Is Bigger Better? C.S. Lewis, Atheism, and the Argument from Size - page 2


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From the Winter 2015 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

Is Bigger Better? C.S Lewis, Atheism, and the Argument from Size

by Paul M. Gould Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Christian Apologetics
at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

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Modern Man’s Obsession with Bigness

  If there is no argument, what gives? Again, C.S. Lewis provides insight. This popular difficulty advanced by atheists is gaining traction, because in modern times, according to Lewis, “the imagination has become more sensitive to bigness.”6 Lewis suggests that this new sensitivity to bigness is a by-product of the eighteenth-century Romantic movement in poetry. Maybe so. What is clear is that modern man is fascinated with bigness. We want a bigger phone, a bigger home, a bigger car, a bigger paycheck, a bigger Twitter following. We supersize our burgers and fries and sip seventy-two–ounce Big Reds. (I am mindful of the fact that I write this while living in Texas—a big state—full of big trucks, big highways and byways, and miles and miles of bigness masquerading as cattle ranches.)
  But this affair with size, Lewis points out, is not an affair of reason but of emotion. We behold the immensity of a mountain range, or canyon, or the night sky and our imagination awakens. We attach some quality—sublimity, greatness, big-league-ishness—to quantity and are thusly overcome by immensity; we look upon the night sky with awe. And rightly so. We ought, when face to face with reality, whether it be the vast universe or our own shadow, be moved to awe and wonder. As Lewis so eloquently puts it:

It is a profound mistake to imagine that Christianity ever intended to dissipate the bewilderment and even the terror, the sense of our own nothingness, which come upon us when we think about the nature of things. It comes to intensify them. Without such sensations there is no religion.7

  When we see things in their proper light, we are moved to awe. We catch a glimpse of the enchanted world, imagination awakens, and the transcendent breaks into the mundane.
  But modern man has mistaken this sign of transcendence for a philosophical principle. Since nature is all there is, this sense of awe and wonder in the face of immensity cannot point to something beyond. It must help us understand something about nature. Yes, that’s it. The bigger the better; size and importance are proportionally related.


An Argument in the Neighborhood

  The emotional response elicited from size points in the opposite direction from the Argument from Size. The feeling of awe, the awakened imagination, the sheer terror of our nothingness in a vast cosmos serve as a kind of religious experience that is suggestive of a transcendent Other. It is one of many signals of transcendence. It is an echo of the divine found within the domain of our “natural” reality that cries out for attention and points beyond that reality.

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