Mere Christianity Part 5


The forth chapter of Mere Christianity is called “What Lies Behind the Law.” In this chapter, Lewis is talking about some designer or creator.

At the beginning of the chapter, C.S. Lewis states “there is what we call the materialist view. People who take that view think that matter and space just happen to exist, and always have existed.” This is a misrepresentation of what materialism actually is. The materialist view is that matter and energy is all there is. But there are different views about how things got started and how long they’ve lasted. Some believe that the universe has always existed, others believe it had a beginning. Some believe that the Big Bang started the universe. Others thing that there was already something and the Big Bang merely created the universe that we have today.

Lewis went on to say “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.” I think that he can be forgiven for not understanding the universe to the degree that we now know it today. However, this book was written around the time when Einstein was developing his Theory of Relativity. Scientists did have a decent understanding of the universe, so Lewis probably could have gotten better information than what he used. Also, people today use this book as their reasoning as to why God exists. They take Lewis’s word at face value. But his science is very wrong. First, things fly into the sun all the time. This is not unusual by any means. Second, this is not how the planets were formed. One theory is that a supernova nearby both the sun and all the planets at the same time. Third, the elements that make up life aren’t that uncommon in the universe. Water is particularly easy to come by. And finally, our planet started off far too hot for life to form. It took a very long time for it to get to the point where life could actually survive. Also, when you’re talking billions of years, a one in a thousand chance is actually pretty good.

He goes on to claim that “what is behind the universe is more like a mind than it is like anything else we know.” What is behind the universe? This is a nonsensical claim. We don’t know if anything is behind the universe, so how can he claim that it is like a mind?

Throughout this entire chapter, Lewis makes it very clear that he has a very poor understanding of science. At one point he says “You cannot find out which view is the right one by science in the ordinary sense,” when talking about materialism versus what he calls the religious view. What does he mean by “in the ordinary sense”? Are there “ordinary” and “inordinary” methods of science? If so, what are they? And why can’t one use science to determine whether or not there is something behind the universe? Scientists are doing just that.

He goes on to argue “But why anything comes to be there at all, and whether there is anything behind the things science observes-something of a different kind-this is not a scientific question.” C.S. Lewis shows very little understanding of what science is. He seems to believe that scientists merely observe things without ever making any sort of predictions. But this is not the case. Yes, scientists look through telescopes and combine chemical substances. But this is hardly all they do. They use these observations to make predictions. If the prediction comes true, they repeat these trials, create hypothesizes, and eventually develop theories and scientific laws. The scientific laws that he keeps mentioning would be nothing without predictions

He makes the claim that scientists don’t make claims about the existence of God: “And real scientists do not usually make them. It is usually the journalists and popular novelists who have picked up a few odds and ends of half-baked science from textbooks who go in for them.” First, what is a “real scientist” in Lewis’s definition? Second, scientists have been arguing for and against God for a very long time. The Middle Ages at least. Though I do know what he means about journalists and authors. Had he read the Narnia series? Oh…wait…Well writers have been using their works to share their beliefs with others for a very long time, so that’s hardly the only series where the author has an obvious agenda to prove, or disprove, God.

He then makes some more silly claims about science: “Anyone studying Man from the outside as we study electricity or cabbages, not knowing our language and consequently not able to get any inside knowledge from us, but merely observing what we did, would never get the slightest evidence that we had this moral law. How could he? For his observations would only show what we did, and the moral law is about what we ought to do.” You mean like God? He supposedly looks in on us from the outside. He isn’t human, and doesn’t seem to understand how we think. So does this mean that he can’t see this moral law thing?

Then he says “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.” We know that the universe happened for a reason. It’s not a conscious reason, but there is a reason. What we want to know isn’t whether or not there is a reason. What we want to know is how the universe came to be.

Lewis then goes on to make some claims that contradict both the Bible and many believers. He says “If there is a controlling power outside of 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 to it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way.” In the Bible, God is a physical being. He talks to people, they can see him, he even wrestles with people. Many believers believe that God talks to them. Isn’t that God showing himself as one of the facts? What Lewis is proposing is a deistic god, not the God of the Bible. And isn’t this God all-powerful? If so, why would he be confined to only show himself in the form of morality. Lewis is also arguing that God is conscience. But we already have a word for conscience. It doesn’t need another one. Though, even if God could only show himself through the conscience, that is still a physical effect. He’s still doing exactly what Lewis said he couldn’t. And this effect can be tested, so science can in fact say whether or not it exists.

Even if Lewis is avoiding calling this creator God, we still know exactly which god he believes this creator to be, so we can still use this God to criticize his argument because his argument does not fit other claims made about this God. He also shows that he clearly hasn’t done enough research to actually know what he’s talking about.

