. 1
( 8)


This page intentionally left blank

C. S. Lewis is one of the most beloved Christian apologists of the twentieth
century; David Hume and Bertrand Russell are among Christianity™s most
important critics. This book puts these three intellectual giants in conver-
sation with one another to shed light on some of life™s most dif¬cult yet
important questions. It examines their views on a variety of topics, includ-
ing the existence of God, suffering, morality, reason, joy, miracles, and faith.
Along with irreconcilable differences and points of tension, some surprising
areas of agreement emerge. Today, amid the often shrill and vapid exchanges
between “new atheists” and twenty-¬rst-century believers, curious readers
will ¬nd penetrating insights in the reasoned dialogue of these three great

Erik J. Wielenberg teaches in the Philosophy Department at DePauw Univer-
sity. He is the author of Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe (2005) published
by Cambridge University Press.
C. S. Lewis, David Hume, and Bertrand Russell

DePauw University
Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK
Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521880862

© Erik J. Wielenberg 2008

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provision of
relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place
without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.
First published in print format 2007

eBook (EBL)
ISBN-13 978-0-511-35474-8
ISBN-10 0-511-35474-6 eBook (EBL)
ISBN-13 978-0-521-88086-2
ISBN-10 0-521-88086-6

ISBN-13 978-0-521-70710-7
ISBN-10 0-521-70710-2

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of urls
for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not
guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.
For Jake and Henry
[T]here is evidence both for and against the Christian propo-
sition which fully rational minds, working honestly, can assess
“ C. S. Lewis (1955)

Acknowledgments page ix

Introduction 1

1. The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity 7
1.1 The Problem 7
1.2 Hume™s Presentation of the Problem 8
1.3 Lewis™s Attempt to Solve the Problem 16
1.4 The Case of Ivan Ilyich 35
1.5 The Incompleteness of Lewis™s Solution 40
1.6 Conclusion 52

2. Beyond Nature 56
2.1 Introduction 56
2.2 The Moral Argument 59
2.3 The Argument from Reason 93
2.4 The Argument from Desire 108
2.5 Conclusion 119

3. Miracles 121
3.1 Introduction 121
3.2 Debating Miracles in the Eighteenth Century 122
3.3 A Preliminary Skirmish 124
3.4 Hume™s Main Assault 126
3.5 Lewis™s Counterattack 134
3.6 The Fitness of the Incarnation 143


3.7 Lewis™s Mitigated Victory and the Trilemma 146
3.8 Conclusion 152

4. Faith, Design, and True Religion 153
4.1 Introduction 153
4.2 Faith 153
4.3 Design 169
4.4 True Religion 187

Notes 203
References 233
Index 241


I have acquired many debts of gratitude in writing this book and
thinking about the issues discussed here. The seeds of the book were
planted as I prepared to teach a ¬rst-year seminar at DePauw Uni-
versity in the fall of 2002. That seminar sought to introduce students
to philosophy through the works of C. S. Lewis, and I selected Hume
and Russell as the major ¬gures to set in opposition to Lewis. I am
grateful to the students in that course, as well as to those who took a
modi¬ed version of the same course in the fall of 2004. Preliminary
versions of some of the ideas in this book were presented at a Faculty
Research Colloquium at DePauw on November 22, 2002, under the
title “C. S. Lewis vs. the Atheists”; I am grateful to the audience for
the feedback I received on that occasion. Other material was pre-
sented at a meeting of the Bertrand Russell Society at the Central
APA meeting in Chicago on April 27, 2006, under the title “Bertrand
Russell and C. S. Lewis: Two Peas in a Pod?” I thank the audience
on that occasion for their helpful comments. The production of the
initial draft of the book was done with the help of a pre-tenure leave
from DePauw in the spring of 2005, and revision of the manuscript
was supported by a DePauw Summer Stipend during the summer of
Many people read some or all of the various earlier versions of
the book and provided helpful comments and criticism. Two anony-
mous readers for Cambridge University Press produced extensive and
helpful reports; the ¬nal version of the book is signi¬cantly improved
because of these excellent reports. One of these initially anonymous

