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C. S. Lewis and the “Argument From Reason”: An Examination and (Modified) Defense, Part I

August 17, 2012

I.       Introduction: Lewis as Philosopher?

            Among the most influential Christian writers of the 20th century, I doubt that there is serious debate as to who would make the top of such a list.  C. S. (Clives Staples) Lewis[1], though deceased for almost fifty years[2] continues to be one of the—if not the—most spoken name among Christians attempting to articulate a “reasonable faith.”  His works are as popular today as they have ever been.  Lewis was a man of many talents and was immensely successful in a wide range of interests, including Christian apologetics—what he is, perhaps, most known for, Children’s literature with the Chronicles of Narnia, Sci-Fi Fantasy with his Space Trilogy, and numerous articles and essay on various aspects of the Christian life.  He wrote a fascinating and intricate autobiography of his conversion from Atheism to Christianity; moreover, he chronicled his personal odyssey through the experience of grief, after losing his wife to cancer, in A Grief Observed.  In terms of literary output, Lewis covered the spectrum of genres and did so with a command of the English language that fans and critics, alike, equally appreciate and envy.  One more accolade to mention:  as a tutor of Literature at Oxford, Lewis commanded high respect as a literary critic.  Among men of literary talent, most will agree that there are few equals with Lewis.

I do not mention these many accomplishments and talents to further bolster an already iconic reputation, but to make the following inquiry:  among Lewis intellectual gifts, is philosophy one of them?  From his writings, it is quite clear that he approaches issues of Theism (and consequently Christianity) philosophically even before he approaches it theologically.[3]  From his writings, Lewis intends his philosophical approach to be taken seriously.  In fact, he is so confident in his philosophically-laden approach that he makes the following claim:  “I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it.”[4]

Just how well does Lewis’s challenge hold up?  John Beversluis, a non-theistic philosopher takes seriously Lewis’ bold challenge, and uses it as an occasion to offer a full-length critical study entitled, C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion.  In his work, Beversluis interacts with Lewis’s main three philosophical arguments, what he titles:  “The Argument from Desire,” “The Argument from Reason,” and Lewis’s version of the “Moral Argument.”  He also interacts with a number of important claims that Lewis makes on issues such as the divinity of Jesus, the “case” for Christianity, and the problem of evil (or pain).  After examining Lewis’s arguments, Beversluis concludes, “my best reasoning  told me that the weight of the evidence, as presented by Lewis, is against it, and I wrote a book to explain why.”[5]

As someone who has found Lewis’s arguments for Theism and Christian faith compelling, the aim of this essay is quite simple.  I intend to investigate whether Beversluis succeeds—and if so, to what extent—in refuting Lewis’ philosophical conclusions.  While to some degree, conclusions have already been reached in my mind, this writing is itself an exercise in philosophical engagement with an opposing point of view (i.e. Beversluis’s).  The length of this essay will not prevent interaction with the entirety of Beversluis’s work—or with each of Lewis’s main arguments for that matter.  I will have to limit interaction to one of Lewis’s arguments:  the Argument from Reason.  I have chosen this one because I find it to be the most rigorous of the group.  With that in mind, the essay will proceed as follows:  first, I will explore where the Argument from Reason appears in Lewis’s other major philosophical works.  Second, I will closely examine Lewis’s argument as it is found in its most rigorous form in the third chapter of his work, Miracles.  Thirdly, I will investigate and interact with Beversluis’s rebuttal of Lewis’s argument.  While acknowledging that he does succeed in showing weaknesses in the argument as Lewis presents it, it is hard from clear that the argument is without merit.  Quite the opposite, I believe that a modified and modestly presented form of it provides strong explanatory power for the belief in Theism.


[1] All references from Lewis’s works throughout this essay will come from, C. S. Lewis, The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics, (San Francisco:  HarperSanFrancisco, 2002).

[2] Lewis died the same day as the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, and for this reason, passed almost unbeknownst to those who are familiar with his writings.  This is quite remarkable, considering that he was immensely popular even during his lifetime.

[3] For example, in explaining his approach to the issues of whether miracles are possible, he makes this noteworthy statement:  “If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say [that we are victims of illusion when confronted with alleged miracle].  What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience.  It is therefore useless to appeal to experience before we have settled, as well as we can, the philosophical questions,” in Miracles, 211.  In Mere Christianity Lewis does not begin theologically or scripturally to explain the doctrines of Christianity.  Instead, he begins by discussing morality, eventually making the “Moral Argument,” thus beginning even a book that is supposedly about Christian doctrine, with a philosophical approach.

[4] Quoted in John Beversluis’s work, C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion—Revised and Updated (Amherst, NY: Promethius Books, 2007), 9.

[5] Beversluis, C. S. Lewis and the Search, 9.  This is actually in the preface to the second edition.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 18, 2012 10:56

    I’d agree with you that Lewis’s argument from reason is the most cogent and intriguing philosophical argument he has to offer. In fact, it’s still my go-to argument for explaining the possibility of the supernatural. However, I doubt it’s very convincing to anyone who’s already chosen sides, even in a modified form. Of course, such is the nature of apologetic arguments. It may be helpful for fence-sitters and struggling Christians, but for the Beversluis’s of the world, I’d rather they just read the Chronicles of Narnia (perhaps Lewis’s most-read and most powerful apologetic work?) – or the NT for that matter – and tell me what better story they have to offer. Anyway … looking forward to reading the rest of this essay! You know I love this topic!

    • August 23, 2012 3:47

      Aaron,

      Thanks for reading. 🙂 I agree, which is why I tend to make my tone as amicable as possible. I state the implications as I see then, but put it tentatively, as I recognize people tend to already have their minds made up. And I absolutely agree that the story of the Christian faith provides the most compelling metanarrative for us to embrace. We all live by a metanarrative–so investigating and comparing the different ones should be a primary exercise in comparative religion. Naturalism is the dullest, emptiest, narrative I can think of. But that’s just me.

      So I hear you are done with your MDiv and have passed me by! 🙂 What’s the status on phd schools? I’m very jealous… 🙂

      • August 25, 2012 7:43

        Being done with an MDiv would make me jealous too! I still have a year left. I’m working on the GRE and PhD applications this semester. Thinking of Duke, UVA, UNC, and other East Coast schools at the moment, though I’m doubting I’ll get in on my first attempt…

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