bookmark_border(DRAFT) C.S. Lewis’s Moral Argument for God’s Existence

Attached to this post is a PDF file containing the first half of an academic paper I’ve been working on. Constructive criticism would be appreciated.
20201103 Formal Analysis of Logical Form of Lewis’s Moral Argument

bookmark_borderC.S. Lewis, Hammer of the Theocrats

A comment on the Friendly Atheist site had a marvelous quote from C.S. Lewis. I ran it by Victor Reppert to make sure that it was genuine and to get its source. Victor verified that it is from the essay “Equality” in Lewis’s collection Present Concerns. It is the best succinct critique of theocracy that I have read:

I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others. And the higher the pretensions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both to rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant a robber barron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point may be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely more because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations.
And since Theocracy is the worst, the nearer any government approaches to Theocracy the worse it will be. A metaphysic held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them, like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality, and it gives a seemingly high, super-personal sanction to all the very ordinary human passions by which, like other men, the rulers will frequently be actuated. In a word, it forbids wholesome doubt. A political programme can never in reality be more than probably right. We never know all the facts about the present and we can only guess the future. To attach to a party programme — whose highest claim is to reasonable prudence — the sort of assent which we should reserve for demonstrable theorems, is a kind of intoxication. – C.S. Lewis

Brilliant. Such intoxication now reigns in many state capitals, and, increasingly, in Washington D.C.
One very insightful sentence was “A metaphysic held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign.” Note that a theocracy is defined, not by a government’s dedication to religion per se, but by its dedication to any metaphysic (or, we might say, “ideology”) held with the force of a religion. An atheistic ideology, Marxism-Leninism or Maoism, say, could be (and has been) held with religious intensity. Thus, the Soviet Union, in its pre-Glasnost and pre-Perestroika days, and China under Mao are rightly viewed as a theocracies. Hence, the tired old polemical warhorse, regularly trotted out by religious apologists, about “atheist atrocities” can be stood on its head. The victims of communism were victims of theocracy.

bookmark_borderChristian Apologists Ignore the Best Objections to the Moral Argument

(Redated post originally published on 2 August 2014)
To be precise, there are many kinds of moral arguments for theism. The question in the title is really talking about what we might call “ontological” or “metaphysical” moral arguments, the kind which claim that we need God in order to have an “ontological foundation” for objective or absolute morality.
People who defend a version of this kind of argument include a veritable “Who’s Who?” of contemporary Christian apologists: C.S. Lewis (see here and here), Alvin Plantinga (see here and here), William Lane Craig, Paul Copan, J.P. Moreland, Randal Rauser, David Baggett, Jerry Walls, Norman Geisler, Frank Turek, Roger Olson, Michael Horner, and so forth.
While there have been many critics who seem to be clueless about how to refute such arguments (see here and here for just two of probably 100+ available examples), there are many other philosophers who understand the arguments perfectly well and–gasp!–actually offer relevant objections. (What a concept!) In my opinion, the two best critics of ontological moral arguments are Erik Wielenberg (see here and here) and Wes Morriston (see here and here). Why, then, do apologists who’ve written on the topic in the last decade continue to ignore Wielenberg and Morriston?
I’m starting to think Ex-Apologist has a great explanation, albeit one he didn’t invent specifically for this topic. In fact, I think he has a great name for this great explanation. In a post entitled, “Proposal for a New Entry in the Philosophical Lexicon,” he calls this behavior “craiging.” Here is how he defines it.

craig, v. (a) to engage in dialectically illegitimate argumentative maneuvering, such as (e.g.) construing an interlocutor as offering a rebutting defeater for P when it’s more charitable to construe them as offering an undercutting defeater for P[1]; (b) to maintain a somewhat positive image of one’s positions in part by choosing not to address, mention, or cite the strongest criticisms of them; (c) to take up, critique, and/or ridicule an uncharitable construal of the theses and arguments of one’s interlocutor.

——————————————-
[1] Relatedly: to infer or otherwise assume that because a reply fails to rebut P, it also fails to undercut P.