readers has subsequently been revealed to be Victor Reppert; the
other remains anonymous (to me). Andy Beck, my editor at Cam-
bridge, was extremely supportive of the project and nudged things
in the right direction at crucial junctures. Daniel Story read a com-
plete early version of the manuscript as part of an independent study
course on the works of C. S. Lewis during the fall of 2005. I am also
grateful to Girard Brenneman, Richard Cameron, Trent Dougherty,
Jennifer Everett, Billy Lauinger, Luke Maring, Mark Murphy, James
Olsen, Alexander Pruss, Karen Stohr, and William Vallicella for their
comments on various parts of the manuscript. Steve Lovell was kind
enough to share with me his dissertation on the philosophical works
of C. S. Lewis; the debt I owe to Lovell will be obvious to the reader
of my own efforts to grapple with Lewis™s ideas. I am con¬dent that
nearly everyone mentioned in this paragraph disagrees with some
of the material in the book; unsurprisingly, I owe the greatest debts
to my most challenging critics.
DePauw University constitutes a stimulating and supportive envi-
ronment in which I am free to pursue my research interests, wher-
ever they may take me. I am grateful to my colleagues in the Philoso-
phy Department and to the students who have taken my courses for
being a big part of this environment. I am also grateful to the faculty
in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts
at Amherst from 1994 to 2000, particularly my dissertation director,
Fred Feldman, for the excellent training in philosophy they provided.
Finally, I thank my mother, Peggy Wielenberg, and my wife,
Margaret, for various kinds of support too numerous to describe.
Without their support, none of this would have been possible. As
always, responsibility for the errors that this work assuredly con-
tains resides ultimately with me.

Greencastle, Indiana
January 2007


Plato tells us that Socrates, facing execution in 399 B.C., declared that
“the one aim of those who practice philosophy in the proper manner
is to practice for dying and death.”1 Writing nearly two thousand
years later, Michel de Montaigne remarked that “all the wisdom and
reasoning in the world boils down ¬nally to this point: to teach us
not to be afraid to die.”2
If the measure of a philosopher is the ability to face death with-
out fear, then Clive Staples Lewis (1898“1963), David Hume (1711“
1776), and Bertrand Russell (1872“1970) were great philosophers
indeed. In the penultimate paragraph of his brief autobiography, “My
Own Life,” David Hume relates that he has been “struck with a Dis-
order in my Bowels” which has “become mortal and incurable.”3 He
remarks on his state of mind as follows:

I have suffered very little pain from my Disorder; and what is more
strange, have, notwithstanding the great Decline of my Person, never
suffered a Moments Abatement of my Spirits: Insomuch, that were I
to name the Period of my Life which I [should] most choose to pass
over again I might be tempted to point to this later Period.4

Samuel Johnson™s biographer James Boswell was simultaneously fas-
cinated and horri¬ed by Hume™s calm acceptance of his own impend-
ing death. This was because Boswell knew that Hume did not believe
in an afterlife. Boswell visited Hume repeatedly while Hume was on
his deathbed, questioning him on the topic of annihilation. Hume™s
death on August 25, 1776, sent Boswell into “a mental crisis during
God and the Reach of Reason

which he sounded the depths of moral degradation.”5 Hume™s death,
it seems, was harder on Boswell than it was on Hume.
C. S. Lewis also faced impending death as a result of poor health,
and in one of his last letters he expressed sentiments remarkably
similar to those expressed by Hume: “Yes, autumn is really the best
of the seasons; and I™m not sure that old age isn™t the best part of
life.”6 Lewis™s brother reports that Lewis faced death “bravely and
calmly,” at one point remarking, “I have done all I wanted to do, and
I™m ready to go.”7 Lewis died peacefully on November 22, 1963; his
death was overshadowed in the press by the assassination of John F.
Kennedy on the same day.8
Bertrand Russell was by far the most politically active of the three
thinkers who are the focus of this book. He wrote letters and articles,
gave speeches, started a school, won the Nobel Prize for Literature,
and spent time in prison, including six months in 1918 for writing an
antiwar article. His activism was triggered by the outbreak of the ¬rst
World War in 1914, an event that, according to Russell, shattered the
“Victorian optimism” that had been taken for granted when he was
a young man.9
In the Postscript to his autobiography, Russell re¬‚ected on his long
life, remarking that “[m]y work is near its end, and the time has
come when I can survey it as a whole.”10 Assessing his life, Russell
noted both failures and victories. But his ¬nal remarks indicate an
underlying optimism:

I have lived in the pursuit of a vision, both personal and social.
Personal: to care for what is noble, for what is beautiful, for what is
gentle: to allow moments of insight to give wisdom at more mundane
times. Social: to see in imagination the society that is to be created,
where individuals grow freely, and where hate and greed and envy
die because there is nothing to nourish them. These things I believe,
and the world, for all its horrors, has left me unshaken.11

Russell™s pursuit of a personal and social vision seems to have sus-
tained him in his old age as death loomed, in much the way he
described in an essay called “How to Grow Old”:


An individual human existence should be like a river “ small at ¬rst,
narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past
boulders and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the
banks recede, the waters ¬‚ow more quietly, and in the end, without
any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose
their individual being. The man who, in old age, can see his life in this
way, will not suffer from the fear of death, since the things he cares
for will continue.12

One feature common to the deaths of Hume, Lewis, and Russell is
that they were philosophical deaths. By this I mean that each thinker
faced his death armed with a comprehensive view about the nature
of human beings and their place in the universe that had been care-
fully developed and considered over a long period of time. Yet these
worldviews were quite different from one another. Lewis™s view was
a fairly traditional version of Christianity, centered on a personal God
who created, loves, and interacts with human beings. Hume and
Russell both rejected the notion of a personal, loving God, admit-
ting at best a distant, largely unknowable Deity that does not ¬ddle
about in human affairs. Lewis saw our earthly lives as merely a tiny
(but important) fraction of our overall existence, whereas Hume and
Russell viewed such lives as all we get. Interestingly, Lewis spent
many years in the Hume“Russell camp (broadly speaking) before
converting to Christianity in his early thirties.
Lewis, Hume, and Russell were (among other things) philoso-
phers, and each offered arguments for his own worldview and against
competing views. This book is a philosophical examination of some
of these arguments, with a particular emphasis on those of Lewis.
This book is about suffering, morality, reason, joy, miracles, faith,
and God. It is about the views of three great thinkers on deep and
important topics.
Hume and Russell are giants in the Western philosophical tra-
dition. Hume™s work Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is widely
considered one of the most important works in the philosophy of
religion in the Western tradition. In the introduction to a recent book
devoted to examining critically Hume™s views on religion, the editors

God and the Reach of Reason

observe that “from his day to ours, the vast majority of philosophical
attacks against the rationality of theism have borne an unmistak-
able Humean aroma.”13 Russell™s place in the pantheon of Western
philosophers is similarly well established, though his reputation for
greatness is due more to his contributions in logic and the philos-
ophy of mathematics than to his work in the philosophy of reli-
gion. Lewis™s case, however, is somewhat different; while his works
of ¬ction and Christian apologetics are widely read and adored, his
writing has been largely (but not entirely) ignored by contempo-
rary philosophers. Or at least, his Christian writing has received rel-
atively little attention from professional philosophers in their pro-
fessional capacity. This is despite ample evidence that contemporary
Christian philosophers are familiar with Lewis™s work and, indeed,
that some have been dramatically in¬‚uenced by it. For instance, the
prominent contemporary Christian philosopher Peter van Inwagen
writes that “[l]ike many other people, I ¬rst discovered what Chris-
tianity was from reading Lewis.”14 He goes on to say that it was
through Lewis that he ¬rst saw that “Christianity was a serious thing
and intellectually at a very high level.”15 Whatever the reason for
the relative neglect of Lewis in contemporary philosophy, I believe
that it is a mistake, and one of my aims in this book is to show that
Lewis™s philosophical work is worthy of serious attention.
Here is a brief overview of what is to come. The ¬rst chapter
focuses on the challenge that suffering poses for belief in God as
that challenge is formulated by Hume in Dialogues Concerning Natural
Religion and addressed by Lewis in The Problem of Pain. I argue that
while Lewis™s response to the challenge is incomplete in a certain
way, that response is novel and has a richness and subtlety that has
not been widely appreciated. I seek to bring out this richness by
defending Lewis™s solution to the problem of pain against a variety
of objections.
Chapter 2 focuses on Lewis™s three main arguments for the exis-
tence of a Higher Power. These arguments are grounded in human
nature. Like Descartes, Lewis thinks that we can understand God by
¬rst understanding ourselves. He maintains that human beings have
knowledge of objective moral truths, can reason, and have a desire

