See yesterdays “God in Search of Man, #1” for an explanation of this series exploring a Jewish and a Christian thinker who have much in common. I am much more familiar with Lewis than Heschel, having a fair collection of Lewisiana and being a longtime reader of his books and essays. It was Mere Christianity which brought me intellectually out of agnosticism in 1987. I remain a devoted fan and think Lewis is under-appreciated (there is a segment of academia which judges his writings simplistic, judging him by the kind of erroneous standards this very post exposes).
Many have serious reservations about God, the Bible, the idea of a Creator, a Law-Giver, a Messiah, because they doubt the possibility or probability of miracles. C.S. Lewis aims to persuade us that miracles are not only possible, but probable.
Aren’t we past such issues in our postmodern age? Not at all. First, many are still intellectually poisoned by the thought and culture of the last few hundred years. These have been good centuries for technology, but not so much for human progress. Killing and starvation show no signs of lessening or ending. Personal happiness has not been greatly enhanced. There is progress, but there could and should have been so much more.
Do miracles exist? Are they likely or unlikely? What would it take for us to believe in them? This is a decision many need to make before proceeding to read historical texts about Abraham, Moses, or Jesus. As Lewis says, “the ordinary rules of historical inquiry” will not help us. Even if we personally witnessed Abraham hearing the divine voice, Moses before the burning bush, or Yeshua (Jesus) emerging from the tomb, we might mistrust our senses. If we want reason to be part of our journey toward answers, the problem of miracles comes up early.
And the first decision in considering the probability of miracles is whether to be a naturalist or supernaturalist.
A naturalist thinks that nothing but Nature exists, says Lewis. The universe is a closed system. It follows from this view that Nature exists simply because it exists, uncaused and alone. Nothing else exists but Nature, so nothing could have caused Nature. Nature is defined as all that is.
And since miracles are interference with Nature by supernatural power, miracles by definition are excluded.
A supernaturalist believes there must be something which exists in its own right besides Nature, One Thing which is basic and original, God (or the gods). Nature is not alone. Nature can be interfered with. The One Thing is different than Nature, higher than it, the cause of it.
Naturalism, says Lewis, without ceasing to be itself, could admit of a certain kind of God. This God would be within Nature, not over it. This God would be a force or consciousness or a person within Nature who is not above it and who is not free from its law of cause and effect. The pagan gods of the ancient world were within Nature and not truly above it (those who may want to dispute this will find I am well prepared).
But the God of the supernaturalists is above Nature and free from cause and effect.
The naturalist cannot believe in miracles. Many people want to be naturalists. It seems the reasonable choice, the result of modern progress. But few consider the ramifications:
(1) In naturalism there is no free will. All that you do is forced upon you by the unbreakable laws of cause and effect.
(2) Love is not what we deeply hope it to be, but a mere function of natural stimuli without any transcendent meaning.
(3) Your ability to think is also part of Nature — so that your reason is like the work of a computer, no more reliable or trustworthy than any other natural process.
In this very beginning to Lewis’ book, I already feel many people would be uncomfortable being naturalists. In fact, most who are (including the New Atheists), seem unreasonably oblivious to the consequences of their thought. They deny meaninglessness while asserting that life is the sum total of blind forces. The cannot help being naturalists, in their philosophy, but came to that position by cause and effect without free will. Why then do they condemn supernaturalists as ignorant, since we cannot help ourselves either? And who is ready to say that love is just hormones?