Daily Archives: 30 July 2009

Mere Christianity – Chapter 2 – Some objections

Following on from Monday’s comments I was pleased to see that Lewis recognised that there were some valid objections to his points.

These are:

What Lewis calls “herd instinct” or normal human impulses. He provides an example.

Supposing you hear a cry for help from a man in danger. You will probably feel two desires – one a desire to give help (due to your herd instinct), the other a desire to keep out of danger (due to the instinct for self preservation).

He goes on to explain how instincts in conflict must be resolved by a third thing: The Moral Law. As with a lot of things I feel the need to say “I think you’ll find that it’s a bit more complicated than that” and I can think of several alternatives without much effort, one being that these instincts are not of equal and opposite strength, another being that they are not the only two instincts at work in the human mind.   He also includes a lovely metaphor of a piano.  Each of our many instincts are keys on the piano and the Moral Law acts are the sheet music.  It’s a neat idea but it both begs the question as to where this Moral Law resides in our minds and it is wholly unnecessary for understanding human behaviour.

Secondly Lewis raises the objection that what he calls Moral Law is simply a social convention that is taught.  he refutes this objection by claiming that this Law of Human Nature is closer to mathematics than taught behaviour.  Essentially he attempts to assert that Moral Law is an absolute that does not change but social conventions are changeable.  Indeed he tries to make the case that social conventions progress to get closer to an absolute value and pioneers and reformers are those who make these social changes to improve the lot of all of society.  This may well be an attempt at Objectivism in a religious sense with absolutes of behaviour being assumed and then used as a comparison.  There is nothing wrong with this if you take the assumed standard of behaviour as a model and not a real thing but I fear that Lewis is making an error by granting his assumption too great a value.

In conclusion Lewis uses an example of a witch hunt to demonstrate how social conventions have changed but Moral Law has not.  He argues that our knowledge of witches supersedes any desire to kill them.  We do not execute witches because we do not believe in them.  If we did, he explains, it would be right to execute them.  I disagree.  We do not execute child molesters or mass murderers in England or in other parts of the world.  We know that such behaviour is vile and reprehensible almost beyond belief.  We can certainly justify ending the lives of such monsters but we do not do so because the taking of a life is considered to be wrong.  A wrong in executing someone is compounding the wrong of their crime, it is not righting it.  This is an improvement in moral behaviour for society, not a change in social convention.

Sadly I think he is trying to build a base where the Moral Law is seen by the reader as an irrefutable fact in order to explain the source of this Moral Law.  I’m unconvinced so far.  I can see far too many alternatives.


Filed under Reasons to be cheerful