The Argument from Reason did not originate with Lewis. Something like it can be traced all the way back to Plato, and Augustine had an argument that said that our knowledge of eternal and necessary truths. Descartes maintained that the higher rational processes of human beings could not be accounted for in materialistic terms, and while Kant denied that these considerations did not provide adequate proof of the immortality of the soul, he did think they were sufficient to rule out any materialist account of the mind. However, naturalism or materialism as a force in Western thought did not become really viable until the 1859, when Charles Darwin published the Origin of Species.
The earliest post-Darwinian presentation of the Argument from Reason that I am familiar with, and one that bears a lot of similarities to Lewis’s argument, is found in Prime Minister Arthur Balfour’s The Foundations of Belief. Lewis never mentions The Foundations of Belief in his writings, but he does say in one place that Balfour’s subsequent book Theism and Humanism is “a book too little read.” According to Balfour the following claims follow from the “naturalistic creed.”
1) My beliefs, in so far as they are the result of reasoning at all, are founded on premises produced in the last resort by the ‘collision of atoms.”
2) Atoms, having no prejudices in favour of the truth, are as likely to turn out wrong premises as right ones; nay, more likely, inasmuch as truth is single and error manifold.
3) My premises, therefore, in the first place, and my conclusions in the second, are certainly untrustworthy, and probably false. Their falsity, moreover, is a kind which cannot be remedied; since any attempt to correct it must start from premises not suffering under the same defect. But no such premises exist.
4) Therefore, my opinion about the original causes which produced my premises, as it is an inference from them, partakes of their weakness; so that I cannot either securely doubt my own certainties or be certain about my own doubts.
Balfour then considers a “Darwinian rebuttal, which claims that natural selection acting as a “kind of cosmic Inquisition, will repress any lapses from the standard of naturalistic orthodoxy. The point was made years later by Antony Flew as follows:
[A]ll other things being equal and in the long run and with many dramatic exceptions, true beliefs about our environment tend to have some survival value. So it looks as if evolutionary biology and human history could provide some reasons for saying that it need no be a mere coincidence if a significant proportion of men’s beliefs about their environment are in face true. Simply because if that were not so they could not have survived long in that environment. As an analysis of the meaning of ‘truth’ the pragmatist idea that a true belief is one which is somehow advantageous to have will not do at all. Yet there is at least some contingent and non-coincidental connection between true beliefs, on the one hand, and the advantage, if it be an advantage, of survival, on the other.
However, Balfour offers this reply to the evolutionary argument:
But what an utterly inadequate basis for speculation we have here! We are to suppose that powers which were evolved in primitive man and his animal progenitors in order that they might kill with success and marry in security, are on that account fitted to explore the secrets of the universe. We are to suppose, that the fundamental beliefs on which these powers of reasoning are to be exercised reflect with sufficient precision remote aspects of reality, though they were produced in the main by physiological processes which date from a stage of development when the only curiosities which had to be satisfied were those of fear and those of hunger.
Interestingly, Balfour’s argument here finds surprising support from Darwin himself. In a letter to William Graham Down, Darwin wrote:
the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?
As can be seen Balfour’s presentation of the argument, and his consideration of counter-arguments, anticipated much of the debate on this issue that is still going on a century after his book was written.