Article: C.S. Lewis and the Argument from Reason by Jay W. Richards

In this featured article, philosopher Jay Richards explains the argument from reason (AFR) as put forth by C.S. Lewis.

Richards writes:

"The purpose of the argument is to show that naturalism and reason are incompatible, that believing in naturalism is self-defeating. That is, if naturalism is true, then we ought not to trust our capacity for reason, and so, ought not to trust arguments in favor of naturalism."

Further, as Richards notes, even Charles Darwin himself recognized this problem. It was Darwin who confessed:

"With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?" 

You can checkout this excellent article here.  If you are not familiar with the AFR, this is a great starting place!

Further, for those who want to dig deeper, I highly recommend Victor Reppert's book C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea.  Our review of the book is here.

Courage and Godspeed,



Andrew Ryan said…
Natural selection as a theory is backed up by the scientific method. We accept that the scientific method is a useful way of assessing the truth of proposition because it's been shown to work. It put man on the moon, it's cured diseases.

If you want to argue that our reasoning can't be trusted as far as assessing the efficacy of the scientific method, you're basically arguing that we all had a mass hallucination that Armstrong and Aldrin reached the moon. Or that when I skyped my Mom last week and then later discussed that conversation with her in person, that we were both hallucinating again.

Of course, you COULD make such an argument, but if such hallucination is possible, how can you trust any of the evidence you believe points to a God? If the possibilities are:
1) You're in a Godless world where you can't trust your reasoning; or
2) You're in a theistic universe where you CAN trust your reasoning...

...then you have to ASSUME you're in the second possibility before you even present arguments to support the idea that you ARE!
Anonymous said…
What do you mean natural selection is "backed up" by the scientific method?
Andrew Ryan said…
"What do you mean natural selection is "backed up" by the scientific method?"

I mean the method we use to determine that natural selection is the best theory we have to explain the fact of evolution is the scientific method.

It's pretty much the best supported theory in science.

NB I'm using 'theory' in the scientific sense of the word. Read Stephen Jay Gould's 'Evolution as Fact and Theory' if you're unaware of the distinction.

By the way, the below 'Prove you're not a robot' field one has to fill in before posting seems to get harder and harder! Sometimes I have to try to interpret the symbols several times before it will accept them.
Casey said…

For me the implication of this argument isn't so much that there is no reason and we can't trust it but that since reason does seem to work and be fruitful it begs an explanation that naturalism can't seem to provide. Therefore the accomplishments of science itself point to a creative intelligence behind the universe.

Additionally, I'm not so sure one couldn't postulate some sort of mass delusion by taking some example from the animal kingdom about behaviors which produce intended results but that don't necessarily require right "beliefs" or true knowledge of what, how or why those behaviors work by the animals.
Andrew Ryan said…
If we had mass delusions all the time it would place us at an evolutionary disadvantage. Our ability to reason is what allowed us to farm all the other animals. Why imagine that naturalism is at odds with us being able to reason, or at odds with natural laws being stable? If the laws of physics were changing all the time I'd take THAT more as evidence of a powerful being monkeying around with nature.
Andrew Ryan said…
Our brains are actually prone to delusions, and there are many optical illusions that consistently fool us all in the same ways. But nothing that could explain us all thinking that planes work when they don't work. That actually argues against the idea that a God is giving us a true picture of the world. But not against the idea that we evolved by natural selection.
Chad said…
Hello Andrew,

I hope you are well and that your holiday preparation is proving to be fruitful.

Both the theist and naturalist can agree that our reasoning can indeed be generally trusted. Further, we both can rejoice in the effectiveness of the scientific method and benefit from it. As Richards states in the article- “We all take it for granted that we can learn about the world around us through our senses.”

The question then becomes, “Which worldview best accounts (inference to the best explanation) for the fact that our reasoning seems to be generally reliable?”

It seems to me that if one holds to naturalism, Kenneth Samples is correct when he states:

“If a person accepts the evolutionary naturalistic worldview, then he must also accept that the ultimate source of people’s reasoning faculties was not itself rational (endowed with reason), personal (self-aware, intelligent), or teleological (purposive) in nature. Rather, the source was a non-rational, impersonal, purposeless process consisting of genetic mutations, variation, and environmental factors (natural selection).” [1]

Contrast this with Christian theism. The Christian theist maintains that a perfectly rational being, God, is the ground and source of reason.

So, it seems that the naturalist must hold that reason came about from a non-rational source, while the theist maintains that the explanation of our rationality is grounded in a rational Being.

