XFiles Weekend: The power of Evil

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, book II chapter 2, “The Invasion”)

C. S. Lewis continues his patricidal/fratricidal assault on classic dualism this week, and this time he’s got a really good argument. Not flawless, mind you, but clever and even a little surprising, at least for me. As before, his reasoning suffers significantly from his failure to consider any non-superstitious alternatives, but he proposes, or at least popularizes, a view of evil that many modern evangelicals still promote today, and so it’s worth taking a look at in the light of the real-world evidence.

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XFiles Weekend: Dueling with dualism

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, book II chapter 2, “The Invasion”)

According to C. S. Lewis, we have a problem.

What is the problem? A universe that contains much that is obviously bad and apparently meaningless, but containing creatures like ourselves who know that it is bad and meaningless.

In the real world, this is hardly a problem: meaning is inherent in the law of cause and effect, because it creates predictable (and therefore meaningful) connections between causes and effects. Likewise, meaning is inherent in the fact that truth is consistent with itself: the self-consistency creates relationships between truths, and these relationships are what we call “meaning”. Lewis’ problem is simply that he has a superstitious answer to sell, and therefore he needs to manufacture some sort of question he can respond to.

Predictably, he recognizes only two possible explanations for this “problem.” One is the Christian view that the world is a good creation gone bad, and the other is Dualism, “the belief that there are two equal and independent powers at the back of everything, one of them good and the other bad,” each one believing itself to be the “good” god. No non-superstitious explanations need apply, apparently. Everything has to be “explained” in terms of magical, invisible beings. Oh well.

It might be interesting, given Christianity’s ancestry, to explore the conflict between Lewis’ beliefs and classical dualism. Unfortunately, Lewis makes a very serious strategic mistake: he attacks dualism from the perspective of asking what makes the good deity good and the bad deity bad. In a way, it’s a natural extension of his rhetoric in book 1, but it’s a fatal error nonetheless.

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XFiles Weekend: It’s all so simple!

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, book II chapter 2, “The Invasion”)

When I was young, I happened to encounter a layman’s version of Occam’s Razor, which told me that, other things being equal, the simpler explanation was more likely to be correct. I was skeptical at first. It seemed too good to be true, like some kind of magic was going on to make life easier for humans to understand. And how could the blind forces of nature know what a human would or would not find easier to understand?

The answer, of course, is that the forces of nature don’t know. Nevertheless, the Razor is right, because the difference between truth and falsehood is that truth is consistent with itself, whereas falsehood is not consistent with the truth. Any false explanation will therefore produce further inconsistencies that require additional explanation, thus making the false explanation inevitably more complicated than the true one. Q. E. D.

The catch is that the Razor is a tool for making comparisons between two competing explanations, not a tool for assessing the validity of one explanation taken in isolation. In this week’s installment of Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis takes two approaches to try and dull the edge of the Razor: he uses last week’s rationalization to arbitrarily dismiss atheism in toto so that we have no alternatives to choose from, and he then argues that it’s not wrong for a religion to be, in his words, “complicated.”

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XFiles Weekend: When God fails

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 6, “The Rival Conceptions of God”)

Last week, Prof. Lewis was informing us that Christianity is “a fighting religion.”

It thinks God made the world—that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colours and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God ‘made up out of His head’ as a man makes up a story. But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.

Isn’t that just like Christianity? God screws up, and it’s up to Man to fix things. God’s the one in charge, the sovereign almighty ruler, under whose infinitely wise and powerful leadership the world goes to Hell in an almost literal fashion, and yet somehow it’s our job to straighten things out again. Because God is making such a fuss about it. In my book, that’s not a fighting religion, that’s a perverse religion.

And, of course, that raises a very big question. If a good God made the world why has it gone wrong?

A very good question indeed, which is probably why Lewis spends the rest of Chapter 6 completely and utterly failing to address it.

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XFiles Weekend: Big divisions

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 6, “The Rival Conceptions of God”)

Did you ever notice how some people can take a perfectly innocent and neutral fact, and make it sound incriminating, just by how they phrase it? For example, here’s C. S. Lewis observing that, when we consider all religions throughout history, both Christians and atheists can find things they think are right and things they think are wrong:

If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all those religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view.

Clever, isn’t it? Notice how you can reverse the nouns and say pretty much the same thing: atheists don’t have to believe that all religions are wrong all through, and Christians do think that the main point in all other religions is simply one huge mistake (with the possible exception of Judaism, but that’s Christianity’s ancestor, so naturally they can’t call that wrong).

