XFiles Weekend: The tangled web he weaves…October 31, 2010 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 5, “We Have Cause To Be Uneasy”)
As we saw last week, C. S. Lewis would like us to believe that he is “not taking anything from the Bible or the Churches,” and that we are simply seeing what we can discover “under our own steam” about the source of his so-called Moral Law. Whether he is consciously trying to deceive us, or whether he has merely deceived himself, the result is a web of assumptions and superstitions so complicated that even Lewis himself gets tangled up in it, and he can’t seem to remember from one sentence to the next whether he’s posing as the unbiased objective observer, or is simply dishing straight Christian dogma.
Last week, he averred that we had not gotten as far as any particular God, let alone the Christian one. We had only, he claimed, “got as far as a Somebody or Something behind the Moral Law.” Strictly speaking, we hadn’t even gotten that far—Lewis just took a cherry-picked assortment of biased observations, and twisted them until they more or less fit into an anonymized Christian worldview.
But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that we have reached the point where it seems likely, or at least possible, that “someone or something” is behind some kind of moral law. Lewis has some conclusions that he thinks follow logically from this “observation.” Let’s consider his analysis in the light of two questions: (1) are his conclusions supported by verifiable fact? and (2) how long can he maintain the pretense of objectivity without lapsing into frankly Christian dogma?
We have two bits of evidence about the Somebody. One is the universe He has made.
Right off the bat, he slips into the assumption that Moral Law’s source is not Some Thing, but Some One. Not just any Somebody, either but the Creator of the Universe Himself. Remember, Lewis’ argument is that the Moral Law must come from some “other reality,” because even though he presented this so-called Law as being a Law of (Human) Nature, it doesn’t fit the pattern of genuine natural laws, and therefore there must be some other reality whose laws have characteristics that the Moral Law can be consistent with.
Fine, for the sake of further argument, let’s assume (again) that Lewis is not just blindly denying his theory’s failure to fit the facts, and that we’ve arrived at the conclusion that this universe, this reality, is contained within some greater Reality, whose laws transcend the physical laws of nature. Why, then, would we assume that this greater Reality contained only one person? or that only one of the inhabitants there ever created anything? Why assume, in other words, that the Universe and the Moral Law must both have the same Creator? Lewis has already noted how the character of the Moral Law is markedly different than the character of the Laws of Nature. So why leap immediately to the conclusion that the same Somebody is behind them both?
Lewis, clearly, is leading us down the Romans Road without openly identifying it as such. The Bible teaches that God is the Creator of the universe and the author of morality, therefore Lewis knows, without even looking at the evidence, that the universe and the Moral Law have the same Creator. He’d like us to think we’re discovering things “under our own steam”, but the steam is coming from an engine running down tracks laid by Christian apologetics. We’re not about to slow down or turn aside from the planned destination, regardless of where the steam is coming from.
If we used [Creation] as our only clue, then I think we should have to conclude that He was a great artist (for the universe is a very beautiful place), but also that He is quite merciless and no friend to man (for the universe is a very dangerous and terrifying place).
Now, somehow, we’ve learned not only that it’s a Somebody, but we’ve also determined this Somebody’s sexually reproductive role. He’s a male. Where did Lewis get that bit of rhetorical procto-logic? Is it just a coincidence that the Bible also happens to present the Creator as a male, you think?
Interestingly, the existence of sexual reproductive roles in this Somebody is a further indication that we shouldn’t be assuming there’s only one Creator, since sexual reproduction is designed to provide beneficial inherited characteristics for the offspring by mixing the gametes of different males and females, which implies the existence of different male and female gods. Sexual characteristics in a deity are otherwise fairly futile, unless they have some sort of masturbatory purpose. For a monotheistic Creator to be male betrays a theology with roots deep in polytheism and/or human narcissism and/or self-lust. On the other hand, if there were a truly monotheistic deity Who had a penis and no place to put it, He might indeed be inclined to screw with our minds, by way of compensation. But I digress.
The other bit of evidence is that Moral Law which He has put into our minds. And this is a better bit of evidence than the other, because it is inside information. You find out more about God from the Moral Law than from the universe in general just as you find out more about a man by listening to his conversation than by looking at a house he has built.
