C.S. Lewis: His Theology and Philosophy - Lesson 6

Mere Christianity (Part 3)

In Hinduism, Brahman, the hidden inner essence of everything, is beyond human categories of good and evil. Brahman is the only reality. Everything we see is an illusion. The fundamental human problem is ignorance, not sin. Dualism is the idea that there is good and evil at war in the universe. Explaining morality in a dualistic framework is difficult. Dualism assumes good and evil are equal, so you would need a third element to adjudicate which one to choose, and that would be a higher standard. Otherwise you wouldn’t know which one to choose. Naturalism/materialism says there is no ultimate moral nature to the universe. 

Michael L. Peterson
C.S. Lewis: His Theology and Philosophy
Lesson 6
Watching Now
Mere Christianity (Part 3)

Mere Christianity (part 3)

I. Introduction

II. Worldview Engagement

A. Pantheism

B. Dualism

C. Naturalism, materialism

D. Realist metaphilosophy

III. The Shocking Alternative

  • The purpose of the class is to directly engage Lewis’s philosophy and theology. He brings a Christian worldview to engage intellectual movements of his day. The trinity created us to bring us into the fellowship that has been going on with God forever. 

  • The mind is the organ of reason, imagination is the organ of understanding. To understand what real truth is, the imagination needs to be a part of that. We are created in the image of God and are immortal beings. Ordinary people are extraordinary. The Christian life is most deeply about being transformed resulting in participation in the divine life. It's more than just having one’s legal status changed. There should be transformation in the culture as well as personal. God is in the process of redeeming a wounded universe, including the whole of knowledge and truth in all subjects. 

  • There is a sacred quality to ordinary activities as well as symbolic religious rituals. Whatever is true in any field of study is God’s truth. The world is essentially good, but it’s been damaged. God has taken a great risk in allowing people free choice for good or evil. Evil has become present in many forms in the world and it is anti-creational and anti-human. We are not broken, but we are bent. God’s nature is relational because of the nature of the Trinity, so it makes sense that he would make a universe that is relational. We dwell in God and he dwells in us. As disciples of Christ we all share the single vocation of loving God and others.

  • Lewis wants to parlay theological doctrines into dynamic insights and track out their implications for intellectual engagement. He does is with a background of philosophical skill and theological understanding of historic orthodoxy. Instead of arguing about preferences, we need to focus on articulating the doctrines that are universal. Lewis’s ideas are expressed so they can be understood by people not formally trained in philosophy or theology but they have merit in the marketplace of ideas. 

  • The probability of morality as we know it in the human community, given that theism is true, is more probable than morality given any other worldview. Morality at the human (finite) level is anchored in morality at the infinite level. Morality has its most natural fitting worldview home in theism. In using the analogy of light shining through boards in a tool shed, Lewis says, “I believe in Christianity, not because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.” 

  • In Hinduism, Brahman, the hidden inner essence of everything, is beyond human categories of good and evil. Brahman is the only reality. Everything we see is an illusion. The fundamental human problem is ignorance, not sin. Dualism is the idea that there is good and evil at war in the universe. Explaining morality in a dualistic framework is difficult. Dualism assumes good and evil are equal, so you would need a third element to adjudicate which one to choose, and that would be a higher standard. Otherwise you wouldn’t know which one to choose. Naturalism/materialism says there is no ultimate moral nature to the universe. 

  • Lewis begins by discussing our common moral experience as a triggering point to reason toward theism. Then he reasons for a deity that’s interested in morality that’s also a supreme power. With naturalism, we come from a source that is non-rational, non-moral and non-personal, so it’s difficult to understand how you get beings that are rational, moral and personal.

  • Theism is intellectually at least on par, if not superior to, other conceptions of reality like dualism, pantheism and naturalism. If there is a God that theism describes, only one deity of the living theistic religions said that this God invaded our existence. The question is that in comparison to other alternatives, what is emerging as a reasonable explanation of the reality we face?

  • Our rationality being reliable assumes that we can produce a large preponderance of true beliefs over false ones by using rational faculties like memory, abstract reasoning, perception and the testimony of others. The role of philosophy is to analyze and explain the common sense beliefs of the human race about morality and the external world. 

