CS Lewis, Cosmic Fake News, And Atheistic Naturalism

It is difficult to hate CS Lewis. From his charming fiction to the personable presentation of his arguments, all of his writing provides a glimpse into his personality. He knew that if you want to write effectively, you have to let the audience get to know you. Now, decades after his death, laymen and scholars alike feel as though they know who CS Lewis was. He is more than an author of an old book. He is almost a mentor, and almost a friend. Even Christianity’s most vociferous critics, such as the late Christopher Hitchens, seemed to hint at a spark of admiration for Lewis in the pages of his book God Is Not Great. Unless you [1] have not read him or [2] are actively trying to dislike anyone who is a Christian, CS Lewis will win bipartisan respect. He is both a delightful author and a force to be reckoned with. The latter came out in several of his works, but in this article, we will be considering CS Lewis, Cosmic Fake News, Miracles, and atheistic naturalism. His most adoring fans probably know that this means that we will be reviewing his book Miracles and some of the arguments that he used.

Throughout Miracles, Lewis mounted a few distinct types of argumentation. First, there were positive arguments that miracles exist. Second, he answered a few of the common critiques and misgivings of the miraculous. He interacted with both common arguments that were swirling around and scholarly treatises, engaging even with David Hume’s Essay. Beyond that, within the pages of Miracles, he even preemptively answered Bart Ehrman’s strikes against Christian theology as outlined in Misquoting Jesus. If you are a naturalist, you will have to contend with Lewis’s Miracles.

If Miracles Exist, Then Where Are They?

Naturalists will sometimes pose this sort of question. They will say that there are stories of miracles throughout the Bible. But the last one seems to have taken place 2000 years ago. After the death and resurrection of Christ, God has allegedly went silent, saying absolutely nothing. Why not provide an incarnation for every generation, so that they will believe? Heaven’s silence seems to be deafening. If I were the one responding to this, I might point out that just because they had not seen a miracle does not mean that they were not real. Still, the atheist might reply that God could provide a miracle quiet easily and resolve the whole atheism thing for them.

Lewis pointed out on page 64 that we interact with the miraculous so much that we do not even realize that we are doing it. It would be comparable to how a man might be so familiar with the grammar of his native tongue that he does not even realize that he is using grammar. Lewis pointed out that while you are sitting there reading his book all evening, you are not even thinking about the fact that you are using your eyes. If you stare through the window at a beautiful garden, you do not even think about the window. He wrote on page 64, “All these instances show that the fact which is in one respect the most obvious and primary fact, and through which alone you have access to all other facts, may be precisely the one that is the most easily forgotten – forgotten not because it is so remote or abstruse but because it is so near and obvious. And that is exactly how the Supernatural is forgotten.”

Similarly, Aristotle said, “For as bats’ eyes are to daylight so is our intellectual eye to those truths which are, in their own nature, the most obvious of all.”

First Miracle: Cosmic Fake News

In a day in which fake news is prevalent, people often what to know what the source of information for a particular fact is. I am pleased about this because people should not just accept anything that they read on the Internet, even if they agree with it. If a piece of information has descended from a non-rational source then it will lose all rational credibility. This is a principle that most of us generally accept. That might not necessarily be to say that the information is false, but rather than it does not have credibility. It may be true, but the probability that it is true is not as likely. Lewis applied the same principles, except on a much larger scale.

If naturalism is true, then the origins of the universe and the processes of nature are entirely non-rational causes. This is indisputable. I am not trying now to apply the much disdained terminology such as “randomness producing order,” and I am not talking at all about the Theory of Evolution. Lewis was instead talking about where Reason itself came from. If naturalism is true, then reason must have descended from a non-rational cause. It is the Cosmic Fake News. Lewis wrote on page 39, “A train of thought loses all rational credentials as soon as it can be shown to be wholly the result of non-rational causes.” Therefore, on page 42, he wrote, “It is only when you are asked to believe in Reason coming from non-reason that you must cry Halt, for, if you don’t, all thought is discredited. It is therefore obvious that sooner or later you must admit a Reason which exists absolutely on its own.”

Why Think A Thing Like That?

In the previous section, I summarized Lewis’s ontological problem for the naturalist. However, there does seem to be an equally significant challenge for the naturalist to answer pertaining to her use of reason. This will be the epistemological problem. Strict naturalism is the doctrine that the natural world is all that exist, and physical materials are all that exist. All thoughts will essentially be reduced to brain chemistry, defined by biology, especially the DNA molecule. The naturalist will insist that everything that occurs in nature will be the result of a previous natural cause. Lewis pointed out that this sort of naturalism “refutes itself” (page 22). If mental processes are the result of a previous natural cause, determined by a long series of natural causes, all of which are non-rational, then there is no reason to believe that your mental processes yield true conclusions.

Lewis crystalized this point by appealing to the distinction between two different types of causes, namely cause/effect and grounds/consequent. A cause and effect would be something like, “He is sick, therefore he is in bed all day.” Grounds and consequent would be more like, “He stayed in bed late, so he must have been sick.” The man’s late rising is not the cause of his illness, but the cause of our belief that he is ill. For the naturalist, argues Lewis, every event must be connected with the previous cause. Our thoughts are events. They must therefore be connected with the previous event (the cause/effect). The true answer to “Why think a thing like that?” must be the cause and effect.

On pages 23-4, he writes, “Unless our conclusion is the logical consequent from a ground it will be worthless and could only be true by a fluke. Unless it is the effect of a cause, it cannot occur at all. It looks, therefore, as if in order for a train of thought to have any value, these two systems of connection musts apply simultaneously to the same series of mental events. But unfortunately, the two systems are wholly distinct. To be caused is not to be proved.” He goes on to conclude that if the cause fully accounts for a belief, then that belief could emerge whether grounds exist or not. Since, on naturalism, mental events are connected to every other event by cause and effect, cause and effect can wholly account for one’s beliefs. Grounds and consequent need not be considered if naturalism is true.

If you are having trouble understanding how dire of a situation this is for the naturalist, just think of a belief that has a cause but no grounds. If a man believes that his faithful wife has been unfaithful, it could emerge as a result of over-bearing jealousy even if there were no grounds. A mental patient might think that he is the Messiah, emerging only from the chemistry of his brain, even if there is no grounds for that belief. If somebody is a capitalist, a socialist, a Muslim, a Christian, et cetera, they might express something that flows from their preconceived beliefs, but do not have any grounds for believing that. On naturalism, the cause and effect relationship can wholly account for one’s beliefs, even the belief that “I have grounds for believing X.” They will therefore be left with no way of knowing whether their beliefs are true.

Second Miracle: Moral Values

Lewis’s Mere Christianity is often quoted for its cogent treatment of the moral argument for God’s existence. As an atheist, he objected that God could not exist because there was so much evil and suffering in the world. Then he realized that to say that there was evil in the world was something like saying that there was a crooked line. But to say that a line is crooked is to imply that one has some idea of what straight is. If a straight line exists, then there is a transcendent standard of morality beyond humanity. In Miracles, Lewis took a slightly different approach to the moral argument.

Like with reason, we want to know where moral judgments come from. If a person of high moral repute gives you advice about how to resolve some dilemma, you will hold her perspective in high esteem. If a person of low moral repute gives you moral advice, you will not regard it very highly. Moral values will lose all credibility if they have their source in something amoral or non-moral. Yet this seems to be the position that the naturalist finds herself.

The origins of the universe and the processes of natural are inherently amoral. Human beings did not develop altruism because altruism is a good. We developed altruism as an aid to survival. Even if nature does yield some actions that we regard as good, natural processes are still amoral. Yet on naturalism, this is our source for moral conclusions. Lewis concluded on page 60, “If we are to continue to make moral judgments (and whatever we say we shall in fact continue) then we must believe that the conscience of man is not a product of nature. It can be valid only if it is the offshoot of some absolute moral wisdom, a moral wisdom which exists ‘on its own’ and is not a product of a non-moral, non-rational nature.”

Bart Ehrman And God’s Preservation of Scripture

Dr. Bart Ehrman has risen to mild fame among believers and nonbelievers for his testimony as a former evangelical Christian and his status as an expert in textual criticism of the New Testament. He seems to enjoy pointing out that with all of the different manuscripts, there are also many textual variances. In Misquoting Jesus, he argued that the text of the New Testament has been altered so much by scribes that it is very difficult to discern what Jesus actually said and what the authors of the New Testament wrote. During his debates, he often points out that if the New Testament was truly inspired by God, then it should be preserved, not corrupted by fallible scribes.