 

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8 responses to “Mere Christianity Part 5

  • SEK

    I for one appreciate this analysis of the book. I’m currently discussing this book with 2 others coworkers; 1- a believer, 2-deist and myself an agnostic. I subscribe to your way of thinking about claims from both the science and religious view. All my life I have been too nice to people who feel the need to push their religious views on me. I have been to multiple church denominations hoping to understand what it is that I’m missing about Christianity. Not until I started to read about Dawkins, DeGrasse, Sam Harris and the likes have i started to make sense of it all. To which religion doesn’t make sense. I have come to realize that its fruitless to reason or use logic with religious claims or people(including my born again wife). I think its fine if people want to believe in whatever that makes them feel happy, don’t assert that believe on others. Thanks again for posting this critique and may rational thinking overcome the irrational one

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  • Amyclae

    “He then makes some more silly claims about science: “Anyone studying Man from the outside as we study electricity or cabbages, not knowing our language and consequently not able to get any inside knowledge from us, but merely observing what we did, would never get the slightest evidence that we had this moral law. How could he? For his observations would only show what we did, and the moral law is about what we ought to do.” You mean like God? He supposedly looks in on us from the outside. He isn’t human, and doesn’t seem to understand how we think. So does this mean that he can’t see this moral law thing?”

    His claim rests on that subordinate clause “not knowing our language.” His implication is that “scientists” pare away the human aspect of studying religion (or any other discipline) and seek to reduce it to mathematical figures. This complaint has been lodged, and will always be lodged, throughout every academic department. Do we understand more about psychology from patient interactions or blood samples? Crime statistics or talking to the community?

    I honestly have no idea where you got the idea that his claim is postulating a sort of physical-mental membrane between the inner persuasion of the mind and the outer affects of the world like some sort of 2nd century Gnostic. But I do know you’re replying to an argument that doesn’t exist.

    “First, things fly into the sun all the time. This is not unusual by any means. Second, this is not how the planets were formed… Third, the elements that make up life aren’t that uncommon in the universe. Water is particularly easy to come by.”

    First, his argument is not that it is usual or unusual for things to fly into the sun but that it is unusual for a certain body to fly into the sun, for this body to subsequently form a planet and ultimately become a habitable planet. Each clause is building up to the next one and it’s why he connects the two sentences with a semi-colon instead of a full stop. Any other reading is simply an interpretation by the reader and has nothing to do with Lewis’ actual argument.

    Second, you’re right to point that planets do not form by objects hitting our sun but you go to far in arguing that this must necessarily be his view on the matter from six words of prose. One of the many scientific theories to compensate for some legitimate concerns about the creation of planetesimals is that objects hit and sometimes dislodge large planetesimals from the (comparatively) concentrated protostar. Thus jumpstarting the accretion process. I’ve heard it described exactly how he describes it here.

    Third, seeing as the universe is predominately vacuum he’s absolutely right.

    “They use these observations to make predictions. If the prediction comes true, they repeat these trials, create hypothesizes, and eventually develop theories and scientific laws. The scientific laws that he keeps mentioning would be nothing without predictions.”

    I applaud this studied and determined effort to refuse understanding Lewis’ argument. He is not saying scientists cannot make predictive hypothesis or that they are constrained to the data they collect. He’s merely stating that the way we (everyone–religious and not) approach, ontologically, scientific questions and answers precludes asking the ontological ‘why.’

    Scientific results do not tell scientists anything about probabilities. At best, it instructs them to assign probabilities in a certain way. Since instructions are neither true nor false this part of the scientific method cannot be interpreted as ontological. Results are not a description of the world as it is but of a world as we perceive it.

    This may sound like splitting hairs, but it’s quite significant to the field. It explains, in part, the defining contradiction between General Relativity and QM. How can QM make logical sense if it relies on classical notions that also affirm the Boolean ‘Exist/Not Exist?’ Think about it.

    So what he’s pointing at is a much more substantial, and quite frankly boring, argument than the weaker, but infinitely more entertaining, version you have concocted. It’s simply that the way we frame scientific questions–whether you want to blame Kant or the cotton gin or Marx of whomever–precludes the substantial ‘why.’

    To put it in the form of scenario: a being descends from a bright light in the sky, everyone in the world hears the words–in their own language–‘I am Christ, come again. Repent or perish.’ The being floats above the ground in front of Washington D.C. It crosses the Potomac by splitting it in two Moses style. Have you proven the existence of Jesus? No, all we could prove is that a being descended from a bright light in the sky… ect.

    Are there “ordinary” and “inordinary” methods of science?

    He’s clearly not referencing a scientific method much less multiples.

    “If there is a controlling power outside of 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 to it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way.” In the Bible, God is a physical being. He talks to people, they can see him, he even wrestles with people. Many believers believe that God talks to them. Isn’t that God showing himself as one of the facts?

    To extend this metaphor, are you really trying to claim that Lewis was implying that the architect could never set foot in the created house? Is that what he could not imagine–an architect setting foot inside his or her own creation? I’m at a loss, here, really because it seems so obvious what Lewis is saying and you’re not even coming close to what is plainly written. And then you rebut it, but it’s just painfully obvious how your rebuttal can be handwaved aside because it’s not even approaching the discussion.

    And isn’t this God all-powerful? If so, why would he be confined to only show himself in the form of morality.

    A self-restriction isn’t a restriction. C’mon.

