“Unless there is a God by whom ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ can be reliably assessed, moral judgments can be no more than opinion, influenced by upbringing, training, and propaganda.” -J.B. Phillips, Your God is Too Small
I was recently doing some study for a membership class at church, and I came across this critique of C.S. Lewis’s “spilled milk” argument against atheism:
I appreciated the post because it did make me think, and at least for my own personal processing of the argument, I wanted to offer a brief response. I’m not really taking up the cudgels against the author. This is for me (and I suppose any who read my posts).
First, thoughtful as the post is, I’m not sure it has grasped the point Lewis was making. I would appeal to these paragraphs for proof of the confusion.
Suppose you did spill a jug of milk, and suppose that somehow, inexplicably, it did produce a map of London….Would it ultimately matter that you cannot explain how the map appeared? Would that have any bearing on the usability of the map itself?
Well… yes it would matter, because this isn’t actually about milk or maps, it’s about rightly namely the universe that we live in. Asking why we have minds that work is actually another way into the question of whether there is a God and for what purpose did he make us. Lewis’s whole argument is that atheism has no ability to account for the origins of the mind, but Christianity does and therefore Christianity is a more probable account of the universe. So, yes it does matter (a lot) how we explain the origins of the mind.
But hold on a second. If you can’t trust your own thinking, and if you therefore cannot trust the arguments leading to atheism, then wouldn’t it stand to reason that you similarly cannot trust the arguments that led to a belief in God? Why does the inexplicability of human cognition invalidate arguments for atheism, but not also invalidate arguments for the existence of God?
And that argument does not apply to Lewis because he can supply such an account for the origins of human reasoning. Because atheism hasn’t provided a coherent account, it has a different set of problems to deal with.
Lewis was a man of literature, and clearly not a man of science. If he had studied biology, he would have understood that the selective pressures of evolution are not completely random, even if the process of mutation is. There is an illusory appearance of intelligence produced by the forces of natural selection whereby living things develop capabilities which give them advantages over their environment. In the case of higher mammals like ourselves, we have developed advantageous cognitive abilities which, very much like that analogous map of London, have gotten us places where we want to go.
True enough; Lewis was a man of literature, and not a man of science. He was also not a theologian (which is why he gets himself into trouble in theology too, sometimes). But in his defense, he did believe in evolution, so I don’t think he would’ve felt brushed back by these comments about biology. If anything, such observations about science would’ve made him hammer his point more. How do you account for such a rational, coherent, progressing evolutionary process in an undesigned, atheistic universe?
The block quote is fascinating to me precisely because it illustrates the failure of atheism to grasp what it needs to do to establish itself as a credible philosophy. Appealing to science and evolution is not it. In fact, logic would show us as much. A-theism (no-God-ism) is a metaphysical claim. Evolution is not a metaphysical claim, it is a scientific theory. So, appealing to evolution to vindicate atheism doesn’t make sense.
Atheism’s issues are metaphysical. That is what Lewis is arguing in the illustration. Atheism will always be stuck explaining how a meaningless, undesigned, uncared for universe could somehow ‘just happen to produce’: 1) meaning that isn’t us lying to ourselves over and over again, 2) morals that we should care about and treat as universal to everyone, 3) reliable scientific laws that came from nowhere but somehow happen again and again for billions of years and do not appear to be disappearing as suddenly as they came, and 4) unseen laws of logic and rationality that also happen again and again and are here just as firmly as the scientific laws are. This is the battlefield that atheism stands or falls on, not science.
And I would say that answering, “I don’t know where these things come from, but they are just here, so let’s go with it” (in addition to be a circular argument) is a curiously weak answer from a philosophy that has always insisted it is more concerned for logical precision and a humble, intellectual curiosity than any religious worldview. At least in this case, it seems like Lewis the Christian was more curious about the origins of human logic than an atheist was.
If you treat people like projects for you to improve, then when they don’t want to participate in that project you will inevitably treat them as a waste of time or you will feel threatened by them–because all you are seeing in them is something that needs fixing.
But the Bible instead calls us simply to love our neighbor as ourselves. This changes the motive to intervene. Our interest in people’s growth becomes selfless because it is based on love, instead of a “need to fix” them. It changes how we intervene.
It means ‘I want to help them, but I love them even without improvement, and I love them even if the pace of improvement is considerably slower or different from what “I” wanted.’
That is giving up control. It re-humanizes people so that we treat them like people and not just ‘projects.’
There is a God
I. Because there is a God, atheism is reproved
II. Because there is a God, he will deal righteously, and give just rewards to men.
III. Because there is a God, woe to all who have this God against them.
IV. Let us firmly believe in him
V. Let us labor to get an interest in him.
VI. Let us serve and worship him as God.
God is a Spirit
I. If God be a Spirit, then he is impassable and cannot be hurt
II. If God be a Spirit, it shows the folly of those who worship him by pictures.
III. If God be a Spirit, the more spiritual we grow, the more we become like God.
IV. If God be a Spirit, the worship which God desires most is spiritual.
V. Let us pray to God, that as he is a Spirit, so he will give us of his Spirit.
VI. As God is a Spirit, so the rewards he gives are spiritual.
God is Infinite
I. It condemns those who make more than the Godhead infinite (like the humanity of Christ in the Supper)
II. If God be infinite, then it is certain he can govern all things in his own person, and needs no proxies or deputies.
III. If God is infinite in his omnipresence, then see the greatness and immensity of God.
IV. If God be infinite, filling heaven and earth, see what a full portion the saints have.
V. If God be infinite, he is everywhere present–this is sad to the wicked.
VI. If God be infinite, then Christians can walk with God.
VII. If God be infinite in his glorious essence, learn to admire where you cannot fathom.
The Knowledge of God
I. If God is infinite in knowledge, then how unlike him are those who do not know him or his ways.
II. If God is a God of knowledge, then hypocrisy and secret sin is folly.
III. If God is a God of infinite knowledge, then we should always feel as under his omniscient eye.
IV. If God is a God of infinite knowledge, then study sincerity. Be what you seem.
V. If God is a God of infinite knowledge, there is comfort to believers when we exercise in private acts of worship, God sees and is pleased. There is also comfort to believers weighed down by sin, God can see grace in us, even when we can’t see it in ourselves. For the church, God sees all the plots against it, and can make them fail.
Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.
- We see the goodness of God in giving us the Scriptures.
- If it is inspired of God, it reproves those who ignore parts of Scripture, who replace Scripture with ‘secret messages’ from the Spirit, who never read it, who twist its meaning.
- If it is inspired by God, let us read it, prize it, believe it, love it, conform to it, contend for it, be thankful for it, adore God’s grace revealed in it.
Thomas Watson, BD, 26-38.
“We shall never enjoy ourselves fully till we enjoy God eternally.” Thomas Watson
BTW note: Watson’s point is less about ‘how much do you enjoy God: a little or a lot?’ The comparison point is ‘now or in eternity’ He’s saying we don’t really enjoy life to its fullest until we are in heaven enjoy God forever. He’s especially offering this insight to those who are struggling and suffering in this life.