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Thursday, January 12, 2006

C.S. Lewis' argument in his "Miracles"

"To call the act of knowing -- the act, not of remembering that something was so in the past, but of 'seeing' that it must be so always and in any possible world -- to call this act 'supernatural,' is some violence to our ordinary linguistic usage. But of course we do not mean by this that it is spooky, or sensational, or even (in any religious sense) 'spiritual.' We mean only that it 'won't fit in;' that such an act, to be what it claims to be -- and if it is not, all our thinking is discredited -- cannot be merely the exhibition at a particular place and time of that total, and largely mindless, system of events called 'Nature.' It must break sufficiently free from that universal chain in order to be determined by what it knows. ... The description we have to give of thought as an evolutionary phenomenon always makes a tacit exception in favor of the thinking which we ourselves perform at that moment." -- C.S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Collier Books), 1960, p. 23.

Dr. Houston A. Craighead of Winthrop University has a paper available on-line ("C. S. Lewis' Teleological Argument", Encounter, vol. 57.2 (Spring, 1996), 171-185) which defends Lewis' revised argument against Naturalism from his book "Miracles" from contemporary objections such those from Beversluis and evaluates other related arguments by Richard Purtill and Richard Taylor. He argues that the argument, construed as a teleological argument from analogy, fails to demonstrate the existence of God but nonetheless provides a legitmate and compelling reason for believing in God. He also argues that Lewis' corrections to his earlier version of the argument as a result of losing his debate with G.E.M. Anscombe have made the argument stronger and postively valuable. Rather than being utterly defeated in his apologetic hopes and ambitions, the encounter with Anscombe brought him closer to realizing them.

Before reading this paper, I had been re-reading the book and came to a similar conclusion. Although Lewis' views and argument take him out of the mainstream of professional analytic philosophy, they remain represented in it by able philosophers and may also provide a ground for a reasonable theism that should satisfy the ordinary folk who may understand him here. Once Lewis' point and the nature of the force of his argument is understood recent objections to it can be seen to miss the point. (Objecting that naturalism is not committed to physical determinism and allows for quantum indeterminism certainly does.)

The argument is not, as Lewis originally thought, that the truth and validity of an inference to Naturalism was inconsistent with Naturalism's causal account of thought, but rather that the claim for the existence of a basis to provide the prior probability for true beliefs and valid inference processes is inconsistent with the claims that Naturalism is true and is a reasonable belief based on evidence and inference. So if we want to claim that beliefs based on evidence and inference are rational beliefs, then we are caliming that the world is such that such a claim is well motivated. Naturalism is not enough to satisfy that further claim. Lewis' strategy also speaks against one usual reply, that any naturalistic explanation, however remote or so far unimagined, is better than a non-naturalistic explanation. If this claim is also to be supported by inference, it begs the question since the motivation for holding to the validity of inference itself is being questioned by naturalism.

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