It is (b) which I think applies to contemporary defenders of ontological moral arguments for theism: they simply act as if these critiques don’t exist.

bookmark_borderThe Worst of C.S. Lewis

Victor Reppert posted this quote from Lewis on his Dangerous Idea blog:
From C. S. Lewis’s essay “Christian Apologetics, ” found in God in the Dock

“I have sometimes told my audience that the only two things really worth considering are Christianity and Hinduism. (Islam is only the greatest of the Christian heresies, Buddhism only the greatest of the Hindu heresies. Real Paganism is dead. All that was best in Judaism and Platonism survives in Christianity.) There isn’t really, for an adult mind, this infinite variety of religions to consider. We may [reverently] divide religions, as we do soups, into ‘thick’ and ‘clear’. By Thick I mean those which have orgies and ecstasies and mysteries and local attachments: Africa is full of Thick religions. By Clear I mean those which are philosophical, ethical and universalizing: Stoicism, Buddhism, and the Ethical Church are Clear religions. Now if there is a true religion it must be both Thick and Clear: for the true God must have made both the child and the man, both the savage and the citizen, both the head and the belly. And the only two religions that fulfil this condition are Hinduism and Christianity. But Hinduism fulfils it imperfectly. The Clear religion of the Brahmin hermit in the jungle and the Thick religion of the neighbouring temple go on side by side. The Brahmin hermit doesn’t bother about the temple prostitution nor the worshipper in the temple about the hermit’s metaphysics. But Christianity really breaks down the middle wall of the partition. It takes a convert from central Africa and tells him to obey an enlightened universalist ethic: it takes a twentieth-century academic prig like me and tells me to go fasting to a Mystery, to drink the blood of the Lord. The savage convert has to be Clear: I have to be Thick. That is how one knows one has come to the real religion.”
I note that Dangerous Idea and other sites of intelligent Christian commentary often (still) take on the “new” (now not so new) atheists. Their complaints against the “Gnus” as Victor amusingly calls them, are various. However, among the themes are these: The new atheists make breathtaking, sweeping statements that blur distinctions, ignore nuance, gloss over technicalities, and, in general, bloviate broadly on the basis of unfair and, indeed, fatuous stereotypes. Now, such irresponsible propagandizing is surely censurable wherever it occurs. Right? After all, important issues need to be discussed carefully and with due attention to the complexities and subtleties that inevitably attend such matters. Right?
Well, not, apparently, if you are C.S. Lewis. In one paragraph, Lewis reduces the choice of religions to two, Christianity and Hinduism, and then neatly disposes of Hinduism. Wow! Such a feat must surely be either (a) the most brilliant piece of religious analysis ever written or (b) utter poop.  Rather than offer a dismissal even hastier that Lewis’s (although I think it would be much more justified in this case), I will just ask a few questions. Is it sensible to dismiss Islam as a Christian heresy? How would Lewis distinguish between a heresy and a distinct religious tradition?  What are his criteria? Likewise, was the Buddha just a Hindu heretic? Does that do justice to the teaching of the Buddha?  Does Christianity retain all that is best in Judaism? Does that mean that what is retained in Judaism but excluded from Christianity is just dross?  If so, then Christianity must be an improvement of Judaism, and not a Jewish heresy, while Islam is a Christian heresy, but not an improvement, right? Is Lewis right that there is a greater gap between sophisticated Hindu thought and ordinary Hindu practice and belief than there is between sophisticated Christian theology and ordinary Christian practice and belief?  Could the ordinary church-goer enlighten us about the double procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son, or the importance of the distinction between homoousion and homoiousion? Isn’t it revealing that the title of the work from which this quote comes is God in the Dock?” After, all, isn’t this one of the many places where Lewis is playing the role of a lawyer and using whatever rhetorical flourishes, oversimplifications, and biased statements that will promote his case?

bookmark_borderLet’s Attack a Straw Man, C.S. Lewis Style!

I was re-reading C.S. Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity, and was struck by his completely biased way of defining the theory he wants to discredit. Here’s a quick refresher: Lewis wants to defend a moral argument for what he calls the “Religious view” (read: theism) and against what he calls the “Materialist view.” If you were expecting Lewis to offer a “neutral” definition of materialism, such as “the belief that matter and energy are all that exist,” you’d be massively mistaken. Instead, here’s how Lewis defines his terms.

I now want to consider what this tells us about the universe we live in. Ever since men were able to think, they have been wondering what this universe really is and how it came to be there. And, very roughly, two views have been held. First, there is what is called the materialist view. People who take that view think that matter and space just happen to exist, and always have existed, nobody knows why; and that the matter, behaving in certain fixed ways, has just happened, by a sort of fluke, to produce creatures like ourselves who are able to think. By one chance in a thousand something hit our sun and made it produce the planets; and by another thousandth chance the chemicals necessary for life, and the right temperature, occurred on one of these planets, and so some of the matter on this earth came alive; and then, by a very long series of chances, the living creatures developed into things like us. The other view is the religious view. (*) According to it, what is behind  the universe is more like a mind than it is like anything else we know.

Lewis then proceeds to give his famous moral argument for God’s existence.
If we deconstruct and generalize this paragraph, Lewis’s approach seems to be as follows.
1. There are two main competing worldviews: H1 and H2.
2. [Hidden premise: there is a set of facts F1, F2, …, Fn which count against H1. These facts are as follows.]