that nothing on earth can satisfy. Each of these aspects of human
nature constitutes the starting point of an argument for the existence
of a Higher Power. Hume and Russell appear in this chapter primarily
as critics of Lewis™s theistic arguments. I suggest, however, that some
of the most serious challenges to Lewis™s arguments come from the
relatively new ¬eld of evolutionary psychology, and I explain how
evolutionary psychology may be drawn upon to resist Lewis™s case
for a Higher Power.
The third chapter is like the ¬rst in that it focuses on a challenge
posed by Hume together with a direct response to that challenge
from Lewis. In this case the focus is on miracles and testimony. Hume
argues, roughly, that testimony (of a certain kind) never provides us
with a good reason to believe that a miracle has taken place. An
obvious implication of this result is that it would not be reasonable
for us to believe that the Resurrection of Christ really happened
on the basis of the New Testament gospels; thus, Hume™s argument
strikes directly at the heart of Christianity. Lewis criticizes Hume™s
argument and tries to show that the Resurrection has enough initial
plausibility that testimony could provide suf¬cient evidence for its
occurrence. After carefully explaining the reasoning of Hume and
Lewis on these issues, I make the case that while Lewis exposes a
signi¬cant weakness in Hume™s argument, Lewis™s own argument
fails because it depends upon his case for the existence of a Higher
Power, and this case is not particularly strong (as I argue in Chap-
ter 2). The chapter concludes with a discussion of the implications
of all of this for Lewis™s famous “Trilemma.”
Chapter 4 involves more exposition than the preceding three
chapters and focuses on some perhaps surprising areas of agreement
among the three thinkers. Substantial attention is devoted to deter-
mining Hume™s overall views on religion, particularly in Dialogues
Concerning Natural Religion. I argue that despite their very different
positions on the status of Christianity, the three thinkers hold similar
views on the importance of following the evidence and on the dif¬-
culties humans face in doing this. I further argue that all three reject
the argument from design and recognize the potential for violence
of organized religion. Hume and Russell favor the abandonment of
God and the Reach of Reason

traditional dogma (including Christian dogma) as the way to avoid
religious violence, whereas Lewis maintains that the solution to the
problem lies in a proper understanding of Christianity itself.
Lewis receives the most attention in this book, with Hume a close
second and Russell a distant third. This is not because I think Lewis™s
conclusions are correct; as the preceding outline of the book should
make clear, I think that Lewis™s overall case for Christianity fails. My
main goal here is to put these three great thinkers in conversation
with each other, shedding light not only on the views of each but
also on the quality of their various arguments. It is in part because I
believe that Lewis™s views have received the least serious philosoph-
ical treatment of the three that I give those views the most attention
here. But this book is not just for those interested in Lewis, Hume, or
Russell; it is for anyone interested in thinking seriously and thinking
hard about God. We study great thinkers not just to learn about them
but also to learn from them. As Lewis said in a different context: “The
silly things these great men say, were as silly then as they are now:
the wise ones are as wise now as they were then.”16
We begin with suffering.




On Sunday, December 26, 2004, an earthquake off the western coast
of Indonesia˜s Sumatra Island triggered a massive tsunami that sub-
sequently struck several countries, killing over 200,000 people. The
hardest-hit countries included Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and
India. The tsunami struck with little or no warning. Entire villages
were wiped from the face of the earth, and whole families were swept
out to sea. The casualties were so overwhelming that little attempt
was made to identify most of the corpses. Instead, they were buried
as quickly as possible in mass graves.
In the aftermath of the disaster, one of the topics to which the
popular media turned its attention was the problem of evil, a prob-
lem that philosophers and theologians have thought about for over
two millennia. The problem of evil is often posed as a question: If
there is an all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good God, then
why does the world contain the assorted evils that it does? The prob-
lem may be posed more aggressively as a challenge: If there were an
all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good God, then the world
wouldn™t contain the assorted evils that it does. Hence, no such God
exists. A one-page article in the January 10, 2005, issue of Newsweek
titled “Countless Souls Cry Out to God” hinted that the tsunami dis-
aster constituted evidence that such a God does not exist, ending
with these lines:

Whole families, whole communities, countless pasts and futures have
been obliterated by this tsunami™s roiling force. Little wonder that

God and the Reach of Reason

from Sumatra to Madagascar, innumerable voices cry out to God. The
miracle, if there is one, may be that so many still believe.1

