Right and Wrong as a Clue to Meaning in the Universe
C.S. Lewis is known for his children’s books, but he was also a very clear thinking apologist for the Christian faith. He was agnostic for many years, but eventually became a Christian and was very prolific in his writings which were tailored specifically for non-believers. One of his greatest non-fiction titles is Mere Christianity which not only is easy, entertaining reading, but also a clear picture of the essentials of the Christian faith stripped of all the often confusing man-made religious trappings that so often encumbers it. I highly recommend this book to everyone … it’s easy reading guys and less than 200 pages.
Section One of Mere Christianity is called “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe” … an intriguing title to be sure. Here’s how he begins in Chapter 1: The Law of Human Nature …
Every one has heard people quarrelling. Sometimes it sounds funny and sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however it sounds, I believe we can learn something very important from listening to the kind of things they say. They say things like this: “How’d you like it if anyone did the same to you?” — “That’s my seat, I was there first” — “Leave him alone, he isn’t doing you any harm”– [and so on.] People say things like that every day, educated people as well as uneducated, and children as well as grownups.
Now what interests me about all these remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man’s behaviour does not happen to please him. He is appealing to some kind of standard of behaviour which he expects the other man to know about. And the other man very seldom replies: “To he11 with your standard.” Nearly always he tries to make out that what he has been doing does not really go against the standard, or that if it does, there is some special excuse … It looks, in fact, very much as if both parties had in mind some kind of Law or Rule of fair play or decent behaviour or morality or whatever you like to call it, about which they really agreed. And they have.
Lewis goes on to call this the Law of Human Nature and he argues that this Law has been in operation throughout all of human history in every culture whether or not that culture had some sort of ‘holy book’ or not. I will not give all his arguments … you can read the book. But suffice it to say that he ends the first chapter with two important points …
These, then, are the two points I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of [Human] Nature; [and] they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.
The second chapter is titled Some Objections and deals with things like “Isn’t what you call the Moral Law simply our herd instinct and hasn’t it been developed just like all our other instincts?” Lewis dismantles this objection by noting that many times humans behave in a way contrary to our instincts, such as the man who dives into floodwaters to save a drowning man, or leaves a girl alone who he would like to have. Another objection Lewis deals with is “Isn’t what you call the Moral Law just a social convention, something that is put into us by education?” Lewis counters that many things are mere conventions, such as driving on the right or the lefthand side of the road, but other things are real truths, such as the rules of mathematics. He shows that the Law of Human Nature belongs to the ‘mathematics class’ of absolute truths because it is universal throughout all ages and applies to all people with only minor variation.
In the third chapter, The Reality of the Law, Lewis re-establishes his two main points …
(1) Human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it.
(2) Human beings do not in fact behave in that way.
They know the Law of [Human] Nature; [and] they break it.
After some discussion of people’s failed attempts to get rid of this Law, and some more discussion of how this Law differs from the Law of Gravity or other scientific laws, Lewis concludes …
Consequently, this Rule of Right and Wrong, or Law of Human Nature, or whatever you call it, must somehow or other be a real thing–a thing that is really there, not made up by ourselves. And yet it is not a fact in the ordinary sense, in the same way as our actual behaviour is a fact. It begins to look as if we shall have to admit that there is more than one kind of reality; that, in this particular case, there is something above and beyond the ordinary facts of men’s behaviour, and yet quite definitely real–a real law, which none of us made, but which we find pressing on us.
In Chapter 4, What Lies Behind the Law, Lewis points out that throughout history with all men everywhere, there have been basically two views of the universe–the Materialistic View which includes most of you, and what he calls the Religious view, which proposes some type of Intelligence which caused the phenomena in the universe. Lewis says that ordinary science cannot tell us anything about a supposed ‘Mind’ outside the universe [you would agree with him and I would agree if we are talking about your definition of limited science … I would say that the ‘non-science’ that Lewis is discussing here should be included in a broader definition of Science]. Lewis continues …
Supposing science ever became so complete so that it knew every single thing in the whole universe. Is it not plain that the questions, “Why is there a universe?” “Why does it go on as it does?” “Has it any meaning?” would remain just as they were?
