C. S. Lewis And
The Natural Law Argument
I enjoy your writings on the website very much. Please keep up the good work and try to maintain your sense of humor.
I would like some advice, if you have the time or energy: I have recently lost an atheist friend to a sort of born-again Catholicism via C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. I am trying to pick apart the "logic" in Lewis' dumbed-down Natural Law argument, but I'm having trouble finding the right place to start to be the most effective. Do you know of any articles that criticize this specific form of trash? Are you familar with the Lewis rant and have you any general ideas about where to start with a friend who has turned to a supernaturally endorsed arrogance?
From: Positive Atheism <email@example.com>
To: "Timothy Melbinger"
Subject: Re: commendation and question
Date: Wed, 1 Sep 1999 11:56:34 -0700
I addressed the Natural Law argument briefly in the FAQ Introduction under the various "What is Theism?" sections. I also discussed the new "Anthropic Principle" briefly in the piece "Questions from a Protestant" which is also listed in the FAQ section. [Addendum: Particle Physicist Victor Stenger covers the anthropic principle more thoroughly in our interview with him.]
If you have any specific points that Lewis makes, lay them on me. I'll give them the best I've got and get back to you. Try to find out which of Lewis' points clicked with this person.
I imagine Lewis' book was just the catalyst for a much deeper experience in this person, and that Lewis' book is simply a convenient way for him or her to explain the experience internally. I am right at the part in Richard Dawkins' new book [Uweaving the Rainbow] that explains why humans are probably prone to such experiences, and how to give ourselves and our children ammunition to withstand such experiences. The more I experience and the more I learn, the more convinced I become that we need to be patient and sympathetic and understanding when it comes to the rank-and-file religionists. Let's save our big guns for the church leadership and especially the political machines.
I am not familiar specifically with Lewis' argument, but I highly recommend George H. Smith's "Atheism: The Case Against God."
Also, anything by Richard Dawkins is good ammunition against any naturalistic defense. He points out just how inefficient nature is (one or two pups out of a litter of eight actually make it, mass extinctions, etc.), and just how brief every creature's life really is (especially taking into consideration infant mortality), and just how miserable most of us creatures are.
Another great (simple) introduction is the new one by Krueger (nothing posted: someone at Krueger's agency appears to disrespect the Fair Use doctrine of U. S. Copyright Code and is known to go for the throat even when it would be is in Krueger's overwhelming best interest to let people know that this book exists).
If you can handle it, I think the best offense against Christianity-like god-claims is Theodore M. Drange's Nonbelief and Evil which does not cover any of the naturalistic defenses for theism. Instead, it focuses on two arguments that are effective against some but not all god-claims (and fortunetel rather, posits the existence of evil and the existence of atheists as the two strongest arguments against the existence of God.
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From: Timothy Melbinger
To: Positive Atheism <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Wednesday, September 01, 1999 7:45 PM
Thank you for your detailed reply to my call for advice. I had been reviewing Smith's "Case Against God" today before I got your message, and it is fantastic. I've read The Blind Watchmaker and The Selfish Gene, both of which I will review because I do recall that they clear up many misconceptions about natural arguments. Tell me, which is the new Richard Dawkins book you're reading? Uweaving the Rainbow? I've yet to read the Theodore Drange book as I've been waiting for a paperback version, and I'd never heard of Krueger -- thanks for these recommendations.
As for specifics with my friend: he seems to take less than a minute of any conversation topic before he launches in with "Ultimate Truth" and "Absolute Truth" (you can hear the capital letters when he speaks!) and this is where he echoes Lewis -- "There is Right and Wrong, you know it and I know it and everyone knows it! " -- Lewis assumes this and goes on to posit a classical vicious Christianity based on all of humanity having this notion of Right and Wrong and ALL of us trying to ignore it. My friend cannot get me to deny feeling compelled to behave decently, and feels he has proved his case, end of discussion. Also, his career has declined steadily in the last four years -- it's the only thing I can tell about him that could prompt this kind of delusionary control.
