Lewis: The Inconsistency of Naturalism

MiraclesIn his book Miracles, C. S. Lewis takes aim at “naturalists” who say that there is no “outside” reference [i.e., God] for calling anything good or evil.

When men use the words, “I ought,” Lewis notes, they are saying something about the essence of right and wrong that is built into the universe. In fact, naturalists should never use such terminology: “But if Naturalism is true,” he writes, “‘I ought’ is the same sort of statement as ‘I itch’ or ‘I’m going to be sick.'”

In effect, if you are going to be consistent as a naturalist, you would not acknowledge any kind of “I ought”; it doesn’t exist. Yet, Lewis explains,

The Naturalist can, if he chooses, brazen it out. He can say . . . “all ideas of good and evil are hallucinations—shadows cast on the outer world by the impulses which we have been conditioned to feel.” Indeed many Naturalists are delighted to say this.

There’s a slight problem, though, for those who attempt to explain good and evil in this way:

But then they must stick to it; and fortunately (though inconsistently) most real Naturalists do not. A moment after they have admitted that good and evil are illusions, you will find them exhorting us to work for posterity, to educate, revolutionise, liquidate, live and die for the good of the human race. . . . They write with indignation like men proclaiming what is good in itself and denouncing what is evil in itself, and not at all like men recording that they personally like mild beer but some people prefer bitter.

C. S. Lewis 9Those of us who have a better grasp of eternal right and wrong—good and evil—have an obligation to communicate the inconsistency of the naturalist position. Lewis certainly fulfills this obligation when he continues,

Do they remember while they are writing thus that when they tell us we “ought to make a better world” the words “ought” and “better” must, on their own showing, refer to an irrationally conditioned impulse which cannot be true or false any more than a vomit or a yawn?

The saving grace is that they cannot be consistent with their own professed ideology:

My idea is that sometimes they do forget. That is their glory. Holding a philosophy which excludes humanity, they yet remain human. At the sight of injustice they throw all their Naturalism to the winds and speak like men.

Lewis’s call to consistency is one Christians need to heed as well. Do we say one thing theoretically and act as if it is not true? Do we have a theology, for instance, that tells us that we are not really accountable for our actions, yet then act as if we are? Something to think about—all the time.

Lewis: Discerning Good & Evil

The apostle Paul notes that “the god of this world [i.e., Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel.” Scripture also talks often about how those without the truth are walking in darkness. C. S. Lewis picks up on this theme in Mere Christianity when he explains how sin warps our understanding of our very sinfulness:

Good & EvilThe right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good; a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right.

This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. . . . You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil; bad people do not know about either.

I think our goal is spelled out in the book of Hebrews:

For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

We need discernment. Only by growing in righteousness will we ever see clearly the distinction between good and evil.

Lewis on the Nature of Good & Evil

Writing to his friend Arthur Greeves in 1933, C. S. Lewis offered these thoughts on the nature of good and evil:

C. S. Lewis 1I think one may be quite rid of the old haunting suspicion—which raises its head in every temptation—that there is something else than God—some other country . . . into which He forbids us to trespass—some kind of delight wh. He “doesn’t appreciate” or just chooses to forbid, but which wd. be real delight if only we were allowed to get it.

The thing just isn’t there.

Whatever we desire is either what God is trying to give us as quickly as He can, or else a false picture of what He is trying to give us . . . wh. would not attract us for a moment if we saw the real thing. . . .

Only because He has laid up real goods for us to desire are we able to go wrong by snatching at them in greedy, misdirected ways. The truth is that evil is not a real thing at all, like God. It is simply good spoiled. That is why I say there can be good without evil, but no evil without good.

You know what the biologists mean by a parasite—an animal that lives on another animal. Evil is a parasite. It is there only because good is there for it to spoil and confuse.

