Thursday, May 15, 2008

From C. S. Lewis's The Problem of Pain

"If God's moral judgment differs from ours so that our 'black' may be His 'white', we can mean nothing by calling Him good; for to say 'God is good', while asserting that His goodness is wholly other than ours, is really only to say 'God is we know not what'. And an utterly unknown quality in God cannot give us moral grounds for loving or obeying Him. If He is not (in our sense) 'good' we shall obey, if at all, only through fear--and should be equally ready to obey an omnipotent Fiend. The doctrine of Total Depravity--when the consequence is drawn that, since we are totally depraved, our idea of good is worth simply nothing--may thus turn Christianity into a form of devil-worship."


Error said...

This is confused.

What if all humans voted and said that gay marriage was morally acceptible (for sake of argument, say it isn't).

Now, say God said that it wasn't.

Thus our 'black' would be his 'white.

Thus Lewis must mean that our views of what is right *are really right*. And on this interpretation, *no Calvinist* would say that what God says is really right contradicts what is really right!

So, to escape the charge that God's idea of right could be wrong because of, say, cultural relativism (where "our" black could be "slavery is morally permissible"), Lewis can only mean that our *correct* notion of right can't conflict with God's. But once analyzed, the argument looses all force.

Anyway, I addressed this line of argument a while back:


Moving on...

Reppert QUOTE: I remain convinced that the creature can say to the creator "Why hast thou made me thus." As John Stuart Mill puts it:

I will call no being good who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures; and if such a creature can sentence me to hell for not so calling him, to hell I will go.UNQUOTE

I think this is odd. Take Mill's Maxim:

[MM] I will call no being good who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures.

Does Mill/Reppert think any and all God-talk is univocal? It seems that instead of picking on Calvinism, he's forced to indict major theistic traditions across the board. If he does, take these counters:

[MM1] I will call no being thinking who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures.

Does God think just like humans now? Discursively? Reasons through a chain of inference?

How about:

[MM2] I will call no being strong who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures.

Is that our idea of God? A cosmic muscle man lifting bar bells?

How about:

[MM3] I will call no being knowing who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures.

But if we take a traditional tripartite (whether “justified” or “warranted”) analysis of knowledge, then belief would have to be included. What do you do with Alston’s paper, “Does God Have Beliefs?” (see Alston, Divine Nature and Human Language: Essays in Philosophical Theology, Cornell, 1989, ch. 9). His paper rejects the principle behind Mill’s Maxim. Is Alston irrational, or epistemically blameworthy for doing so?

In Miracles, Lewis observed,

"And if we say that we are rejecting the old images in order to do more justice to the moral attributes of God, we must against be careful of what we are really meaning. When we wish to learn of the love and goodness of God by analogy . . .we turn of course to the parables of Christ. But when we try to conceive of reality as it may be in itself, we must beware lest we interpret ‘moral attributes’ in terms of mere conscientiousness or abstract benevolence."

Certainly, though God is good, and if we knew all the facts we would certainly say that all the Calvinist says God has done is good (and not just by his mere volition, but really good), we understand Mill’s Maxim to be a bit simplistic. When speaking of the metaphysics of goodness as it relates to God and his infinite plan, then we’ve stepped into a different territory. “In The biblical world-view, there is no metaphysical gap as great as that between divine creator of all and any of his creation” (Thomas Morris, Our Idea of God: An Introduction to Philosophical Theology, Regent, 1991, p. 25). In our discussion Reppert has either ignored or minimized this vital notion in Christian theology--that of the Creator/creature distinction. God is not just like a perfect version of us!

Error said...

Oh, btw, no Calvinist I know has a view of total depravity *like that*.

All Calvinists believe in Romans 1 and 2, for instance.

And, many, many Calvinists - or, actually, Reformers, held to natural law.

So, this is a straw man.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Victor, if you're going to return to this argument, I hope this time you'll interact with its significant problems, as I outlined them when you first forwarded it.


Anonymous said...

As has been said before, the answer to your issue is that God's moral character is essential to His very nature and is not willed by Him.

Anonymous said...

When God created the world, did he SAY that it was good, or did he SEE that it was good?