The 2004 tsunami is not without precedent. On November 1, 1755,
an earthquake struck the Portuguese city of Lisbon, one of the largest
and most beautiful cities in Europe at the time. This quake, like the
one off the coast of Sumatra Island, was followed by large tsunamis
as well as widespread ¬res that burned for days. More than 100,000
people lost their lives as a result of the Lisbon earthquake.
The earthquake was featured in Voltaire˜s satirical 1759 work
Candide, which recounts the misadventures of Candide and his com-
panion Pangloss. The latter is a philosopher who consistently main-
tains that ours is the best of all possible worlds, despite the various
horrors the two experience.2 The ¬ctional Pangloss represents the
actual philosopher Leibniz, who really did maintain that ours is the
best of all possible worlds.3 Voltaire means to illustrate the absurdity
of this proposition in Candide, and the Lisbon earthquake is offered
as evidence in that regard. Leibniz thought that ours must be the
best of all possible worlds because a perfect God must create the best
of all possible worlds. So Voltaire™s ridicule of the Leibnizian claim
that this is the best of all possible worlds may ultimately be seen as
ridicule of the idea that a perfect God exists.
Hume and Lewis both grappled with the problem of evil.4 Lewis™s
¬rst book of Christian apologetics, The Problem of Pain, is devoted
to dealing with the problem, and Lewis™s discussion there is pretty
clearly a direct response to Hume™s presentation of the problem in
Parts X and XI of his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. While it
is Lewis™s attempt to solve the problem of evil that is the focus of
this chapter, it is helpful ¬rst to examine Hume™s presentation of the


Hume worked on the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion off and
on over a period of almost thirty years. At the urging of his friends,
many of whom read a draft of the work in the early 1750s, Hume
The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

did not publish it during his lifetime. His friends feared that because
of the controversial nature of the Dialogues, publication would have
a detrimental effect on Hume™s life and reputation. Hume had good
reason to take his friends™ advice seriously. The writing on religion
that Hume did publish during his lifetime drew the ire of many of
his religious contemporaries. As a consequence of his writing on
religion he was denied the chair of logic at Glasgow University in
1752, and about ¬ve years later the Church of Scotland attempted
to excommunicate him.5 Nevertheless, Hume speci¬ed in his will
that the Dialogues be published posthumously, and it ¬rst appeared
in print in 1779, three years after his death.6
The Dialogues is an extended conversation among three charac-
ters, Cleanthes, Philo, and Demea, as reported by Cleanthes™s stu-
dent, Pamphilus, to Pamphilus™s companion Hermippus. As the title
suggests, the topic of the discussion is natural religion “ religion based
on human reason alone, without the aid of divine revelation or
other supernatural activity. Much of the conversation focuses on
what human reason alone can determine about the existence and
nature of God. Each of the three main characters has a distinct view
on these issues, and one of them, Philo, goes so far as to question the
existence of God altogether. Presumably this is at least part of what
made the work so controversial in the eyes of Hume™s friends.
Ascertaining Hume™s own views on the basis of the Dialogues is
a tricky business. In particular, there has been much debate over
whether any one of the three characters speaks for Hume and, if so,
which one. One popular view has been that Philo is Hume™s mouth-
piece.7 However, even if this is correct, more work is needed to deter-
mine just what Hume™s views are, because ascertaining the views of
Philo is itself a less-than-straightforward matter.
In Chapter 4 we will delve into the tricky business of ascertaining
Hume™s own views in the Dialogues, but for the moment we can
safely avoid this task, for the following reasons: In Parts X and XI of
the Dialogues, the problem of evil is raised by Demea and Philo. The
challenge raised here is never satisfactorily answered in the Dialogues
nor, indeed, in any of Hume™s works. This suggests at the very least
that Hume considered the problem of evil to be a serious challenge,
God and the Reach of Reason