F1: the universe exists (“matter and space just happen to exist, and always have existed, nobody knows why”)
F2: the evolution of intelligent life (“the matter, behaving in certain fixed ways, has just happened, by a sort of fluke, to produce creatures like ourselves who are able to think. By one chance in a thousand something hit our sun and made it produce the planets; and by another thousandth chance the chemicals necessary for life, and the right temperature, occurred on one of these planets, and so some of the matter on this earth came alive; and then, by a very long series of chances, the living creatures developed into things like us”)

3.  Define H1, not in the way that any of its proponents would do so, but instead in terms of F1, F2, …, Fn to make it sound as implausible as possible.
4. Offer a much more favorable definition of H2, one which makes no reference to any set of facts which might count against H2.
5. Then move on to to give your argument for H2 and against H1.
I think I’m getting the hang of this…. If my goal were to be the C.S. Lewis of naturalism, then, I would begin an essay against theism with the following skewed definitions.

I now want to consider what this tells us about the universe we live in. Ever since men were able to think, they have been wondering what this universe really is and how it came to be there. And, very roughly, two views have been held.
First, there is what is called the Religious view. People who take that view think that God is changeless … except for when he decided to create the universe [see the “immutability vs. creation argument” here]. They think that God created the universe, except there was never a time when the universe did not exist [see the “impossibility of a divine cause argument” here]. They think that God ‘fine-tuned’ the universe for intelligent life, except for the universe’s massive hostility for life, the clumsy process of evolution by natural selection, the coarse-tuning of pain and pleasure systems, and the fact that the majority of sentient beings do not thrive for most of their lives. They think that human minds are immaterial souls that just happen to be dependent upon a physical brain, a brain which is reliable… except when it produces religiously important beliefs about invisible agents, like God, or incorrectly leads people to assume that invisible agents explain the natural world, except for all of the times science has shown such explanations to be false.
The other view is the naturalist view. According to it, the physical explains why anything mental exists.

I think no fair minded person–theist, naturalist, or otherwise–would say that this is a fair and honest way to begin an examination of the evidence about God’s existence. Why, then, if their silence is any indication, do so many Christians seem to think Lewis’s diatribe is acceptable?
See Also:
Do Christian Apologists Spend Too Much Time Focusing on their Weaker Opponents?
ETA: Note:
Here is the note Lewis provided where the asterisk (*) appears inside the quotation of Lewis.

Note —In order to keep this section short enough when it was given on the air, I mentioned only the Materialist view and the Religious view. But to be complete I ought to mention the In between view called Life-Force philosophy, or Creative Evolution, or Emergent Evolution. The wittiest expositions of it come in the works of Bernard Shaw, but the most profound ones in those of Bergson. People who hold this view say that the small variations by which life on this planet “evolved” from the lowest forms to Man were not due to chance but to the “striving” or “purposiveness” of a Life-Force.
When people say this we must ask them whether by Life-Force they mean something with a mind or not. If they do, then “a mind bringing life into existence and leading it to perfection” is really a God, and their view is thus identical with the Religious. If they do not, then what is the sense in saying that something without a mind “strives” or has “purposes”? This seems to me fatal to their view. One reason why many people find Creative Evolution so attractive is that it gives one much of the emotional comfort of believing in God and none of the less pleasant consequences.

bookmark_borderHow Not to Refute an Argument from Moral Law for God’s Existence

Jerry Coyne just posted an article titled, “Paul Bloom debunks the ‘Moral Law argument for God.’” I found myself getting irritated as I read the article because it’s obvious Coyne doesn’t know what he is talking about.

Before we get to Bloom’s findings, what is the “moral law argument”? It’s simply this: human altruism can’t be explained by any kind of evolution. What I mean is pure altruism, whereby an animal helps another animal not only unrelated to it, but not part of its social group, and helps in such a way that it sacrifices its own reproductive potential without getting anything back.  It’s unrequited altruism. That kind of behavior simply can’t evolve, at least by natural selection, because it reduces the fitness of the performer.