Just finished your book, Victor. Outstanding. That's all I really wanted to say!

Anonymous said...

did God SAY not to eat of the tree or did he SEE that one should not eat of the tree.


Mike Darus said...

According to my understanding of Romans 2:14-16, the conscience of the average individual can be trusted enough to convict that individual that their actions do not conform with their conception of what is good. There is a law written on the heart that agrees with God's sense of goodness. God is the one who wrote this sense of goodness onto our conscience. The reason that our conception of good coincides with God's is because He put it there. Our sense of good agress with God's because it was given to us by God.

But not every conscience is equal. It is possible for a conscience to be seared to the point it no longer functions normally. In this sense,our white can be God's black. It is more difficult but not impossible for Lewis' scenario that our black be His white. There may be actions that we consider evils that God does not. In this discussion, some relevant examples are "unfairness", "inequality", and "favoritism." Generally, Lewis is right -- we can trust our sense of good and evil. However, when we identify a disparity, we need to subject our opinions to God's.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

It is every man's right to own a slave. To tell us we have to give up our slaves is immoral. God's white is our black. Thank you Dr. Reppert. Lee would like to confer the Confederate's highest medal on you.

Anonymous said...

But God told you how to treat slaves. Told you not to beat them too hard. God's white conclicts with our black.

Anonymous said...

But didn't you know that God didn't say that? The Bible isn't inerrant. Only the good stuff happened. There, I saved God again.

Anonymous said...

This is awesome theater. Thanks everyone! It's awesome to watch Christians go on a troll-fest on a fellow Christian. I especially like the Christian blogger who uses a picture of the Predator to represent himself. Nothing says 'Christian' like the Predator.

Thanks, y'all! The watching world sees your Christian light shine for all to see! We know you are Christians by your love and your capacity for gracious, civil communication.

steve said...

 Anonymous said...

This is awesome theater. Thanks everyone! It's awesome to watch Christians go on a troll-fest on a fellow Christian. I especially like the Christian blogger who uses a picture of the Predator to represent himself. Nothing says 'Christian' like the Predator.

Thanks, y'all! The watching world sees your Christian light shine for all to see! We know you are Christians by your love and your capacity for gracious, civil communication.


1. Since this post insinuates that Paul Manata (and every other Calvinist) is a devil-worshiper, why do you single out Manata as an illustration of incivility? Don't you think it's a tad uncharitable to suggest that a Calvinist like Manata is a devil-worshiper? Shouldn't you redirect your offended sensibilities at the man who actually did the post? Manata is on the receiving end of the post. Get it?

2. Why are you so offended by Manata's (satirical) cinematic icon? How could you identify his icon unless you'd already seen the Predator movies? How are you in a position to be oh-so offended, and condemn someone else, if you yourself are obviously a consumer of the same fare?

Error said...


What if my predator is redeemed. Predators can hear the gospel too. You must be discriminating based off looks. C'mon, you did the "Confederate" post, didn't you? You're a bigot, aren't you?

Anyway, are you one of those "transformationalists?"

Everything has to be "Christianized."

Got to have "Christian avatars."

Got to have "Christian cars." Plaster them with bumper stickers.

Music has to be "Christian music."

Or, let's assume my predator is a bad guy. What if I had an Indiana Jones avatar? Why think that a moralist would be okay? Like he's really "good." He's just better than the bad guys. Not as bad.

So are you saying I should only have neutral shapes as an avatar (a picture of a square), or maybe Mother Theresa?

Either Anonymous is a sock puppet for the evangelical pre-millennial transformationalists, or he is an apostate out of fundamentalist Christianity.

Don't drink or dance or chew, or go out with girls who do!

Edwardtbabinski said...

VIC, Calvinism and even the notion of "Total Depravity" is more flexible than C. S. Lewis gives it credit for being. (All concepts are flexible in fact.) Everyone can be Totally Depraved and still be given what Calvinists call "common grace." That sort of holds the whole "Total Depravity" thingy in place.

So the question and your differences with Paul may boil down to a few instinctual perceptions, not really high philosophical proofs or disproofs, since there's enough about the Bible and Theism that relies on incomprehensibility such that both Calvinists and Arminians have room to wiggle round most any objection.