  • The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind. Lewis thinks that we now do not have broad social consensus of Christian truth. He challenges individuals to have a more positive affirming attitude toward intellect and academics. In his view, Christians are ambivalent about the value of the life of the mind and using the gift of our intellect to serve him.

  • Premise one: every natural desire corresponds to one real object. Premise two: There exists in us a desire that nothing in the temporal world can satisfy. Conclusion is that there must be more than time, earth and creatures that can satisfy this desire.

  • The Supreme Being, behind the universe as we know it, is a personal being, eternal and the model for how we are to understand our personhood. We can’t understand our own personhood fully, the way it’s supposed to operate, unless we understand what God is, as a personal being. We are not projecting our understanding on God but learning about ourselves by finding out about God. 

  • This is ultimately a book about a clash of worldviews. A worldview offers an explanation of the important features/phenomena of life and the world. In the West, the atheist worldview is often expressed in naturalism. Lewis argues for theism based on what is true internally of us, rather than argument from design. Discussion is not whether a particular miracle has occurred, but in principle, is it a possibility.

  • There is a supernatural power or being that is ontologically distinct from nature (transcendent). It is self-existent. Every world view must propose what is fundamentally real. For the naturalist, it is the physical world. For the theist, it’s a transcendent deity. Everything that is not God is dependent/contingent on God for its being. The theist says that the deity can bring about events that would not have happened by the regular operation of nature. 

  • What’s important to Lewis is freedom of rational thinking, free from physical causes. Naturalism undercuts the power of reason because everything is determined by physical causes. If evolutionary naturalism is true, then the probability of our cognitive faculties being reliable for truth is low.

  • If you believe in naturalism as a worldview, miracles are impossible. Since a naturalist worldview says everything is determined and thought is only adaptive, the ability to have free rational thought to logically evaluate naturalism undercuts the naturalist position.

  • Rational thought and moral consciousness are points of entry of the supernatural into the realm of the natural. It involves both. It’s not a dichotomy. Naturalists believe that the nature of human persons is limited to material processes. Substance dualists believe that mind and brain are two separate substances that are mixed for now, but at death one will cease to exist and the other will continue to exist. Emergentist sees the animal form taken to another degree of complexity by the natural realm getting increasingly complex and dualist in function as opposed to substance.

  • Scientific law is economical summary of what experience always reports: regular cause and effect. Laws are regularity based on coincidences. Causality is the basis of law. Hume says that laws are regularities based on coincidences. Hume says that you can only know regularity because that’s all the human mind is capable of. Peterson’s view is that a miracle is not changing a law of nature, it’s changing with the “ceteris paribus” clause – preventing all things from being equal and changing the nature of the item. 

  • There is nothing about nature that makes miracles impossible. The naturalist can’t see nature accurately as a creature, not just an independent fact but it can’t stand or explain itself. The cosmological principle is that only concrete beings, not general things, have causal power. Causal laws don’t make things happen, only the beings acting within the laws.

  • If God is in fact a living determinate being, and is outside the natural system, he might insert events into the natural system. The laws that we observe in the natural system may be a subset of higher laws that govern the universe. What criteria do you use to determine if a miracle has taken place? Evidence plus intrinsic probability. Whether or not an event is a miracle is also part of the discussion of the problem of evil. Why would God intervene in some circumstances but not others? 

  • In philosophy, it’s referred to as the problem of evil. Given a certain understanding of God and a certain understanding of evil, there is a tension explaining why evil exists in the world.

  • If God chooses to create a nature, this signifies a physical system which indicates a relatively independent nature independent from himself, it would make a lot of sense to say he is frequently intervening.  The same laws that make nature a stable environment in which rational soulish life can emerge, are also the same laws that make us vulnerable. Pain is God’s megaphone to arouse a deaf world. He might whisper to us in our pleasures, but he shouts to us in our pain. Question about whether God initiates the pain or he set up a system which results in pain because of the way it’s structured.

