Saturday, February 03, 2024

Can Socratic Argument Prove the Existence of God? C. S. Lewis's Answer

Before I examine Lewis's argument from desire for the existence of God, I should explain what Lewis thought generally about rational arguments for the existence of God.

As the founding President, and most active member, of the Oxford Socratic Club from 1942 to 1954, Lewis was eager for Socratic debate between Christians and unbelievers because he was sure that Christianity could be defended against its opponents by rational argument and evidence (Hooper 1979).  In his statement on "The Founding of the Oxford Socratic Club," he explained: "Socrates had exhorted men to 'follow the argument wherever it led them': the Club came into existence to apply this principle to one particular subject-matter--the pros and cons of the Christian Religion" (Lewis 1970: 131).  

Lewis disagreed, therefore, with those Christians who believed that their religious life was based on faith alone without any appeal to reason.  If Christianity is not reasonable, Lewis insisted, then it cannot be credible at all.

In contrast to my claim that there can be no final resolution to the Reason/Revelation debate, Lewis argued that even if Reason can neither prove nor refute the truth of Revelation, Reason is on the side of Revelation at least to some degree.  But then, we must wonder what it means for Reason to favor Revelation to some degree?

Lewis's clearest explanation was in his reply to a paper by H. H. Price on "Is Theism Important?" read to the Oxford Socratic Club.  Lewis suggested that we need to distinguish two kinds of Faith (Lewis 1970: 186-91).  Faith-A is "a settled intellectual assent" to the existence of God as First Cause.  Faith-B is "a trust, or confidence, in the God whose existence is thus assented to," which is the faith that Christians have in the God of the Bible--the Creator who created human beings in his Image, and who sent His Son to redeem them from their sinful state, so that they could have eternal life in Heaven.  Faith-A is the Theism that arises from philosophical arguments (such as the Argument from Design) for the existence of a philosophical God, which is not strictly a religious state.  Faith-B is a religious faith that this God is actually the Christian God of the Bible, and the New Testament identifies this faith as a "gift" from God through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Ephesians 2:8).

This distinction between the two kinds of faith runs throughout Lewis's apologetic writings.  So, for example, in Mere Christianity, Lewis argues for the existence of "a Something which is directing the universe, and which appears to me as a law urging me to do right and making me feel responsible and uncomfortable when I do wrong."  But then he warns his reader: "I am not yet within a hundred miles of the God of Christian theology" (34).  Similarly, in Miracles, he says: "I do not maintain that God's creation of Nature can be proved as rigorously as God's existence" (Lewis 1966: 33; 1974: 50).

In Surprised by Joy, his spiritual autobiography, Lewis distinguished between his conversion to Theism in 1929 and his conversion to Christianity in 1931: "It must be understood that the conversion recorded in the last chapter was only to Theism, pure and simple, not to Christianity.  I knew nothing yet about the Incarnation.  The God to whom I surrendered was sheerly nonhuman" (228-30).

As I said in some previous posts, at least one of the philosophical atheists who were active in the Oxford Socratic Club--Antony Flew--seemed to have been converted to Theism at the end of his life.  And Charles Darwin was open to scientific and philosophical arguments for God as First Cause.  But neither Flew nor Darwin were ever converted to Faith-B--to believing in the God of the Bible.

But as I will indicate in my next post, I am not persuaded that Lewis's Argument from Desire--from the experience of Joy--is a good argument supported by evidence for the existence of God, and for this as a first step to faith in the Christian God.


Hooper, Walter. 1979. "Oxford's Bonny Fighter." In James T. Como, ed., C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table, and Other Reminiscences. New York: Macmillan.

Lewis, C. S. 1952. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan.

________.  1955. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World.

________.  1966. Miracles: A Preliminary Study. New York: Macmillan.

________.  1970. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics. Ed. Walter Hooper.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing.

________,  1974. Miracles: A Preliminary Study. Revised edition. New York: HarperCollins.

1 comment:

Les Brunswick said...

My understanding is that the Abrahamic religions hold that human beings are born with spiritual souls, and as a consequence they have direct knowledge of the existence of God. However, since the Fall they are also born in a state of sin in which they, for reasons of pride, deny this.

In this view, atheism is thus more of a consequence of psychological denial as opposed being due to a lack of rational thinking.

Also from what I understand, for this reason most religious thinkers believe that while proofs of the existence of God may be useful for converting some people, in general the focus should be a more emotional appeal, such as to a sense of guilt and not living one's life correctly, and the fear of death.