C.S. Lewis on Miracles - page 1

 


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From the Fall 2004 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

C.S. Lewis on Miracles

by Art Lindsley, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow, C.S. Lewis Institute

 

ne of the classic ways in which believers have provided evidence for their faith is through miracles. By looking at prophecies from the Old Testament fulfilled in Christ, or healing and nature miracles, or the resurrection, believers have tried to show that there is a convergence of signs all pointing to Jesus as the Son of God. However, since the Enlightenment, there has been a strong rejection of miracles by modernism so that it has become necessary to apologize for the introduction of miracles rather than using them for evidence. Perhaps this skepticism is waning now that modernism is not in vogue, but there are still many who are skeptical of miraculous claims. C. S. Lewis in his book Miracles and in essays on the subject sought to clear the ground so that miracles could again be discussed.
  One of the factors that brought Lewis to public attention was his unblushing affirmation of the supernatural—God, demons, miracles, and all. How could a sophisticated Oxford professor believe such things in the twentieth century? When his face appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1947, it read, “Oxford’s C. S. Lewis: His Heresy Christianity.” What made Lewis such a “heretic?” Well, he rejected the fashion to lower the bar of belief, minimizing the things you really needed to embrace to be a Christian. German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) had reinterpreted the faith so that it could be quite palatable for its “cultured despisers.” Rather than confront their objections, he gave ground so that there would be no obstacles such as miracles to get in the way. Liberalism tended to present Christianity without any miracles. Occasionally someone would accept a really big miracle such as the Resurrection but then deny the virgin birth, turning water into wine, walking on water, feeding the five thousand, and so on. It was important at that time as well as today to ask the question, “Why are miracles rejected without further consideration?” Lewis took on that task, not so much arguing for particular miracles, but critiquing naturalism that in effect meant that miracles were impossible or so improbable that they could never be accepted.

The Problem with Naturalism

  Lewis begins Miracles with a section on naturalism—nature is all that there is. You might represent naturalism and super naturalism in these terms. Naturalism presents nature as a closed box with everything being explained by natural cause and effect, whereas super naturalism sees nature as an open system, operating by natural law most of the time, but open to intervention by God.
  C. S. Lewis’s strategy, before even dealing with specific objections to miracles, was to show that naturalism had a tendency to self-destruct. In other words, if naturalism was true, then we could not be certain of the arguments that attempt to establish it. Some of this argument moves into more technical distinctions which I do not want to discuss in this context, but I do want to sketch the argument so that you can see its significance. If you want to look at the details, read Miracles or one of the sources noted at the end of this article.
  The argument goes something like this: in order for naturalism to be true, it must account for everything under the naturalistic premise. Yet the one thing naturalism cannot account for is the reasoning process necessary to establish naturalism. If a theory provided an explanation for everything in the universe but undermined the very thinking used to establish it, then it would either disprove the theory or make it very unlikely. If naturalism undermines reason itself, Lewis says:

…it would have destroyed its own credentials. It would be an argument which proved that no argument was sound—a proof that there are no such things as proofs—which is nonsense.

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