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List price: $11.95|
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Average customer rating:
4.5 out of 5
ISBN/ASIN : 0060652926
Manufacturer : HarperOne|
Release data : 06 February, 2001
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Great book from a great author
Lewis has a way of taking giant concepts of religion and explaining it down so that the average joe can understand. Some bits were still over my head, but all in all a great read.
I am an agnostic (atheist, perhaps), so my review is really only directed towards others of the same persuasion. I had heard about this book; that it makes a convincing argument for Christianity. I wanted the book to challenge my beliefs.
I found myself arguing with the author on just about every page. I'd read a paragraph, and get upset, and want to yell at the author. And it's very hard to get mad at CS Lewis. His fantasy and science fiction are exceptional.
Other reviews detail how bad Lewis' logic is. Let me add this to the mix. He has conversations with himself, playing both roles. Here's an excerpt: "'Why ought I to be unselfish?' and you reply 'because it is good for society,' we may then ask, 'Why should I care what's good for society except how it happens to me personally?' and you reply 'because you ought to be unselfish' which brings us back to where we started."
Um, that's not at all how the conversation would go if I were participating in it.
Lewis here tries to build a logical foundation for the correctness of Christianity. But if you disagree with any part of that foundation, the whole thing collapses. The excerpt from above is from page 12 of my copy of the book. My arguing with author began on page 2, when he defined "Law of Nature".
If anyone wants a serious challenge to atheism, look elsewhere.
A Careful Review of Lewis's Assumptions
I know many people adore this book and are very hostile to low-star reviews so I want to be very careful to explain my viewpoint in a way that is fair and reasonable.
I am a Secular Humanist. That means I believe in truth, testing beliefs, evidence, ethics, growth, enriching human life, and enriching the world for future generations. I tell you this to assure you that I believe in many positive things and generally have a lot of hope for humanity and a lot of appreciation for positive instruction. For this reason, I appreciate a lot of the positive instruction that Lewis gives in Books III and IV. I am glad he has a positive attitude and these two sections of the book may very well do some good.
However, I also believe in the testing of beliefs. I do not accept anything without question and any of my beliefs is always open to question. That does not mean I believe in nothing strongly. I very much do. But you can always change my mind with a reasonable argument or evidence. I'll never cling to any belief with complete unmoving certainty. As limited human beings I am convinced that we could never have any such invincible beliefs.
With this foundation, I read the first two sections (Books I and II) of Lewis's book. Here is what I found:
In Chapter 1, Lewis makes the praiseworthy analysis that all human beings have an innate morals. He shows this with undeniable examples. Essentially he shows that we all wish to be moral. Whenever someone calls us immoral, we instantly try to set our reputations right again. We may do this by apologizing and admitting wrongness or we may do it by defending ourselves and showing rightness. But either way, we are concerned with being in the right again. Either way, we are all concerned with morals.
However, at the end of this otherwise laudible chapter, Lewis makes a sudden, weighty, unjustified assumption: we largely do not meet the demands of our innate morals. We are inherently immoral. Examples he uses are "you were unfair to your children when you were tired" or "you broke a promise because you were busy".
The first assumption that Lewis makes here is that these occurences are common. I really feel they are not. I think it is rare that one breaks a promise and that it is usually on accident.
The second assumption that Lewis makes is that these occurences are altogether terrible and deserve the weighty sledgehammer of a label "Immoral". I disagree here also. These are just mistakes. Mistakes that are altogether largely not our fault. They are tied up in the limitations of the human body and mind as well as the sheer difficulty of dealing with the natural world.
But suddenly we have bigger problems because Lewis is making even bigger assumptions. Not only is he saying that we have innate morals (as he so eloquently argues for in the first chapter). He is assuming that these innate morals arise from a crystal clear Moral Law that all humans know. So not only is he saying we have moral sense, he is saying that every human situation has an obvious moral choice that every participant in the situation should know. The reason we humans do not always choose the obviously right choice dictated by the Moral Law is because of our selfishness.
Let me give you some examples which bring this assumption into question.
A man holds a gun in each hand to the heads of two other men. He asks you which of them should be killed. He will spare the other. Which do you choose?
