Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Starbucks and CS Lewis

Starbucks in an effort to stimulate discussion has just printed a new coffee cup which reads,
Why in moments of crisis do we ask God for strength and help? As cognitive beings, why would we ask something that may well be a figment of our imaginations for guidance? Why not search inside ourselves for the power to overcome? After all, we are strong enough to cause most of the catastrophes we need to endure.

The statement is attributed to Bill Schell, a Starbucks customer from London, Ontario. Starbucks is selecting various quotes from people and printing them and hopes to get responses at /wayiseeit. The have made a disclaimer that the quote is the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of the company.

Several Christians that I have talked to were pretty upset about this cup. The quote is obviously a slam on religion and prayer. Personally, I think the idea that Starbucks has is incredible. I am sure they selected this quote because they knew it would create an incredible discussion. It is a discussion that has been going on for years and year between those who believe the explanation of the universe can be explained in natural terms verses those who believe there are some things nature cannot explain; therefore we must turn to the supernatural for the answers. Naturalist or Atheist holds the first, while Supernaturalism or Theist holds the latter.

After reading this quote, I was struck by the two things that this author of this quote attacked. He claimed that theism was merely a matter of the mind and not in reality. I am a big fan of CS Lewis and Lewis tends to use three arguments to counter this attack.
1. Argument from Reason

Lewis’ argument from reason comes out of his book Miracles. In this book, his main goal is to show not only that miracles are possible, but that miracles are lead us to see how God works in the world. As Lewis begins his defense of Christianity (Supernaturalism) he says that we must assume two things: If Naturalism (the belief that there is no reality outside of nature itself) is true, then every finite thing or even must be explained in terms of the total system of nature. In other words, we must be able to explain everything in terms of nature itself. Second, if anything exists which that we cannot explain in naturalistic terms, then naturalism can not be true.
Lewis claims then that there is one thing that naturalism cannot account for and that is reason itself. It is by reason that science determined that there could not be a reality beyond nature itself. Lewis argues that if there is no reality beyond nature itself, we would not have rationally come to that conclusion. The very act of proving that there is no god actually proves that there must be.

Lewis explains this by saying that there are two ways of using the word “because.” When we say, “Grandfather was sick today because he ate lobster, we are using it as a cause and effect relationship. The lobster caused him to be sick. In the sentence “Grandfather is ill today because he has not gotten out of bed,” the word because takes on a ground and consequence relationship. We are deducing that grandfather is sick because he has not gotten out of the bed. The bed did not cause his sickness; rather it indicated that he was sick.

When we believe something to be true, we must begin with the ground consequent relationship. In other words, B must follow logically from A. At the same time, all events are connected to other events, so they must also be linked in a cause and effect relationship. Lewis then concludes that naturalism can only account for the cause and effect relationship and these beliefs can be held without rational grounds for believing them. For example, I can believe Tennessee is the greatest college football team because I am a Tennessee fan. This belief is cause and effect, but it does not have to be grounded in rationality.

In order to “reason” something to be true, it must take on a ground and consequence relationship. In other words, our reasoning must follow from something that is known. So if we are to explain the reason for the origins of the universe, there must be something outside of the universe to ground our belief in. Therefore, naturalism faces a difficult challenge that supernaturalism does not. For the supernaturalism, Lewis says, can ground the reason for the universe in something outside of the universe itself. Lewis goes on to conclude:

For him (the supernaturalist), reason- the reason of God is older than Nature, and from it the orderliness of Nature, which alone enables us to know her, is derived. For him, the human mind in the act of knowing is illumined by the Divine reason. It is set free, in the measure required, from the huge nexus of non-rational causation; free from this to be determined by the truth known. (Miracles 34-35 Words in parenthesis added)

In other words, the supernaturalism gives the best understanding of how humans can think rationally about the universe.

2. Argument from Desire

The second argument Lewis uses for his defense of Theism is called the Argument from Desire. In his own life he called it his chasing after “joy” He defines joy in Surprised by Joy as, “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.” He distinguishes it from both happiness and pleasure because it is something you want to experience, but it does not truly make you happy. Joy is not in our power to have, and pleasure is. It is the chasing of joy that brought Lewis to Christianity. (Ironically, he later marries a lady named Joy.)

