C.S. Lewis on Miracles - page 2


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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

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Yet naturalism does undermine reason itself. Lewis says that naturalism

...offers what professes to be a full account of our mental behavior; but this account on inspection leaves no room for the acts of knowing or insight on which the whole value of our thinking, as a means of truth, depend.

  If only blind, unconscious, material forces are working by chance within the closed box of nature, then what is the status of the conscious, thinking being that arises out of that chance process? How can we have confidence in reason? Do we not need to somehow get outside the box in order to see it and describe it clearly? But, according to naturalism, we are chance products of that box and cannot get outside it. Forces that are material, working by chance, might produce an ability to think in a way that was sound, but also more likely would give us defective, distorted reasoning abilities. Richard Purtill, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Western Washington University, restates Lewis’s argument (taking into account the critiques that were given of it) in his Reason to Believe:

If I pose a mathematical problem and throw some dice, the dice might happen to fall into a pattern which gives the answer to my problem. But there is no reason to suppose that they will. Now in the Chance view, all our thoughts are the results of processes as random as a throw of dice. …(A)ll our thoughts result from processes that have as little relation to our minds as the growth of a tree.

  If you throw the dice to get the solution to your math problem, how likely do you think that the first or second throw would give you the right answer? The complexity of the universe is far greater than 2 + 2 = 4. It would always be more likely that you would come up with an erroneous result than the true one. Lewis is dealing here with something much more than a math problem: the whole validity of our reasoning shaped by the cosmic dice roll. Even if perchance these reasoning powers were valid, we would never know or have an adequate basis to know that they were valid. Thus, on a naturalistic foundation, all our confidence in the reason used to establish naturalism is undermined. The only slim hope is that one in a billion rolls of the dice has produced the correct result.
  This is pretty abstract stuff, and perhaps your eyes have glazed over if you have read this far. I think that this general critique is perhaps better seen in the critiques Lewis gives to Marx and Freud. For instance, if according to Marx all philosophies and religious views come out of material forces—particularly the economic realm of matter—and thus are suspect, would not that same suspicion apply to Marx’s views?

Socratic Club Debate

  In 1948, as part of the regular Socratic Club meeting at Oxford, Elizabeth Anscombe, an analytic philosopher, brought forward some critiques of Lewis’s argument in this section (Chapter 3) of Miracles. Without going into all the details, the general thrust of the debate went as follows. In the original version of Miracles, which Anscombe was critiquing, Lewis had slightly overstated his case. He had argued that when we find that a belief results from chance, we discount it. Anscombe pointed out, in essence, that a belief arising from nonrational sources just might happen to give a right answer. She asked him: “What is the connection between grounds and the actual occurrence of the belief?”

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