one to which he himself had no satisfactory answer. Furthermore,
it is the discussion of the problem of evil in these two sections of
the Dialogues that sets the stage for The Problem of Pain. Our interest,
then, is in understanding the problem as it appears in the Dialogues
and evaluating Lewis™s response to that problem. The question of
Hume™s own view on the problem is one that we can safely set aside,
at least for the moment.
In the parts of the Dialogues preceding Parts X and XI, two types of
arguments for the existence of God are discussed. Cleanthes defends
a type of design argument (dubbed “the argument a posteriori”), and
Demea defends a cosmological argument (dubbed “the argument a
priori”). Philo, playing the role of skeptic, criticizes both arguments,
alternately joining forces with Demea or Cleanthes, depending on
the topic. For the most part, Philo pretends to share the views of
Demea. Although the fact that Philo™s apparent agreement with
Demea is mere pretense is made suf¬ciently clear both to Clean-
thes and to the attentive reader, it is not recognized by Demea until
Part XI.
Having seen his cosmological argument subjected to scathing crit-
icism at the hands of Cleanthes and Philo in Part IX, Demea begins
Part X with a new tack. He suggests that it is a “consciousness of
[their own] imbecility and misery rather than . . . any reasoning” that
drives people to believe in God.8 This suggestion leads Philo to make
the following ironic remark: “I am indeed persuaded . . . that the best
and indeed the only method of bringing everyone to a due sense
of religion is by just representation of the misery and wickedness
of men.”9 While Demea and Philo agree that re¬‚ection on human
suffering will lead to a “due sense of religion,” they disagree on just
what this “due sense” is. Demea thinks that such re¬‚ection will lead
to awe and submission to God, whereas Philo thinks it will lead to
doubt of the existence of a good God altogether. However, Demea
does not recognize the irony of Philo™s remark, instead taking it as a
straightforward agreement with his own view.
Philo™s remark launches an extended discussion of the assorted
evils of the world. Here is Demea™s colorful description of human
The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

The whole earth, believe me, Philo, is cursed and polluted. A perpetual
war is kindled amongst all living creatures. Necessity, hunger, want
stimulate the strong and courageous: fear, anxiety, terror agitate the
weak and in¬rm. The ¬rst entrance into human life gives anguish to
the new-born infant and to its wretched parent: weakness, impotence,
distress attend each stage of that life, and it is, at last, ¬nished in agony
and horror.10

Of particular interest is Philo™s assessment of the philosophical impli-
cations of such suffering:

Is the world, considered in general and as it appears to us in this life,
different from what a man or such a limited being would, beforehand,
expect from a very powerful, wise, and benevolent Deity? It must be
strange prejudice to assert the contrary. And from thence I conclude
that, however consistent the world may be, allowing certain suppo-
sitions and conjectures with the idea of such a Deity, it can never
afford us an inference concerning his existence. The consistency is not
absolutely denied, only the inference.11

In this passage, Philo seems to suggest that the philosophical sig-
ni¬cance of the suffering in the world is that it provides the basis
of a decisive objection to Cleanthes™s design argument. Cleanthes
argues that we can infer the existence of God from certain observ-
able features of the world. But the God of traditional monotheism
is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect. Philo™s point is that
the presence of suffering in the world effectively blocks the infer-
ence from the observable universe to a morally perfect Creator. But
Philo explicitly refrains from asserting that the presence of suffering
is inconsistent with the existence of such a God. This might lead us
to conclude that Philo™s position is that we cannot infer from the suf-
fering we observe that God does not exist. However, other passages
indicate that such a conclusion would be too hasty. For instance,
earlier in Part X Philo has this to say:

His power, we allow, is in¬nite; whatever he wills is executed: But
neither man nor any other animal is happy; therefore, he does not
will their happiness. His wisdom is in¬nite; He is never mistaken in
choosing the means to any end; But the course of nature tends not
to human or animal felicity: Therefore, it is not established for that

God and the Reach of Reason

purpose. Through the whole compass of human knowledge there are
no inferences more certain and infallible than these. In what respect,
then, do his benevolence and mercy resemble the benevolence and
mercy of men?12