Here’s another way of looking at it. He could have looked at Greek mythology and Norse mythology and all the many, many gods of the past, and said, “Of all the people who have ever agreed with me about gods existing, at least the vast majority have been wrong about their gods, whereas of all the times atheists have said that someone’s god was a myth, they’ve been right the vast majority of the time. In fact, by Christian standards, there’s only one case where there’s even a possibility that the atheists might have been wrong. So from a historical perspective, theism has been wrong most of the time, and atheism has been right most of the time.”

Of course, that would also be a biased discussion of the facts. Put this version next to Lewis’ version, though, and I think you get a fair and balanced view: you get to see how liberal Christians become when they believe in gods, and you get to see the true value of being liberal minded about gods in a world where such beliefs have historically been found to be wrong at least most of the time.

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XFiles Weekend: Not with a bang

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 5, “We Have Cause To Be Uneasy”)

At the beginning of Chapter 5, Prof. Lewis started to address those of us who might have “felt a certain annoyance” at his wild leap to the conclusion that there must be some supernatural What or Who behind morality. “You may even have thought that I had played a trick on you—that I had been carefully wrapping up to look like philosophy what turns out to be one more ‘religious jaw’.” In response, he said he had three things to say, the first two of which we’ve already seen.

The third point is, in some ways, a bit surprising. The real surprise, though, is that this third point isn’t just a brief aside on the way to a well-reasoned conclusion. It is the conclusion! He just got done telling us that his argument thus far hasn’t brought us “within a hundred miles of the God of Christian theology,” and yet now, apparently, he’s ready to conclude that the Someone “behind” the so-called Moral Law is the Christian God. And he sees nothing wrong with arriving at that conclusion via sloppy, subjective, and unfinished reasoning! Simply astonishing.

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XFiles Weekend: the Good guys

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 5, “We Have Cause To Be Uneasy”)

We come now to one of the more interesting things C. S. Lewis has said in the entire book so far. It’s an off-hand remark, a casual comment tossed in as a obvious truism, and one that you’ll hear echoed by an astonishingly large number of ordinary rank-and-file believers. And yet, despite all the people who take it for granted that things must be this way, it’s fairly trivial to show that it’s nonsense. Logically, rationally, it means something that can be called true in only the most trivial and even tautological sense. And yet people take it as one of the most fundamental Absolute Truths a person could base their life on. Why?

This is a very interesting question to me, and I’ve got a few ideas that I think are at least part of the answer. But still something about it mystifies me. I’d be interested to hear other people’s comments on this topic.

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XFiles Weekend: What is good?

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 5, “We Have Cause To Be Uneasy”)

It’s getting increasingly difficult for Prof. Lewis to pretend that he’s doing anything more than hiding traditional Christian dogma inside a secularized vocabulary. He still struggles gamely to maintain appearances, but in Chapter 5 he’s getting more and more careless about slipping openly Christian assumptions into his ostensibly objective “inquiry.”

[T]he being behind the universe is intensely interested in right conduct—in fair play, unselfishness, courage, good faith, honesty and truthfulness. In that sense we should agree with the account given by Christianity and some other religions, that God is ‘good’. But do not let us go to fast here. The Moral Law does not give us any grounds for thinking that God is ‘good’ in the sense of being indulgent, or soft, or sympathetic.

It doesn’t? How would Lewis know that? Remember, his “rational” argument thus far has been based only on the observation that people sometimes have feelings that they ought to do certain things, and yet they don’t do them. Unfortunately, as Lewis himself has argued, we don’t find any basis for this “Moral Law” anywhere in the facts of the universe, which means these subjective feelings are our only connection with the Moral Law. And these subjective feelings shift and conflict in so many ways that it’s impossible to know what’s actually in this so-called Moral Law. So how can Lewis be so sure he knows what it does and does not give us grounds for?

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XFiles Weekend: The tangled web he weaves…

(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.

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XFiles Weekend: Doing it wrong

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 5, “We Have Cause To Be Uneasy”)

C. S. Lewis is famous both as a Christian apologist and as the creator of a number of charming and popular fantasy worlds. He put both talents to good use in Chapter 4, and now he’s going to back-track just a bit before moving on to the next leg of his epic quest.

I ended my last chapter with the idea that in the Moral Law somebody or something from beyond the material universe was actually getting at us. And I expect when I reached that point some of you felt a certain annoyance… You may have felt you were ready to listen to me as long as you thought I had anything new to say; but if it turns out to be only religion, well, the world has tried that and you cannot put the clock back.

Lewis has three things to say to those of us who have caught on to the fact that he’s just “wrapping up” religion to make it look like philosophy, but I suspect we’ll only fit in one or two of them today.

First, as to putting the clock back. Would you think I was joking if I said that you can put a clock back, and that if the clock is wrong it is often a very sensible thing to do? … [P]rogress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer… There is nothing progressive about being pig headed and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake.

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