“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.” -C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
“The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were ‘gods’ and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.” -C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
“A cleft has opened in the pitiless walls of the world, and we are invited to follow our great Captain inside.” -C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”
“You might decide simply to have as good a time as possible. The universe is a universe of nonsense, but since you are here, grab what you can. Unfortunately, however, there is, on these terms, so very little left to grab – only the coarsest sensual pleasures. You can’t, except in the lowest animal sense, be in love with a girl if you know (and keep on remembering) that all the beauties both of her person and of her character are a momentary and accidental pattern produced by the collision of atoms, and that your own response to them is only a sort of psychic phosphorescence arising from the behavior of your genes. You can’t go on getting any very serious pleasure from music if you know and remember that its air of significance is a pure illusion, that you like it only because your nervous system is irrationally conditioned to like it. You may still, in the lowest sense, have a “good time”; but just in so far as it becomes very good, just in so far as it ever threatens to push you on from cold sensuality into real warmth and enthusiasm and joy, so far you will be forced to feel the hopeless disharmony between your own emotions and the universe in which you really live.” – C.S. Lewis, “On Living in an Atomic Age”
“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.” -C.S. Lewis
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.
‘The Devil was sick, the Devil a monk would be.’ as quoted in C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves