Uncommon Sense

April 9, 2021

Now I See Where He Was Going (C.S. Lewis on Moral Laws)

I have been re-reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and in my first post on that topic (The Moral Law of Right and Wrong) I addressed his claim that our sense of right and wrong was something other than a set of socially transmitted compact rules. Now that I have finished three chapters I see where he is going. In Chapter 4 (What Lies Behind the Law) Lewis writes “When you say that nature is governed by certain laws, this may only mean that nature does, in fact, behave in a certain way. The so-called laws may not be anything real—anything above and beyond the actual facts that we observe. But in the case of Man, we saw that this will not do. The Law of Human Nature, or of Right and Wrong, must be something above and beyond the actual facts of human behavior. In this case, besides the actual facts, you have something else—a real law which we did not invent and which we know we ought to obey.”

Lewis, here, is using a bit of legerdemain as well as dishonest language, mixed in with a bit of ignorance. His statement “The so-called laws may not be anything real—anything above and beyond the actual facts that we observe.” confuses man-made laws (e.g. traffic laws,. tax laws, etc.) with natural laws which are indeed “the actual facts we do observe.” When people started looking for the “rules” behind natural behavior, they observed behaviors which were dependable without fail, for example, unsupported objects fall (straight down). These were and still are, only a set of dependable behaviors we can observe in nature and use to make predictions. It is not the case “that nature is governed by certain laws,” there is no governor, and the “laws” aren’t obeyed. Instead of the “laws” of nature, we might well have said the “behaviors” of nature.

Also Lewis’s use of the phrase “above and beyond” as a source for such laws is disingenuous. He is making a case for his god being the source of the law to which he refers and where does this god reside? Above and beyond our experience, is commonly used to describe his location (yet it is everywhere at the same time, hmm).

And why might dependable behaviors in nature “not be anything real”? In order to be observed, they have to be real, no? Again, language is being used to undermine natural laws as possibly not being real, a criticism used against Lewis’s god, but rarely about observable nature. If observations of nature are not real, then what is? Lewis apparently wants to have his cake and eat it too, as he went to great lengths to paint “The Law of Right and Wrong” as a “natural” law, yet he argues that the law comes not from nature. (Is great puzzlement.)

Lewis is contrasting physical laws (law of gravity, etc.) with the moral law of right and wrong. His argument is that a rock dropped from a height has no choice to “obey” the law of gravity, it just drops. But a man, contemplating an action can consider a rule such as “Do not steal other people’s things!” and can choose to follow the law or not. He is building the case that moral laws have an existence separate from whether or not people obey them, which means they weren’t constructed by nature or even those people, otherwise they would follow their own advice. Rocks are affected by gravity, always, no exceptions. They have no choice. But we do. Natural laws are always exhibited. If a “law” is not, then you know you are dealing with a man-made law, not a natural law.

I think there is a fundamental mistake Professor Lewis is making here and strangely enough, it involves language, which is his field of expertise. Professor Lewis is looking at only the short versions of these moral laws, which appear to be commands, and therefore like man-made laws (being full of “shalls” and “shalt nots”), rather than agreed upon observable behaviors.

When these moral “laws” were negotiated, they were in some sort of form like “we will all be better off if we, as individuals, all pledge to not steal the possessions of others.” (Imagine this stated by a wizened elder when a tribe was in convocation, with the heads of all of the others bobbing in agreement.) But for the simple-minded and the very young, longwinded rules don’t stick in their tiny brains, so we shorten the rules. “If I have told you once, I’ve told you twice, don’t steal!” Parents turn an agreed upon behavior into a command for their children to obey. Why? “Because I am the Mom, that’s why!”

To Lewis, moral laws sound like parentally-shortened rules. So, instead of “Don’t be late for supper, son, it really irritates me and makes extra work for me besides” they get “Don’t be late!” And since these moral laws are universal, which parent model is available to all? Why God, of course. Of course, Lewis doesn’t explain why all of the different gods provide very similar sets of rules, almost as if there were just one source, but there is not such a source. There is absolutely no reason Shiva would create the same moral laws as Huitzilopochtli. But human beings are quite the same the world around so the rules they would come up with would be similar, no? Same source: human beings, same result: common moral precepts.