In Mere Christianity Lewis outlines this argument more fully. He says that if we are honest with ourselves, we would all have to admit that we have longings in our hearts that this world cannot satisfy. We want something that we cannot have. Of coarse we all can agree with Lewis that we have bad times in which the thing or things we desire seem distant from us. There are many people that feel stuck in a dead end job and desire some occupation that brings true fulfillment or there are single people who desire a romantic relationship with another person. There are people that feel life has become a drag and they need to experience something fresh. However, Lewis goes on to say that even when we have found the best possible scenarios for our lives, we still find that they cannot completely satisfy our deepest longing. At first they may excite us and temporarily fulfill us, but that feeling will soon fade away.

Next Lewis argues that if there are no earthy pleasures that can satisfy our desire or longing, then we must assume that earthy pleasures were never meant to satisfy us, but that we were created for another world. Earthy pleasures really act like sign posts, pointing us to the real pleasure. The problem occurs when we seek earthy pleasures as an end onto themselves rather than use them to point us to something beyond the pleasures and beyond ourselves, namely God.

Lewis says that there are three ways we can pursue desire. He calls the first, the fool’s way. The fool’s way is when a person thinks they can fulfill their desires with earthy pleasures. They believe that if they could just find another job, or another spouse. If they could have some more experiences, then they would be truly satisfied. They believe that their desires can be fulfilled with earthy pleasures. The second pursuit of desire is the way of the disillusioned; sensible man. This person decides that their desires cannot be met at all, so they had better stop expecting so much from their experiences. If they can lower the bar, so to speak, then they will not be disappointed all the time. The third option, Lewis calls the Christian way. This path is to say that our desires can be met, but they will not be met in this life. Again, if they encounter a desire that this life does not meet, they know it will be met in the next life.

Some people have responded by arguing that Lewis has a low view of this world and that we should not expect much from this life if we take his approach. In other words, we should just sit back and wait for heaven and be pleased with what we have. On the contrary, Lewis says that the problem is that we are too easily pleased with this life. We become so caught up in the small pleasures of this life that we miss the eternal fulfilling pleasure of God. Lewis says,

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are too easily pleased. (Weight of Glory 26)

Our quest for desire or joy leads us to God because God is the ultimate source of joy. When God created the world, he created glimpse of this joy to arouse in us a desire for God. When we find that earthly pleasures do not satisfy, then we know that we need to seek the thing behind the pleasure itself, which is God. When we find God, we find our desire satisfied. We find complete joy.

3. Argument from Morality

Lewis begins his famous book Mere Christianity addressing the problem of morality. He begins his argument by stating that there are some things we can learn by mere observation. For instance, we can learn a lot the world by watching people argue. When two people argue, they are appealing to some type of standard of right and wrong in which they expect that the other person knows as well as they do. He calls the standard of right and wrong the Law of Human Nature. As further evidence that this law exists, Lewis points out that people are always making excuses when they mess up. If there was no standard of right conduct, then we would not need to make excuses for messing up. To summarize thus far, Lewis believed there a law that governs right behavior and that this law is not learned, but it is something each person is born with.
Next he addressed two objections to the Law of Human Nature. The first objection is that this law is just our herd instinct like the instinct to eat etc. Lewis argues that feeling a desire or impulse to do something is not itself the law of human nature. He gives the example of hearing a cry for help from a burning building. A person will have two different impulses, one would be to run and protect themselves and the other would tell them to help the person. He says that we will then find within ourselves a third thing that tells us which one to follow. The third thing is the moral law. He goes on to suggest that our impulses are like keys on a piano, but without sheet music we have no idea which key to play. Likewise, the moral law tells us which impulses to act upon in a given situation. Sometimes it is the weaker impulse that the Moral Law tells us to use.

The second objection is to say that the Law of Human Nature is just a social convention that is learned by education. Lewis agrees with this in part because we do learn some things from parents and teachers. However, we learn two different things from them. We learn both social conventions and we learn real truths. Social conventions would be things like which side of the road to drive on, or socially acceptable table manners. Real truths would be like mathematics. Lewis suggests that the Law of Human Nature belongs to the latter category. He believes this for two reasons. First, because the moral ideas of one society does not differ greatly from another that of another. For example, some people believe in monogamy in marriage while others practice polygamy, but regardless of which society you are in, you cannot have sexual relationships with anyone you want.

