Lewis: A Meaningless Play of Atoms in Space & Time?

C. S. Lewis 7C. S. Lewis makes good use of “what if” questions. What if, for instance, there is nothing at all supernatural in the universe and that Nature is everything? “Let us suppose,” he says, “that nothing ever has existed or ever will exist except this meaningless play of atoms in space and time.”

If that is what one considers to be the essence of being, that humans are the result of an accidental collision of atoms and even our own consciousness of ourselves and all things around us is simply part of a “whole meaningless process,” what are we to do with this life we seem to have stumbled upon?

Lewis provides three possibilities, given the mindset of pure naturalism, and none of them is satisfactory:

(1) You might commit suicide. . . .

(2) 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 of sensual pleasures. . . .

(3) You may defy the universe. You may say, “Let it be irrational, I am not. Let it be merciless, I will have mercy. By whatever curious chance it has produced me, now that I am here I will live according to human values. I know the universe will win in the end, but what is that to me? I will go down fighting.

Lewis notes that most people with this worldview “adopt a more or less uneasy alternation between the second and the third attitude,” but neither provides a real answer to why we are here at all. “All Naturalism,” he correctly explains, “leads us to this in the end—to a quite final and hopeless discord between what our minds claim to be and what they really must be if Naturalism is true.”

Faced with the utter meaninglessness of life from this viewpoint, a person may then be led to the borderlands of what is actually true:

It is when one has faced this preposterous conclusion that one is at last ready to listen to the voice that whispers: “But suppose we really are spirits? Suppose we are not the offspring of Nature?”

Once that question is asked, one may be on the path to the One who is the only Way, Truth, and Life.

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.