Comment by Richard E. Robertson on August 24, 2012 at 8:16am

Sorry, @Elisabeth Decima, the ones who usually tackle this kind of quote aren't giving it much attention and my own dissections have been rather sparse because I've been otherwise occupied (which is probably the case with the other parties who tackle things like this). 

First of all, I do respect C.S. Lewis's academic status - but I've also read "Mere Christianity" - as a pastor! It sucked to put it bluntly. He only worked from some lay traditions in his arguments. Unfortunately these traditions significantly conflicted Christian scripture. Here are the fundamental precepts he ignored according to that scripture: God is omnipotent, God is omniscient, God is omnipresent. In order to make his arguments he had to deny the first item - he had to limit God. 

In that book he describes the source of his atheism (and it explains his arguments too). He simply went on the idea that because there was what he called "evil" in the world God could not exist. He wasn't actually an atheist by the precise definition - he simply was rejecting one model of deity and then worked to create a different model that more satisfied his beliefs. C.S. Lewis was a very concrete thinker with poor logical argumentation skills. His prose style was wonderful, and he was a creative thinker, but he built concepts to fill an emotional need (the loss of his wife was devastating to him). 

Look at his final statement in that quote "Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought; so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God." Atheism is not neither disbelief or reject of the concept of a deity. It simply the refusal to accept the idea of a God without substantial evidence. So his first mistake is one of definition. Next is the idea of "belief in thought". In this context he is using the word "belief" to mean two different things: trust, and acceptance of an idea or concept. He is also substituting "thought" for "logical reasoning or argument". So rephrasing we get "Unless I accept the idea of 'God', I cannot trust my reasoning; so I cannot logically deny the existence of God because that would make my reasoning untrue." He is trying to say that any logical argument must carry with it the acceptance of God, or it is automatically untrue. So his next failure is to support that claim. His only apparent argument is to attack the physical nature of the human thought process based on its physical origins. He tries to argue that such a system cannot occur as a consequence of chance (which is what his "spilled milk" refers too). Unfortunately for him his example is very flawed. An instantaneous random event (like the spilled milk) has only a slight chance of resulting in a specific order, but more advanced statistics (such as a binomial distribution) generate much better odds with large numbers of events over long periods of time. His third mistake is a bad statistical argument. And you yourself gave a very destructive set of examples to another part of his argument - thoughts are trustworthy only if they are created by a perfect intelligence, or at the very least, the mechanisms of such. If that was the case for ourselves then how would one explain insanity? or errors of critical thinking? or any of the other myriad of things that can go wrong if the mechanism of thought were the consequence of natural evolution rather than by intelligent design. This does not deny the possibility of such a design, but certainly makes it less credible. His question "But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true?" he never answers. I'm running out of characters for this reply! Had to delete a lot. :(

Comment by James Cox on August 24, 2012 at 8:20am

I don't think I have 'faith' in natural selection. I have experience with my ability to figure problems out, but I am also very wrong at times, from which I 'learn' from. Staying ahead of my error, when possible can allow me to continue.

Not having 'perfect knowledge' or 'perfect follow through for solution', are artifacts of trying to stay just a little ahead of forces/events that could cause my death or disability. Many times I can predict outcomes which can promote my continued existence, but knowing 'everything perfectly' has not been a skill/ability that I have been able to perfect!

I don't need to 'believe' in my infalability, I need to know and find ways to work around my falability.  

More than once, I have noticed that believing or promoting a 'lie', could be useful. But knowing what is true or a pattern, however limited, makes it easier to not jump off the next clife or see through a manipulators lie.

So take your best shot at using your mind. If 'God' made your mind, then atleast appreciate it and perfect it. If 'God' does not exist, appreciate that some how nature has made an offer of this gift, cool!   

Comment by Go Away on August 24, 2012 at 8:52am

@richard

referencing what you said:   Atheism is not neither disbelief or reject of the concept of a deity. It simply the refusal to accept the idea of a God without substantial evidence

Now, please enlighten me about this, because I believed that in common parlance an atheist was someone who believes God does not exist, rather than someone who does not believe that God exists.  The latter is what I always called an "agnostic", which is what I called myself in college.  

Also, you said:

He is trying to say that any logical argument must carry with it the acceptance of God, or it is automatically untrue.   

I think you are overstepping there.  He didn't say it wasn't untrue, only that he couldn't trust it to be true.  

If you have read other things by him (I haven't read much) then you know that the Christian worldview proposes that there is an ideal truth and an ideal mind, but that creation has been damaged by sin.  The human mind has also been damaged by sin.  So I don't think my arguments are actually very destructive, although thank you for the compliment.  

Christian philosophy is replete with warnings about not trusting your own intelligence too much, because it can be flawed.  Any honest atheist would probably say the same thing.  In daily life, both atheists and theist trust their own reasoning for pretty much everything, including when they have concrete evidence to the contrary that their reasoning might be flawed.  I hate to be cliched, but I really believe that it a characteristic of 'human nature'.  Even scientific studies have often pointed this out.  

