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.

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “Mere Christianity – Chapter 2 – Some objections

  1. I hope you will forgive me if i refrain from commenting further on your thoughts concerning Lewis and this work until i have had the opportunity to read the book myself so that we may both be on the same playing field when comparing our various understandings of it… this may take quite some time however, owing to my previous interest in a number of books to read and a decreasing ability to devote the time to ‘catching up’ at anything like the rate the list is increasing. 😉

    <B

  2. I didn’t know you were doing this Hov…this is great! I love Lewis because he was an agnostic when he was younger and understands the thought process. Being raised in the church at times it is hard for me.

    As an atheist, what is your basis for morality and meaning of life? Just curious 🙂 To me, without God there really is no objective basis for morality….no real reason to live life, but they still exist. So I believe there is a moral argument for God. If man were to be responsible for our moral code, it would be as different as everything else man has come up with, but it’s not. It’s universal…how do we agree on right and wrong?

    Just some thoughts…glad ur doing this!

    Debs

  3. My guess is that we get our “morals” from the environment we grow up in, and our experiences in life.

    I don’t see any evidence that it is more complicated that that. Of course there is nothing simple about learning how to get by in life. Decision making can be a very complicated process.

    We do have some survival instincts coded into our DNA, as all animals do. I will guess that as our societies became more complicated, so did our decision making. We have miles to go in understanding how our brain works, and that is were our “moral” decisions come from.

    • (FO_CUS)

      Indeed you are right on many levels, but the question remains as to where our “instincts” or coded DNA comes from. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, so I won’t comment negatively on anyone’s beliefs. I only can say that nothing cannot create something, but something/”someone” can create something. Indeed I, nor anyone of great knowledge holds all the answers to life’s questions, but with a question, there must have an answer, and something/”someone” who can answer those questions. Wouldn’t it make sense for us to be created by intelligent design, and not a giant explosion? (not saying you believe that). Besides what evidence is there that a giant explosion is the result of something so complicatedly made; us? Human life? Again you and anyone has the choice to believe differently otherwise, but wouldn’t you have to admit that at least some of these points are blatantly true?

  4. Debs:

    “To me, without God there really is no objective basis for morality….”

    Why must the basis for our morality be objective? Acting in a way that minimizes harm and maximizes benefit is good enough; subjective, but workable. Besides, if our basis for objective morality has his own moral standard, why shouldn’t we be obeying that instead?

    “no real reason to live life”

    If you define the meaning of your life as dependent on the existence of a god, then no, you won’t see any other reason to live. But the reasons we have can simply be the reasons we give ourselves. That’s enough, for me.

    “If man were to be responsible for our moral code, it would be as different as everything else man has come up with, but it’s not. It’s universal…how do we agree on right and wrong?”

    I wholeheartedly disagree with the idea that humanity has a universal moral code. We have certain ideas that we share because they’re vital to the survival of societies, but when you get into the details, our cultures are really quite different. Sharia law comes to mind.

    Regarding the post:

    Lewis argues that the Moral Law is like sheet music, and our instincts are the keys. This analogy collapses entirely if you consider that he’s advocating that there is only one “right” song. If we only had a single piece of sheet music, music would never get any better. We improve upon what came before, fixing mistakes that previous people made and creating entirely new concepts.

  5. Hi Mike,

    “Why must the basis for our morality be objective?” I thought you atheist types liked everything objective 😉

    “Besides, if our basis for objective morality has his own moral standard, why shouldn’t we be obeying that instead?” I don’t see it that way, if your moral standard is to be a productive citizen except for one day a year where murdering someone is permissible, then how does that work?

    “If you define the meaning of your life as dependent on the existence of a god, then no, you won’t see any other reason to live.”

    yeah, well that’s about it for me. actually, a friend of mine is beginning a very good series on this

    http://born4battle.wordpress.com/2009/08/02/what-is-the-chief-end-of-man-2/

    We are all individuals, don’t disagree there…we all are unique. But I still believe we have our universal moral code that came from somewhere…I’m not talking details, that would be getting into our differences. Just our basic belief of what is right and wrong.

  6. “I thought you atheist types liked everything objective ;)”

    For facts, sure. Philosophy, not so much.

    “I don’t see it that way, if your moral standard is to be a productive citizen except for one day a year where murdering someone is permissible, then how does that work?”

    It isn’t, so that’s not really an issue.

    “Just our basic belief of what is right and wrong.”

    This varies *greatly* between people.

    Riddle me this: Is something good because God said so, or is it inherently good, and God merely tells us so?

  7. “It isn’t, so that’s not really an issue.” Oh but it is…abortion comes to mind…

    “Is something good because God said so, or is it inherently good, and God merely tells us so?” Both, except God never merely does or says anything.

  8. I really should write about the rest of the book.

    Love, feel free to bookmark and come back later. At the rate I’m updating this blog you’ll have plenty of time.

    Debs,

    As an atheist, what is your basis for morality and meaning of life?

    Unfortunately it is a bit more complicated than just pointing to one thing. Suffice it to say that I have a well developed moral base that is build on by my life’s experiences and my knowledge. Meaning? There are many, many things that give my life meaning, my children, my unwife, my work, good literature, new experiences, conversation, I could go on…

    To me, without God there really is no objective basis for morality….no real reason to live life, but they still exist.

    No, I don’t think morality is objective, not in an absolute sense anyway. I am sorry that you cannot see any reason to live without a belief in your god. It strikes me as rather shallow and fragile. No offence.

