Mere Christianity Part 3


I have just finished reading the second chapter, “Some Objections,” of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. In this chapter, he is discussing the idea that there is something real in all of us called Moral Law.

In the beginning, Lewis states that “You will probably feel two desires-one a desire to give help…the other a desire to keep out of danger…But you will find inside you, in addition to these two impulses, a third thing which tells you that you ought to follow the impulse to help.” It seems that Lewis didn’t have much understanding of altruism. This isn’t some moral law, it’s an instinct found in social species that helps the species stay alive longer. If we just let each other die when we can save them, then our species is worse off. Yes, people will jump into water to save a drowning person, but only in certain circumstances. A beach full of people will let the life guard save a drowning person before they themselves will act. This is a good thing, because it means that the person best suited to the job is the one who’ll do it. But, at the same time, a busy street full of people will do nothing to stop one person from hurting another because they all believe that someone else will do it. We really aren’t so willing to risk ourselves for others unless we see it as our duty, which is when we either consider ourselves the experts or when we do not believe that there is an expert around. All of this can be explained by biology and psychology. Yes, we do have some instinct to help others. While we do build moral theories around the concept of helping others, we also act out of instinct for the betterment of our species. We don’t need some mystical, objective moral law to explain this stuff.

He goes on to say “We all learned the multiplication table at school. A child who grew up alone on a desert island would not know it. But surely it does not follow that the multiplication table is simply a human convention, something human beings have made up for themselves and might have made differently if they had liked?” Ah…it is and we could have. Seriously, Lewis? Mathematical realism? That’s just silly. There is no physical form of 4 out there. No essence of 4. Nothing that 4 really is. 4 is a label we give something, a concept that we use, to make communication and jobs easier. They could have given the number concepts any names that they had liked. The fact that we all accept mathematics as valid doesn’t make it any less of a construct. Human behaviour is much the same.

According to Lewis, accepting one set of morality over another proves that not all moral codes are equally valid, which allows for progress. I’d agree with this, but not for the reasons that he likes. First off, of course we prefer certain moral codes to others. We are taught to view the moral code that we are taught as superior to all others. This is bias, not a sign one being truer than another. Nonetheless, some are better than others. I view some as better than others because I believe that they lead to the best outcomes. Many people will disagree with my order, but they too will likely state that it is a result of which lead to the best outcomes. Basically, the best moral codes are those that lead to the best outcomes, but they are judged differently by different people, so there is no objective best moral code. I believe that improving upon these moral codes will lead to progress, but progress will only come if you are willing to look at your own moral code and find ways to improve it. Believing that one moral code is the ultimate, infallible moral code will prevent any improvement from ever happening.

Basically, Lewis set out to prove that some objective morality exists. He has not given me any reason to believe him. Instead, he has merely shown me that he never really had a very good understanding of human behaviour.

 

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21 responses to “Mere Christianity Part 3

  • On the Objective Morality vs Subjective Morality Debate | The Caveat Lector

    […] the multi-part review of Mere Christianity over at hessianwithteeth. In the comments section of part 3, a discussion broke out regarding objective and subjective morality. In particular, I want to […]

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  • Michael W Nicholson

    My questions were rhetorical; I was not looking for answers. If there truly are no objective moral values, then there truly is no such thing as objective right or wrong. That’s just virtually a tautology and undeniable. And if there truly is no objective right or objective wrong, there are no such things as “moral” distinctions, there are only personal or group preferences. At the level of nation or culture, enforcement and adjudication of such “moral” preferences will inevitably become simply a matter of a tyranny of the majority and/or “might makes right”.

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    • hessianwithteeth

      What’s with you people? You come here with no interest in having an actual conversation and just throw rhetoric around willy-nilly. You assume that these meaningless words are going to convince me that you’re right and I have no argument. Why are you so sure that everybody who disagrees with you is so dumb that they can’t possibly have any actual reason for believing what they believe? If you don’t want to hear what I have to say, then go away because I have no more patience for people who aren’t honest enough to come here with the intention of having an honest conversation.

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    • Arkenaten

      @William
      Interesting observations. If we are to apply your reasoning then we can safely say, based on historical fact that religion and the religious have been responsible for some of the most heinous crimes in history, and we need look no further than the disgusting rag you value so highly. As Thomas Paine pointed out.

      And as is the norm for you lot, the morality debate will quickly develop into a point-scoring exercise between the god-botherers and the supposed ‘atheist’ criminals throughout history.
      And of course none of you hypocritical sycophants are ever able to see the irony of cheering about how wonderful your side must be because the god -bothers believe they have been responsible for fewer deaths!
      Which of course, based on your belief in the veracity of the bible, is a blatant lie, isn’t it Michael, hmm?
      Yes, ad homs become the order of the day.
      What a truly silly fellow you are.
      Shouldn’t you be praying or something? But don’t turn around , in case your god turns you into a pillar of condiment.

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  • Michael W Nicholson

    I’m afraid I must disagree with your dismissal of “mathematical realism”. Even some atheists believe math is discovered not invented. I discuss this in a one of my own blog posts:

    http://tidesofgod.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/numbers-the-perfectly-reasonable-effectiveness-of-mathematics/

    I will admit that Lewis’ version of the Moral Argument is not the best or the clearest. William Lane Craig, a Christian philospher has a better one. It has the virtue of being clear and simple:
    1. If God does not exist then objective moral values do not exist.
    2. But objective moral values do exist.
    3. Therefore, God exists.
    He develops and explains his premises and logic, but I’ll leave that for now.

