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Miracles is a book by C. S. Lewis originally published in 1947 and revised in 1960. In it, Lewis makes the case for miracles by first arguing that there must be something more than nature or "the whole show", and then arguing that the something more is a benevolent being, and that it is likely that he would intervene in nature after creating it. The book is similar to Mere Christianity in that it progresses from an agnostic to a fully Christian world view.

In a chapter on "Natural Laws", Lewis addresses the issue of whether miracles are incompatible with natural law or science. He argues that rather than being mutually exclusive, miracles are definite interventions that go beyond natural laws. Miracles are consistent with nature, but beyond natural law. They are caused by a benevolent being.

All of the major miracles of the New Testament are addressed, with the incarnation (in which God becomes man) playing the central role. Also included are two appendices which deal with matters of free will and the value of prayer.

Contents

Argument from Reason

Philosophers and scientists such as Victor Reppert, William Hasker and Alvin Plantinga have expanded on the so-called "Argument from Reason" and credit C.S. Lewis—who called it "The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism," the title of chapter three of the book—with first bringing the argument to light in Miracles.[1]

In short the argument holds that if, as thoroughgoing naturalism entails, all of our thoughts are the effect of a physical cause, then we have no reason for assuming that they are also the consequent of a reasonable ground. Knowledge, however, is apprehended by reasoning from ground to consequent. Therefore, if naturalism were true, there would be no way of knowing it—or anything else not the direct result of a physical cause—and we could not even suppose it, except by a fluke.[2]

By this logic, the statement "I have reason to believe naturalism is valid" is self-referentially incoherent in the same manner as the sentence "One of the words of this sentence does not have the meaning that it appears to have." or the statement "I never tell the truth" [3]. That is, in each case to assume the veracity of the conclusion would eliminate the possibility of valid grounds from which to reach it. To summarize the argument in the book, Lewis quotes J. B. S. Haldane who appeals to a similar line of reasoning:[4]

If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true ... and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.

J. B. S. Haldane, Possible Worlds, page 209

In his essay Is Theology Poetry, Lewis himself summarises the argument in a similar fashion when he writes:

If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees.

C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, page 139

Lewis is frequently credited with bringing the argument to prominence; however a roughly contemporaneous version can be found in G.K. Chesterton's 1908 book Orthodoxy_(book). In the third chapter, entitled "The Suicide of Thought," Chesterton elaborates on a very similar argument. He writes:

That peril is that the human intellect is free to destroy itself...It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a skeptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, "Why should anything go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?"

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, page 25[5]

Similarly Chesterton asserts that the argument is a fundamental, if unstated, tenant of Thomism in his book St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox

Thus, even those who appreciate the metaphysical depth of Thomism in other matters have expressed surprise that he does not deal at all with what many now think the main metaphysical question; whether we can prove that the primary act of recognition of any reality is real. The answer is that St. Thomas recognised instantly, what so many modern sceptics have begun to suspect rather laboriously; that a man must either answer that question in the affirmative, or else never answer any question, never ask any question, never even exist intellectually, to answer or to ask. I suppose it is true in a sense that a man can be a fundamental sceptic, but he cannot be anything else: certainly not even a defender of fundamental scepticism. If a man feels that all the movements of his own mind are meaningless, then his mind is meaningless, and he is meaningless; and it does not mean anything to attempt to discover his meaning. Most fundamental sceptics appear to survive, because they are not consistently sceptical and not at all fundamental. They will first deny everything and then admit something, if for the sake of argument--or often rather of attack without argument. I saw an almost startling example of this essential frivolity in a professor of final scepticism, in a paper the other day. A man wrote to say that he accepted nothing but Solipsism, and added that he had often wondered it was not a more common philosophy. Now Solipsism simply means that a man believes in his own existence, but not in anybody or anything else. And it never struck this simple sophist, that if his philosophy was true, there obviously were no other philosophers to profess it.

G.K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas[6]

The argument is, in effect, one for Cartesian dualism. In 21st century philosophic discussion, the argument is closely related to David Chalmers's hard problems of consciousness, Jaegwon Kim and the problem of mental causation, and debates concerning the incompatibility of naturalism and free will.

The original version of Miracles contained a different version of chapter 3 entitled "The Self-Contradiction of the Naturalist." In it, Lewis made the same argument but referred to atomic motions in the brain as "irrational." In a Socratic Club debate, G.E.M. Anscombe criticized this, prompting Lewis to revise the chapter. The revised chapter presents a more detailed elucidation of the argument and distinguishes between "non-rational" and "irrational" processes. G.E.M. Anscombe commented on the process after Lewis's death:

The fact that Lewis rewrote that chapter, and rewrote it so that it now has those qualities [to meet Anscombe's objections], shows his honesty and seriousness. The meeting of the Socratic Club at which I [i.e. Anscombe] read my paper has been described by several of his friends as a horrible and shocking experience which upset him very much. Neither Dr. Harvard (who had Lewis and me to dinner a few weeks later) nor Professor Jack Bennet remembered any such feelings on Lewis's part [...] My own recollection is that it was an occasion of sober discussion of certain quite definite criticisms, which Lewis's rethinking and rewriting showed he thought was accurate. I am inclined to construe the odd accounts of the matter by some of his friends—who seem not to have been interested in the actual arguments of the subject-matter—as an interesting example of the phenomenon called projection.[7]

Lewis removed a similar paragraph from his The Case for Christianity when he put together Mere Christianity

Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It's like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can't trust my own thinking, of course I can't trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God."

References

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Footnotes

  1. ^ Victor Reppert C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8308-2732-3
  2. ^ Victor Reppert C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8308-2732-3
  3. ^ A Response to Richard Carrier's Review of C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea
  4. ^ The Cardinal Difficulty Of Naturalism
  5. ^ G.K. Chesterton Orthodoxy. New York, New York: Barnes and Noble, Inc., 2007; originally published 1908.
  6. ^ G.K. Chesterton St. Thomas Aquinas.
  7. ^ from the introduction to her Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Mind, 1981. [1]

Sources

  • John Beversluis C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. erdmans, 1985. ISBN 0-8028-0046-7
  • C.S. Lewis Miracles. London & Glasgow: Collins/Fontana, 1947. Revised 1960. (Current edition: Fount, 2002. ISBN 0006280943)
  • Victor Reppert C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8308-2732-3
  • G.K. Chesterton Orthodoxy. New York, New York: Barnes and Noble, Inc., 2007; originally published in 1908.

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