C.S. Lewis and Faith: Defending Faith in God by using Reason

Attacks on Naturalism

Christian apologist C.S. Lewis had a curious relationship with faith. On the one hand, he couldn’t very well deny the importance of faith because it has been a core component of Christianity since the very beginning — both Jesus and Paul praise it as vital. At the same time, however, his overall goal was to provide a rational apologetic that justified acceptance of Christianity on intellectual grounds.

This would make faith superfluous.

To get around this, Lewis attempted to distinguish between two different senses of the word “faith” to correspond with two different senses of the word “God.” The first sense of the word “God” is the philosophical God, a moral lawgiver or cosmic designer which philosophy can plausible prove the existence of. Acceptance of the existence of this sort of god Lewis called Faith-A.

Lewis recognized, however, that this philosophical God could not automatically be identified with the Christian God. The religious belief which Lewis designated Faith-B is no mere intellectual assent; instead, it’s a belief in God — a trust in God that represents a religious relationship between the person and the divine.

Faith-A is a prerequisite for Faith-B, but it does not necessarily and always lead to Faith-B. C.S. Lewis’ apologetics were designed to demonstrate that reasonableness of Faith-A (and, in fact, that it is more reasonable than atheism), but his ultimate goal was for people to accept Faith-B as well.

Although he did not believe that he could provide philosophical arguments leading to Faith-B, he hoped that be removing intellectual barriers to belief in the existence of any sort of god, he might pave the way to believe in the Christian god. Thus the goal of his books was to provide the basis for an intellectual conversion to one sort of theism which, he hoped, would lead to an emotional conversion to a different sort of theism later on.

This isn’t a surprising state of affairs — C.S. Lewis often acted as though the only real reason atheists had for rejecting Christianity was emotional rather than intellectual. If this were the case, then it makes perfect sense to believe that making Christianity less emotionally distant would be an appropriate apologetical tactic.

Lewis’ ideas about faith create problems for his apologetics as well, however. He presents his philosophical arguments with the request that skeptics give them a fair shake and only accept them if they believe that the weight of evidence is in favor of them. In other words, he tells nonbelievers that they should not believe Christianity if they think that the weight of evidence is against it, even if some evidence appears to be in favor of it.

He has an entirely different message for believers, though: to them, he argues that they must hold fast to their Christian beliefs regardless of the evidence which comes out against Christianity. They must be “obstinate” in their beliefs and to remain loyal, regardless of changing “moods” (he doesn’t seem to have thought that serious doubts would have occurred to a Christian for any reason other than shifting moods).

It’s praiseworthy for the Christian to be “obstinate,” but he criticizes atheists whom he accuses of avoiding facts that contradict their beliefs.

This difference, which skeptics will immediately reject as a form of special pleading, can be traced directly to the different senses of faith which Lewis relies upon. Christians’ Faith-B is a form of loyalty, trust, allegiance, and commitment which is not reducible to evidence. It goes beyond the immediate evidence and logic; Christian belief and Christian doctrine are not related to the scientific principle of proportioning belief to evidence.

The Faith-A which Lewis promote to skeptics, though, isn’t a form of commitment — it’s just an intellectual assent, like how someone might intellectually assent to the existence of Paris in France. This is the sort of thing for which Lewis accepted that one should proportion one’s belief to the evidence.

Unfortunately, Lewis never provided any basis for moving from Faith-A to Faith-B, from belief in the existence of a Power behind Moral Law to faith in the Christian God. He also doesn’t provide any good reason why the commitment of Faith-B shouldn’t be subject to basic standards of evidence; by endorsing “obstinate” faith in the face of contrary evidence, he effectively endorses religious fanaticism.

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Cline, Austin. "C.S. Lewis and Faith: Defending Faith in God by using Reason." ThoughtCo, Apr. 6, 2016, thoughtco.com/c-s-lewis-and-faith-defending-249781. Cline, Austin. (2016, April 6). C.S. Lewis and Faith: Defending Faith in God by using Reason. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/c-s-lewis-and-faith-defending-249781 Cline, Austin. "C.S. Lewis and Faith: Defending Faith in God by using Reason." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/c-s-lewis-and-faith-defending-249781 (accessed December 16, 2017).