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    • hessianwithteeth

      I know some atheists buy into mathematical realism, but I think they’re wrong. The arguments for mathematical realism have always come across as wishful thinking by people who fear the possibility of shades of gray. There’s no reason why math should need to be real, since it works just fine either way.
      Myself, and many other atheists, find William Lane Craig’s arguments kind of weak. For example, even if his above argument were correct, that says nothing about which god exists. It’s easy enough to say “well my god of course,” but that’s not how he set it up. It could be any god.

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      • Michael W Nicholson

        It would be a God who said “Thou shalt not kill” and “Do unto others as you would have them do to you”, as well as other universal moral injunctions. The Moral Argument doesn’t try to prove Christianity, or any religion, just that that there is a God with moral qualities and moral expectations.

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      • hannahgivens

        I’m not sure I follow… Doesn’t “There’s no reason why math should need to be real, since it works just fine either way” mean that it is actually objective and existing whether we know about it or not? Or do you mean it works just fine if math isn’t real/objective?

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        • hessianwithteeth

          I mean so long as we all agree on the terms we use, then it will work. If we substitute the words we use, the math doesn’t break down. This isn’t because 2+2 inherently equals 4. The concept of something being 4 feet doesn’t come from nature. But so long as we agree on what 4 feet is, and that 2+2=4, then we have something that we can work with. It’s usable.

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          • hannahgivens

            Yes, “Four feet” is totally made up and usable because we agree, but that’s a measurement. The reason it’s made up is the “feet” part, measurements come in arbitrary sizes. Two things plus two things is still inherently four things though, whether it’s written “four” or “quatro” or “0100” or whatever.

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    • Arkenaten

      William Lane Craig likes to tout the Divine Command Theory. The man is an ignorant prat of the first order.

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      • Michael W Nicholson

        That, of course, is nothing more than an ad hominem attack which proves absolutely nothing, and certainly no example of good critical thinking skills.

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        • Arkenaten

          Ad hom. does not detract from the fact William Lane Craig defends and supports Divine Command Theory.
          He also defends original biblical inerrancy.

          And for that, he IS a prat.

          That the events he refers to are all just so much fiction is irrelevant. He believes it and teaches it.

          I would remind you that those who brought down the Twin Towers ALSO believed they were acting for their god.
          And the pages of history will reflect there was nothing fictitious about that particular event.
          Remember that.

          It is obvious that those same critical thinking skills you mention and obviously cherish are glaringly absent from Craig’s repertoire. And I suspect , from your own.
          Maybe if you exercised just a little critical thought yourself you would realise how ( fiction notwithstanding) heinous the acts described in the Canaanite massacre and several other delightful’ (sic)’ accounts of rape and butchery.
          The acts of Moses & Joshua rank alongside some of the most disgusting acts committed by humans.

          That anyone let alone a highly qualified scholar of Craig’s stature, would state this was a defensible act should be regarded as criminal, and it would be if he were defending Hitler or Stalin.

          It is about time such diatribe, and those who espouse it, is looked at in a lot more serious light for one day, you might be on the end of a religious extremist who claims he/she is acting on explicit orders from their god.
          And who the hell are you to say they are not?

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          • Michael W Nicholson

            Speaking of diatribes . . .

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          • Arkenaten

            Well, you are a believer, yes, Michael?
            I am sure you and dear William C would get on like a maison en feu … like Hell, I shouldn’t wonder.

            I think Thomas Paine has a few words to say about your ”Moses”, if memory serves.

            The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion. It has been the most destructive to the peace of man since man began to exist. Among the most detestable villains in history, you could not find one worse than Moses, who gave an order to butcher the boys, to massacre the mothers and then rape the daughters. One of the most horrible atrocities found in the literature of any nation. I would not dishonor my Creator’s name by attaching it to this filthy book. [Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason]

            Paine had more integrity in his pinky than all the William Lane Craigs’ of the world will ever have,

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          • Michael W Nicholson

            So, we agree that objective moral standards do exist. Who, exactly, sets those standards, and who adjudicates when they are transgressed?

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          • hessianwithteeth

            I don’t believe is objective morality. I believe morality is subjective.

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          • Michael W Nicholson

            Really? So on what basis have you made the several moral distinctions in your previous replies? Your own subjective sensibilities? And if that’s the case, why do you express moral outrage at actions that offend your personal sensibilities? If morals are subjective, then condemning someone else’s moral actions or sensibilities is about like condemning their taste in pie. I prefer key lime and you can’t tell me I’m wrong. If morals truly are subjective, they are merely a matter of taste. On your basis for morality, you can’t really say Hitler did anything objectively wrong, you can only say you find it distasteful.

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          • hessianwithteeth

            I’ve answered these questions many times in many of my other posts. Other people have also answered these questions.

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          • Arkenaten

            @MIchael
            Why would you assume that is was a god, and more the point your god,Yahweh, who according to an ancient, fallacious piece of disgusting text?

            If you do not know the difference between right and wrong behaviour then this is a problem, truly,especially as you are suggesting that without a ‘minder’, your god, you would be unable to function as a morally responsible individual.
            Is this , in fact, what you are saying, MIchael?
            Well, are you?

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  • Jim Maher

    I fully agree with CS Lewis not having the greatest sense of human behaviour. His stories were full of imagination and creativity, but I always felt his characters, the human ones at least, all blended into certain stereotypes.

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