Monday, August 30, 2010

Questioning the evidence inside ourselves

In chapter 4 of Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis contrasts two views of “what this universe really is and how it came to be,” the materialist view which claims that matter and space just happen to exist versus the religious view which claims that what is behind the universe is more like a mind than anything else we know. Lewis explains that science cannot help us choose between these two options as it is about observation and not about questioning if there is anything behind what we observe. So how can we know?

Man-Question-Mark Now the position would be quite hopeless but for this. There is one thing, and only one, in the whole universe which we know more about than we could learn from external observation. That one thing is Man. We do not merely observe men, we are men. In this case we have, so to speak, inside information; we are in the know. And because of that, we know that men find themselves under a moral law, which they did not make, and cannot quite forget even when they try, and which they know they ought to obey. Notice the following point. Anyone studying Man from the outside as we study electricity or cabbages, not knowing our language and consequently not able to get any inside knowledge from us, but merely observing what we did, would never get the slightest evidence that we had this moral law. How could he? for his observations would only show what we did, and the moral law is about what we ought to do. In the same way, if there were anything above or behind the observed facts in the case of stones or the weather, we, by studying them from outside, could never hope to discover

The position of the question, then, is like this. We want to know whether the universe simply happens to be what it is for no reason or whether there is a power behind it that makes it what it is. Since that power, if it exists, would be not one of the observed facts but a reality which makes them, no mere observation of the facts can find it. There is only one case in which we can know whether there is anything more, namely our own case. And in that one case we find there is. Or put it the other way round. If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe—no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house. The only way in which we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way. And that is just what we do find inside ourselves. Surely this ought to arouse our suspicions?

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952, this edition: 2001) 23-24.

1 comment:

  1. Finding this moral law within me, this "you ought to..." speaking within me, certainly has aroused my suspicion.

    I find Lewis' argument to be very compelling as I don't think we can adequately explaining this moral law about from a Moral Lawgiver.

    Does the argument convince you? (If it doesn't yet convince you, keep in mind that Lewis isn't quite finished yet. He's just at that point where I'm convinced, but he's certainly not done.)