Lewis actually addressed this argument on page 95 of miracles. He writes, “If events ever come from beyond nature altogether, she will be no more incommoded by them. Be sure she will rush to the point where she is invaded, as the defensive forces rush to a cut in our finger, and there hasten to accommodate the newcomer. The moment it enters into her realm it obeys all her laws. Miraculous wine will intoxicate, miraculous conception will lead to pregnancy, inspired books will suffer all of the ordinary processes of textual corruption… The divine art of miracles is not an art of suspending the pattern to which events conform but of feeding new events into that pattern.” While the New Testament has been copied hundreds of thousands of times by scribes, with just as many textual variants, that does nothing to challenge the fact that a miracle occurred. Further, while the scribes certainly made mistakes, the task of the textual critic is to wade through the manuscripts and recreate the original.

The Ancient World Has Miracle Stories Because People Were Ignorant of Science!

One of the common charges against the miracles of the Old and New Testaments are that the authors and the people involved were just ignorant of science. They did not know any better, so they attributed everything to the divine. Lightning strikes? I don’t know how that happened – it must have been God. A virgin gave birth? It must be God. Now that we understand science, we know that a virgin cannot give birth. Summarizing this position on page 73, Lewis writes, “Such people seem to have an idea that belief in miracles arose at a period when men were so ignorant of the course of nature that they did not perceive a miracle to be contrary to it.”

He continues, “A moment’s thought shows this to be nonsense, and the story of the virgin birth is a particularly striking example.” When Mary told Joseph that she was pregnant, Joseph was going to leave her. He understood the laws of nature well enough to know that pregnancy is the result of intercourse. If you were to ask somebody from the ancient world where babies come from, what do you suppose they would say? People tend to think that the ancients must have been completely clueless because they did not have Google. They could not put 2 and 2 together and figure out that intercourse led to pregnancy. This is, as Lewis says, surely nonsense. Joseph would have likewise said of a virgin birth, “This is a scientific impossibility.” Jesus would have said it as well. In fact, writes Lewis, “If there ever were men who did not know the laws of nature at all, they would have no idea of a miracle and feel no particular interest in one if it were performed before them. Nothing can seem extraordinary until you have discovered the ordinary.” (Page 75).

Lewis’s Critique of David Hume

Some scholars believe that David Hume mounted an insurmountable argument against the existence of miracles. He argued that miracles are, by their very nature, intrinsically improbable events. There will always be an explanation that is more likely than a miracle. Therefore, concludes Hume, the wise man will always assume that an allegedly miraculous event can be explained in natural terms. In fact, even if your explanation for some phenomenon is so improbable that it sounds like ad hoc, wild-eyed speculation, it will still be more probable than a miracle. Any natural event will be more likely to occur than a miracle. On page 160, Lewis used the example of collective hallucinations, widespread instantaneous conspiracy propagated by individuals who are not known to be liars, et cetera. While these natural events may be improbable, are they more probable than a miracle?

Lewis pointed out on page 161 that there are two different types of probability that need to be considered. I made this point when I reviewed the debate between William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman. Craig appealed to what is known as the Probability Calculus. The PC factors in both [1] the intrinsic probability of an event and [2] the probability of an event given the background information. While [1] may be extremely low, that event can still be increased if [2] is higher. Consider David Hume’s birth. The probability that a man such as David Hume would exist is extraordinarily low. All of the connections throughout history, the people meeting, the little things that can prevent those meetings, render it almost a statistical impossibility that David Hume would be born. Yet [2] provides the information that David Hume did, in fact, exist and was born. [2] outweighs [1]. Hume’s argument against miracles considers only [1] without [2].

CS Lewis, Cosmic Fake News, Miracles, And Atheistic Naturalism

The miraculous pervades throughout our world. We use thought and moral judgments so often that we forget that we are using them. Unless you are a philosopher, you rarely contemplate that. Lewis had a lot of great insight throughout his book, but unfortunately, I did not want my review to exceed the length of his book. I recommend reading it without reservation. There might be a few points that I disagreed with, but they were not worth mentioning. Lewis provided a good basis for believing in miracles, both in reason and morality. Fans of Alvin Plantinga will particularly enjoy chapter three, titled The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism. In summary, here are a few of the highlights of what we have covered:

‌• Reason cannot have a non-rational cause
‌• Nature is a non-rational cause
‌• On naturalism, we have a cause for our beliefs, but we do not need a grounds
‌• Moral values cannot have a non-moral cause
‌• People in the ancient world would affirm that a virgin birth is a scientific impossibility
‌• David Hume ignored the probability of an event given the background information

Recommended Reading:
Miracles By CS Lewis
Can A Historian Use God As An Explanation?
If Atheism Is True, It Follows That Atheism Is False