I believe Lewis is accurate in what he says here. Sin is always the selfish ruination of something good God offers. Food, used in the way God intended, is great. Food abused is gluttony. Sex as a means of love, commitment, and the creation of a family is a blessing; sex abused is a lustful trap that ruins lives. There is a proper kind of pride—satisfaction for a job well done—that is twisted into arrogance when selfishness takes over. There is nothing good that can’t be perverted into evil. That’s what sin is all about.

What God is all about is delivering us from that sinfulness, thereby putting every good thing back in its proper place where it can be enjoyed in the way He intended.

Finney: The Motive for All of God’s Actions

Why does God do what He does? Is He aiming at something in all His actions? Is there a “good” at the end of His actions or is whatever He wills “good”? While this may sound rather picky, it does affect our view of God’s character. Charles Finney believes,

Lord Is GoodGod’s ultimate end, in all He does, or omits, is the highest well-being of Himself, and of the universe, and in all His acts and dispensations, His ultimate object is the promotion of this end. All moral agents should have the same end, and this comprises their whole duty. This intention or consecration to this intrinsically and infinitely valuable end is virtue, or holiness, in God and in all moral agents. God is infinitely and equally holy in all things because He does all things for the same ultimate reason, namely, to promote the highest good of being.

Theologians who promote the idea that the will of God is what is ultimate make a fatal error, according to Finney. Think carefully about his objection here:

If the will of God were the foundation of moral obligation, He could, by willing it, change the nature of virtue and vice, which is absurd.

If the will of God were the foundation of moral obligation, He not only can change the nature of virtue and vice, but has a right to do so; for if there is nothing back of His will that is as binding upon Him as upon His creatures, He has a right, at any time, to make malevolence a virtue and benevolence a vice. For if His will is the ground of obligation, then His will creates right, and whatever He wills, or might will, is right simply and only because He so wills.

If the will of God be the foundation of moral obligation, we have no standard by which to judge of the moral character of His actions, and cannot know whether He is worthy of praise or blame.

Upon the supposition in question, were God a malevolent being, and did He require all His creatures to be selfish, and not benevolent, He would be just as virtuous and worthy of praise as now; for the supposition is that His sovereign will creates right, and of course, will as He might, that would be right, simply because He willed it.

I hope you followed the logic because I think it is an accurate assessment. God is not an arbitrary being whose will can make good evil and evil good. Instead, He chooses to do that which is the best for everyone in His created world. We never need to worry about His character; His aim is always to promote the highest good for each of us.

Lewis: God Didn’t Make a Toy World

C. S. Lewis 6Last Saturday, in my weekly C. S. Lewis post, I quoted him on the subject of free will. He had quite a lot to say on that doctrine, and I like what he has said. Therefore, I’m giving him a wide berth today by relating a passage from Mere Christianity that makes the point even more forcefully than the quote I used last week:

God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right.  Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible.

Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating.

The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.

. . . If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will—that is, for making a live world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings—then we may take it it is worth paying.

As grievous as sin is, ultimately it will be overshadowed by love when the Lord wraps up this current earthly existence and we move into a new phase. We can get glimpses of His love now, and those glimpses make it all worthwhile.

Finney: Humility, Prayer, & the Arm of God

In reading through Charles Finney’s Revival Lectures again, I was struck by how contemporary many of his statements are. Yes, he wrote this in the nineteenth century, but the application to what we are experiencing today is evident. See if you agree. In a section called “When a Revival May Be Expected,” he declares,

When the wickedness of the wicked grieves and humbles and distresses Christians. Sometimes Christians do not seem to mind anything about the wickedness around them. Or, if they do talk about it, it is in a cold and callous, and unfeeling way, as if they despaired of a reformation: they are disposed to scold sinners—not to feel the compassion of the Son of God for them. But sometimes the conduct of the wicked drives Christians to prayer, breaks them down, and makes them sorrowful and tender-hearted, so that they can weep day and night, and instead of scolding the wicked they pray earnestly for them. Then you may expect a revival.

