Friday, September 28, 2007

A well-known C. S. Lewis passage on the argument from evil

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? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying that it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist–in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless–I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality–namely my idea of justice–was full of sense. Consequently 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: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning."

From Mere Christianity, p. 38.


Ron said...

I fondly remember reading Mere Christianity years ago.

Part of me struggles with this observation from Lewis because I feel that Lewis' appeal is too simplistic. I understand that if absolute moral laws exist, it implies a Lawgiver but how do we know that these laws aren't just evolutionary creations and mere products physical causes? How do we know that this Platonic realm of moral absolutes exist 'out there' the same way the mathematical laws do?

Again, worldly experience cannot fully verify this because one can either conclude that this realm exists or that its just all about physical causes. How do we choose which explanation to believe?

Victor Reppert said...

What Lewis is arguing is that if these laws are just evolutionary creations which are the mere products of physical causes, then the moral foundation of the argument from evil is undermined. The AFE maintains that if God existed he ought not to allow so much suffering. This implies the existence of the very moral law that the atheist, apparently, is forced to deny by the very nature of his position.

Anonymous said...

Lewis speaks with profundity - without God there would be no evil and hatred.

This is something atheists cannot grasp.

Anonymous said...

In response to Ron, Lewis doesn't use many words, which may appear like being overly simplistic, but I think he is simply being concise.

"How do we know that these laws aren't just evolutionary creations?" There's an implication here we're all supposed to get (although you may not agree with it.) Lewis, I believe, is assuming that laws can not come from an evolutionary process. I find this assumption absolutely convincing. Here's the question to ask yourself: if these laws have evolved, what makes us think they are done evolving? And if they are evolving, what makes us think they are a law? We ourselves are products of this evolution. Therefore, we can never do much assuming because our thinking abilities are evolving too. And the best question: how can a law evolve? If it evolves, we are clearly not talking about laws anymore.

"How do we know that... moral absolutes exist... the same way the mathematical laws do?" Do we know that mathematical laws exist in this way? I would say no. Certainly not. I have various friends who are mathematicians and scientists who will tell you plainly that mathematics are not certain. (I recognize it would be wise to define terms. However, I'm going for concision. Sorry.) Here's a quote from Einstein: "Insofar as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain. And insofar as they are certain, they do not refer to reality." We like to refer to mathematics as the ultimate in certainty but those who know it best tell us it is not. I really don't think we have any certainty because a human is a created being, therefore we are forever dependent.

"How do we choose which explanation to believe?" As I previously stated, certainty isn't available to finite beings. But logic is (assuming thinking is efficacious - I'm going with yes). I'd refer you back to my first paragraph - is it logical to think that a law (something that is static) can come from an evolutionary process (something dynamic and random)?

Anyway, I'm no authority on evolution or related concepts so I have wandered WAY out of my pay grade. Sorry. These are my thoughts. Tear them up... or agree.

Ron said...

Thanks for the responses, Dr. Reppert and amanda.

The AFE is a 'defeater' argument designed to show that there are internal contradictions in the theistic position. So while Lewis is correct technically, he misses the point that the AFE is concerned only with the rationality of the theistic position. The position of the atheist (or anyone else who uses the AFE) is not relevant. I think this is a mistake I've seen Christian apologists make.


That's a good answer. Epecially the part about us being finite beings. The only objection I'd raise is that just because we want moral laws to exist does not make it so. Perhaps moral laws don't exist but our biology compels us to believe that they do exist.

stunney said...

One of the things that always strikes me as decidedly odd is the spectacle of materialists complaining about, and citing as evidence for God's non-existence, the phenomenon of pain. For on the materialist's own account, pain is necessarily entailed by, and either identical with or supervenient on, certain physical states of the world; and all physical states of the world are necessarily entailed by their physical antecedents.

What this implies is that if any designer wishes to create high-level conscious physical beings existing in a physical world, in short, if the designer wishes to create higher animals at all, then there is no way to do so that can also rule out pain. Vulnerability to pain is, on the materialist view, necessitated by the physics, biochemistry, and metaphysics of higher animal consciousness. And so the only way for a designer to avoid it is simply not to create higher animals.

Thus, the orthodox materialist position in the philosophy of mind is that, to use the modal jargon, there is no possible world in which there are naturally pain-immune higher animal species. Hence, on the materialist's own account, no designer can actualize such a world, for it is simply not a possible world at all.

But even without being constrained by materialism in the philosophy of mind, there are good reasons an intelligent designer might have for including pain in his design of a physical universe containing higher life forms. Hansen's disease is instructive on why being immune to pain can have very bad consequences:

Contrary to popular belief, Hansen's bacillus does not cause rotting of the flesh; rather, a long investigation by Paul Brand yielded that insensitivity in the limbs extremities was the reason why unfelt wounds or lesions, however minute, lead to undetected deterioration of the tissues, the lack of pain not triggering an immediate response as in a fully functioning body.

[Emphasis added]

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps moral laws don't exist but our biology compels us to believe that they do exist."

There's no answer to this one. If this is the case, then it's no good talking about it. You are compelled! You could apply this to all sorts of things. If you wish to continue arguing you've effectively got to toss this idea out the window. (Or, refine it in such a way that there are times when we can go against this impulse.)

Regarding good arguments that show a moral law exists, I'm personally comfortable with the fact that everyone seems to think the same thing over all of recorded history (I know - there are anomalies). I'm making a generalization here but it's hard to miss the trend. There's more to it than that... but I've run out of time.

stunney said...


"Perhaps moral laws don't exist but our biology compels us to believe that they do exist."

There's no answer to this one. If this is the case, then it's no good talking about it. You are compelled! You could apply this to all sorts of things.


Two further examples that come to mind are:

The Humean version--perhaps there are no causal powers in nature, but we are compelled by our biology to believe in causation nonetheless.

The Berkeleyan version---perhaps there is no matter in nature, but we are compelled by our biology to believe in matter nonetheless

I'm pretty sure all three arguments are incoherent. 'Compelled by our biology' means in effect 'compelled by human nature'. If our nature compels us to have systematically false beliefs about one or more aspects of reality, then one is not justified in believing the conclusion of any purportedly rational argument, since our natural compulsions may affect the validity of any subset of our beliefs, including the belief that moral realism is false because we are merely the unintended products of evolution.

J. Clark said...

Paul Brand! Now that is a man who loved wisdom.