  • Lewis describes the story of the Fall as a narrative that has symbolic elements that convey significant truth. The truth in the first couple chapters of Genesis is that we were created by God, sovereign and loving creator, and that our only fulfillment as humans is to center our lives on God. Our proper role as a creature is to rely on God, so when we ignore that and rely on ourselves, our relationship with God is broken. 

  • God is his creation set forth the problem of expressing his goodness through the total drama of a world containing free agents in spite of, and even by means of, their rebellion against him. The risk is for the possibility of relationship. 

  • Aristotle would say that as a rational, moral being you build your character based on the hierarchy of good traits.  From a Christian perspective, our natural destiny should be on the same trajectory as our eternal destiny. The spiritual and theological virtues are faith, hope and love.

  • As long as God chooses a stable physical order, that physical order will run by its own laws. Any system with  have the possibility of pain. Created nature with natural laws provide a framework/structure in which souls can meet. Some pain is produced by the natural system without regard to the desires of the beings. That humans can inflict pain on other humans is a reflection of the permission by God that he permits this. The wide range of freedom makes it possible for great good or terrible evil. 

  • Lewis thinks that God needs to pierce the shield of our ego and we are embodied creatures so pain is what does it by getting our attention by highlighting how frail and in need we are. 

  • For Lewis, heaven is the unending joyous life of God, the life of the Trinity. The only way I can be fulfilled is to find its proper purpose and relation with God. Heaven is the restoration of created personhood, what it was always meant to be. When we are on the trajectory, we begin experiencing it now. Hell is the lack of fulfillment for which we were made. 

  • Discussion of the movie Shadowlands. Discussion of the nature of relationships. Pain and happiness are not necessarily mutually exclusive.                                        

  • Lewis expresses anger toward God as part of his process of grief. Orthodox Christianity denies materialism which believes that your physical body is all you are, but it doesn’t require body-soul dualism where the soul is the real person that inhabits a shell. Whatever damage death completes in the reign of sin in this world will be undone and swallowed up by the resurrection. The restoration of human personhood will come after death. 

  • Heaven and hell are dichotomous. Whether life is heaven or hell depends on your future trajectory. God is true reality, fixed and can’t be altered. In GD, true reality is God. The descriptions are not meant to be literal. Heaven is the Trinitarian life of God. It’s not a place, it’s a state of being in proper relation to the love and joy of the Trinitarian relations. Lewis describes it as a great dance. 

  • Final comments about themes in The Great Divorce.

C. S. Lewis is an extremely good theologian who does his work for the thoughtful lay person.  But his writings reflect his erudite understanding of the great classics of literature, historical theology, philosophy, and other disciplines.  Lewis says in Mere Christianity that theology is like a map.  We may get where we’re going without it, but it is much easier to use the map.  The map of Christian theology is drawn over the early centuries of the church as the believing community interprets the Bible and its experience of God.  

Of course, the ultimate goal of theology, according to Lewis, is practical:  to draw us into the life of God, or St. Gregory of Nazianzus ((329-374 AD), called it, “the Great Dance.”  I know no theme deeper or more pervasive in Lewis than our need to get the steps right, to join the dance once again.  

In “Meditations in a Tool Shed,” Lewis says that there is a distinction between looking at a beam of light and looking along the beam of light.  He is speaking of looking at reason or using reason—a passage that forms part of his great case that presence of rationality argues for the truth of theism.  We will be doing a lot of looking in this course, largely, “looking at” Lewis himself.  But let us also try to “look along” the same line of sight as Lewis, to see things—God, humanity, spiritual life, and a host of other things—as Lewis saw them.  This means attempting to step inside Lewis’s worldview and learning to interpret fundamental realities the way he did and to deploy his distinctive strategies for engaging other worldviews.  In effect, we will learn to think Christianly by learning to think along Christianly with Lewis.

In 2020, Dr. Peterson published the book, C. S. Lewis and the Christian WorldviewIt is essentially his course lectures in written book form--covering Lewis on all key worldview issues--reality, knowledge, creation, trinity, christology, as well as issues of evil, religious pluralism, and the impact of science on faith. You will also see it listed in the Recommended Reading section. 

