CS Lewis’ Responses to 10 Challenging Atheist Assertions

A pastor on a plane initially led me to “CS Lewis’ adult books,” such as Mere Christianity and the Great Divorce. CS Lewis fueled a desire within me to learn more about Christianity and Jesus. His brilliance, prescience, and insights opened my eyes to many truths, many of which I’ll share in this article.

Over the past four years, I’ve read numerous books, articles, and tweets by atheists and agnostics who make strong assertions – and who often use those assertions to affirm their theological positions. Below I will list some of the most common assertions, along with CS Lewis’ answers.

  1. This world is too cruel for there to be a benevolent God.

“What is the problem? A universe that contains much that is obviously bad and apparently meaningless, but containing creatures like ourselves who know that it is bad and meaningless. There are only two views that face all the facts. One is the Christian view that this is a good world that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been. The other is the view called Dualism. Dualism means the belief that there are two equal and independent powers at the back of everything, one of them good and the other bad, and that this universe is the battlefield in which they fight out an endless war….The two powers, or spirits, or gods – the good one and the bad one – are supposed to be quite independent. They both existed from all eternity. Neither of them made the other, neither of them has any more right than the other to call itself God…If Dualism is true, then the bad Power must be a being who likes badness for its own sake. But in reality we have no experience of anyone liking badness for its own sake. But in reality we have no experience of anyone liking badness just because it is bad. The nearest we can get is cruelty. But in real life, people are cruel for two reasons – either because they are sadists, that is, because they have a sexual perversion which makes cruelty a cause of sensual pleasure to them, or for the sake of something they are going to get out of it – money, power, or safety…Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness.

“The powers which enable evil to carry on are powers given to it by goodness. All the things which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things- resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself. That is why Dualism, in a strict sense, will not work.”

“Enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going. He does it by playing on our conceit and laziness and intellectual snobbery. I know someone will ask me, ‘Do you really mean, at this time of day, to re-introduce our old friend the devil – hoofs and horns and all?’ Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do not know. And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns. But in other respects my answer is ‘Yes, I do.’ I do not claim to know anything about his personal appearance. If anybody really wants to know him better I would say to that person, ‘Don’t worry. If you really want to, you will. Whether you’ll like it when you do is another question.’” (Lewis, 1952, pp. 44-46).

  1. Why would a benevolent God give evil humans free will?

“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right…If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata – of creatures that worked like machines – would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.” (Lewis, 1952, pp. 47-48).

  1. Jesus is merely a good moral teacher.

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” (Lewis, 1952, pp. 50).

  1. If God is omniscient, He knows what we will do. We have no choice in our lives.”

“Everyone who believes in God at all believes that He knows what you and I are going to do tomorrow. But if He knows I am going to do so-and-so, how can I be free to do otherwise? Well, here once again, the difficulty comes from thinking that God is progressing along the Time-line like us: the only difference being that He can see ahead and we cannot. Well, if that were true, if God foresaw our acts, it would be very hard to understand how we could be free not to do them. But suppose God is outside and above the Time-line. In that case, what we call ‘tomorrow’ is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call ‘today.’ All the days are ‘Now’ for Him. He does not remember you doing things yesterday; He simply sees you doing them, because though you have lost yesterday; He has not.” (Lewis, 1952, pp. 140).

  1. People shouldn’t have to suffer.

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuilt that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” (Lewis, 1952, pp. 163).

“The Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in. The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” (Lewis, 1940, pp. 618).

  1. We evolved to engage in reasoning and be rational.

“The Naturalist might say, ‘Well, perhaps we cannot exactly see – not yet – how natural selection would turn sub-rational mental behavior into inferences that reach truth. But we are certain that this fact has happened. For natural selection is bound to preserve and increase useful behavior. And we also find that our habits of inference are in face useful. And if they are useful they much reach truth.’ But notice what we are doing. Inference itself is on trial: that is, the Naturalist has given an account of what we thought to be our inferences which suggests that they are not real insights at all. We, and he, want to be reassured. And the reassurance turns out to be one more inference (if useful, then true) – as if this inference were not, once we accept his evolutionary picture, under the same suspicion as all the rest. If the value of our reasoning is in doubt, you cannot try to establish it by reasoning…Reason is our starting point. (Lewis, 1947, pp. 320).

  1. The earth is a mere speck in the universe. We are not special.

“The skeptic asks how we can believe that God ‘came down’ to this one tiny planet. The question would be embarrassing if we knew (1) that there are rational creatures on any of the other bodies that float in space; (2) that they have, like us, fallen and need redemption; (3) that their redemption must be in the same mode as ours; (4) that redemption in this mode has been withheld from them.” But we know none of them…”

“If it is maintained that anything so small as the earth must, in any event, be too unimportant to merit the love of the Creator, we reply that no Christian ever supposed we did merit it. Christ did not die for men because they were intrinsically worth dying for, but because He is intrinsically love, and therefore loves infinitely. And what, after all, does the size of a world or creature tell us about its ‘importance’ or value?” (Lewis, 1947, pp. 346).

  1. People of other faiths claim they experience miracles.

“I do not think that it is the duty of a Christian apologist (as many skeptics suppose) to disprove all stories of the miraculous which fall outside the Christian records, nor of a Christian man to disbelieve them. I am in no way committed to the assertion that God has never worked miracles through and for Pagans or never permitted supernatural beings to do so.” (Lewis, 1947, pp. 420).

  1. Why would a good God send someone like me to hell?

“’Hell is a state of mind – ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – it is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaking and only the unshakeable remains.’”

“‘But there is a real choice after death? My Roman Catholic friends would be surprised, for to them souls in Purgatory are already saved. And my Protestant friends would like it no better, for they’d say the tree lies as it falls.’”

“’They’re both right, maybe. Do not fash yourself with such questions. Ye cannot fully understand the relations of choice and Time till you are beyond both.’” (Lewis, 1946, pp, 504).

References:

Lewis, C.S. (2007). The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

The books referenced within this greater publication are as follows:

Lewis, C.S. (1952). Mere Christianity.

Lewis, C.S. (1947). Miracles.

Lewis, C.S. (1946). The Great Divorce.

Lewis, C.S. (1940). The Problem of Pain.

 

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