XFiles Weekend: C. S. Lewis and the “Law of Human Nature”

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 1, “The Law of Human Nature”)

One of the most widespread arguments against atheism today is the claim that we know God exists because we all possess some kind of inherent knowledge of a universal and unchanging moral law, implying the existence of a universal and eternal Law-Giver. C. S. Lewis may not have been the first to make this argument, but he gives it an almost prototypical presentation in the first chapter of Mere Christianity, and it’s a safe bet that most modern proponents of the “moral law” argument took it directly or indirectly from Lewis. In a very real sense, then, we have an opportunity to study the roots of a major pillar holding up modern apologetics. And not surprisingly, we’re going to be most interested in the very large cracks at its base.

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XFiles Weekend: It’s more like “guidelines”

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 1, “The Law of Human Nature”)

We’re ready to start the main body of Mere Christianity, but before we delve into what Lewis calls the “law of human nature,” let’s take a moment to do some forward thinking. Let’s start with a species that is intelligent enough to have some understanding of cause and effect, so that they can anticipate the probable consequences of their actions, and choose the ones which will have the most favorable outcomes. Let’s further suppose that these beings possess enough empathy to communicate with each other, to recognize each other’s feelings, and to anticipate what sort of feelings others are likely to feel in any particular set of circumstances.

Given this as a premise, plus the assumption that each individual wants to achieve the most favorable possible outcomes, what consequences would we expect as the members of this species interact with each other and with an environment that contains both dangers and opportunities? If we look at a few specific scenarios, I think a clear general trend will emerge.

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XFiles Weekend: A peculiar prelude

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, preface)

I don’t want to get bogged down in the preface, but there are one or two points here worthy of comment, so I thought I’d put one more post into it. As we saw last week, Lewis hasn’t even gotten into the main part of his book yet, and already he’s running into problems with his basic premise. His goal is to “defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times,” a kind of “mere Christianity” that transcends personal bias and denominational bickering. And yet, as both ancient and modern church history show, this common core of beliefs is sufficiently elusive that its defenders have a hard time expressing what it is without falling into the No True Scotsman fallacy. Lewis, alas, is no different.

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Debunking “extraordinary claims”

We haven’t heard from our friend cl in a while, but a post of his popped up in my Google Alerts this morning, and it turns out to be an interesting example of doublethink, so I thought we could take a couple moments to look at it.

I’ve got a very simple and straight-forward example of an instance where the claim, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” can easily be shown false.

The problem with extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence is that believers have no extraordinary evidence to back up their extraordinary claims (otherwise why would they be so vexed by this requirement?). It’s not at all that skeptics are making any kind of unreasonable demand. All that this oft-repeated claim means is that if you’re going to say something is true, then we ought to be able to see things in the real world that are consistent with what you claim: if you claim extraordinary things are part of the real world, then we ought to be able to see extraordinary things, in the real world, that are consistent with those claims.

But that’s too much to ask of the credulous, so they’re anxious to rationalize away this perfectly reasonably requirement. Let’s see how cl tries to get out of this one.

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XFiles: The myth of “mere Christianity”

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, preface)

I’ve got a few books in my queue now, but I think the book I’d like to tackle next is Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis. It’s a logical next step, because Lewis is one of the people who helped define the modern, evangelical Christianity that Geisler and Turek were mere apologists for. It also doesn’t hurt that Lewis is a higher calibre of thinker, which may spare us some of the groaners G&T laid on us with distressing regularity.

Of course, Lewis is going to have his own set of quirks. The first page of the preface, for instance, consists of Lewis explaining how the contents of the book were originally given on the radio, and how the first printed edition used contractions and italics to capture the informal feel of the original talks. It says a lot about his personality that he feels the need to explain to us why contractions and italics were a mistake, and how the new edition expands all the contractions and rephrases the sentences to emphasize the ideas without the use of italics.

Never fear, though: this book isn’t going to be a tedious lecture on the fine points of grammar and typography. After this initial fussiness, he jumps right in to what I think may be a core problem in the whole book. And, sad to say, he doesn’t seem to notice that it’s a problem.

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