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 … 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 around. 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 a staircase or a 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? In the only case where you can expect to find an answer, the answer turns out to be Yes; and in the other cases, where you do not get an answer, you see why you do not.
In Chapter 5: We Have Cause to Be Uneasy, Lewis points out that he has not got as far as the Christian God, or the God of any particular religion, and he says …
We have only got as far as a Somebody or Something behind the Moral Law. We are not taking anything from the Bible or from the Churches, we are trying to see what we can find out about this Somebody on our own steam … and what we find out … is something that gives us a shock. We have two bits of evidence about the Somebody. One is the universe He has made … the other bit of evidence is that Moral Law which He has put into our minds. And this is a better bit of evidence than the other, because it is inside information. You find out more about God from the Moral Law than from the universe in general just as you find out more about a man by listening to his conversation than by looking at a house he has built. Now from this second bit of evidence we conclude that the Being behind the universe is intensely interested in right conduct–in fair play, unselfishness, courage, good faith, honesty and truthfulness … [but the Moral Law is not] indulgent, or soft, or sympatheitc … It is hard as nails. It tells you to do the straight thing and it does not seem to care how painful, or dangerous, or difficult it is to do. If God is like the Moral Law, then He is not soft. It is no use, at this stage, saying that what you mean by a “good” God is a God who can forgive. You are going too quickly. Only a person can forgive. And we have not yet got as far as a personal God–only as far as a power, behind the Moral Law, and more like a mind than it is like anything else. But it may still be very unlike a Person. If it is a pure impersonal mind, there may be no sense in asking it to make allowances for you or let you off, just as there is no sense in asking the multiplication table to let you off when you do your sums wrong. You are bound to get the wrong answer. And it is no use either saying that if there is a God of that sort–an impersonal absolute goodnes–then you do not like Him and are not going to bother about Him. For the trouble is that one part of you is on His side and really agrees with His disapproval of human greed and trickery and exploitation. You may want Him to make an exception in your own case, to let you off this one time; but you know at bottom that unless the power behind the world really and unalterably detests that sort of behaviour, then He cannot be good. On the other hand, we know that if there does exist an absolute goodness it must hate most of what we do. That is the terrible fix we are in. If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless. But if it is, then we are making ourselves enemies to that goodness every day, and are not in the least likely to do any better tomorrow, and so our case is hopeless again. We cannot do without it, and we cannot do with it. God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies. Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again. They are still only playing with religion. Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger–according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way.
Now my third point … Christianity simply does not make sense until you have faced the sort of facts I have been describing. Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness. It therefore has nothing (as far as I know) to say to people who do not know they have anything to repent of and who do not feel that they need forgiveness. It is after you have realised that there is a real Moral Law, and a Power behind the law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with that Power–it is after all this, and not a moment sooner, that Christianity begins to talk. When you know you are sick, you will listen to the doctor. When you have realized that our position is nearly desperate you will begin to understand what the Christians are talking about. They offer an explanation of how we got into our present state of both hating goodness and loving it. They offer an explanation of how God can be this impersonal mind at the back of the Moral Law and yet also a Person. They tell you how the demands of this law, which you and I cannot meet, have been met on your behalf, how God Himself becomes a man to save man from the disapproval of God … All I am doing is to ask people to face the facts–to understand the questions which Christianity claims to answer. And they are very terrifying facts. I wish it was possible to say something more agreeable. But I must say what I think true. Of course, I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin with comfort; it begins in the dismay I have been describing, and it is no use at all trying to go on to that comfort without first going throught the dismay. In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth–only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair. Most of us have got over the pre-war wishful thinking about international politics. It is time we did the same about religion.
Lewis obviously goes farther than is necessary to establish another piece of evidence for the existence of God, and I do too. The last portion of this is for those who accept the existence of God, but have not yet considered the claims of Christianity.
For those of you that have joined us late, we are about 2/3 done with the “First” goal listed at the beginning of this point. We have previously shown that Biological Machines and Cosmic Fine Tunig speak powerfully about some Super Intelligent Designer outside the universe. Now, C.S. Lewis’ Morality argument give us more clues as to the nature of this Designer. Next we will deal with the Problem of Evil in the World and touch on Miracles. This will complete the “First Goal” listed above and we will move to the Second.
I welcome your comments.