No. That is NOT “the moral law argument” defended by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. Coyne is attacking a straw man argument.
First, we need to be clear that there is no such thing as “the” moral law argument. There are many moral arguments. D’Souza, in his book, What’s So Great about Christianity?, defends an argument I’ve called the “Moral Laws Require a Moral Lawgiver” argument. I invite the reader to click that link, see my summary of that argument, and decide for themselves whether Coyne’s post has anything at all do with that argument.
Turning to Collins, I don’t have a copy of Collins’ book handy as I’m writing this post, but Collins explicitly says that he was convinced by C.S. Lewis’s moral argument. When reading Collins’ book, I remember thinking to myself, “Collins is pretty much making the same argument Lewis did; he’s just adding on some information about sociobiology.” It could be the case that Collins did make the absurd claim that atheism cannot explain moral emotions; I’d have to go re-read his book to find out. But, even if he did make such a claim, Coyne would still be guilty of attacking a straw man because there is much more to Lewis’s argument (and Collins’s defense of it) than an appeal to known facts about moral psychology (i.e., moral emotions). The focus of the argument is about the Moral Law, but Coyne writes as if Lewis, Collins, D’Souza had only talked about altruism and said nothing about moral ontology (or moral epistemology).
Let’s review what Lewis actually wrote, since a quick summary of Lewis’s argument (which is defended by Collins) will show that Coyne has simply missed the point of the argument. Lewis’s book, Mere Christianity, was originally delivered over the radio for BBC for a popular audience and only later printed as a book. So he didn’t present his argument in its logical form, with neatly labeled premises and a conclusion. Nevertheless, I think we can quite easily place his argument into is logical form. The first thing to note is that Lewis was making an explanatory argument, i.e., he was arguing that God (in his words, the “Religious View”) is the best explanation for certain known facts about the Moral Law.
Let’s begin with some definitions:
“materialist view”: the hypothesis that there is no Mind “behind” the universe (i.e., there is no Creator). The universe itself, as well as all the creatures inside it (including humans), are not the effect of a supernatural First Cause or intelligent Designer.
“Religious view”: the hypothesis that there is a Mind behind the universe which caused and designed the universe, partly to produce creatures that, like It, have minds.
Lewis includes three statements in the background information relevant to his explanatory argument.
1. The materialist view entails that there is no Mind “behind” the universe (i.e., there is no Creator). The universe itself, as well as all the creatures inside it (including humans), are not the effect of a supernatural First Cause or intelligent Designer. (21-22)
2. The Religious view entails that there is a Mind “behind” the universe (i.e., there is a Creator who is conscious, has purposes, and preferences). This Mind created and designed the universe partly to produce creatures that, like It, have minds. (22)
3. A Mind “behind” the universe could reveal Its existence to us by trying to get us to behave in a certain way. (24)
Lewis says that there are three facts about the Moral Law which need explanation.
1. Human beings have moral obligations which are grounded in the Moral Law.
2. Most human beings know at least the general principles of the Moral Law.
3. Most human beings experience moral emotions related to the Moral Law, such as guilt and obligation.
Using this distinction between background information and the evidence to be explained, Lewis’s argument becomes a straightforward explanatory argument.
(1.) The evidence relevant to the Religious view is known to be true. [Note: this evidence is composed of the three facts just listed above]
(2.) The materialist view has weak explanatory power, i.e., the evidence to be explained is very improbable if the materialist view is true.
(3.) The Religious view has strong explanatory power, i.e., the evidence to be explained is very probable if the Religious view is true.
(4.) So, the Religious view is the best explanation of the relevant evidence.
(5.) Therefore, the Religious view is probably true.
This summary of C.S. Lewis’s argument should make it immediately obvious that Lewis, at least, does NOT make the absurd claim that “human altruism can’t be explained by any kind of evolution” (my emphasis). Coyne, of course, is correct that evolution can explain human altruism. But that doesn’t refute Lewis’s argument. First, Coyne’s post is irrelevant to Lewis’s claims about moral obligations and moral knowledge/beliefs.
Second, even when it comes to Lewis’s point about moral emotions, such as guilt and obligation, Coyne still misses the mark. An explanatory argument, as the name implies, is an argument about which hypothesis gives the best explanation. It’s logically incorrect to claim an explanatory argument for some hypothesis A is refuted by the fact that some other hypothesis, B, can also explain the evidence. Even if that’s true–in other words, even if B can also explain the evidence–that’s irrelevant. All that matters is whether the explanatory argument’s comparative claim, that A is a better explanation than its competitors, is true.
This shows that Coyne needs to do more than simply show that evolution can explain moral emotions. He needs to directly refute the claim that God is the best explanation for moral emotions, either by showing that an evolutionary explanation is as good as a theistic explanation or by showing that an evolutionary explanation is better than a theistic explanation. Coyne doesn’t do either of those things, however. The closest Coyne comes to doing this is when he talks about how the evolutionary explanation is “more parsimonious” than the theistic explanation. That’s a good point as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough to successfully refute the explanatory argument. It doesn’t show that the parsimony of the evolutionary explanation is so great as to outweigh the (alleged) superior explanatory power of the theistic explanation.