Answering C.S. Lewis
In the Narnia movie, the younger brother tells the professor that he does not believe his younger sister’s story about a magical land in the back of the wardrobe. The professor says (best I can remember from the movie) “I don’t know what they’re teaching as logic these days. If your sister is not lying, and she has not gone mad, then logically she must be telling the truth. So why don’t you believe her?”
This is a mini-version of Lewis’ famous “Lunatic, demon, or God” argument (see notes below for full text). In brief, Lewis says Jesus must be God because if he were not, he could only be a madman or a demon.
I can’t remember the technical term for this fallacy, but Lewis is forcing a conclusion from too few possibilities. The full range of possibilities for Jesus’ claims runs more along these lines:
- Jesus was a great human teacher but the Bible adds claims he never actually made
- Jesus was a great human teacher but also a bit touched in the head
- Jesus never existed – he’s a fictional rabbi invented to present revolutionary ideas in Judaism without getting the author into possibly fatal trouble with the authorities
- Our understanding of Jesus’ claims, either by cultural context or translation, is incorrect
- Jesus was a huckster and a liar
- Jesus never existed – he’s a bunch of myths mixed up with the life of some rabble-rouser from a turbulent period in the history of Judaism and Classical/Roman mythology
- Some combination of the above
- Jesus was the Son of God borne to a virgin Jewish girl
- Jesus was a demon
- Jesus was an alien
- Jesus was a time-traveller
Certainly the range of possibilities is wider than Lewis presented. But even within his own construct, is it necessary to believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Lewis thinks so, mainly for the reason that he is not ready to entertain his own alternatives (let alone the wider range I have presented here). He does not like the notion that humans may be responsible for constructing a workable ethical standard, or that the universe may have no more meaning than its own inhabitants can accumulate in their brief lives.
Lewis’ reasoning may be valid for one’s person’s own philosophical satisfaction, but not as normative constructs. If you want to make a compelling argument for belief, you will have to do better than that.
Nothing I have said here stands against anyone believing in God, or even in the way of liking C.S. Lewis, which I certainly do. But let’s not get too misty-eyed about his status as a logician. He was a Medaeval historian and a reasonably good storyteller.
The range of possibilities I have listed above is not in order of probability. The actual probability you might assign to each one depends on your frame of reference.
You can decide for yourself if I am being unfair to Lewis if you read Mere Christianity and some of his other didactic works. Here is the full text of his argument about Jesus’ credibility.
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 a 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 patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
- Mere Christianity, First Touchstone Ed. 1996, p.56