Dr. Michael Peterson

C.S. Lewis: His Theology and Philosophy


Mere Christianity (Part 3)

Lesson Transcript


Just a couple items. For the sake of continuity and understanding. One, this formula I put on the board, which I think will recur in many contexts as we go through the course, is a typical way of talking symbolically in probabilistic terms. I'm just saying the probability p the probability of morality as we know it given theism. Assuming theism to be true. How how probable is it that we have morality as we know it? How problems verses how probable is it? Assuming something else? Hinduism, dualism, naturalism, assuming one of those to be true, how probable is and how probable would we have morality as we know it? So it's all about comparative probability, where probability here is not so much quantitative, a quantitative what you can do in certain contexts, but not with these things. At best you could say, well, is the probability above half? I think it's far above half. But when you're comparing, then you've got the greater than the greater than this probability is greater than the other probability. And I like my little touch to put the exclamation point significantly greater than. But I think maybe doesn't hurt to just repeat. So make sure everybody gets what I was doing. Nothing, I think I might mention is I believe I put this in the online classroom. It was a pamphlet done by several Anglican Divines. I don't remember the publication date. Late forties, early fifties and the title of the pamphlet, which is just exquisitely done in terms of. The elevated thought and the in the exquisite expression I think is called catholicity, and I think I put it online. So it's there for you, but it gives you a kind of a feeling of how you take Catholic faith small C and and see it as the basis for a dynamic, intellectual position and great stuff.


In my estimation, it's out of the forties or fifties, as is more Christianity. So it would have been in process, I'm sure, when he was doing this. And published a little bit later than mere Christianity. We probably can't do this in great detail. But what you get in this this book too, of Christianity is a lot of worldview engagement. And I thought I just talk my way through some of the kinds of things, Lewis says, to compare theism still and move toward Christianity, but compare it with some of these other views and all in the same context of morality, what would they say, how they respond to this phenomenon in human life that we call moral awareness? Conscience, for example. Pantheism and the historical expression among world religions of pantheism, we probably say, is classical Hinduism, as expressed in the Upanishads, as expressed with philosophical technicality in the Upanishads. Less technicality in some of the other writings, like the Bhagavad Gita. It's much more popular. Krishna emerges. Compelling figure in the Geeta, you know. But in the Upanishads, it's a philosophical treatise. The point being that Brahman, the Divine. Soul of everything. The hidden inner essence. Of everything. Is beyond. Human categories of good and evil. When you think of what is it the chain dog you Upanishads, the number 14. I remember the table of contents, but you get the little novice learning from the great master and. The novel said, Master, what is what is Brahman and the master? This is this is because human categories. Can't express the divine. He says. Well. Savarkar, too, is the disciple. He says, Get some salt and put it in that broad bowl of water. Just put a little pinch over here at the edge. Okay.


Does it got a bag of salt, did it? This is now sip from this other end. What's it taste like? Salty sip from this other end. What's it taste like? Salty. That's like Brahman. Now, this leads to the great insight. Of Hinduism that Othman is Brahman. That I'd mourn the individual soul. Is Breman. But Brahman permeates everything, and our individuality is a kind of illusion. There's only one reality, one Brahman, what we call the world of various shapes, colors, individuals, is an illusion. And so the human problem is not sin. The human problem is ignorance. We have to see it differently. We have to see ourselves, as always, part of Brahman overcome the ignorance. We'll go into that in great detail. But the point then is you can't permeate everything, as Roman is said to do, can be present in everything unless you're beyond. Categorical distinctions. Such as good and evil. Because if you yourself are good, you can inhabit the good, but you can't inhabit the evil. Now, the claim in in, in classical Hinduism is Brahma inhabits everything. So he's above any distinctions we make, including moral sanctions. Moral sanctions don't apply. No distinctions. Apply to Brahma. So that is a historical expression. There can be others, but that's that's like the paradigmatic expression of pantheism closed in the writings of the Upanishads. And Hinduism. Now, the point then is. How good a sense of this phenomenon in human life does that worldview make versus fearsome? So now we're getting into this comparative engagement. That's just one example. So what Lewis says is it distorts it, it explains it away. It explains it as part of the world of illusion. Maya mj y A The realm of Maya is part of the way we live in the realm of Maya, the realm of illusion.


