Tuesday, January 11, 2011

God's Quality Control 5.0.1

Here I continue my discussion of the book Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis.

Chapter II

In the latter half of Chapter II, Lewis claims that his "Law of Human Nature" is a truth about reality, independent of human reason, just as mathematics could be said to have existed before humans discovered it, to have an existence independent of humans. In case Lewis uses this "Law of Human Nature" as part of the foundation for his entire argument, I'll restate here what he means by this so-called law. He gives numerous examples of how humans attempt to coerce each other by appealing to conscience: "I scratched your back, now you should scratch mine," "How would you like it if someone treated you that way?" He takes the fact that everyone seems to respond to such appeals to mean that there exists some "Law or Rule of fair play" about which everyone agrees.

Lewis' interpretation of our moral expectations of each other, and our acceptance of others' moral expectations of us, brings to mind the Ptolemaic representation of our solar system: it looked right on the surface, but it was rather unwieldy and was replaced, after science was brought to bear on the problem, by the much more powerful and far simpler Copernican representation. The replacement for Lewis' interpretation, and indeed the interpretation held by almost all superstitionists and by far too many asuperstitionists, is this: we are hard-wired with these concepts of fairness. This is why we generally recognize and respond to appeals to conscience. When we observe a community of eusocial insects such as ants, we don't surmise that there is some external law dictating how they should interact with each other. We know that the instructions for behavior reside in each individual ant's brain. Why would we assume that the emergence of human morality from a collection of like-minded humans is fundamentally different from the emergence of the elaborate machinery of an ant colony from a collection of identically wired ants?

My apologies for spending so much time on this one point, but the idea of "objective morality" seems to exercise the minds of most superstitionists, so it seems important to show just how wrong it is. I expect that Lewis intends to use his so-called law as foundational to everything else he says in the book. If the law does not exist, and if there's little to no reason for us to believe that it exists, then this book is of not much value to anyone.

Lewis provides two reasons for his claim that his law is a truth in the same way as mathematics. First, all over the world, the ideas about morality are largely the same. There are some small differences, but murder and theft, for example, are generally frowned on. I reject this interpretation of the universality of morality, for reasons I explained earlier in this video. Second, people generally agree that some systems of morality are clearly superior to others, which he interprets to mean that there is some external standard to which we compare any system of morality in order to judge its value. I reject this second point for exactly the same reasons that I rejected the first point. In fact, I'm having a hard time telling the difference between his two points. The first point is that we generally agree on what's good and bad, while the second point is that we generally agree on what's better or worse. Once again, I have to say that C.S. Lewis is terribly oversold as a philosopher.

Finishing up Chapter II, Lewis embarrasses himself and all of his co-superstitionists: "the reason we do not execute witches is that we do not believe there are such things...if we really thought that there were people...using [satanic, supernatural] powers to kill their neighbors, surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the death penalty, these filthy quislings did." If you have to use the word "deserve," then you're going about it all wrong.

Chapter III

In Chapter III Lewis shows more of the weakness in his thinking. He fails to see the metaphorical nature of the phrase "law of gravity," instead attempting to interpret it as though it were literally a law in the same sense as a law made by humans: an invented rule that is to be obeyed. He gets himself into serious trouble when he suggests that to say, "Falling stones obey the law of gravitation" is the same as saying, "Stones do what stones do." This is obviously false, based on his misunderstanding of the meaning of the word "law" in this context. To say, "Falling stones obey the law of gravitation" is a metaphorical way of saying, "Relative to gravity, stones behave in the same way as everything else we've observed so far." The word "law" in the phrase "physical law" is an easily misunderstood, easily misused metaphor. It does not mean that there is a literal decree that all objects must obey. It means that all the objects we observe behave in a uniform way that we can express as a mathematical equation or a scientific theory. Lewis' misunderstanding of the word "law" will surely be the undoing of this whole argument.

That's 5.0.1. Thanks for watching.

No comments:

Post a Comment