And maybe a more basic difference is in the gut. Find out if a person believes whether heaven will include divinely obedient child slaughters like Joshua and his army. If such stories don't move something in a person's gut to reject them, then I suppose inerrancy and Calvinism and the doctrine of Total Depravity might be for that person, and they wouldn't mind raising glasses with obedient child slaughterers in heaven too. Hallelujiah!

Heck, for centuries Calvinists and Catholics agreed that the sight of even the ETERNAL torment of other human beings wasn't going to be a problem at all but a blessing! ENJOY IT!

So pain wasn't perceived as a problem back then, but a blessing, including seeing others in pain throughout eternity.

If you can believe that, then I suppose you're either a devout very conservative Catholic, hearkening back to old school Catholicism, or you're a devout conservative Catholic hearkening back to Jonathan Edwards and company. While other Christians might disagree, some might envision a heaven where they simply "forget about" the damned, never see them, as I've seen argued in Christianity Today. While other Christians become annihilationists, and others become universalists.

Ah, religion and philosophy.

Edwardtbabinski said...

I also wrote a blog post about your ongoing debate with Paul, it's titled, "Tertullian's Paradox." Check it out over at "Debunking Christianity" or "Edward T. Babinski" my personal blog.

Anonymous said...

Manata said...What if my predator is redeemed.

Then he should be transformed. Why would anyone want that as his avatar, much less a Christian who goes around saying he now has higher ethical standards?

Oh, no wait, I understand, he's a Calvinist.



My take on C.S. Lewis is this. Civilized people, including Christians themselves, find it moraly repugnant that God decrees the reprobabte to an everlasting conscious punishment in the lake of fire. [That's one of the reasons theologians have been backing off such a conception for the last century and more].

Again, that's moraly repugnant.

One more time, moraly repugnant.

Nearly everyone thinks this way.

Okay so far?

Calvinists do not find this moraly repugnant.

"Something is wrong Houston."

Granted the overwhelming majority could be wrong, which becomes a very slender exegetical reed to lean on if one goes against the prevailing thought of the day. But something is wrong about such a theology.

I suppose you could try to convince a Holocaust denier he is wrong with the same results. Have you ever tried? I have. He was locked into this train of thought, he was much more read on the topic than I, and he had an answer for every single one of my questions to his own satisfaction. But he was wrong.

For me the question is about whether I can believe in such a God when the prevailing moral sense of the overwhelming majority is totally against such a morally repugnant notion.

Voltaire said: “The silly fanatic repeats to me . . . that it is not for us to judge what is reasonable and just in the great Being, that His reason is not like our reason, that His justice is not like our justice. What!? How do you want me to judge justice and reason otherwise than by the notions I have of them? Do you want me to walk otherwise than with my feet, and to speak otherwise than with my mouth?”

Anonymous said...

John Loftus,

The only sin the Bible tells us that God cannot forgive is rejection of him. So "Hell", theologically speaking, is a willing separation of a creature from its creator. That's it. "The doors to Hell are locked from the inside." We cannot ever know what that separation might be like. To talk of it as "hellfire" is a very human, and very poetic, take on things. So it's a non-argument, to talk of God "damning" people as an obstacle to belief or non-belief. Unfortunately, Christians themselves have been guilty of spreading this idea.

But then, I'm a Christian who doesn't believe the Bible is infallible.

normajean said...

I’m puzzled why Calvinists push passages to mean something more than the whole of scripture would require. For instance, my problem with the view that man cannot respond to the gospel (based on a passage like Rom 3) is that it is taking a truth and pushing it beyond its natural apostolic teaching. I think Paul’s idea was that man cannot save himself and not that men cannot respond in any way to the gospel. Paul begins Romans with his wonderful statement, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Rom 1:16). Paul’s harshest words in Romans (2:17 –3:31) are directed at the Jews who would rely upon a law-system of righteousness rather than receiving the gospel and the gift of righteousness through faith and the Spirit. But when this section of Romans is distorted to mean that God double-predestinates humanity I think it does an injustice to Paul’s message in Romans and leaves his statement in 2:12-16 about the Gentiles hanging in mid-air and meaningless.

normajean said...

