C.S. Lewis: His Theology and Philosophy - Lesson 18

Miracles (Part 6)

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. 

Michael L. Peterson
C.S. Lewis: His Theology and Philosophy
Lesson 18
Watching Now
Miracles (Part 6)

I. God’s Action in Nature (Miracles Chapter 8)

A. Description of Hume’s position

B. Summary of miracles and Hume

  • 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
Miracles (Part 6)
Lesson Transcript


I stood this whole time. I don't think of sitting down. I need to. Yeah. We left off for the break with the idea that maybe violation miracles ultimately are not the exclusive way and maybe not even the primary way of thinking about God's action in the world. The nature of divine activity may not be reducible to violation of miracles. And as we mentioned before the break. Louis, if my memory is correct, it's a little bit yet ahead of us in the book does begin to say, really, I don't see why we should call it violations. If God is the creator of nature. There's nothing alien about God to nature. And he has the power of agency. A supernatural, all powerful agent can bring about results in the field of existence we call nature, but it's hardly violating anything. My friend, keep talking about the book. I'm trying to finish with roots because we're really bearing down on it hard. And my friend Michael Ruth is fond of saying, Well, nature runs by unbroken law. Well, science has to frame methodological naturalism that way. It's method. It has to look for laws for why things happen. But Michael is also a naturalist, and he has the a priori eye and the advanced commitment. There's nothing but nature. And no wonder it runs by in broken laws. There's nothing else to, you know. So you try to kind of give a little prestige to your naturalist philosophical commitment by saying this is science. But as we were talking about earlier before the break, methodological naturalism really doesn't affirm or deny any religious claims. It just is the scientific method focusing on can we find natural causes for natural phenomena that are under investigation and can we formulate law like connections, a lawful connection between cause? And effect.


And so in the in the whole conversation about whether the word violation is even appropriate if you're a theist and I think it's a really interesting comment, it's probably not. Here's how I would. Here's how I had approached that. Lewis doesn't quite have the language for this. He's a little bit too smart to even take questions. Violation middle of the book. He's still a bit under the human spell of accepting too many definitions that HUME has. Here's how I think about it. HUME And regularity theory of causality. Says that what we call a cause and what we call in effect is regularity of occurrence. And so scientific laws, what are they really? They're economical summaries of what experience? Always reports that when see happens, it happens. Well, frankly, that's nothing stronger than a coincidence, if you think about it. That's a really anemic and inadequate view of causality. And we've got it. We've got to start there and build a conceptual framework. That causality, if you think about it, is the basis of law. And so all HUME has said is that laws are irregularity based on coincidences. And therefore, when we explain something, it's just bringing some observations under a known law. But the known law Dig deeper is nothing but a set of coincidences have been summarized in a statement called Scientific law. And this this is this is, I think is a correct hierarchy that a law picks out, cause causal activity and explanation cites at least one law, if not more. So what does it mean to explain? Bring something under a law? What's that law? A summary of causal activity of some objects or their interaction in the world. But if you have a regularity theory, you mean regularity theory? You're really saying one of two things.


And if you get into HUME enough, he's saying both in really weird ways. Number one, you can't know any more than just regularity. That's all the human mind is capable of. As a really strict empiricist, you can know the cause and effect, but then connection causality traditionally is a connection between them. I'd like to symbolize it like that, that this is a power or force here. It's just a conjunction. When this happens, that happens. So the weakness in the view of causality causes other problems. But epistemological humans for HUME, the empiricist, you can't know the empirical. That's the cause and effect, but not what binds them, not what connects them. Also, HUME denies this is harder part of him to understand. He denies that reality's glued together, the way I'm saying. Anyway, that's getting too technical. I'm going to I'm going to back off. So he's got both an ontological and epistemological reason why regularity theory is the right theory. Most people know the epistemological reason based on his his empiricism, his epistemological empiricism, the other the ontological denial that the world is glued together tightly is there but harder to find. Even a modern day human, John Mackey at Oxford, who died in the eighties early eighties, wrote the Miracle Theism. Like it's a miracle that's stupid. Few have survived this long. So miracle Theism. John Mackey wrote another book in sort of in Philosophy Science called The Cement of the Universe. And the idea is, if you're a human, you know that the universe lacks what was traditionally considered the causal cement to make it hang together. I think that's really so. Lewis goes a long way with the human kind of granting the human vocabulary and sets of distinctions that that sort of frame up the issue.