Did he just say—? Oops, yeah, he forgot that “we haven’t gotten as far as…God” yet. Though he pretends to be posting an unbiased job posting (“Wanted: Creator of Moral Law”), even Lewis himself sometimes lets it slip that he just took God’s resume and changed a few pronouns. He even left in God’s name here and there. It’s a set-up, and not a very subtle one.
Now, from this second bit of evidence, we conclude that the Being behind the universe is intensely interested in right conduct—in fair play, unselfishness, courage, good faith, honesty and truthfulness.
Really? Honesty and truthfulness?
In that sense, we should agree with the account given by Christianity and some other religions, that God is ‘good’.
And here’s where Lewis’ railroaded steam engine becomes a train wreck, because there’s a very important section of track missing. Lewis has given us no standard by which to measure “good.” He has suggested that such a standard ought to be contained within the Moral Law, but that leaves us with no way to determine whether or not the Moral Law itself is “good” in any non-tautological sense.
But worse than that, the evidence Lewis himself has marshalled fails to provide us with any reliable means of verifying the contents of this so-called Moral Law. Even if we do say that “good” is defined in the Law, we still have no way to determine what “good” is, because we can’t access this Law to determine what definitions it contains.
That’s bad, because that puts us into a position of mandatory gullibility. Anybody could come along with a cobbled-together list of do’s and don’ts and claim that their book was a Scriptural revelation of God’s Moral Law, and we’d just have to take their word for it. Even Lewis’ own list—fair play, unselfishness, courage, good faith, honesty and truthfulness—is somewhat arbitrary, impossible to verify, and prone to interpretational issues. Is it wrong to lie to the police? about where the Jews are hiding?
As we’ve seen before, the Moral Law cannot be the standard of “good” versus “bad/evil”, because the Moral Law cannot objectively exist. To be workable as a Law, it must state a set of general principles that apply to a broad range of circumstances. Circumstances, however, are too broad, and you therefore end up with exceptions (like deceiving the police into thinking you aren’t hiding any Jews). Honesty is usually the best policy, but life is complicated.
Meanwhile, if we try to enumerate all the exceptions and incorporate them into the Law, we have two problems: it would take an omniscient being to enumerate them all, and it would also take an omniscient being to remember them all, even assuming there was a finite number of them. A law that spelled out every possible combination of circumstances that could arise throughout all eternity would cease to be a law that we could know and obey, and would end up being an unlimited number of special cases with no general applicability.
We could suggest that God selectively imparts small portions of the incomprehensible Law to us, as we need it, but then our lives would end up being a succession of special cases, and our “good” behavior would be reduced to that of a robot, clicking from step to step as each new special case required the “good” action that applied to those unique circumstances. We, as mortals, could not predict in advance what course our lives would take, since the Moral Law would be too complex to allow long-range charting. We would have to wait until we magically received our programming, and then execute it. Hallelujah, bleep bloop.
Nor, of course, would it be possible to assess the morality of other people’s actions under such an incomprehensively vast and complex Law. If each Right and Wrong is a special case, there’s no way you can know that what’s Right for you, under your unique circumstances, would necessarily be Right for someone else whose circumstances aren’t quite the same as yours. Each individual case would be unpredictably unique, and therefore you could never truly know what was right or wrong for someone else to do.
That might actually be a good thing in a way, but overall it would put a serious damper on social conventions. Things like a criminal justice system, or even traffic laws, depend on declaring what it is right and wrong for people to do. Such mortal laws by their limited nature would necessarily be inconsistent with a fully-enumerated Special Case Moral Law, and thus these mortal laws would by definition be Wrong. Oops.
And, by the way, why would there ever be any moral debates in a world where each of us was magically being fed the perfect moral answer to every moral dilemma whenever it arose? As nice as it might be to have God magically poofing infallible moral answers into our heads, there’s no real-world evidence that any of us (let alone all of us) are really doing anything more than just judging according to whatever seems right in our own eyes. Moral Law is a nice fairy tale, but the more we try to make it work, the less it looks like the real world.
We’ve given Lewis the benefit of our assumptions multiple times, but there’s still no holding his sham together in any kind of real-world pragmatic sense. Lewis drives on, heedless, trying to explain what it means for God to be “good,” as his pretense of objectivity falls to pieces, and more and more of his explicitly Christian bias shows through. But we’ll stop here for now, just to catch our breath. Tune in again next week, when Prof. Lewis will tell us:
If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless.
See you then.