C.S. Lewis (1898–1963) was an Belfast-born author and scholar, famous for the popular Chronicles of Narnia fantasy series as well as his more personal apologetic works, Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain and Miracles. Lewis has been called the The Apostle to the Skeptics as his works address the common objections that skeptics raise against Christianity.
He moved from the Anglican Church of Ireland to atheism (at age 15 years), then back to Anglican Christianity (at age 32). His reconversion was largely influenced by discussions with his friend and fellow author J.R.R. Tolkien. However, Tolkien was disappointed that Lewis chose to become Anglican rather than Catholic.
Lewis' autobiography, Surprised by Joy chronicles his journey from atheism to theism and on to Anglican Christianity. As a young man, Lewis was an atheist and credits the Roman philosopher Lucretius (94–49 BC) with having the most compelling argument for atheism (the argument from poor design):
- "Had God designed the world, it would not be a world so frail and faulty as we see."
While this is one of many arguments against the existence of God, it can also be seen as a simple objection to the harshness of reality. This argument could be viewed as either an intellectual argument, pointing out the contradiction between reality and specific claims about God's nature, or as an emotional response, blaming God for not doing a better job.
Indeed, the emotional response may be more consistent with Lewis' views. In his autobiography he described his younger self as being "very angry with God for not existing" and, despite claims that his conversion was based on a critical examination of the evidence, he describes the conversion in a way that is rooted in the emotion of fear:
- "You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England."
While it would be dishonest to claim that Lewis was never a "true atheist", it seems reasonable to conclude that he had been plagued with nagging doubts and that his skepticism and atheism weren't strongly supported by rational arguments and evidence.
- "Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable."
Lewis's arguments, while receiving much praise from Christians and being cited as some of the most compelling and influential arguments by converts, are surprisingly weak. At the most basic level his arguments first assume the truth of scriptures and then try to use this to prove the existence of God.
- Liar, Lunatic or Lord is repeatedly cited by a number of Christians as an exceedingly good argument even considering its weaknesses.
- The argument from desire has the notoriety of consisting of false premises and still failing to arrive at conclusion which logically follows.
- Argument from the normativity of morality
- Argument from religious complexity
- Religious belief is beneficial to the individual "Fine feelings, new insights, greater interest in 'religion' mean nothing unless they make our actual behavior better"
What Lewis lacks in the realm of coherent arguments he makes up for in popularity.
Views on Christianity
Lewis has a broad appeal among Christians of many denominations. This is probably due to his avoidance of divisive issues and his adherence to Anglicanism, which is a denomination that attempts to steer a middle path between Catholicism and the other Protestant denominations.
On the Bible:
- "It seems to me that [the death of Judas] and [inclusion of some unhistorical narratives] rule out the view that every statement in Scripture must be historical truth."
In his allegorical novel, The Silver Chair, the witch (representing Satan) attempts to coerce the character Puddleglum to believe that Aslan (who represents Jesus) is only an illusion. Puddleglum resists the witch because the world of Aslan, even if illusionary, is more inspiring to him than the alternative.
- "Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. [...] That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia."
This is a variant of the argument from aesthetic experience.
- Quoted in Michael J. Christensen, C. S. Lewis on Scripture, Abingdon, 1979, Appendix A.