And only now, I think, with the discussion of whether violation is good vocabulary. Are we seeing Lewis be more critical of the starting points he granted early in the book, But I don't think he's ever sufficiently critical. I think if he would hear this wonderfully eloquent presentation, he would immediately, you know, agree. But because this this is so friendly to his own realism and his own fears of what I'm trying to say here, that the reason the reason we do, in fact, have regularity, you have to assume, is some force, some causal power that makes the cause produce the effect. So if you if you take this view, you get let's call these events this why HUME calls them an event called caused an event caused called an effect. That's all humans got going. But you need something else. So I'm going to call NFP, which is the nature of a particular. So a total explanation. You would need both of these things. The reason. In a context populated by certain particular objects with their own natures, powers, properties, dispositions to act and react, something that's ontologically built in to things in the world that populate the world. Once you circumscribe your situation that you're going to try to explain, you're going to give an explanatory effort to explain. The reason a cause produces this effect viewed kind of like as discrete events is because they're happening within a within a context where various particulars have certain natures. Now, for practical purposes, sometimes we emphasize one thing like the event as the cause, but sometimes we say the particular is the cause. But both together are the combined cause. If I had a glass of water here on this on the table and I the event of my hand moving would be see hand moves and strikes the the glass.


So glass falls. Then the next event is the glass breaks. And you say, Why did it do that? Why? Why? It's a request for explanation and just insight in lay it lay scientific terms. I could say it broke because it was fragile. Well, to refer to the fragility of P is part of the nature of pain. But to drop and to break. What if it was made of steel? Have a different nature. So for different practical purposes, I might refer to the nature of the objects involved, or I might refer. Well, it broke because I hit it and we accept that because in the background we say, well, then it was something that was fragile, breakable. So in practical situations, you never know what's going to be emphasized, the triggering event or the particulars involved, but they're distinct conceptual items. And what the human view of causality, which was which was imperialistic until the middle and really about the seventies was imperialistic, neglects the whole idea that there are natures of things because nature sounds metaphysical, sounds spooky. So if you if you view the universe as just populated by events and then we bridge them by connecting them with just conjunction, then you might write a book like John Mackey. So man, it needs some cement. Right. All these events, all these discrete events need some cement. But a more traditional metaphysic of science. There's going to be natural objects have natures. Those natures are the the residence of the powers, properties and dispositions. And those powers, properties and dispositions like fragility don't display all the time. They display under certain triggering events like being dropped from a sufficient height that'll trigger fragility to come out. So so we look at that way and you say, well, from a theistic point of view, how are we going to go with the question of miracles with a deeper, stronger view of scientific law? Now, laws aren't just citations of conjunction, in effect, coincidence or or mere regularities.


They now have a causal power. So in terms of regularity, you've got causal power as an alternative view of causality. So laws are going to be much strengthened in our concept of what they are. Now they're picking out causal powers. They're not summarizing regular areas of occurrence. And so explanations take on a richer character as well. So looking at a realist, you know, of purely philosophy, science, how do we kind of put the question of miracles into that whole situation? I would say something like this, that looking at laws. Scientific laws even conceived realistically realist ontology, realist, metaphysical like I'm trying to suggest things have real natures. They have an implied. Cater asparagus claws. Right. See? I'm so clever. It's mid-afternoon, and we need a little pick me up. And for me, it's always a little classical Latin. Caters, paribus. We get the word, etc., from that. Right At caterers and things. Caterers. Things. So Paribas shoot par on a golf course, shoot equal to what the norm is. So caterers, Paribas, things being equal. So this law or any given law, let's make a singular a law in a given law has an implied QS meaning it will operate and that the the natures of the things will display their powers and dispositions to act and react just as the law says. As long as all elements of their situation remain constant, a law only speaks into a caterer's paribus situation. So all things being equal, when this triggering event occurs, two things that have these natures, they will produce these effects. With me on that, there's always Keita's purpose, which means if anything happens in a defined situation where things are not equal, they don't remain constant. There's no reason to think the law holds the law ready to apply.


