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The cardinal difficulty of naturalism – still a difficulty

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Monochrome head-and-left-shoulder photo portrait of 50-year-old Lewis
C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)

A reader writes to recommend Chapter 3 of C.S. Lewis’s Miracles:

Every event which might claim to be a miracle is, in the last resort, something presented to our senses, something seen, heard, touched, smelled or tasted. And our senses are not infallible. If anything extraordinary seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion. If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say. What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience. It is therefore useless to appeal to experience before we have settled, as well as we can, the philosophical question.

Nothing can seem extraordinary until you have discovered what is ordinary. Belief in miracles, far from depending on an ignorance of the laws of nature, is only possible in so far as those laws are known.


Objections to miracles in principle are simply affirmations of naturalism.

The unidirectional skepticism mostly comes from people who do not believe that the human mind can even apprehend reality. Or even that they are in charge of what they believe.

From Jay W. Richards at Evolution News & Views (2013):

To see Lewis’s genius, I’d like to focus on one of his best-known arguments — often called the “argument from reason.” The purpose of the argument is to show that naturalism and reason are incompatible, that believing in naturalism is self-defeating. That is, if naturalism is true, then we ought not to trust our capacity for reason, and so, ought not to trust arguments in favor of naturalism.

Philosopher Victor Reppert describes the argument (and several versions he develops from Lewis’s original) as “beginning with the insistence that certain things must be true of us as human beings in order to ensure the soundness of the kinds of claims we make on behalf of our reasoning.”

The “cardinal difficulty of naturalism” doesn’t depend on a debatable theistic assumption. It emerges from the lack of causal tools in the naturalist toolkit. Strictly speaking, Lewis’s argument doesn’t show that naturalism is false, so much as it shows that naturalism can’t be rationally believed. More.

“Lewis’s argument doesn’t show that naturalism is false, so much as it shows that naturalism can’t be rationally believed.” No, but in an age when scientists march for ISIS, we are learning that naturalism can be irrationally believed. Lewis was never more relevant than now.

Notes to the chapter here.

See also: Neuroscience tried wholly embracing naturalism, but then the brain got away

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What do you mean by naturalism? Seversky

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