C.S. Lewis's point makes sense to folks who function properly enough to sense good from evil. All individuals (who are not maximally screwed-completely hardened) from the affects of Noetic sin can sense good theology and good philosophy.

Anonymous said...

Normajean, then what do you do with Calvinists who don't have the good sense to recognize the difference between good and bad theology? ;-)

normajean said...

John, I'd point out that the Corinthian "brethren" in 1 Cor 2 were also muddleheaded in their thinking (because of sin) *shrug*. In other words, you don't have to be "unsaved" to have a muddleheaded theology and philosophy. I find myself forming all sorts of sloppy beliefs, and I’m a committed believer to Jesus the Messiah.

Hey Vic, Prince Caspian was fantastic! I watched it last night and found myself tearing up on many occasions. I'm a recent fan of Lewis and can’t believe the insight God gave Him through his years. I’m thankful for his ministry and impact he made to the body of Christ and all else.

Victor Reppert said...

Even recognizing the creature-creator distinction, there has to be a reasonable degree of similarity between what it is for man to be good and what it is for God to be good. If there is no commonality between these good in these contexts, then we are essentially using two different words that are pronounced the same.

Victor Reppert said...

This is just a quote from Lewis. It is not intended to show that Calvinists are devil-worshippers. It's not even an attack on Calvinism per se.

Error said...


There is commonality. That's what analogical views of religious language presuppose. I've never denied it.

For Loftus,

I can't believe Loftus used my avatar to attack my Christianity. That's funny. That would be like me saying that he can't be an intellectual because his avatar makes him look like a redneck who, when asked what the color of his car is say, "Primer."

Anonymous said...

Manata, I cannot chose to have a different look, but you chose your avatar, and I think your choice is indicative of your theology. Is it not? You can deny that right now.

Error said...

Wow, John. I didn't know that cowboy hat was stapled to your head.

You could take a picture with a sweater on. A pipe in your mouth. Grow a distinguished looking beard.

Anyway, I guess my illustration was lost on you.

As far as my avatar, I would have thought the more simpler view, Occam's view, was that I think the Predator is a cool sci-fi icon.

Anyway, why aren't you picking on Norma Jean's avatr. Your selective comments make your agenda clear. Your inconsistency makes you hard to take serious.

I don't even know why you're wasting your time talking about my avatar.

Don't you have better things to do? Or are you "debunking Christianity?" Perhaps you'll gain a convert. Use the argument from "imrpoper Christian avatar." I can just see it as your next blog post or chapter in a book.

Error said...

John, is this better?

Anonymous said...

Naw, it just doesn't fit you well.

The Predator avatar!


Error said...

No John, I need to be Christian, right? And so I have to have a Christian avatar. You said I was being inconsistent with my ethic. So, even if the Predator is me, that doesn't mean I should keep it if I want to stay consistently Christian. So thank you, John. Now maybe God will like me better because I have a Christian avatar. Maybe now I'll "win" souls because of my "nice" avatar. At least I won't push people away.

In fact, in an effort to become "nice" and "unoffensive" to the watching world, I hereby affirm that:

I am an open theist.

A universalist.

A non-judger of anyone or any sin.

An affirmer of gay marriage.

A supporter of pre-marital (and extra-marital) sex.

A denier of inerrancy.

Thus a denier of the evils in the OT and the NT.

A promoter of the social gospel, only.

A socialist.

A denier of penal substitution.

A post modern.

An ethical relativist.

And if anything else I believe is dubbed "mean" or "offensive," I will cut it out at the root.


Anonymous said...

See Paul, that wasn't hard, was it?

I didn't think that your previous avatar was not fitting of you as a person. I just thought it was an odd and perhaps inconsistent choice for a Christian, that's all.

But there is a middle ground, isn't there?...where someone can argue their beliefs but do so respectfully, granting a charitable view of the sincerity of those who believe differently?

But you will have none of that, will you? There is no sincere rejection of your beliefs, correct? And God has decided, decreed, that I will go to hell for his glory from the foundation of the world and that I could not believe or do other than I believe and do.

