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

August 23, 2012

VI.             A Modest Re-Explanation of the Argument from Reason

In honestly appraising Beversluis’s critique of Lewis’s Argument from Reason, we find—as we do in most philosophical arguments—that Lewis’s argument is not nearly as flawless as it initially appears.  It is the nature of philosophical arguments to be picked at and shown to be, at times,  inconsistent, incomplete, and presumptuous.  Enough philosophical rigor will eventually where down the strongest of arguments.  This is not to take away from Beversluis’s objection.  Indeed, he is right to insist that Lewis is too often uncritically absorbed by Christians who are searching for a basis for a reasonable faith.  However, while the formal version of Lewis’s argument (as seen above) has premises that are possibly unsound, imbedded in Lewis’s own case is powerful statement that provides fuel for a reformulation of his argument:

 It is agreed on all hands [according to Naturalists] that reason, and even sentience, and life itself are late comers in Nature.  If there is nothing but Nature, therefore, reason must have come into existence by a historical process.  And of course, for the Naturalist, this process was not designed to produce mental behavior that can find truth.  There was no designer; and indeed, until there were thinkers, there was not truth or falsehood.  The type of mental behavior we now call rational thinking or inference must have been ‘evolved’ by natural selection, by the gradual weeding out of types less fitted to survive.[1]

Now, Beversluis believes that Lewis is arguing based on this fact—which all Naturalists would agree with—that the processes of the human mind cannot be rational.[2]  However, at least in this particular statement, Lewis is not suggesting as much.  Rather, he is suggesting the point that I made earlier in regards to Anscombe:  in such a universe, reason is ultimately accidental, subjective, and meaningless.  Let me explain.

For the Naturalist, there is no Mind (or Logos) behind the universe.  As such, the universe is ultimately a mindless, impersonal, physical brute fact.  It just is.  Yet, as we have shown, in such a universe there is no objective value, for nature is value-neutral.  Lewis takes this one step farther:  in such a universe there is no “truth or falsehood” (ultimately).  This is because both value and truth are intrinsically personal and rational terms.  Hence, both value and truth require minds.  So, for Lewis, if Naturalism is true, then truth, falsehood, value, and other terms requiring personhood or minds, are not intrinsic to the universe itself, but “late comers” in this accidental process called Nature.  Late comers indeed.  Until human beings—with the requisite minds needed for reason—which did not show up until several thousand years ago, there would have been no such thing as reason, truth, or value.  Yet, does this situation not present an oxymoron of sorts?  Again, allow me to explain.

We often here the phrase “fish out of water” to indicate something, or a someone that does not fit the environment or context that he or she is in.  A fish out of water is something that simply does not fit; it’s oxymoronic, for as we all know, fish are water creatures.  But this is precisely what Naturalists are asking us to accept when they suggest that a reasonless, meaningless, valueless,  universe gives rise to creatures who are reasoning, meaning-making, value-making beings.  We are the ultimate “fish out of water” creatures, for we are born into a universe that at its very core is fundamentally different than us.  It would be rather like an evolutionary process that causes fish—with all their water-specific natures—to emerge in a desert.  We are creatures—with all our reasoning, value-making, meaning-making natures—born into the vast desert of an accidental, reasonless universe.  At bottom, this is what the Naturalist is asking us to accept.

Of course, no naturalist—Beversluis included—accepts this either.  Science is predicated on the discovery that the universe is, in fact, intelligible.  It corresponds to our reason-making natures.  Now, the naturalist may assert that naturally the universe must be intelligible to support the existence of intelligent creatures.  But all he or she has done here is make an assertion.  This has not even begun to approach what is an explanation or a why to such a phenomenon.  As we all know, however, an assertion does not go very far in explanatory power.

So with Naturalism, we still end up with the phenomenon of human reasoning and the phenomenon that nature, itself, is reasonable and intelligible.  It contains laws of logic and mathematics and physics that human reasoning can discover.  The universe seems meaningful and reasonable.  In Naturalism, this is a sheer inexplicability.  And yet with Theism and the belief that there is an ultimate Mind, or in Christian theology—a Logos—that the intelligibility and rationality of the universe is grounded in and is derivative of, suddenly we have an explanation.  Suddenly the rationality and intelligibility of the universe is, itself, reasonable.

 VII.          Conclusion

This proposal of a modified Argument From Reason does not prove Theism.  It can only strongly suggest the plausibility of Theism.   While C. S. Lewis’s own formulation of the argument does not, itself, provide undeniable proof that the existence of reason shows the existence of God, it does provide the groundwork for a very sound and persuasive case that the intelligibility and rationality of the universe makes far better sense in Theism than it does in Naturalism.  At least in Theism, we do not arrive at human beings being the perennial “fish-out-of-water.”

 

 

 


[1] Lewis, Miracles, 220.

[2] Beversluis, C. S. Lewis and the Search, 150.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 28, 2012 5:45

    Very nice summation of CS Lewis and Beversluis. I am quoting you in our small group tonight! Thank you!

    • October 29, 2012 3:25

      Carolin,

      Thank you for taking the time to read–it was a looong paper. 🙂 I wish you the best in your studies at Fuller. I have several friends who have attended there.

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