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

August 21, 2012

IV.             Exploring Beversluis’s Rebuttal(s): Lewis Offers “False Dilemmas”

            I must confess there is no way to do real justice to Beversluis’s entire case against Lewis’s Argument from Reason in this brief essay.  Beversluis spends upwards of fifty pages on this one argument and attacks it from every possible angle.  However, by offering two of his strongest objections, we may gain an understanding into the strength—or weakness—of Lewis’s argument as a whole.


Objection #1:  Lewis offers only two alternatives:  deterministic naturalism and supernaturalism

Beversluis dives in by pointing out that Lewis attempts to allow for delineation between only two options, deterministic naturalism and supernaturalism.[1]  Lewis believed that for the naturalist, “nature is a self-contained and closed system.”[2]  Beversluis comments that “closed” for Lewis “means causally closed” and thus considers naturalism a form of determinism.  By defining naturalism so, Lewis’s argument “depends on the assumption that there are only two alternatives: deterministic naturalism and supernaturalism.”[3]  What strikes Beversluis as exceedingly odd is that Lewis pays lip-service to a Quantum Theory as a scientific theory that allows for spontaneity and freedom in the natural systems.  Presumably, many of these quantum theorists are naturalists themselves and are, by definition, not deterministic naturalists based on their scientific theory.  Yet, Lewis simply passes this alternative by when he writes, “I cannot help thinking they [quantum theorists] mean no more than that the movements of individual units are permanently incalculable to us, not that they are in themselves random and lawless.”[4]   Thus Lewis sets up a false dichotomy and need not be accepted.

For my part, I largely agree with Bevesluis here.  Lewis does leverage a great deal of his argument against one form of naturalism—mainly determinism.  He would like for us to accept reason as something that is not “causally connected” to a great chain of prior physical events, as something that is spontaneous or “free.”  And, in a very real sense it does involve a degree of freedom and “intentionality.”  However, if we acknowledge that spontaneity is part of “the system,” then the uniqueness of intentional reasoning disappears.  The two become compatible.

I wonder, though, if Bevesluis has considered the implications of Quantum Theory.  If the universe is an “open” system (at least to some degree) then that leaves open the possibility of something being “outside” or “beyond” the system.  That is to say, does Quantum Theory lend very well to naturalism?  Is not Naturalism more coherent when nature operates like a machine of causally connected processes, rather than like an organism that is alive?  In fact, that is one of the major arguments leveraged against Naturalism:  the sheer randomness of nature seems to make the existence of living things—especially reasoning beings—inexplicable.  At least with determinism, the Naturalist can retort that the process of cause-and-effect seems to be one of machine-like precision.  It seems as though Naturalism is predicated on deterministic processes of cause-and-effect.  That is why many biologists, and neurologists are determinists.  The whole thing makes more sense—in Naturalism—if all that is, is an unfolding of an inevitable (non-free!) process.  So while Beversluis shows a logical “loop-hole” so to speak; he would need to do for deterministic naturalism what C. S. Lewis does not do for indeterministic naturalism:  show how it is a faulty view.

[1] Beversluis expresses great angst at Lewis’ constant “false dilemmas”:  offering the reader only two (or three) options, one being absurd, and the other by default, imminently more reasonable:

Again and again his refutation depends on the shaky foundation of the straw man and the false dilemma.  Either hold (the absurd view) that the feeling of certainty we express by the words ‘therefore’ and ‘must be’ is a ‘mere feeling in the mind’ or grant that reason provides  ‘genuine insights’ into reality.  Either hold (the absurd view) that there is no such thing as rational inference or grant that reason is ‘independent’ of nature and puts us in touch with something ‘behind’ it…As with the Lunatic or Fiend Dilemma and the Lord, Lunatic, and Fiend Dilemma, these alternatives are not the only ones and they simply do not exhaust out options.  Intermediate positions remain open to us.  Naturalism is one of them,” in C. S. Lewis and the Search, 193-194.

[2] Beversluis, C. S. Lewis and the Search, 145.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Quoted in Beversluis, C. S. Lewis and the Search, 147.

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