C.S. Lewis on Miracles - page 3


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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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  Lewis, in the debate, made some qualifications to his position and later felt that the points raised by Anscombe warranted some revisions in this early section of Miracles. What is surprising about this whole incident is the “much ado” made about it. Some say that Lewis lost the debate, some say he won it, and others are in between. For instance, philosopher Basil Mitchell said in an interview, “I don’t have the sense that anything decisive happened at that moment….” Austin Farrar said afterwards,

Much has been made about Lewis’s psychological state after the debate, some saying he was crushed by it and others, including Anscombe herself, who had dinner with him not long afterwards, said that Lewis was his normal jovial self.

  Some have said that he gave up writing apologetics after that debate. Others say that is absurd. For instance, he later responded to Norman Pittinger’s critique of his arguments on miracles in the Christian Century. Probably the best is to say that Lewis, although at one time a philosophy tutor, was more trained in the classic philosophical tradition than in the new analytic philosophy. He knew that in order to further debate with philosophers such as Anscombe, he would have to do much further study for which he had no particular inclination. So he decided to write more in other areas and not do much of further work in the philosophical arena.
  The central question is, was his argument in Miracles sound? I think the answer is “yes.” A few years later, John Lucas set up the same debate with Elizabeth Anscombe on the same issues and defended Lewis’s position to the satisfaction of many. Philosopher Basil Mitchell (who became President of the Socratic Club) later said about this re-run debate by Lucas and Anscombe:

Lucas simply maintained that on the substantial issue, Lewis was right and that, for the sort of reasons Lewis had put forward, a thoroughly naturalistic philosophy was logically incoherent. An outcome of that debate was to make it perfectly clear that, at the very least, Lewis’s original thesis was an entirely arguable philosophical thesis and as defensible as most philosophical theses are.


  There are three negative ways to respond to miracles: that they are (1) impossible, (2) improbable, or (3) inappropriate. Lewis addresses all three of these critiques.
  Many people assume that miracles are impossible. Lewis says in Reflections on the Psalms:

The real reason why I can accept as historical a story in which a miracle occurs is that I have never found any philosophical grounds for the universal negative proposition that miracles don’t happen.

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