On C. S. Lewis’ Moral Argument for God’s Existence

For those needing a breather from ballot-counting and political pundits. . .  

You are having a conversation with someone who asks—“how can you be sure God exists?” A simple reply might be, “I have yet to be convinced otherwise.” One might approach the topic another way, averring: “why should I not believe in God?” In his famous “The Wager” argument, the French mathematician, physicist, and theologian, Blaise Pascal, reasoned we might as well believe in God claiming, essentially, “We have everything to gain (eternity in heaven) and nothing to lose.”

There are any number of ways to defend God’s existence—the discipline of apologetics (from the Greek apologetikos, “defensible”) is concerned with precisely this. A well-crafted response to the inquiring mind must discern what the particular obstacle to belief is, for example, does one have a moral, scientific, or historical question.

A former student of mine recently asked about a friend (whom I’ll refer to as “Jim”) who came to her with the following query about morality:

Morals come from people. We decide what is moral as individuals and as a society. When we call something immoral, what we are saying is that it is immoral by our standards and society’s standard.

Jim’s statement reflects a concept of morality—a reality defined by the individual or society. The statement runs counter to Christianity’s claims if meant to imply that humanity (individuals or society) is the final source of morality. However, Jim’s remark, on its own, does not preclude God’s existence. God could still be the ultimate source, while humanity is the derivative (go-between) source.

An excellent place to begin is C. S. Lewis’ “moral arbiter” argument. Lewis builds this argument in his work, Mere Christianity, disclosing from the start (chap. 1) the notion of the “Law of Right and Wrong.” The principle behind the argument is that if there is a moral law (the Law of Right and Wrong) and everyone (and all societies) recognize it the same, then there must be some moral arbiter (namely, God).

MereChristianity.JPG

The moral arbiter argument is very useful for the modernist who admits to an objective standard of truth (and the principle of causation): if there is a moral standard, then there must be a first (prior) cause or basis of that standard. Since morality is a property that belongs only to rational (thinking, sensible beings with a soul) creatures, then a naturalistic explanation does not suffice (the first cause cannot be material in nature or explained merely by science).

It would be best to follow-up with Jim at this point and inquire, something to the effect—“do you think there is more than one societal standard of morality.” If so, then one is dealing with a relativistic argument: morality is changeable, based on societal “preference” or “feeling.” Abdu Murray’s Saving Truth (2018) addresses such a “post-truth” mentality where, essentially, Americans have one standard, Europeans another, the Buddhist another, Hindu India another, and so forth. Morality itself is thus societally-based or perhaps based on each individual.

The best way to address the relativist is with compassion and understanding. I would listen very carefully to where Jim is coming from and then follow-up with one or more other insightful questions: Do you think there are some values that are significant to every society? What do you think are the most important values for a given person or society? Is one society’s standard of morality superior to another? Suppose Jim, along the way, admits that one value is most important or that one society’s standard is most superior. In that case, Jim is saying that he believes in some moral standard, for which one could come back to Lewis’ moral arbiter argument.

Another question that might be worth pursuing with Jim: “What about the Golden Rule” (do unto others as you would have them do to you (Matt 7:12)? The Rule is a biblical theme, stated either explicitly or implicitly in just about every other culture/tradition (whether ancient Greek philosophy, Jewish thought, Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism, Buddhism, etc.). Or, perhaps, “do you think the Golden Rule is something everyone should embrace”? If so, then we have again arrived at a moral standard for which Lewis’ argument is fitting.

It is hard to imagine any society not embracing the “Golden Rule.” Without it, we wouldn’t care if people treated us the way we wanted to be treated and would give little thought to treating others likewise. Another question: “how do we uphold the Rule?” (indeed, another question entirely, and perhaps for another time).

Please subscribers. Keep your questions coming!

Published by Paul J. Palma

Paul J. Palma is a professor of Christian history and theology at Regent University. His new book, Italian American Pentecostalism and the Struggle for Religious Identity, is part of the Routledge Studies in Religion series. Paul is a contributing writer for CBN.com and the Pneuma Review. He enjoys spending quality time with his family, whether on walks together, going to the beach, fishing, or work around the yard.

2 thoughts on “On C. S. Lewis’ Moral Argument for God’s Existence

  1. Great article! Thank you so much for these helpful strategies in apologetics. They are solid, concise and, best of all, the Truth for a world which so desperately needs it!

    Like

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