In other words, you get. Known caterers. It's not the case that all things are equal. And so let's take the case of a miracle. It before I do that, let me say this. If things remain equal and they in the normal causes don't produce the normal effects, that'd be weird. Means you didn't get the law right. But if you got the law right and things remain equal, the only reason that the normal effect would not occur is because some other elements, some other agent, is acting in the situation. So how do I want to put this a miracle, then? Seems to me is tampering. Not with the law. It's tampering with Carter's purpose clause. So was God going around violating laws. Okay. You know, if you want to take the human definition and impose it on the discussion, that's what HUME would like. That's what Lewis agrees to do. Beginning of the book. That's fine, but be taking a scalpel and conceptually and kind of carving this apart just a little more. It strikes me what God is doing. He's he's preventing all things from being equal. When water is left to be water, it doesn't turn into wine. Because everything everything's equal. Water doesn't have in its nature any way to do that. So something unusual, something from outside the normal situation that you can hold constant within which that cause of water being water can never produce wine out of itself. You've got another element, and I say an agent, a supernatural, a divine agent who's not violating anything. The law is a law. If things remain equal, he's just saying they're not going to be equal for this event. Because I have a purpose. Teleological explanation, deeper than mechanical explanation. I have a purpose, and I'm going to do this.


So in a way, it's not even a violation. Unexpected. Strange. I'm with you on all that. But there is a sort of technicality from philosophy of science that really, I think, keeps it from a miracle, from being a violation, has to do with the creator's purpose of making sense. Okay. Um, I'm not sure we have time for much else. But I did say in this discussion that, you know, an outside agent to the situation, to the normal situation, an outside agent might have purposes, a teleological orientation toward things to achieve some end or some goal, and for that reason, might interfere with what we would call the normal mechanics. The mechanical explanation that science would normally offer. That brings up this whole interesting idea that when we say we think something is or is not a miracle, part of it is not about whether we can verify that something happened that's a violation or an interruption of the normal. But we have interpretive frameworks, concepts that tell us about this agent's purposes. That we bring to events that could seem unusual or like miracles. And part of the of the discriminating judgment, whether we're willing to say this is a miracle or probably is a miracle, is partly based on health. It's an interpretive framework. That's where Lewis is going to get into the next part of the book, talking about how he looks at New Testament miracles, miracles of the old creation, miracles of the new creation is really pretty interesting, but nobody ever talks about it. And we want to do that next time. Because you think about do I have any obligation to listen to any religious person at all saying what they think is or is not a miracle? They performed the miracle at their church or they witnessed.


I think I had to be appropriately reserved, open, maybe, but I'm not into miracle poppers. I need a scheme, a theologically rich and nuanced set of interpretations, out of which I say, What purposes would a divine agent have in this or that? And of course, the clinical study that Louis wants to do is the New Testament. And but he's even categorizing miracles there. And so different claims to miracle, even in our day with any miracles of the old creation miracles, you know. So nothing is apart from an interpretive scheme, the somewhat teleological and something seems against God's purposes based on classical theological understanding. I'm of no you know, I'm under no obligation to just say, man, I'm intimidated by that and I'm going to agree to that. You know, So a theological skepticism may be okay, too, but he's not trying to get us to be more understanding of how he sorts all that out. When we talk about the next several chapters to finish up the book. So how's this for total professionalism? I brought this puppy right in on time. In real time. Not seminary time. It's 345, which is our listed dismissal. Seminary time, I think, is more merged to eternity, and it's more vague.