    “even if God could only show himself through the conscience, that is still a physical effect.”

    He clearly sees a division between conscience and physical effects. Disagree with him on that point or not, it does not matter. But saying ‘Lewis is wrong because Lewis is wrong’ is not convincing. Yes, you disagree with his definition of conscience. Merely turning around and saying that he continues to use his own definition is one big *yawn* of a point.

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    • hessianwithteeth

      His point was that you can’t truly know something unless you are that something. He said only humans can truly understand humanity and we can never truly understand rocks.
      Where exactly did I say that Lewis is wrong because he’s wrong? If you actually read, I gave many reasons as to why he’s wrong.
      Where did I state that my biggest problem is that he uses his own definition of conscience? That’s not really the point at all. My point is a) his definition doesn’t fit any scientific understanding of the word, b) he’s claiming to give a basic Christian understanding but he is directly going against both the Bible and other Christians, and c) he’s not supporting his argument with any real evidence. Do you have any evidence to suggest that any of what I’ve said is wrong? Because so far all you’ve done is said “how dare you attack C.S Lewis. He’s right because he’s C.S. Lewis.” Seriously, you’re saying that I’m making claims that I never made, then you’re asserting arguments into Lewis’s work that aren’t there (all I can go by is what he’s said, I’m not here to interpret what he said to best fit anyone’s interest), then you’re arguing based on what you want him to mean rather than based on what his actual words are. If he actually meant what you’re saying he meant, show me your evidence. Where did he say that he meant it the way you’re saying?

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      • Amyclae

        “His point was that you can’t truly know something unless you are that something. He said only humans can truly understand humanity and we can never truly understand rocks.”

        You need to read it again or for the first time. I can’t tell.

        ” his definition doesn’t fit any scientific understanding of the word”

        Since he says as much in his writing, I applaud you on your ability to read.

        “he’s claiming to give a basic Christian understanding but he is directly going against both the Bible and other Christians”

        Classic motte and bailey. Of course any number of his claims could go against some quantity of Christians and some interpretation of the Bible. Yawn. But do you have any substantive criticism?

        “Do you have any evidence to suggest that any of what I’ve said is wrong?”

        Other than that you’re clearly not reading his arguments? I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m saying you’re responding to a figment of your imagination. If that makes you wrong, oh well.

        “all I can go by is what he’s said, I’m not here to interpret what he said to best fit anyone’s interest”

        Then you have failed magnificently.

        “Where did he say that he meant it the way you’re saying?”

        Other than the exact portions you quoted? Everywhere.

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        • hessianwithteeth

          How about this: you go back to worshiping your Lewis shrine and I’ll do some actual critical thinking. Because I’m reading his book. I’ve quoted him word for word. You’re saying that he’s made arguments that aren’t there. That suggests that you haven’t read his book.
          Why are you so upset with my criticism anyway? That’s the whole point of this project. Was I just supposed to read the book, say “yup, he’s right about everything” and become a Christian?
          You still haven’t offered me any evidence to prove that I’m wrong, so all I can assume is that you’re making assumptions. Why like my post when you clearly don’t like it?

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          • Amyclae

            What are you saying? You literally just need to go back to those same paragraphs and them with one ounce of comprehension. For a moment assume for one second that Lewis isn’t, for example, talking about invalidating predictive models–of all the random things to assert–but that he’s talking about something that has to do with te split between religious views and materialist views–however broadly narrowly defined. There’s no reason to require quotations for pointing out how badly you’ve missed even the barest semblance of his point. That noise you heard while writing this? It’s the sound of his point flying above your head repeatedly and at great altitude.

            Because right now, if we applied your understanding of Lewis argument back to Lewis he sounds like he has Downs. First e is talking about materialism. Then he is saying we can’t understand rocks. Then he is saying that God could never the enter the universe. Then its on about predictive models of the world.

            When your reading is so bad it gives me and the author Downs Syndrome you can safely assume that it’s not the book it’s you.

            I’m upset because you constructed a reply that was profoundly retarded.

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          • hessianwithteeth

            If you can’t offer evidence, then you simply make yourself look stupid. Because I read the mother fucking chapter twice before I wrote the post. Lewis has no clue what he’s talking about. He doesn’t know what materialism is and he has very little understanding of science. He is neither a philosopher nor is he a scientist. He wasn’t even a theologian. Lewis was a soldier who happened to be a good speaker. That’s it.
            What’s more, I discussed my criticisms with others before I wrote this post. One said that Lewis’s arguments were so vague as to be useless. Another was far less forgiving of his misrepresentations of science than I was in the post.
            And why do you feel the need to be insulting towards Down Syndrome and mental retardation? Those are real issues that people live with. They aren’t for you to throw around willy-nilly. Show some respect.
            If your next comment doesn’t actually have some evidence, and if you can’t actually be respectful, then I’m just going to delete all your comments.

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  • Eliza

    Thank you for exposing the fallacies of C. S. Lewis. He is a false teacher, who unfortunately, has been embraced by the “Christian church”. He puts forth man-made religious doctrine as if it were the truth. God bless you:)

    Like

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