I encourage you to checkout Victor Reppert’s book mentioned in the post above. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, I believe you find it a challenging read.

Take care

AndrewRyan said…
"So, it seems that the naturalist must hold that reason came about from a non-rational source"

Sure. You've not shown why this is a problem. We know that the process you quote took us from single-cell organisms to our present state. That's what the scientific method has revealed. To say it couldn't produce animals that reason is a simple argument from incredulity.

My holiday preparations have been long but fruitful. I type this as I near the very end of my present wrapping (and birthday wrapping for my youngest, who will be two on Boxing Day!).
Andrew G said…
Andrew, you seem to agree that human reason has come about from a non-rational source. But you don't see why that is a problem.

You've shown well that our reasoning seems very good, (eg having used the scientific method to put us on the moon and give us iPhones etc). But I think you'll agree that if our reasoning came from non-reasoning, then surely it could not be depended upon to be reasonable. The fact that our reason is (or appears to be) reasonable indicates that it could not have come from non-reasoning.

Put it like this:
1. If Naturalism is true, then we cannot trust our reasoning.
2. But our reasoning is good and seems to work
3. Therefore it is unlikely that Naturalism is true.

There are many ways to object to this, but ultimately it is a good dilemma to think about. Furthermore, it leads to interesting discussions about states of intentionality (something that doesn't naturally exist), purpose, even conciousness itself.

Fascinating topic.
Andrew Ryan said…
Andrew G: "1. If Naturalism is true, then we cannot trust our reasoning"

Why not? You've not explained why, just asserted it.

"But I think you'll agree that if our reasoning came from non-reasoning, then surely it could not be depended upon to be reasonable"

I don't agree. Why not?
Andrew Ryan said…
You can argue that '[created] intelligent creatures must be created other intelligent creatures', but I don't see why it's not less sound to argue that "The creator of mortal creatures that sin and feel fear must also be fearful, mortal, sinning etc".
Chad said…
I encourage our readers here to checkout Alvin Plantinga's "Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism."

You can find the audio and the transcript here.

Further, for those who want to learn more about the AFR, I encourage you to checkout our AFR research materials found here.

Andrew Ryan said…
"I encourage our readers here to checkout Alvin Plantinga's "Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism."

Sorry Chad, but I find it hard to believe anyone takes Plantinga's argument seriously. A key part of his theory is an example of a 'prehistoric homind' called Paul. Plantinga says of this fictional fellow: "Perhaps Paul very much likes the idea of being eaten, but when he sees a tiger, always runs off looking for a better prospect, because he thinks it unlikely that the tiger he sees will eat him"

This makes no sense at all. Long before we reached the primate stage we would have been reacting on the same instincts and impulses as other animals. Critters at risk of being eaten don't think: "I don't want to be eaten" or "I'd like to be eaten by something else" when a predator leaps at them – they develop an automatic instinct to run long before they can rationalise it.

"Or perhaps he thinks the tiger is a large, friendly, cuddly pussycat and wants to pet it; but he also believes that the best way to pet it is to run away from it"

Seriously? Imagine two cavemen running from a tiger. One is believes his life is in danger, the other just hopes to pet a pussycat. Who do you think is going to run harder? You see no advantage at all in being the first caveman?

And what happens when Paul's tribe see the tiger catch up with him? They'll see Paul being ripped apart, screaming in agony. Their 'pussycat' theory would die equally quickly.

Don't you think that occasions when true beliefs aid survival will far outweigh occasions when false beliefs accidentally aid survival? If not then why bother trying to work out why anything is true or not? You believe it'll help you make good decisions, right?

At no point does Plantinga calculate the number of false beliefs possible in any given scenario, then demonstrate that more would aid survival than hurt it.

His theory doesn't work.
Ken said…
Pardon me for butting in at this point as I actually do not want to get into arguing over a metaphor. However, I was wondering; is not the bottom line to Plantinga's argument simply that in nature there is no imperative to ascertain empirical truth?

Sorry that I have no citation as this proceeds forth from my memory banks but I recall a news report about one of the recent tsunamis wherein a very primitive villager warned his coastal dwelling tribe to move inland because the sea had not taken anyone in some time and it was hungry.
Who cares if he wrongly anthropomorphized the sea? The point is that the villager's got out of Dodge and survived.

Is that not the point? If nature can be said to care about anything (there's an anthropomorphism again) it cares about survival and not truth. Certainly, one can survive by ascertaining empirical truth but one can also survive whilst being utterly deluded. Also certain is that in certain circumstances ascertaining empirical truth would be an advantage but still; it is not an imperative.

