A Critique Of C. S. Lewis
"A Relativist said, 'The world does not exist, England does
not exist, Oxford does not exist and I am confident that I
do not Exist!' When Lewis was asked to reply, he stood up
and said, 'How am I to talk to a man who's not there?'" C.
S. Lewis: A Biography
Clive Staples Lewis was born, in 1898, in Belfast. C. S.
Lewis was educated at various schools in England. In 1914,
Lewis began studying Latin, Greek, French, German and
Italian under the private tutelage of W. T. Kirkpatrick. He
then moved to Oxford where his studies were interrupted by
World War I (1917). Two years later he was back in Oxford
resuming his studies. In 1924, Lewis was "elected" to teach
Literature and Language at Magdalen College, Oxford and
remained there until 1954. During this time period in his
life, Lewis wrote the majority of his work. Lewis moved to
Cambridge for the remainder of his life, teaching Medieval
and Renaissance Literature.
C. S. Lewis was a man dedicated to the pursuit of truth who
"believed in argument, in disputation, and in the dialectic
of Reason. . ." He began his pursuit of truth as an atheist
and ended up as a Christian. His works "The Problem of
Pain" and "Mere Christianity" dealt with issues that were
problematic for him.
"Mere Christianity" consists of three separate radio
broadcasts. One of the broadcasts was titled "The Case For
Christianity", wherein Lewis discussed two crucial topics
in his apologetic defense of Christianity. They were the
"Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe"
and "What Christians Believe". "Right and Wrong as a Clue
to the Meaning of the Universe", can be broken into three
parts: moral law and its existence, the idea of a power or
mind behind the universe that is truthful and intensely
interested in right conduct, and the attributes of
Christianity and why it was necessary for the long"
round-about" approach .
The law of nature binds humans as would the laws of gravity
apply to a falling stone. It is called the law of nature
because it does not need to be taught. Lewis points out
that an odd individual may exist "here and there who didn't
know it, just as you find a few people who are colour-blind
or have no ear for tune. But taking the race as a whole,
they thought that the human idea of Decent Behavior was
obvious to every one." Lewis brilliantly defended his
statement of natural law's existence.
Two arguments, which argue for relativity, posted against
him are the "herd" instincts or genetic inborn behavior (
i.e. motherly love, survival or sexual impulses) and that
which is taught socially or learned. Historically, these
two interpretations of human behavior have clashed,
however, he suggest that "reason" is above both. He
clarifies his position by classifying impulses as separate
from the decision to follow the impulse itself. The
"learned" argument is refuted by his analogy of a boy on
the island who is unaware of the existence of the process
of multiplication. He never attended school and learned
them. The education would be classified as "human
convention". This human convention, consequently, did not
invent multiplication just as it did not invent the law of
However, this comparison is based on a false assumption.
The law of nature, as Lewis argued, is not taught but
somehow exists as an inherent part of the human psyche.
This law also presents itself in the form of decisions and
actions in line with what ought to be done. There is no
school-room which imparts this law and the practice of it.
Consequently, mathematics needs to be taught and learned.
The attempts to equate the law of nature with mathematics
in an analogy is misleading. The only connection between
mathematics and the law is the nature of its existence and
the commonality of not being a human convention.
Lewis classified a natural law or the existence of a system
of absolutes as crucial in religion and especially in
Christianity. Lewis developed an argument through the
comparison of moral systems and what is judged as right or
rather what ought to be. Using extremes, such as
Christianity and the Nazi systems of morality, he concludes
his analysis. In this comparison one might say that the
Christian morality is preferable to the one employed by the
Nazis. Why? and by what standard has the Nazi system been
rejected? Lewis explains this as an underlying right or
absolute. This absolute system is based on those things
which ought to take place. In conclusion of this point,
Lewis states that the law of nature exists, dictating what
humans ought to do or right and wrong.
The second part of his argument dealt with questions of the
existence of the universe and the power or mind behind it.