If we only discussed these issues over a few beers you might think otherwise. That's why it's so important not to get too close to people who disagree with you. You might actually think they are sincere.

Error said...


"I didn't think that your previous avatar was not fitting of you as a person. I just thought it was an odd and perhaps inconsistent choice for a Christian, that's all."

Right. You thought that as a *person* it was fitting (since I'm an ass), but as a *Christian*, it wasn't. So, since I claim to be a Christian, then to be consistent, I should not have had the avatar. So, my new avatar is better for a *Christian* to have. So, you would agree that my new avatar is better for *me* since I *claim8 to be a Christain, and I also *claim* that I want to be consistent in my practical actions. So you have to think my flower avatar is "better" for a Christian (and I hope this illustrated the ridiculousness of your position).

"But there is a middle ground, isn't there?...where someone can argue their beliefs but do so respectfully, granting a charitable view of the sincerity of those who believe differently?"

And I've done this with Victor.

I do it with many people, John.

"But you will have none of that, will you? There is no sincere rejection of your beliefs, correct? And God has decided, decreed, that I will go to hell for his glory from the foundation of the world and that I could not believe or do other than I believe and do."

There is sincere rejection of my beliefs, in a sense.

And, I don't know that God has decreed that you will go to hell for the sings you committed. Based off present evidence, that's how it appears.

But on your end: you mock those who believe in hell, those who believe in inerrency, those who believe in miracles. You can't fathom how "thinking" people can hold to inerrency. So, John, save your pious rhetoric, the observable evidence is that you are just as intolerant of many of my beliefs as you say I am of yours.

I live in the real world, John. I know many unbelievers. Drink beer with them on occasion. In fact, I was an unbeliever for most of my life, John. I am close to many people who disagree with me. Your arm chair speculations are unwarranted. In fact, it seems like you don't want to get to know people so that you can continue to slander the facts and use your lame psychoanalytical arguments.

Latenter said...

Similar CSL quotation from The Poison of Subjectivism in The Seeing Eye and elsewhere:

As regards the Fall, I submit that the general tenor of scripture does not encourage us to believe that our knowledge of the Law has been depraved in the same degree as our power to fulfil it. He would be a brave man who claimed to realize the fallen condition of man more clearly than St. Paul. In that very chapter (Romans 7) where he asserts most strongly our inability to keep the moral law he also asserts most confidently that we perceive the Law's goodness and rejoice in it according to the inward man. Our righteousness may be filthy and ragged; but Christianity gives us no ground for holding that our perceptions or right are in the same condition. They may, no doubt, be impaired; but there is a difference between imperfect sight and blindness. A theology which goes about to represent our practical reason as radically unsound is heading for disaster. If we once admit that what God means by 'goodness' is sheerly different from what we judge to be good, there is no difference left between pure religion and devil worship.

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George Sweeney said...

First, I come at this as an agnostic. So, it is hard to accept the concepts expressed by C.S.Lewis. My first point of difference is fundamental. He has, as do most Christians, an anthropomorphic view of God. Thus, God is viewed in human terms, as having emotion, feelings, hates, loves. And the need to be loved!!

If instead, we substitute a concept of the creator of the cosmos as a vital force, without feelings, asking not to be loved, and being totally non-judgmental concerning good or bad, love or hate, etc. Therefore, pain becomes one of the several attributes of human being, or consciousness. In many cases, it is rightly viewed as a defense mechanism. If we are cold, we seek warmth. If we are hungry, we search for food. If we feel acute bodily pain, we seek a remedy. Nothing good a or bad about pain, just one of out many senses.
Lewis came late to Christianity, and has all the fervor of a convert. But, I find much confusing in his writing. For example, these quotes:

"Man was appointed by God to have dominion over the beasts."

"..a man is sometimes entitled to hurt.... when he who inflicts pain has a definite authority to do so."

"The world is a dance in which good, descending from God, is disturbed from evil arising from the creatures."

"We forget that our prehistoric ancestors made all the useful discoveries, except that of chloroform, which have ever been made."

Pain is not a problem, it is a fact.

My address: