I was up to the chapter “What Lies Behind the Law” in my last writing, in this chapter Lewis lays out his views on materialism (with an addendum at the end of the chapter on evolution-mentioning not Darwin but rather Bernard Shaw and his theory that evolution runs by “life-force“, as opposed to natural selection, Pg-27 ), and science.
I concede much ignorance on materialist theory itself, but even so, his words don’t seem to run true for me, and it seems, to other Christians who know about science and theism, they don’t either.
Lewis defines materialism as such:
“…there is what is called the materialist view. People who take this view think that matter and space just happen to exist, and always have existed, nobody knows why; and that 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.” (Lewis pp- 21-2, 2002)
It seems from his word choices above that Lewis is intentionally erecting a strawman of materialism (as mentioned, he does with evolution) or perhaps more generously, is simply demonstrating a complete lack of scientific research (a reading of The Origin of the Species, would have corrected much). Either way, this obfuscation of data, seems a dishonest ploy to denigrate the validity of a competing worldview to set the pretext to bolster and promote his own.
What do I mean exactly? We see today, that much of the above is answered, or at the very least, answerable in theory, and that the germ of much of what we know today, was known in Lewis’ time, hence discoverable by him, and it all has very little to do with “chance“, at least chance in the sense he employs above. Evolution, accretion discs, big bang cosmology (to name a few), we have discovered much about the material world and the material universe (again we see intentional obscuration on Lewis’ part). Lewis, however, disagrees that science has anything to say on materialism:
“”You cannot find out which view is the right one by science in the ordinary sense“…Science works by experiments. It watches how things behave. Every scientific statement in the long run, however complicated it looks, really means something like, ‘I pointed the telescope to such and such a part of the sky at 2:20a.m. on January 15th and saw so-and-so’ or, ‘I put some of this stuff into a pot and heated it to such-and-such a temperature and it did so-and-so.’… And the more scientific a man is, the more (I believe) he would agree with me that this is the job of science- and a very useful and necessary job it is too.” (Lewis pp- 21-3, 2002)
Again the language used implies that a real scientist would agree with him, hence putting any scientist who doesn’t on the back foot to begin with. Ken Miller, a scientist and a Christian himself, disagrees with Lewis about science and it’s ability to confirm materialism:
“… science makes sense because science comes with a record. Science works because it is based on causality. Once you understand a process, even a complex one, you can reduce it to the mechanistic sum of its parts. Then, everything that happens becomes an obligatory outcome of how those components interact. It’s just something that happens. No longer magic, but just a simple (and predictable) outcome.” (Miller pp- 194, 1999)
So we see that even a devout Catholic as Miller claims we can still put reliability into science, not just into the philosophy of science, which is what I think Lewis’ main beef is. He doesn’t state explicitly, but his (ironically) mechanistic definition of science above, is by all accounts, acceptable, if not rather dry. Miller’s definition seemingly approaches the line between science and the philosophy thereof, but I think his definition still rings scientifically true, in the sense that he is explaining what science can find, scientific inferences we can make, which can lead to further testable hypothesis and theory, which is strictly speaking, what science is. Miller concedes this point:
“The most important conclusion from the success of scientific materialism was philosophical as much as it was scientific. It had shown us that nature was organized in a systematic, logical way.” (Miller pp- 195, 1999)
From this we see that Miller believes science itself does have the ability to discover a working material world. If my analysis is true, it seems Christians can use science and represent it, and still have their Christian belief intact, but what does Miller say? Can science actually say anything about materialism proper?:
“We can light that [scientific] candle to explain commonplace activities of everyday life, by showing that an underdstandable, material mechanism is at work in each of them- in short, by showing that the phenomenon at hand is a property of the ordinary stuff of nature. That is the working assumption of materialism namely that nature itself is where we can find the explanations for how things work. It is also the credo of science- making science, by definition, a form of practical, applied materialism.” (Miller pp- 194, 1999)
Lewis does justify his position more clearly:
“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. If there is “Something Behind”, then either it will have to remain altogether unknown to men or else make itself known in a different way. The statement that there is any such thing, and the statement that there is no such thing, are neither of them science can make. And real scientists don not usually make them.” (Lewis pp- 23, 2002)
This seems like metaphysical muddying of the waters, if not outright question begging. Aside from that, if there is “Something Behind” the material world, it is either discoverable (hence most likely given a material explanation), or it is not, in which case it is indistinguishable from that which does not exist. As Miller clarifies:
“Scientific materialism rules out the influence of the divine from a particular phenomenon by the application of what we might call “deterministic reductionism”. We can exclude the spiritual as the immediate cause for any event in nature by showing how that event is determined in material terms. All the levels in nature connect according to well-defined rules.” (Miller pp- 195, 1999)
In conclusion I think Lewis has some interesting things to say, and as mentioned here, I concede much of my analysis could simply be my misunderstanding of Lewis (and indeed materialism, science and philosophy). It does, however seem to me he is simply avoiding doing any independent research to confirm the facts he discusses on worldviews that compete with his. Maybe this is a problem we all suffer, we play to our biases (more on that here), I can certainly concede I’m guilty of that much (however much I may not be able to see it). That admission, however, does not relegate him to a relativistic, middle ground. He is factually incorrect when discussing evolution and materialism, it doesn’t mean he is incorrect in everything he says, or that he’s a bad person for his obfuscation, intentional or not.All and only that in this one instance he is incorrect.
Miller’s process demonstrates that it is not necessary for a Christian to be anti science, or that they need to strawman its findings to be a convincing apologist (as Miller still discusses his theology, quite eloquently in his book; Finding Darwin’s God). Materialism being true (or not true, as it were), still ostensibly leaves a Christian plenty of room for their theism, and even their theistic worldview. I guess the point of this blog was to show that point, that we need not be at odds with each other, that we can, perhaps post-modernistically meld competing worldviews to accommodate material evidence and whatever other metaphysical or spiritual beliefs or faith we choose to adopt. I may not necessarily agree with your decision to do so (as I disagree with some of Miller’s theological musings) it still bases our worldviews on reality, as far and as much as that reality is demonstrable and backed by testable, falsifiable evidence (I feel a charge of logical positivism coming on).
After all, don’t we want to be right about the way the world works, about what we know about the world? Reliable evidence, objectively (as much as humans can do that) tested seems to be foundational (or basic if you’re a reformed epistemologist) to finding those answers. Let’s work together!
Lewis C.S., (2002). Mere Christianity (50th Anniversary Ed.). Hammersmith, London. Harper-Collins Publishers. Pp- 21-3, 27.
Miller K., (1999). Finding Darwin’s God. New York, New York. HarperCollins Books. Pp- 194-5.
I’m currently re-reading C.S Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I last read it about a year ago, I knew very little (some might say much hasn’t changed), I didn’t highlight, I didn’t post-it note the book, hence my retention and ability to use the data collected for referencing was limited. I generally read 2 books at one time, one I read of a night (in between watching something like “Breaking Bad” or “Stone” and writing blogs) and another is one I’ve already read and haven’t previously post-it noted or highlighted (like “The God Delusion” and “The End of Faith“), which I read when I’m travelling or in the “bathroom“, (and may want to do a re-read once I’ve read a bunch of other things, particularly in the case of the “Gnu Atheist” books, which are always in the limelight, and/or being reviewed, critiqued, and slammed to see if I agree with the negativity, or not).
I’m only 4 chapters in, I’ve just started: “What Lies Behind the Law“, but I guess I can comment on the musings I’ve made to myself and in post-it note from thus far.
I have 2 general thoughts at this moment, (a) that writing, say pre-1960 really disconnects me, as in it tends to be overly verbose and in a dialect I have a hard time associating with (why I own but have not read Kant, Hume, Plato, Aristotle Descartes etc, yes my childhood suffered due to this!). Obviously this is not Lewis’ fault, and it’s not a criticism of the book itself per se, but it does set up, as something of a disclaimer, why my interpretations of him may be off, so please, don’t take me to be uncharitable in my criticisms. (b) His style of apologetics is very different to the current style I’m used to, again, this may be the writing of the time, whose dialectical flow, eludes me. He seems to take a long time to get to a point (which I will discuss in a moment), you can see he’s an author first, his language is very colourful, very descriptive, but also very distracting, perhaps that is part of his charm as an apologist.
For instance Lewis spends the first chapter setting up morality, just so he can finally get to the point, that he believes morality to be like mathematics, which I judged, perhaps using today’s, re: William Lane Craig’s apologetical standard, to mean: objective and absolute (I felt later on like Lewis was making a transcendental argument, but we’ll get to that). I’m reading pages and pages just wondering when he’s gonna get to “the chase“, so to speak and when he does, he’s not super clear, at least by terminology I’m used to. For example in Pg 12-3, nearing the end of chapter 2:
“We all learn the multiplication table at school… 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 been different if they had liked?… There are two reasons for saying it [morality] belongs to the same class as mathematics. The first is, as I said in the first chapter, that though there are differences between the moral ideas of one time or country and those of another, the differences are not really very great – not nearly so great as most people imagine- and you can recognise the same law running through them all: whereas mere conventions, like the rule of the road or the kind of clothes people wear, may differ to any extent. The other reason is this. When you think about these differences between the morality of one people and another, do you think that morality of one people is ever better or worse than that of another? Have any of these changes been improvements? If not, then of course there could never be any moral progress. Progress means not just changing, but changing for the better.” (Lewis Pp- 12-3, 2002)
This quote on morality over time: “though there are differences between the moral ideas of one time or country and those of another, the differences are not really very great – not nearly so great as most people imagine- and you can recognise the same law running through them all “, demonstrates my point, this is all very vague language. What do “differences” mean? What does “not really very great mean“? In the sense that, is a culture such as say the Israelites (while not specifically condemning them, simply using them as an example), and their slaughtering of whole nations (such as the Canaanite or Midianites etc), their penalties for homosexuality, adultery and rape. Their social norms like, slavery, inequality for women etc (Christians like Paul Copan have suggested in William Lane Craig’s book: God is Good, God is Great, pp-134-154, that even these are progressions on morality over their counterparts) and say Western society today vastly differ from each other? I would think so.
I wonder, when a society progresses from more brutal laws and morals to less brutal laws and morals (like the Israelites from their counterparts, and from them to Western society, now), does this constitute a “difference” or is this considered to be “very great” as Lewis defines it? Much like the micro changes in evolutionary time of gene alleles demonstrate the difference between micro and macro evolution, so too it goes with morality? The progression of morality over the last 2 thousands years since the Israelites did their thing to now, show the great river between different countries morality, over time.
I guess Lewis would say this is our moral knowledge progressing, but if moral knowledge can progress, to the point we’re at now, from where we were, then how can he say there is an absolute standard? If we can’t recognise that standard, why must there be one? Because we have an innate ability to see right from wrong? Why must that standard be objective or absolute? Evolution provides a basis for a commonality between people and their base ideas of morality, in the sense that “suffering is preferrable to pain“, in the sense that, for the most part we all feel pain, we all feel happiness, we are the same species with very similar desires, goals etc. It’s the specifics; laws, government, treatment of criminals, the sick, minorities, animals etc that we have to figure out ourselves, precisely because there is no standard we can discover, or at least have discovered yet. If there was and God was it, we would have achieved a higher state or moral purity 2 thousand years ago, but alas, struggle we must.
Moving on, the reason I suggest above, that he’s going toward some kind of transcendental argument (I don’t know if Lewis was a proponent of it), is the use of mathematics as a comparison to morality. He could simply be using the concept of such to demonstrate an absolute, but why would he use an example not created by God, to demonstrate a comparison to morality which he is presumably suggesting is created by God? If we can conceive of a concept such as mathematics, which is absolute and objective, yet not formulated by God, then surely we could conceive morality to be the same. Unfortunately he makes no such transcendental argument thus far, so we shall see where he takes us.
There’s always more to touch on, and I’ve only really glossed on the small part I’ve read of the book, but I guess this gives you my basic thoughts at the moment.
Lewis C.S (2002). Mere Christianity (50th Anniversary Ed.). Hammersmith, London. Harper-Collins Publishers. Pp-12-3.