As it is, however, I still have to concede that Lewis has a point in saying that if you believe in a creator you at least would believe that underneath the self-inflicted damage and the 'wounds of sin' there is basically a good design for something that can 'find truth.'  Whereas natural selection gives no such guarantee, as I said before, natural selection guarantees only what it guarantees, that up until this moment in history, it has permitted the survival and reproduction of this particular gene combination.  It says nothing about whether that is 'right' and it says nothing about whether it will survive tomorrow.  So I still think his point is valid, whether he explained it properly or not.

 

Comment by Richard E. Robertson on August 24, 2012 at 2:51pm

@Go Away, and you have demonstrated why trying to answer complex questions after being woken up at 4 am can be challenging. :p

There have been several quibbles about the definition of "atheist" here. Technically, if an atheist is given direct evidence of the existence of God or other deity, he/she neither denies or accepts the existence of such a being (or beings). Within that frame of reference an atheist could be considered agnostic at the same time. If they have been exposed  to the concept, and have rejected it as illogical based on the argument presented, what would you call them? I suspect most, if not all of the non-theistic membership, are in this position. And I have simply repeated the statements of other self-declared atheists. 

My overstep is he was entirely self-referential in his argument and he did not reach a general conclusion. 

I've mostly read his fiction (Chronicles of Narnia,  the Space Trilogy), but he refers to his philosophy those consistently and only removes the fictional trappings in "Mere Christianity". He was a strong proponent of the concept of a set of ideals of which our universe is but an imperfect reflection, or "shadow" - the philosophy of Plato. It's a Greek philosophy, not a Christian one.

Christianity assumes sin as the source of the mind's destruction, but neglects that patterns of thought that would lead to sin. If the mind was perfect to begin with, how would it select a self-destructive course? 

Did you change your name? I had directed my "destructive" to someone who had previously had used the name "Elisabeth Decima". 

Christian philosophy (as do the philosophy's of most other major religions) is not entirely flawed in its teaching about the limits of human perception. It reflects the result of centuries of observation and experience, but the underlying hypothesis is what is questioned by atheists. Much of this is a natural consequence of the Laws of Relativity (Galileo, not Einstein please!), and of Indeterminacy which define the limits of perceptual capacity.

But my point is he is using a Creationist argument. What he does is try to argue a frame of reference where the possibility of a God not being needed for intellectual capacity cannot be sustained. It's an attack on critical analysis of any argument against the existence of a creator. He wraps his arguments in Christianity, but he's simply trying to promote Plato's idea that the physical world is an imperfect reflection of a better one. It IS an interesting concept but, like the idea of God, it gives no basis of measure to validate it as being true.

Comment by Ron V on August 26, 2012 at 9:29pm

"ultimately have blind faith in something"

 

So, what do we have "ultimately have blind faith in?"

I have a microscope and can see how cancer differs from normal cells.  I can analyze DNA (via sequencing, DNA content analysis, SNP arrays, etc.) and see how cancer differs from normal cells.  I CAN see how these cells differ from normal cells and how there IS an explanation with molecular methods rather than saying some god or demon is responsible for these things - that is what "blind faith" might have us believe.

And, a belief in a god (specifically, the Judeo-Christian god) is really not much different, as Victor Stenger has repeatedly pointed out.

Comment by Katrin Schwarz on August 26, 2012 at 9:47pm

C.S.Lewis is sceptical about science in favor of metaphysics? 

Let me quote Jamie Teffler - "The absolute arrogance required to play the skeptic card to devalue empirical epistemology, whilst simultaniously holding a metaphysical position as truth is the most dishonest, ignorant and downright disrespectful stance to humankind, science, and Christianity that has ever existed."

Comment by Mark Lindell on August 29, 2012 at 10:52pm

I think he just made an argument from incredulity.

Comment by salahhe on July 3, 2013 at 3:34am

Nobody designed my lungs for the purpose of breathing. So, how can I trust that I really am breathing? Unless there is a god, I am dead.

If nobody designed my brain for thinking, therefor sometimes my thoughts are wrong and I make mistakes in reasoning. But since that never happens, I can only assume it was designed.

Comment by James Cox on July 3, 2013 at 11:30am

I suppose, since you are alive, but have no idea how many times the universe 'failed' to allow you to exist or to live past some x-date, this one event, 'your life/existence', would need to considered a 'given'. I don't know if you are a random event, or a 'must have one of thoughs' act of 'god/God'.

I expect there have been many 'accidents' of birth, where a respiratory system was not formed, or failed to operate properly for a continued existence. In you case, it seems to work according to 'design', or atleast to 'good enough' characteristics. I would suggest that a due appreciation is in order.

Comment by H3xx on July 3, 2013 at 10:55pm

From now on, whenever I hear a theist use this over generalization to describe what they think of Atheism, I'm going to ask them if they know what Occam's Razor is. If they say no, I'll explain that when trying to find a solution to a problem, then the simplest solution is usually best. I'll then explain that Evolution always uses Occam's Razor whenever it makes changes to a living thing. (I know it's much more complicated, but these people usually have short attention spans.) And that millions and millions of years of using Occams's Razor to slowly build and adapt is what created your brain. You're nothing but a string of simple and minute changes.

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