I also found these words relevant to our situation today when sin is being sanctioned by the government:

The prevalence of wickedness is no evidence at all that there is not going to be a revival. That is often God’s time to work. . . . Often the first indication of a revival is that the devil gets up something new in opposition. This will invariably have one of two effects. It will either drive Christians to God, or it will drive them farther away from God, to some carnal policy or other that will only make things worse. . . .

I'm InIf Christians will only be humbled and pray, they shall soon see God’s naked arm in a revival of religion. I have known instances where a revival has broken in upon the ranks of the enemy, almost as suddenly as a clap of thunder, and scattered them, taken the ringleaders as trophies, and broken up their party in an instant.

Those comments should be an encouragement for those who are nearly in despair over the moral insanity of our times. Never forget that the Lord is more than willing to break in “upon the ranks of the enemy.” All too often, He’s waiting for us to believe He can do so.

The Gosnell Verdict

In a week of breaking news coming at us like a whirlwind, none is more important to me today than the verdict reached yesterday in the Kermit Gosnell trial. The jury did its duty, which was by no means a guarantee. Gosnell was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder, one count of involuntary manslaughter, and a couple hundred other counts dealing with the breaking of Pennsylvania laws regarding late-term abortions and other matters.

We now come to the sentencing portion. Will he get the death penalty? Keep in mind that those three counts of first-degree murder were only the ones that were formally prosecuted. Gosnell has operated his “clinic” since the 1970s. His horrific practices—killing children after they were born—is something that has been going on for years. Frankly, this makes him one of the greatest mass murderers in American history.

Christians who shy away from endorsing the death penalty have a misunderstanding of Biblical justice. The New Testament doesn’t change the principle established in the Old. The most sacred gift God has given is the gift of life. When another human being takes away that gift arbitrarily, without any good reason, he has broken a barrier that God Himself set up. Civil government, in its job of meting out civil justice, has an obligation to take the lives of those who have crossed that line. This is not contradictory; there is a clear distinction between the murderous acts of individuals and the responsibility of governments to bring someone to account for those acts.

So, yes, I favor the death penalty in this case. There are no genuine mitigating circumstances. This man is monstrous, and an example needs to be set.

Some commentators yesterday surmised that this might change the course of the abortion discussion in America and make people less accepting of it, after having witnessed the barbarity of Gosnell’s practices. I hope so, but I’m not yet convinced. The Gosnell case can serve a valuable public service if we are open to learning from it, but never underestimate the desire of people to simply avoid the issue and continue on as before.

This also points to the moral dichotomy that exists in the minds of our citizens. On the one hand, we are disgusted and sickened by the infanticide portrayed via Gosnell; on the other hand, if those babies’ lives had been terminated prior to leaving the womb, many would find no problem at all with it.

The only difference between the life of the baby in the womb and the life of the baby recently emerged from the womb is only a matter of inches. Both lives are equally sacred. Both are innocent. Both deserve the protection of society.

Since Roe v. Wade in 1973, more than 55 million American children have been slaughtered. This is truly one of the greatest holocausts in human history. War is horrible, but just compare the loss of American lives in all our wars with the number who have lost their lives through abortion. This pictorial illustration should make it clear:

So tell me, which one should concern us more?

If the jury decides on anything less than the death penalty for Gosnell, justice will have been short-circuited. Righteousness will have been diminished. What of mercy, you say? How merciful was Gosnell toward those innocent children? God extends mercy when man has a repentant heart. Gosnell is unbowed in his arrogance. He is a man with a seared conscience. He needs to serve as a testimony that this culture hasn’t turned its back completely on a clear understanding of good and evil.

I’m continually reminded of this short passage in the book of Isaiah:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. . . ; who justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away the rights of the ones who are in the right.

Evil has been clearly identified here. Darkness has been exposed. May the rights of the unborn be restored in our day.