concept of a good power or mind is misleading. When God is referred to as good, the immediate thought is a warm loving personality. Lewis referred to this good as representative of truth. The law of nature is defined by what man ought to do or as absolute truth. When one acts according to what they ought to do, the law of nature has no consideration of how painful or dangerous it might be. This good, for which Lewis argued, is cold and hard, without personable traits. He attributed good as "either the great safety or the great danger-according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way."5 The third aspect argued and justified the need for people to repent and the promise of forgiveness. In this stage, two realizations must be made: First, that there is after all a "real moral law, and a power behind the law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with that Power."6 Secondly, the stage of dismay which precedes comfort. This first realization is built on the logic of the previous arguments. To perceive the situation as desperate sheds light on and assists one to understand what the Christians are "talking about". The conclusion of this argument demands that individual recognize that coming to terms with what ought to be or truth is indeed a sobering experience. When discussing the concepts of absolutes and that God is good one would ask about His power. If indeed God is the creator of this universe, then his power would be immense. The word "omnipotent" is used to describe the power of God in this context. The question then arises concerning a good God and the existence of pain and evil in his creation. If pain exists in this universe then God is either not truly good or lacks power to stop it. Lewis dedicates a chapter in his work, "The Problem of Pain", to explaining this apparent contradiction. He also tackles the concept of impossibility in relation to omnipotence. The dialectic analysis consists of things "intrinsically possible" and the things "intrinsically impossible". A God of omnipotent power can do all things intrinsically possible. The reference to God performing the intrinsically impossible is nonsensical and foolishness to Lewis. The attribution of miracles and supernatural occurrences to God can be explained as possible, though humans perceive it as impossible. The work, "The World's Last Night" contains an essay on prayer. Lewis examined prayer and its purpose by asking questions like, "What evidence would prove the efficacy of prayer? If a prayer is answered, how can you ever know it was not going to happen anyway?" "Does prayer work?" Lewis states that prayer is not a machine by which one could plug in the right phrases and get the results. He defines prayer as either a "sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves)and the utterly concrete Person." If in fact prayer is a sheer illusion, its purpose would be for the vocalization of wishful thinking. Whether the desired result comes to pass is completely based on fate or the simple fact that it was going to happen anyway. If is indeed a contact to an "utterly concrete Person" to what avail? What advice can a finite and intellectually limited person give to an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent being? Lewis states, "Our act, when we pray, must not, any more than all our other acts, be separate from the continuous act of God Himself, in which alone all finite causes operate." Prayer, according to Lewis, is a statement according to the "will" or actions of God. The will of God is knowable according to Lewis, however, he does not mention what God's will was/is. In the following paragraphs Lewis conveniently changes his direction addressing an other aspect of prayer. He also does not explain how one goes about finding God's will or why would God want to hear billions of little voices telling Him what His will is. Lewis does a poor job justifying the efficacy of prayer. It can be seen that C. S. Lewis' analysis was always in terms of black and white or extremes. Any other alternative is either foolishness or unthinkable. He wielded the dialectic process of analysis as though it were second nature to him. His well trained mind synthesized theological dilemmas for the layman. Constantly referring to himself as a layman himself, Lewis left the details of theological doctrine and philosophy to those who were "experts". He was only interested in his own personal questions concerning Christianity and sharing his well thought out answers to others. This critique of C. S. Lewis contains various selections from three of his books. The first work address the topic of "Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe." In this section Lewis argues for the existence of absolutes, God and the validity of Christianity. The second work which was examined was "The Problem of Pain". A selection on the omnipotent power of a "good" God was discussed in terms of the "intrinsically impossible" and the existence of pain. Thirdly, the "efficacy of prayer" was addressed in critical questioning of the purpose and its existence.