In fact, all of us consider people with whom we disagree to not be ascertain facts and yet, we must admit that they are alive and well nevertheless. For example, Atheists consider theists to be functioning on a delusion which is the very core of their worldviews, actions, etc. and yet, the overwhelming majority of the planet's population (regardless of chronology, geography or theology) are/have been theists who are surviving despite their delusion.
Moreover, a Darwinian view of theism would claim it to have developed as just that, a survival mechanism. Thus, Darwinists would conclude that people invented theism or that random chance natural selection foisted it upon them for the very purpose of assisting or ensuring their survival.

The speaking, if I may, of Christian theists; they "bother trying to work out why anything is true or not" because for them, ascertaining truth is an imperative and their God incarnate personified truth in stating, "…I am the truth…" and also "the truth will set you free."
Brian said…
Andrew Ryan,

I don't know where you are getting your information from, but for anyone who has read Plantinga (and not just grabbed some quotes) in context will understand the point he is making—and I think your representation here is laughable.

You may find it hard to believe people take the argument seriously—but this could simply be because you misunderstand it. Plantinga is no lightweight hack.
Andrew Ryan said…
"a very primitive villager warned his coastal dwelling tribe to move inland because the sea had not taken anyone in some time and it was hungry"

Who's more likely to consistently survive, Ken – the villager who lucks in and gets it right accidentally, or the people using the scientific method to develop a body of meteorological data?

There's a massive survival advantage in developing true beliefs.

"or that random chance natural selection"

Natural selection isn't random chance, Ken.

All of this aside, Chad, I should tell you that not even Plantinga continues to use the formulation of EAAN that you linked to above.

A friend tells me: "Those who love the Paul example should note that after the book criticizing his argument came out, he reformulated the argument in such a way that only semantic epiphenomenalism remains. Thus I think that, in spite of his responses to those critics, he considered the critique relevant enough to drop the other approaches. In other words, it seems he conceded the Paul example has been refuted."

I'm afraid I don't have a link for Plantinga's reformed EAAN, but thought you should know that he not longer uses the version you linked to (as far as I'm aware).
Andrew Ryan said…
"Moreover, a Darwinian view of theism would claim it to have developed as just that, a survival mechanism"

Not necessarily. Even hardcore atheist acceptors of natural selection don't have say every aspect of humanity has to convey a survival advantage.

There can even be disadvantageous traits that persist because they 'piggyback' on an advantageous trait. Sickle-cell disease occurs chiefly among people descended from inhabitants of tropical and sub-tropical sub-saharan regions. While the disease shortens your life-expectancy, it also dramatically improves your ability to survive malaria.

Other traits we have are simply offshoots of beneficial ones. Religious belief itself doesn't have to be beneficial, but it is the result of traits that are – eg believing that things have causes, that other personalities exist etc.

And religious beliefs at any rate are not in the same bracket as scientific ones – even if it's true that we're subject to cognitive biases, the whole point of the scientific method is that it allows for and overcomes these biases. If you deny that it does, you need to explain it's dramatic success in curing diseases, putting man on the moon etc.
Ken said…
Friend, your premise appears to be; that which is most successful as a Darwinian survival mechanism makes right. Is that the case?
One of the points is that what you consider to be “true beliefs” may very well be share delusions which assist your Darwinian survival and that is the very reason that you insist that they are true, and empirically so.
Of course, natural selection is random chance as the beneficial mutation which made it so that the organism was the fittest occurred by random change and made it so that it was naturally selected to survive.
The fact is that theism is clearly a beneficial trait, and the most successful one at that, since the overwhelming majority of the entire planet’s population—regardless of chronology, geography or theology—have been theists and it is their theistic worldview which molds their lives.
It also disturbs me that you appear to be correlating Atheism with science as the two have utterly nothing to do with each other. I do not doubt that science succeeds—within its narrow parameters—and affirm that its fields and methods were conceived from a Judeo-Christian worldview. But be sure to not neglect to consider that much that passes for “science” is, in reality, worldview philosophy.
Andrew Ryan said…
"Friend, your premise appears to be; that which is most successful as a Darwinian survival mechanism makes right. Is that the case?

No, that's not my premise.

"Of course, natural selection is random chance as the beneficial mutation..."

Mutations are not the only cause of evolution. If the smallest mouse in the litter is the one survives each generation then it's not a mutation that makes it the smallest and it's not random that it's the smallest that survives each time.

"It also disturbs me that you appear to be correlating Atheism with science"

I made no such correlation.