Secondly Lewis says that if we make a judgment that one society is more moral than another, then we can only do this by appealing to the Law of Human Nature or a standard of right and wrong. His Lewis’ own time, England was confronted with the evils of Nazi Germany. The only way England could accuse Nazi Germany of being evil would be for them to appeal to a set standard of conduct.

If there is a Moral Law that governs the way people ought to behave, then this law must tell us something about our universe. The universe can either be made up entirely of matter and space and this matter and space has arrange itself in the way it has by chance or there is something behind the universe like a mind that has a purpose behind it. If there is a Moral Law, then we must believe that there is more to our universe than matter and space. If there is a mind behind the universe, this mind must be very concerned with right conduct.

The next distinction Lewis proposes is to say that if there is a mind behind the universe, then we either have to believe as the pantheist do that God is beyond good and evil and that the universe is almost God. In this view, good and evil depends on the perspective one takes. Nothing in and of itself is bad or good. The other view is the one help by Christians, Jews, and Muslims, that God is good. Lewis concludes that if we take the distinction between good and bad seriously, which we must if we have followed his earlier thought we must believe in a God that is completely good and who is completely opposed to evil. This God does care about right conduct.

Lewis makes one final distinction in his argument. He presents the option of dualism as compared to Theism. Dualism is the belief that there are two gods, one who is good and the other who is evil while theism holds that there is one God with no equal who is completely good. He concludes that, although dualism is compelling in ways, that theism must prevail. He argues this by first stating that the reason people are cruel to one another is because of money, or power, or safety. But, Lewis argues, these things are all good in and of themselves. The badness is when these things are pursued in the wrong way. This means that evil cannot exist by itself because it must get these things from the good power. If this it true, then the evil power cannot be as great as the good power. Instead, Lewis says the Dark Power was created by God and was good when he was created, but has somehow gone wrong. In short, if we believe in a real right and wrong, which is evident from observation, then we must conclude that there is a real power behind the universe that is good and wants his creation to behave in a certain way.

In conclusion I want to briefly mention three things that are important for Lewis’ overall strategy. First, Lewis believed in what I want to call “top down apologetics.” For example, Lewis bases his apologetics on the assumption that our thoughts and actions come from outside of ourselves and that these things reveal to us a greater reality. For example, he thought our ability to reason, our desires, and our morality all come from a being that is greater than ourselves who is rational, who has created us to find our satisfaction in itself, and who greatly cares about right and wrong. He claimed that those persons who argued against a belief in God like Sigmund Freud thought that God is a recreation of our own wishes. We fashioned God in the image the we perceive God to be. Lewis on the other hand, believed that the reason we have images of God is because God existed first. We can perceive of God because God is really there.

The second thing stems from the first. Christianity can not be completely proven to be true just as naturalism cannot be proven to be true. Lewis’ attempt to prove the existence of God and Christianity is to say that Christianity gives the best explanation of the universe that we live.
Thirdly, Lewis does not think we can believe something that we are convinced by the evidence is not true. In other words, someone who has done all the research and concludes that there is no God cannot simply drop that belief and believe there is a God. In order to change a belief, Lewis believes there has to be more evidence given. In his essay called, Religion: Reality or Substitute, Lewis says that faith is the power to believe what we honestly think is true until cogent reasons give us honest reasons for changing our minds. In other words, we cannot believe something to be true if we find that the evidence for proves it false. In order to change our beliefs, we have to have solid reasons for doing so.

There three things are important for understanding Lewis because many people say that Lewis never proves that there is a God or that Christianity is true. However, Lewis is not saying that he can prove it beyond any doubt, however, he is claiming that he can show evidences that the probability is that God exists and that Christianity is true. He does this by asking his readers to look around and take note of what they experience, the arguing about right and wrong, the chasing after desires that are never satisfied, and the arguments about the existence of God. The best explanation for these things is that there is a God who has created us with a purpose.

As we think about the quote on the Starbucks quote, it is important for us to learn a lesson from Lewis. Although there are good arguments made by naturalist about why God does not exist, there are just as many good arguments, such as the ones I shared from Lewis, that show the evidence leans in favor of the existence of God. As for me, I will continue to believe in God!

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