    So I believe there is a moral argument for God. If man were to be responsible for our moral code, it would be as different as everything else man has come up with, but it’s not. It’s universal…how do we agree on right and wrong?

    There is no moral absolute though. Pick a moral question and you’ll see people the world over addressing it differently, you’ll see different answers throughout history and different ways of reaching different conclusions. This is what Lewis’ argument hinges on.

    Ed, I agree but I still think that it is more complicated than that.

    Mike,

    Lewis argues that the Moral Law is like sheet music, and our instincts are the keys. This analogy collapses entirely if you consider that he’s advocating that there is only one “right” song. If we only had a single piece of sheet music, music would never get any better. We improve upon what came before, fixing mistakes that previous people made and creating entirely new concepts.

    Excellent point. Lewis does suggest that we are working towards a higher (perfect) moral standard as a reason why we are improving our morality. I think he misses the idea that we build upon earlier ideas rather than work towards a goal.

    “Is something good because God said so, or is it inherently good, and God merely tells us so?” Both, except God never merely does or says anything.

    Care to elaborate?

  9. No offense taken Hovness…we’ve agreed to disagree many times before and I’m sure will again. 😉

    “It strikes me as rather shallow and fragile.” Not at all, my life stopped being shallow and fragile the day I committed my life to the one who created it.

  10. Francis

    I have no idea how I arrived here, but I found myself reading your review and critique of Lewis and found it reasonable and a healthy challenge. I will return for more. Very nice.

    Regarding dear old Euthyphro, the third option is an entirely reasonable one. Using the word “objective” in a physical sense, and working from a Christian worldview, an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient being has no issues with proximity to this or that. Presuming an ex nihilo creation, all that exists temporally is viewed by God objectively. Biblically speaking He is not limited by his creation in any sense, and has an objective viewpoint on all that is because He made it and sustains it.

    In this case that to which God is completely objective has been created by him for his purposes and thereby reflects His character in one way or another. The identity of God is presumptively visible in all of creation. So his identity is seen in creation and his identity is perfectly proximal with creation.

    This need not be an existential tautology, for God’s identity is not God, it is an aspect of God, in the same way that the identity of a friend cannot pick you up at the airport, only the friend can do that. I am a nurse and I am also writing this, but there are not two people, even though everything about the one is true of the other.

    The issue is the internal cohesiveness of an objective morality which is neither an arbitrary imposition from God, nor is it an inherent parameter to which God is subject. Both of these options presuppose a proximity to His creation which does not exist. Certainly you will disagree with the ideas undergirding this, but the faux philosophical trap in question must presume a temporal or spatial or even metaphysical proximity, and thereby subjectivity, which does not exist in the traditional, biblical idea of God.

    And to the pleasantly prodding infidel, you poke a good game. The difficulty is, of course, your point of view renders you unable to say that anything at all is either wrong or right, no matter how utterly horrible. I suspect you know this, and would affirm it in a theoretical dialogue, that, for instance, ethnic cleansing is strongly aesthetically displeasing to most people, but it is not wrong. As I said, I suspect you would affirm this, no?

    This goes as well for the gracious host, when he writes, “Pick a moral question and you’ll see people the world over addressing it differently, you’ll see different answers throughout history and different ways of reaching different conclusions.”

    This cannot be given guardrails, nor can it be made to conform to social structure or cliques. In this, each person is not only a moral island, but if a person was to commit something unimaginably hideous, your answer would be, “I would prefer that not happen,” in a similar but probably more expressive manner to describing one’s preference in sandwich spreads.

    Keep poking around!

    Frank

  11. Antony Flew for 50 years was one of the world’s preeminent atheists when he published over 30 books in which he made the case against God’s existence.

    One thing however kept Antony Flew from staying an atheist which was that he had made it his commitment to honestly, “follow the argument wherever it leads” which lead him to a belief in God as Creator.

    Are you as honest in your search for the truth as Antony Flew is?

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0061335304/1n9867a-20

  12. hoverFrog

    the Friendly Atheist keeps not posting my comments on his blog so I thought I’d answer your question here.

    Is the symbol (cross or letter) a mark of religion or not? What is it that atheists are supposed to worship?

    Both the Christian Cross and the Atheist Scarlet Letter A are religious symbols.

    The Christian Cross reminds the people following Christ Jesus of His suffering and dying on the cross for us and to do God’s will.

    The Atheist Scarlet Letter A reminds those people who do not believe in God that they deny God and that they do their own will.

    BTW, the name “Scarlet Letter” for the “A” I did not name. I found the name at this website: http://www.cafepress.com/TheAtheistShops/6878246

  13. As for C.S. Lewis, his writing style is a tough one for me to read yet his message in his writings is very clear and concise.

  14. Pingback: Atheism is not a religion « The Magnificent Frog

  15. A Tale of The Atheist’s Scarlet Letter ‘A’ of Atheism http://bit.ly/2Wzw6x

  16. The Atheist worldview is in a great crisis because it has no foundational support for what it says it believes in. The Atheist worldview holds as truth that it is based on science, logic, and reason. In fact, the Atheist worldview has no basis to prove that it is based on science, logic, and reason without actually giving evidence that the Biblical worldview is true because only the Biblical worldview by its own definition is founded on science, logic and reason as set forth within the Holy Bible. Both the Atheist worldview and the Biblical worldview cannot both be true because that would be a contradiction breaking the law of non-contradiction therefore, the Atheist worldview is false and the Biblical worldview is true. Beyond Doubt – Christianity is True – Atheism is False http://bit.ly/5vtvvF

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