He addressed the possibility of evolution and its
feasibility. The idea that matter just exists and by a
fluke came together in perfection producing what we see
around us today, was one of the two possibilities that
Lewis proposed. The second possibility is that behind the
universe is a calculating "mind". He brilliantly refutes
science's ability to find out what is behind the formation
of the universe. For even if science completely answered
the mysteries surrounding how the universe is here, it
cannot discern the reason "why" it is here. Thus he
concluded that a mind is behind the universe's existence
and this mind cannot be seen. The reasons for the
invisibility or intangibility of the mind is, again
brilliantly, explained in an analogy. Lewis states,"If
there was a controlling power outside the universe, it
could not show itself to us as one of those facts inside
the universe- no more than an architect of a house could
actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that
The concept of a good power or mind is misleading. When God
is referred to as good, the immediate thought is a warm
loving personality. Lewis referred to this good as
representative of truth. The law of nature is defined by
what man ought to do or as absolute truth. When one acts
according to what they ought to do, the law of nature has
no consideration of how painful or dangerous it might be.
This good, for which Lewis argued, is cold and hard,
without personable traits. He attributed good as "either
the great safety or the great danger-according to the way
you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way."5
The third aspect argued and justified the need for people
to repent and the promise of forgiveness. In this stage,
two realizations must be made: First, that there is after
all a "real moral law, and a power behind the law, and that
you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with that
Power."6 Secondly, the stage of dismay which precedes
comfort. This first realization is built on the logic of
the previous arguments. To perceive the situation as
desperate sheds light on and assists one to understand what
the Christians are "talking about". The conclusion of this
argument demands that individual recognize that coming to
terms with what ought to be or truth is indeed a sobering
When discussing the concepts of absolutes and that God is
good one would ask about His power. If indeed God is the
creator of this universe, then his power would be immense.
The word "omnipotent" is used to describe the power of God
in this context. The question then arises concerning a good
God and the existence of pain and evil in his creation. If
pain exists in this universe then God is either not truly
good or lacks power to stop it.
Lewis dedicates a chapter in his work, "The Problem of
Pain", to explaining this apparent contradiction. He also
tackles the concept of impossibility in relation to
omnipotence. The dialectic analysis consists of things
"intrinsically possible" and the things "intrinsically
impossible". A God of omnipotent power can do all things
intrinsically possible. The reference to God performing the
intrinsically impossible is nonsensical and foolishness to
Lewis. The attribution of miracles and supernatural
occurrences to God can be explained as possible, though
humans perceive it as impossible.
The work, "The World's Last Night" contains an essay on
prayer. Lewis examined prayer and its purpose by asking
questions like, "What evidence would prove the efficacy of
prayer? If a prayer is answered, how can you ever know it
was not going to happen anyway?"
"Does prayer work?" Lewis states that prayer is not a
machine by which one could plug in the right phrases and
get the results. He defines prayer as either a "sheer
illusion or a personal contact between embryonic,
incomplete persons (ourselves)and the utterly concrete
Person." If in fact prayer is a sheer illusion, its purpose
would be for the vocalization of wishful thinking. Whether
the desired result comes to pass is completely based on
fate or the simple fact that it was going to happen anyway.
If is indeed a contact to an "utterly concrete Person" to
what avail? What advice can a finite and intellectually
limited person give to an omniscient, omnipresent,
omnipotent being? Lewis states, "Our act, when we pray,
must not, any more than all our other acts, be separate
from the continuous act of God Himself, in which alone all
finite causes operate."
Prayer, according to Lewis, is a statement according to the
"will" or actions of God. The will of God is knowable
according to Lewis, however, he does not mention what God's
will was/is. In the following paragraphs Lewis conveniently
changes his direction addressing an other aspect of prayer.
He also does not explain how one goes about finding God's
will or why would God want to hear billions of little
voices telling Him what His will is. Lewis does a poor job
justifying the efficacy of prayer.
It can be seen that C. S. Lewis' analysis was always in
terms of black and white or extremes. Any other alternative
is either foolishness or unthinkable. He wielded the
dialectic process of analysis as though it were second
nature to him. His well trained mind synthesized
theological dilemmas for the layman. Constantly referring
to himself as a layman himself, Lewis left the details of
theological doctrine and philosophy to those who were
"experts". He was only interested in his own personal
questions concerning Christianity and sharing his well
thought out answers to others.
This critique of C. S. Lewis contains various selections
from three of his books. The first work address the topic
of "Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the
Universe." In this section Lewis argues for the existence
of absolutes, God and the validity of Christianity. The
second work which was examined was "The Problem of Pain". A
selection on the omnipotent power of a "good" God was
discussed in terms of the "intrinsically impossible" and
the existence of pain. Thirdly, the "efficacy of prayer"
was addressed in critical questioning of the purpose and