From: "Positive Atheism" <email@example.com>
To: "Timothy Melbinger"
Subject: Re: Lewis
Date: Wed, 1 Sep 1999 23:25:06 -0700
Unweaving the Rainbow is like Richard Dawkins on acid. It's great! I can't put it down, and our Print Edition is three days late (and counting) because I've dusted so much of my time fully immersed in its pages.
Don't hold your breath waiting for Drange's book to come out in paperback. And don't expect me to reprint any of it any time soon, as the entire work is riddled with self-references: you must bookmark several pages so you can refer back to them in order to keep up with it. This is how he wrote it!
Right and Wrong? This is no easy deal, and certainly cannot be reduced to a set of dos and don'ts. Present to him some sticky, complex ethical situations. I've always like the one about the victim running into my office saying, "Hide me!" So I stuff her into a coat cabinet. In storms this wild-eyed man with a knife and asks me where she went. The question: Do I lie to the man? If not, why not? How do you know? Explain. Don't simply tell me that you know pornography when you see it; that is not a standard that the rest of us can find useful, not something we can place into a text book or a law book for future progeny to learn from. Explain precisely how you know.
To say that we all know something (such as that a god exists) and that we simply try to ignore it is to slander us. It is pure falsehood because the man has no clue what is going on in my mind or in your mind. There is a quote by Lincoln in our quotes section to the effect that if you assert something to be true without knowing whether it is true or false, you lie.
I probably covered this somewhere in the epic letter dialogue, "To all you intellectually dishonest 'thinkers'": It might be in the shorter letter, "God loves you [abusively]": I will surely get into it in detail in our FAQ section when I get the chance.
My friend cannot get me to deny feeling compelled to behave decently, and feels he has proved his case, end of discussion.
His is not the only possible explanation for your experience. Natural selection against those who cannot get along in a clan is one alternate explanation (see Eisley's short piece on evolution and nurturing "An Evolutionist Looks at Modern Man"). Learning since childhood is another. The human child is a "caterpillar" gobbling up gigabyte after gigabyte of information every moment (says Dawkins in Rainbow).
Also, any person who feels compelled to behave "indecently" disproves any case one may make for the notion that all people do feel compelled to behave decently.
We rightly entertain supernaturalistic explanations if and only if he can disprove, beyond a doubt, all of the naturalistic explanations. After this, one must then detect the existence of the supernatural; otherwise, we best remain ignorant. To use the word "creation" is premature unless one has verified the existence of a creator. This and other aspects are explained in my "The Presumption of Atheism": and in Smith's "The Scope of Atheism": and Flew's "The Presumption of Atheism."
It is erroneous to first posit an explanation that requires a more complex and unlikely scenario. Theism's scenario is more complex and unlikely than the naturalistic scenario because (1) The universe is unlikely in itself, but we know it exists; (2) Any creator of the universe would necessarily be even more unlikely than the creation (being more vast and complex; being sophisticated enough to be able to create this Universe with an advanced design); therefore, (3) the naturalistic scenario, however unlikely, is less unlikely than the supernaturalistic scenario. Dawkins deals with this in his "The Improbability of God."
Also, his career has declined steadily in the last four years -- it's the only thing I can tell about him that could prompt this kind of delusionary control.
The one did not necessarily follow the other, and vice versa. They could be mutually causal, or synergistic, or even the result of something entirely different, such as a health problem (or any combination of the above). People tend not to convert (or deconvert) because of argument. Rather, we undergo big changes in our core beliefs usually from an emotional fluctuation of some sort. An quick read which does a wonderful job at documenting (but a lousy job at explaining) the religious conversion process came out shortly before the Jonestown tragedy came down, and is called Snapping: America's Epidemic of Sudden Personality Changes. A better book for explaining the process of change as it relates to the Bible Believing Christian (though the principles can be applied to just about anything, I suspect, is nEdmund D. Cohen's The Mind of the Bible-Believer. Finally, you can read "How Biblical Faith Protects Itself From Critics" in the mind of the Evangelical Christian in a short piece we excerpted from The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy.
The atheist's best tack is not to try to deconvert anyone. We may legitimately respond to them (though we don't have to), but our best tack is not to approach theists on the subject. I cover this in the beginning of the FAQ section called "Discussing Atheism With Others."
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