April 16, 2009
A Short Post on the Argument from Reason (AfR)
I very much enjoy Victor Reppert’s Christian blog, “Dangerous Idea,” although obviously I disagree with his conclusions. Reppert’s favorite argument is a modern version of C.S. Lewis’s “Argument from Reason” (AfR); he posts a brief summary of its claims here.
Here’s the problem. The author, Hugo Maynell, summarizes the AfR as follows:
C. S. Lewis argued that scientific materialism is ruined by one fundamental inconsistency. Its proponents asked him to believe, in the name of science, that reason had arisen in the universe as a result of particles of matter moving randomly about over an enormous lapse of time. This is scientism, not science. Science, as Lewis said, depends on the assumption that reason is an absolute; furthermore, that matter in the remotest galaxies conforms to thought-laws excogitated by scientists in their laboratories here on Earth. (emphasis added)
If that’s what C.S. Lewis said, then C.S. Lewis is just flat wrong, and the AfR need not be taken seriously. I don’t want to straw-man a serious argument if it exists, but this claim is nonsense. No serious atheist I know — not the most dedicated, hardcore materialist — claims that reason is “an absolute.” Rather, we look to science as a way of discovering facts about the world because it’s been inductively reliable so far.
Now a fair response to the atheist would be to cite the problem of induction, for example. But it straw-mans the atheist to insist that the he must prove that reason is an “absolute.” We know that reason misleads us all the time. It just so happens it’s the best tool we’ve got.