Meditations with C. S. Lewis: A Layman’s Defense of the Argument from Reason
C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity. Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press. On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.
Recently, I shared the above image from the Southern California C. S. Lewis Society on my Facebook page. After a few hours, I noticed that several other friends had passed it along and so I looked at the reaction it got on their pages. Some of them were quite…interesting: “Lewis is an idiot because someone else says so and I read something different in a textbook.” “Lewis’s argument isn’t wholly original.” “It’s all based on the idea that rationality actually exists.”* In almost all cases, people didn’t seem to be concerned as to whether or not his argument is actually true.**
Lewis’s most basic point is that if you are correct and there is no inherent rationality behind the universe, the burden of proof is on you to explain why anyone should believe a word you say–even yourself. Naturalism is based on the idea that humanity is nothing more than a product of the total irrational system. Naturalists look at the span of entire UNIVERSE, presume that it is thoroughly irrational, and then suddenly insist that humanity is the single apparent exception to this rule (themselves and their favorite philosophers in particular). Why? “Natural selection,” which they presume a priori is capable of producing said rationality.
Of course the response then becomes “Rationality originating from natural selection is based on observed evidence: we exist, we think, and therefore it is proven.” It is, however, indeed a priorinonsense to examine the results of an alleged process–one that has not been observed directly and is only inferred based on a complex system of interdependent assumptions–and then to state categorically in the face of all contrary evidence that your preferred answer is by default the necessary one.
And so we return to the very solid reality of Lewis’s argument: If we are nothing more than chance plus time in a universe of nonsense, we have no logical grounds to claim that our thoughts are “rational” beyond blind faith. Those who believe in God–note that Lewis did not say the Christian God at this point–have a consistent starting point from which to base their claim to reason. Pure naturalists don’t, and they have never succeeded in crafting a significant response (that I’ve seen) that doesn’t violate the basic principles of their position.
Does this “prove” God’s existence? Of course not; not by itself. But Lewis didn’t try to base his entire proof for God on this one point, and he certainly never intended for this alone to prove the existence of the Christian god. It does strongly suggest that there must be some larger, more significant Rationality to the universe that gives our lesser rationality meaning and makes it possible. It is a step in a larger, deeper structure that lays a foundation for bigger things that some fear might lead to the reality of God.
Which is probably why his critics spend so much time and effort belittling this “disproven” philosopher.
*This point doesn’t deserve special treatment. If you actually want to put together a rational argument that rationality doesn’t exist, be quiet and twiddle your thumbs. Don’t waste anyone’s time when you yourself don’t believe you have anything rational to say!
**I should also mention that the reactions of Facebook are not representative of the most difficult problems posed by critics of Lewis’s argument from reason. Victor Reppert has examined the best they have to offer in his book C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea and he finds that the Lewis’s argument withstands the test. It is well worth reading!