The book I’m reading at the moment proper is Stephen Law’s little book on Humanism, which is interesting. I haven’t really read anything specifically on humanist philosophy before. Aside from defining and examining what a Humanist is and does or doesn’t believe, much of it is the same as most atheist or Christian literature, critiquing the other side, critiquing their arguments (Cosmological, Design), which to be honest, I’m bored with, on both sides. These arguments, like most logical proofs, fall victim to analysis and evidential support. There’s just too much wiggle room to discuss premises, to negate premises, to not accept premises, especially when discussing the existence of entities. I’m of course not saying that nothing can be disproved, or proved for that matter via logic, take the example of the shavers paradox:
“Suppose that in a certain village there is a barber who is himself a resident of that village, who shaves all and only those villagers who do not shave themselves. Does the barber shave himself?” (Parsons, Pg 23, 1989)
The logical paradox in this story clearly demonstrates that this barber cannot exist, and shows how logical disproof and by extension proof can work. The problem it seems, and this may only be for me, is in syllogistic logic. The premises for both sides of the great God debate (Cosmological versus Problem of Evil etc) fall prey to never ending critique and revision, hence they’re always true, or false, depending on your worldview, or presupposition/disposition (note I am not endorsing that both sides are objectively true, only that each side believes they have the truth). Perhaps it’s why I don’t go so far as to say I believe no God’s exist, after all, how would I demonstrate that?
Nonetheless it’s an interesting little book. What has interested me is the philosophical meta-analysis of God talk (a la Nielsen, Martin, Smith) and how meaningful that talk is (i.e- what does it mean for a non temporal, infinite being to create and effect the finite and temporal, what does it mean for the immaterial to create and effect the material, do these terms have meaningful referents at all? etc), which I always enjoy, even if I am too dim to successfully employ it in argument. For example Law says:
“Suppose I claim that there exists a non-spatial mountain. It’s a mountain with a short summit flanked by a steep valleys and crags.Only this mountain is not located or extended in space at all. It does not have spatial dimensions. The mountain transcends our spatial world.
You might well ask why I suppose there is such a mountain. And if I a cannot give you good reasons, you will be rightly skeptical. But actually, isn’t there a rather more fundamental problem with my claim that such a mountain exists? Can’t we know, even before we get to the question of whether there is any evidence for or against my mountain, that there can be no such thing? For the very idea of a non-spatial mountain makes no sense. My hypothetical mountain has a summit, valleys, and cliffs, but these are all features that require spatial extension. A summit requires that one part of the mountain be higher than another. A valley must be lower than the surrounding terrain. The concepts of a mountain, a summit, and so on are concepts that can only sensibly be applied within a spatial context. Strip the context away and we end up talking nonsense.
But if we now turn to a transcendent designer, does that make any more sense? The concept of an agent has its home in a temporal setting. The concept of an agent is the concept of someone or something with beliefs and desires on which they might more or less rationally act. But actions are events that happen at particular moments in time. And beliefs and desires are psychological states that have temporal duration.
Now, when we suppose that the spatio-temporal universe was created by God, we are presumably supposing it was created by a non-temporal agent- an agent that does not (or at least did not then) exist in time. For of course there was not any time for the agent to exist in. But if desires are psychological states with temporal duration, how could this agent posses the desire to create the universe? And how did it perform the act of creation if there was not yet any time in which actions might be performed? It’s hard to see how talk of a non-temporal agent makes any more sense than a non-spatial mountain.” (Law, pg 44-5, 2011)
I don”t necessarily claim this to be damning counter evidence against a God or god’s existence, because I think ultimately a theist is always going to have a response, and we can go down that rabbit hole at another time. Nonetheless it is an interesting discussion I hadn’t heard until recently.
The serious problem I have with the book , thus far, is its lack of referencing for its Humanist definitions, seems a serious philosopher might want to source that kind of stuff. In my defense of Law, which was admittedly weak, and mostly likely ad hoc, was, he is an authority on this matter, in the sense of being a serious philosopher (he tackles Plantinga’s EAAN regularly) and all his information is discoverable, hence falsifiable, much like the authority of science, but I admit, that argument is weak! It remains a serious cross against this book (for example: how could I possibly site it?). I guess I’ll report on the rest of it as I go (I’m about half way through).
Law S., (2011). Humanism: A Very Short Introduction. New York. Oxford University Press. Pg 44-45.
Parsons K., (1989). God: and the Burden of Proof. Buffalo, New York. Prometheus Books. Pg 23.