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CS Lewis on evil

November 4, 2013

I’ve recently been reading a fascinating book on C.S. Lewis by Peter Williams called, C.S. Lewis vs the New Atheists. I’m impressed by Williams’ grasp of C.S. Lewis, but also the depth to which Williams has engaged the writings of the New Atheists. I was particularly struck by C.S. Lewis’ reflections on morality and objective reality. He shares my own personal thoughts on the existence of ‘evil’ as he criticised Bertrand Russell’s condemnation of the material world,

if … nature – the space-time-matter system – is the only thing in existence, then of course there can be no other source for our standards. They must, like everything else, be the unintended and meaningless outcome of blind forces … All that we say about ‘Nature red in tooth and claw’ … is quite inexplicable on the theory that we are simply natural creatures. If this world is the only world, how did we come to find its laws either so dreadful or so comic? If there is no straight line elsewhere, how did we discover that Nature’s line is crooked? (C.S. Lewis in ‘On Living in the Atomic Age’, quoted on page 140 of CS Lewis vs the New Atheists)

Lewis here shows the (fatal ?) weakness and ultimately self-defeating nature of any atheistic/naturalistic moral criticism. That is, you can’t condemn evil or the material world unless you bring in an objective measure ‘outside the system’, from another place which says that a straight line exists. Within nature there just is and nothing more.

This is a fascinating clam and an interesting segue into a full scale discussion on Sam Harris’ ‘The Moral Landscape’ that I’m about to begin. In the Moral Landscape Harris attempts to argue that you can get straight lines from the material world alone. I’m looking forward to the journey.

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From → Ethics, New atheism

One Comment
  1. Rob, I can’t take Sam Harris’ side for moral absolutes, because I haven’t read him yet (although he is actually on my reading list!). However, I suspect I would likely agree with most of what he has to say. Regardless, not all atheists have the same views on the subject.
    But I am prepared to put a stake in the ground and say that absolute morals (ie., absolute good vs. absolute evil) are indeed an illusion.
    This doesn’t deny that we all have moral sensibilities – even atheists! We can all distinguish between what is obviously right and wrong. This is clearly part of being human.
    There is a Christian faithful argument that we see rolled out so frequently, that the atheist position apparently ‘makes no moral distinction between an altruistic good deed and murder’. The polite answer is that this is sophistry. A more blunt response is that it is appalling and utter bullshit.
    Many atheists, including me, take the position that we don’t actually need the laws of a church to be able to distinguish between right and wrong.
    I look forward to any convincing argument, Rob, that there are indeed some external, objective moral realities.

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