Its morality is not anchored in the most ultimate that a morality, not morality, is not anchored in the core of reality. The argument Lewis is making is it is anchored. In the core of reality, this moral awareness we have that finite morality is a reflection of a of a more infinite morality. Here. He's saying, Here's just an example of another worldview that has to explain it in a way that distorts and explains it away. And the Hindus would say, you have to act morally this because you have to navigate the realm of Maya. Nobody's saying you can not act morally, but there's something more transcendent in terms of perspective. In a self orientation that you have to have so that you really know you're identified with Brahman. You are you are Brahman. Atman is Brahman. So. He thinks this. As you know, it doesn't make sense of a realist description. Of human moral awareness. I tend to agree. Oh dualism here. Some interesting things to say there. I'm just going through some sample comments so I don't get bogged down like I did earlier. But cosmic dualism posits an ultimate good and ultimate evil principle. I see Zoroastrianism pretty much in that category. There could be a couple hundred thousand Zoroastrians on the face of the earth these days. I really don't even know. Maybe that's too many. I don't know. Historically you can look back at. Saint Augustine comes out of of what religious orientation and philosophical understanding Manichean ism based on the teachings of the great teacher Mani and Manicheism taught. There's an ultimate good principle and an ultimate evil principle, and they're at war in the universe. And that's a super duper explanation of why there's evil and also why there's good.


They're in a mixed success warfare nature. Mixed success. And the mixture of good, evil and human experience explains. So likewise, Zoroastrianism has its own way of of giving a religious expression to what I think is an underlying dualism. And the point is not to get into a lot of detail about the specific living religions that embody it, but to look at the the philosophical core of cosmic dualism. Hell if their equal and opposite ultimate principles, Lewis says. Well, you tell me what Lewis says. What? I'm always telling you what Lewis says. I want this coming back at me. Wake up. Wake up. What is Steve Martin say in Three Amigos? Look up here. Look up here. Is this good on tape? Oh, shoot it. Okay. I said it before. I really. But Three Amigos is a great classic film, as is Princess Bride. You know, There you go. We have. My two sons are part of a big network of cousins. My wife is one of five daughters and Memphis minister's daughter over the middle daughter and all other children. They love each other, cousins, and they speak to each other. And the oldest is my son, Aaron, who's pushing 40. They still speak to each other in the dialog. The Princess Bride. And occasionally three amigos. If you don't know that dialog, well, then you're just you're linguistically out of touch with the big network cousins. Okay. What Lewis wants to say then is that cosmic dualism doesn't fare any better than pantheism when it comes to what? Explaining, Explaining this phenomenon of the human awareness of morality. But you tell me now what he says. Yes. Well, the problem is basically for those who start, are you going to say, and I know you, but whose side will one of the powers be? And it has to be arranged in the the powers on the wrong side.


Yes. Therefore there can be individual. Yeah, exactly. You just your hand, then go. No. Okay. I'm just. Misfire. Yeah, you're exactly right. So that the kind of pushback from a theistic perspective is how do you decide which one is the good power and which one is the bad? You you'd have to have a third element in the equation which adjudicated between this and this, and that would actually be a higher standard. So this is it makes very little rational sense of morality to have a kind of a standoff between two ultimate principles and and yet say that the morality that we find in human experience is, um, made good sense of, uh, explained well within a cosmic, dualistic framework. Because we have a sense of ultimately this is really the way things ought to be. We ought not murder. We ought not lie and defraud. We ought not this. We ought to and we should do this. We should be kind. We should be benevolent. We should be. You know. So he's saying there's no way this to to anchor these in a stable, ultimate reality when you have to their equal and opposite. I think it's really interesting. These are, you know, highly technical discussions. But he's just saying, here's the way you navigate. You go into great detail, much more than he can do in this little book. But this is the way you would navigate the worldview encounter. With respect to this one item. The human awareness of morality. Of course, we looked at really a little bit already what the naturalist or materialist would say. There's no ultimate moral nature to the universe, which is ultimately physical or material in its essence, and therefore is non moral. And so whatever we feel so deeply about doesn't have an ultimate anchor.