And were Lewis to argue that there is only one set of rules because all of the others are false gods; there is only one true god, then he would have to explain the differences. The Aztecs tore out the beating hearts of human captives and allowed their blood to run down the sides of their temples as a form of worship, but the Hebrews were told (eventually) that human sacrifice was immoral. If there were only one god, why the variations?

Clearly, even sincere apologists use dishonest language and argumentations because of their beliefs. Assuming ones beliefs to prove ones beliefs is circular reasoning, but also a surefire way to get an outcome you desire. An axiom of argumentation is that the surest way to get a particular conclusion is to get its existence stated as one of the premises. Faith can lead one into making such errors.

8 Comments »

  1. Nice piece.

    Apologetics is 50% assumptions, and the remainder is equivocation.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Matt Barsotti — April 9, 2021 @ 10:58 am | Reply

    • And the other half is bullstuff! :o) (Somewhere Yogi Berra is still smiling.)

      On Fri, Apr 9, 2021 at 10:58 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

      >

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — April 9, 2021 @ 12:55 pm | Reply

  2. Bullstuff, indeed sounds appropriate.

    That is one logically flawed argument. “so called laws” is an attack on science. And they may not be anything real other than observed behavior, (I did not quote, but it’s close enough,) furthers the attack on science.

    “But in the case of man we saw this would not do” Says who? When we make claims we should immediately show the damn work supporting the claim.

    “The Law of Human Nature, or of Right and Wrong, must be something above and beyond the actual facts of human behavior.” Again, says who? What facts do you present to make this case?

    “In this case, besides the actual facts, you have something else—a real law which we did not invent and which we know we ought to obey.” Dog whistle for all x-ians, who immediately understand the implication, their dog, is behind our morality.

    Yep. Bullstuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by shelldigger — April 10, 2021 @ 7:07 am | Reply

    • It seems so much easier to see now than when I first read this. The conflation of physical laws and man-made laws, the subtle implication that there just has to be someone behind all of this, etc. I am now more willing to be agog when he concludes that worship of a god is the solution. If, if there were such a being. A being which, say, created this planet and the life upon it, how would worshiping that being be the right response to anything? Is it because they are powerful? Then we are acting out of fear (we will bow down, just don’t hurt us). Is it because this being can provide benefits, then we are self-seeking. If it were totally good, then we might admire it and hope to live up to its example, but what evidence do we have that that is the case? (Hint: None.)

      Bullstuff. People seeking power over their fellow men have created this web of lies and it rankles.

      On Sat, Apr 10, 2021 at 7:07 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

      >

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — April 10, 2021 @ 8:06 am | Reply

      • It’s the usual x-ian bullstuff. Making assumptions no one but the deluded want to hear. Attacking science in any snarky way they can. Presenting bold assertions, with no evidence whatsoever, to back the claim. Lets not forget the circular reasoning you pointed out in the post. Oh, and ark loads of CD, when their bullstuff gets pointed out to them.

        It’s apologetics 101.

        Bullstuff back in the day, bullstuff today, will still be bullstuff tomorrow.

        Like

        Comment by shelldigger — April 10, 2021 @ 1:29 pm | Reply

        • I can see that these people’s “faith” deludes them by making such weak thinking seem profound. Crude statements like “the Big Bang violates the second law of thermodynamics,” are laughable, but many of Lewis’s writings are far more subtle.

          On Sat, Apr 10, 2021 at 1:29 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

          >

          Like

          Comment by Steve Ruis — April 11, 2021 @ 12:11 pm | Reply

  3. Methinks “fear” is the primary incentive. Of course, the devoted ones will deny-deny-deny and swear on their 2000-year old book that it’s L.O.V.E. … but take away that fiery pit and see how long the knee-bending devotion continues.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Nan — April 10, 2021 @ 10:17 am | Reply


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