A man is standing in front of an oncoming car. If you jump in and push him out of the way, you will be killed. Both of you have families of equal size. So whichever of you is killed, their family will suffer. Which do you choose?
Here is a final one that is probably closer to reality. You find that your country is filled with people who *appear* to be want to kill you at any time. For example, you are members of different hostile social groups. You don't know for sure whether they are going to kill you but they could at any moment. Do you respect their right to human life and risk the lives of your family by not attacking? Or do you act on an unverified suspicion and risk attacking potentially innocent people but protect your family?
The "obvious" choice of the Moral Law is not so obvious in these examples. Because either choice will cost someone. All difficult moral choices are like this and they are much more common than people think, especially in our complex global society. They are difficult choices because we don't have enough information to clearly choose one side over the other.
Typically when people make different moral choices they do so because they have different information. Not because one is following the "Moral Law" and the other is not. Both people would follow the same innate morality given the same information (this has been demonstrated in scientific studies). But due to the vast complexity of the world and the limitations of our perception, we simply do not always have the same information as other people when making our judgments.
DETRIMENTAL TO MORAL PROGRESS
People like Lewis, who try to oversimplify the inherently complex global situations facing our world do much more harm than good. The most moral person would actually first recognize that they do not have all the information to make the perfect moral choice and probably never will. This person would recognize that it is their moral duty to question their own first assumptions about the situation and gather evidence to hone their perspective.
I think it is clear that belief in an immediately clear Moral Law is actually detrimental to moral progress. Because what it actually does is cause people to believe that their first assumptions are the correct ones and then fight for them uncompromisingly. We very rarely have enough information for our first assumptions to be correct, especially in complex global situations. These situations involve need-to-know history and psychology of the conflicting parties before one could even fathom making an accurate moral judgement.
Even in our everyday lives, with conflicts between just two people, two separate human lives can be so complex that one could not possibly make a satisfactory moral judgement without carefully examining both sides of the story. But the way Lewis talks, he seems to think that everyone just instantly knows what is happening and what the correct moral choice is. Lewis seems completely ignorant of the necessity of dialogue and careful examination to resolve moral issues between peoples. He thinks everyone should just "know" the "Moral Law".
THE ORIGIN OF INNATE MORALITY
Unfortunately, we are hardly past the first chapter but I am running out of room for my address of Lewis's assumptions. I've not even gotten to the part on page 29 where Lewis makes the unjustified leaps from "[there must be] Somebody or Something behind the Moral Law" to "[it is] Somebody" to "[it is] God". I agree that there is somebody or something behind innate morality. But Lewis hardly did any evidence examination to determine that it was Somebody. He just assumed it with very little justification.
His perfunctory "herd instinct" argument starting on page 9 is hardly adequate to refute the belief that morality emerged from evolution. He is going to have to do more work than that to convince anyone with an understanding of natural selection that morality isn't an obviously valuable selection trait for evolution. I think there is clearly more evidence that it is "Something" (natural selection) behind innate morality and not "Somebody". Evidence for this goes back as far as Darwin himself who convincingly argued for it. Just search "Evolution of Morality" on Google.
So I think no one here would deny that the concept of a crystal clear Moral Law is at the heart of C.S. Lewis's philosophy. And I don't think any reasonable person would deny that I have cast serious doubt on the reality of that concept.
Probably my biggest criticism of Lewis is that he styles is writing in a way to make it appear to be unbiased reasoning when he is actually making many biased assumptions about the superiority of Christianity. And what is worse: unlike an honest philosopher, Lewis never states these assumptions explicitely. He seems to just make them and hope you don't notice the philosophical slip. Or maybe I am being too hard on him and he is making these assumptions unknowingly.
In any case, this book is misleading for Christians because it gives them the illusion that they have objectively considered alternatives to their faith when they actually haven't. Lewis presents straw man versions of the real alternatives to Christianity (there is no mention of Secular Humanism, for example; maybe he just didn't know about it).
And finally, as a critically thinking person, it was very frustrating for me to read Lewis because of his relentless onslaught of untenable assumptions to support each successive idea. It was like watching someone try to build a skyscraper out of driftwood. And I hope that's not too harsh. But that was my honest experience.