So once again, a worldview that ultimately has to deny or distort. This this important human reality. That's a reason for not preferring. That worldview. And what we're looking at is what reason do we have to prefer theism? Is it doesn't deny, it doesn't distort, it gives it morality, a sense of ultimately objectivity. Nobody's claiming that we're we have infinite, perfect understanding of morality, but it anchors it. It makes sense of it. It gives it a worldview home in which having the feelings we do and the awareness we do, giving it the sense of importance that we do make sense. Just to go to my my realist, my realist happy place, you could talk about a realist metta philosophy. A philosophy, A philosophy. I.e., what's the role of philosophy? People differ on this. The whole schools of thought differ on what the role of philosophy is. For example, you could be fine speaking in very general terms, you could be fine as a philosopher with this matter philosophy that by the time you've subjected some important piece of human life and experience to philosophical analysis. You'd be fine if you falsified it or changed drastically from what the common, ordinary person thought. This is often what happens. So that sneering at the most basic common human features of life is is done a kind of undercutting. And so that's a matter of philosophy that philosophy's job is to analyze the ordinary data, rationality, morality and so on. To analyze the ordinary data of life and come up with a highly speculative theory. Fancy. Clever. Quote unquote, sophisticated. But yeah, by the time it's done. The phenomenon you were explaining has been distorted or denied. A realist metaphor philosophy from Aristotle on says, Hey, our job is to clarify and elucidate the important features of life.


Their credentials. Their credentials. Our belief in the objectivity, morality, our belief in the irrevocable validity of reason. You can even argue against reason because you have to assume reason. To argue against it. It's a remarkable. ET cetera. That those beliefs are not to be. Don't get red in the face. When I tell you that people who argue against reason and the incoherence of that exercise. Okay, so. Our job is to elucidate, bring things that are otherwise unnoticed to the surface so that when philosophy has done its job, it's not distorted or deny those realities. It's elucidated them, maybe put them in a coherent framework of understanding. But there are ways of approaching philosophy and doing the philosophical test that don't care for that. And you get a more anti realist set of of matter philosophies. But there are different you know, there's Continental. I mean, I think most of you exposed in theology like Larry Wood to a more continental approach. But the deep the deep instincts of Continental or I think are anti realist either they sound really good. My instincts are right along those those lines. So and Lewis isn't either. So Lewis, you can see he's operating by that particular understanding of what of the job. A philosophy. But he's doing it at a popular level. But he's not saying he's denying or distorting. He's showing that other views will. And so just on that point alone, morality, we have a reason. To prefer theism to alternative points of view. I think it's a good way maybe of saying the upshot. The net result of where he's come to at this point, and he's doing it through this worldview engagement. How are we doing for time? Not too good. Plus, I'm dying on my feet here.


No, I'm good. Now, if you think about it, what's coming down the pike? Is he's got to move from from getting theism on the table. To getting some Christian ideas added to the general theistic. Position. But he's argued for. And that starts with chapter three in book two, where he's going to talk about the shocking alternative. And he sets it up kind of like this. If there is this power, this being behind the universe, who is itself deeply moral, essentially moral in its own nature. And we are in finite ways reflecting that we're somehow tied to that. That's an important point, but it's vague, it's general, and doesn't give us full enlightenment about what the nature and purposes of this power behind the universe. So Christianity and its claims to give us more specific information have to be examined and put into the same rational arena for whether they also enlighten rather than distort, the common data that we're talking about. For the most part, morality at this point. So that's what we're headed toward, is putting some Christian information in the mix and showing how enlightening it is. And you going to have to start with incarnation. My Calvinist friends tend to start with atonement, you know, But whether or not there's atonement, Anglicans will say Catholics will say how they liked their incarnation. So that's the kind of God we have. Whether or not there's a need for atonement. But I think those kinds of matters will have to take up next time. What professionalism is on display to bring this puppy in on time. See you next week. Have a good rest of the week.