XFiles Weekend: Lewis vs Behe, Dembski, et alOctober 10, 2010 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 4, “What Lies Behind the Law”)
Last week, we watched a rather sad spectacle, as Prof. C. S. Lewis, Oxford don, tried to convince us all that science can never answer any questions beyond certain basic, elementary observations (e.g. “at such-and-such a time, I saw so-and-so through my telescope,” or “when I heated this substance to such and such a temperature, it melted”). Why would an intelligent and educated man be so eager to blindfold science, and to deny the existence of the various analytical, theoretical, and experimental techniques that define what science is?
Rhetorical question, I know. Lewis wants to persuade us to believe in something that hasn’t got a chance of withstanding any sort of scientific scrutiny, so he’s anxious to get science out of the picture, and to propose an alternative “reality” beyond the reach of science. He wants to make sure we have no way of verifying the truth of what he claims, so that we have to just take his word for it, prompted and consoled by our own (carefully manipulated) subjective feelings and biases. That may not sound very intellectually honest, but you can’t deny that, in marketing terms, it has proven to be extremely effective.
There’s a certain natural pattern in the process of fleecing the gullible. First, you sow doubts and suspicions about the reliability of anyone or anything that might expose your hoax. Then, when you’ve got people wondering whether there’s really anything they can trust, you offer them your exciting new system, that they can trust 100%, and that they can verify by examining it in the light of their own feelings. (You might recognize this pattern, for instance, if you’ve ever spoken with Mormon missionaries for any length of time.)
Lewis follows the same pattern: he spends most of the beginning of Chapter 4 trying to make us doubt that science can answer any kind of “why” questions about the real world at all. That means we’re ready for step 2.
Now the position would be quite hopeless but for this. There is one thing, and only one, in the whole universe which we know more about than we could learn from external observation. That one thing is Man. We do not merely observe men, we are men. In this case we have, so to speak, inside information; we are in the know. And because of that, we know that men find themselves under a moral law, which they did not make, and cannot quite forget even when they try, and which they know they ought to obey.
Slick, eh? Take that, psychologists and sociologists and anthropologists! Science doesn’t know anything about Man, because science can only make “external” observations, and report what it observed. But we know more than science does about Man because we are men. I notice that he doesn’t claim that because we are men, therefore we understand women! Funny, that. Perhaps he might have overstated his case here just a bit.
The problem, or one of the problems, is that, in fact, most of what we know about men does indeed come from external observation. I don’t really know what it is like to be you, and you don’t know what it is like to be me. I know what it is like to be me, but even then, it is a very rare individual who truly understands even himself. Lewis is mistaken: we don’t know Man, and we don’t know as much as we’d like about the one person we do know “from the inside.” And that’s not really a good basis to go on, at least not for this type of question. We might as well say, “Let’s just be superstitious and self-centered” and leave it at that.
Notice, too, the subtle psychological manipulation going on here. Lewis wants us to trust in his biased interpretation of our subjective feelings. He’s priming us with the notion that, whenever we’re unhappy with our choices, and feel some kind of nameless dread regarding present or future consequences, the name of this vague disquiet is “guilt.” All through the book thus far, he’s been planting the suggestion that we should be interpreting our ambiguous feelings within the framework of a supposed “moral law” that we have intentionally violated. And now he appeals to that suggestion, which he himself planted, as being our own personal, subjective, inner validation of the existence of such a moral law. We’re “in the know,” you see, and therefore we should trust this (manipulated) subjective impression as being more reliable than science in determining certain types of “truth.”
Let’s look, once again, at this idea that we know there is a moral law and that we’ve deliberately violated it. Consider, for example, the 98-pound weakling who says to himself (with a certain amount of dread), “Gosh, I should never have let the quarterback’s girlfriend kiss me.” I submit to you that the emotion the weakling feels is the very same feeling that Lewis is calling “guilt.” If we wanted to mess with the weakling’s head, we could tell him that there is a “moral law” that says wimps are not allowed to compete with jocks for girls, and that he is now feeling guilty for violating that moral law.
The truth, of course, is that he’s just worried about what kind of vengeance the 240-pound bully will exact. He did not actually do anything immoral, but he’s feeling the same feelings. And they’re fearful, anxious feelings that are not all that hard to manipulate. Give the poor kid a copy of Mere Christianity, and he’ll identify right away. This is easy stuff. And Lewis has no compunctions about using it.
Mind you, this isn’t to say that people never have any reason to feel truly guilty. Bad behavior does lead to bad consequences, and if the bad consequences haven’t happened yet just because you haven’t been caught yet, then guilty feelings are entirely appropriate and accurate. But the point is, the actual feelings themselves are an anticipation of the negative consequences, not a reflection of some kind of secret knowledge of some kind of moral law that we’ve knowingly and deliberately violated. This “law” is just a superstition that Lewis attributes guilty feelings to, instead of identifying actual, real-world causes.
Let’s move on.
The position of the question, then, is like this. We want to know whether the universe simply happens to be what it is for no reason, or whether there is a power behind it that makes it what it is. Since that power, if it exists, would not be one of the observed facts but a reality which makes them, no mere observation of the facts can find it. There is only one case in which we can know whether there is anything more, namely our own case. And in that one case we find there is. Or put it the other way round. If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe—no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house. The only way in which we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way.
Isn’t it fascinating how coincidentally the only way we could detect Lewis’ alleged metaphysical reality just happens to be the specific case he is arguing right now? Funny old world.
One of the hazards of trying to reject science wholesale is that there’s no way to anticipate just how many babies are going to go out with the bathwater, and I think Lewis has missed a rather large preschool here. The goal he’s after is to propose that there’s an important body of knowledge that can only be detected by explicitly rejecting the scientific method and putting your trust exclusively in your own subjective (and possibly manipulated) feelings and emotions. In the process of pursuing this goal, however, he has declared that it is impossible for there to be any valid scientific approach that can tell us whether or not the universe is the product of an Intelligent Designer.
I’ve never heard Bill Dembski or Mike Behe or any of the other luminaries at the Discovery Institute try to address this argument, but it clearly pulls the rug out from under their whole enterprise. The whole point of ID, and indeed of creationism in general, is to try and claim that there exists scientific evidence that the universe was created by a Person. Lewis, in Chapter 4, is categorically denying that such a thing is even possible. It has to be impossible in order for his whole “moral law” argument to work.
After all, if it were possible for science to examine the evidence and draw verifiable conclusions about this moral law, and whether it comes from some other “reality,” then Lewis would be in trouble, because the evidence comes nowhere near supporting his claims. It doesn’t support his claims regarding what this “moral law” even is, let alone backing up his argument that it must come from a supernatural source.
Considering that two of the most popular arguments for Christianity right now are Intelligent Design and “moral law,” it’s a bit ironic that they contradict each other so strongly, don’t you think? But it goes even deeper than that. Notice that Lewis says that this supernatural power “could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe”—part of his argument against allowing science to get close enough to examine his evidence. That fine, but did you notice he just threw out the entire Bible? None of those supernatural powers can show up as facts of the universe, so miracles, prophets, incarnations, resurrections, and so on, are all frauds. God’s only possible interaction with the real world is via some kind of secret, inner knowledge that makes us feel guilty. The Bible stories thus can only be lies. Oops.
It says in the Bible that God is not mocked, and that’s true, except the God is Alethea, not Jehovah. When you take up arms (or arguments) against the truth, God will not be angry. She’s never angry. But She will get even, and the loser will be the one who challenged Her. So sorry, Prof. Lewis, but I think in this case God has had Her revenge.