C.S. Lewis’ Case Against Naturalism
Lovell (Steve)
Source: Personal Website
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction (Full Text)

  1. The subject to be explored in this chapter is a complex one, and one on which much more could be written than I am qualified to write. The issue is the rational value of a certain argument that C.S. Lewis presented against Naturalism. We shall refer to this argument as the argument from reason. This argument became the centre of a fascinating debate between C.S. Lewis and another philosopher, G.E.M. Anscombe (1919-2001). Many C.S. Lewis scholars have had something to say about this debate, but the majority have taken only a biographical interest in it, and have had little to say about the debate’s philosophical content. Indeed, it has been widely assumed, almost without discussion, that Anscombe conclusively refuted C.S. Lewis’ argument.
  2. As we shall see, C.S. Lewis admitted that Anscombe had shown the argument must be either reformulated or abandoned. However, C.S. Lewis clearly held his argument to contain an important insight and subsequently rewrote the offending chapter of Miracles.
  3. While I am uncertain about the cogency of the argument from reason, it is not so easily rebutted as Anscombe and others seem to have supposed. The argument comes in a variety of forms, and each one highlights the existence of philosophical issues of great complexity. In offering this argument against naturalism, C.S. Lewis revealed that he “had a nose for” genuine philosophical problems, or in the words of Victor Reppert, that he had “outstanding philosophical instincts”.
  4. To give the reader some idea of what is coming, we begin with some historical notes on the arena of the C.S. Lewis-Anscombe encounter, the Oxford Socratic Club, and with some observations on a later “re-run” of that debate. Following this, I offer a definition of naturalism and attempt to locate the philosophical “problem” on which the argument from reason is based. Before we get to the substance of C.S. Lewis’ argument we outline a variety of forms that the argument could take and develop a few of them a little further. We then elucidate C.S. Lewis’ argument as it appeared in the first edition of Miracles, and consider the objections that Anscombe offered at the Socratic. The argument from reason is then further developed along lines suggested by the work of William Hasker and Victor Reppert. In the final section, the chapter considers the relevance of evolutionary theory to the issue at hand.


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