In these lines Philo suggests that an omnipotent and omniscient God
would surely have suf¬cient power and wisdom to make us happy, if
He so desired. Yet we are not happy, so God must not desire our hap-
piness. Philo even goes so far as to remark that no human reasoning
is more certain than this. He then implicitly takes a further step: A
good God would desire our happiness. It follows that there is no God
who is omnipotent, omniscient, and good. It appears that Philo is
suggesting that we can infer the nonexistence of the traditional God
of monotheism from the presence of suffering in the world.
Some remarks Philo makes later in Part XI support this interpreta-
tion. Philo introduces “four hypotheses . . . concerning the ¬rst causes
of the universe.”13 The four hypotheses are (i) a perfectly good ¬rst
cause, (ii) a perfectly evil ¬rst cause, (iii) two (joint) ¬rst causes, one
perfectly good, the other perfectly evil, and (iv) a morally indiffer-
ent ¬rst cause. Only the ¬rst hypothesis is consistent with traditional
monotheism; the third hypothesis corresponds to Dualism, a view
declared heretical under Christianity and, as we will see, discussed
at some length by Lewis.14
Re¬‚ecting on the mixture of good and evil in the universe, Philo
rejects the ¬rst two hypotheses, suggesting that it is unlikely that
pure ¬rst causes would produce such “mixed phenomena.” He rejects
the third hypothesis on the basis of the “uniformity and steadiness
of general laws” in our universe; the idea seems to be that a cosmic
struggle between good and evil ¬rst causes would produce a universe
signi¬cantly less orderly than our own. By a process of elimination,
Philo concludes that the fourth hypothesis “seems by far the most
So Philo appears to maintain both (i) that as far as we can tell,
suffering is consistent with the existence of God, and (ii) that we can
infer, on the basis of suffering in the world, that God does not exist.
Does Philo thereby contradict himself? No; (i) and (ii) are compatible.
The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

Sometimes it is reasonable to infer not-q from p even though p and
q are logically consistent. Suppose, for instance, that p = tomorrow
you will ¬‚ip a fair coin exactly one hundred times (and you will
¬‚ip no other coins tomorrow) and that q = tomorrow you will ¬‚ip
“heads” one hundred times. Even though p and q are compatible, I
can reasonably infer not-q from p because p makes q very unlikely.
And Philo™s position seems to be that, while the presence of suffering
in the world may be compatible with the existence of God, it makes
God™s existence unlikely. This is evident from his conclusion that the
fourth hypothesis is “by far the most probable.”
There is one other important wrinkle to Philo˜s position. In Part I
of the Dialogues, Philo registers his misgivings about the feasibility of
natural religion:

[W]hen we carry our speculations into the two eternities, before and
after the present state of things; into the creation and formation of the
universe; the existence and properties of spirits; the powers and oper-
ations of one universal Spirit existing without beginning and without
end, omnipotent, omniscient, immutable, in¬nite, and incomprehen-
sible. We must be far removed from the smallest tendency to skepti-
cism not to be apprehensive that we have here got quite beyond the
reach of our faculties . . . We are like foreigners in a strange country to
whom everything must seem suspicious, and who are in danger every
moment of transgressing against the laws and customs of the people
with whom they live and converse. We know not how far we ought
to trust our vulgar methods of reasoning in such a subject.16

These and other remarks show that Philo˜s discussion of human suf-
fering in Parts X and XI is undertaken in the context of skepticism
about the capacity of human reason to tell us much at all about the
existence and nature of God.
To understand Philo˜s position in its entirety, we need to under-
stand that his main opponent is Cleanthes. Cleanthes maintains that
human reason can tell us quite a bit about the existence and nature
of God, and that what it tells us is that the universe was created
by a powerful, wise, and good God. Philo criticizes both aspects of
Cleanthes™s position, arguing that we shouldn™t put much stock in the
results of human reasoning when it comes to religion “ but to the
God and the Reach of Reason

extent that reason is trustworthy, it tells us that the God of monothe-
ism does not exist.17
The presence and interaction of these two aspects of Philo™s posi-
tion are perhaps clearest in the following lines:

Why is there any misery at all in the world? Not by chance, surely.
From some cause then. Is it from the intention of the Deity? But he is
perfectly benevolent. Is it contrary to his intention? But he is almighty.
Nothing can shake the solidity of this reasoning, so short, so clear, so
decisive, except [unless] we assert that these subjects exceed all human
capacity, and that our common measures of truth and falsehood are
not applicable to them; a topic which I have all along insisted on.18

Perhaps, then, we may state Philo™s version of the problem of evil
this way:

The Problem of Pain

1. If God exists, then He is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally
2. If God is morally perfect, then He wants there to be no suffering
in the world.
3. If God is omnipotent and omniscient, then He can bring it about
that there is no suffering in the world.
4. So: If God is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect, then
there is no suffering in the world (from 2 and 3).
5. But there is suffering in the world.
6. Therefore, God does not exist (from 1, 4, and 5).

The ¬rst premise follows from the traditional understanding of the
God of monotheism; omnipotence, omniscience, and moral per-
fection are central attributes of that God. The ¬fth premise seems
beyond doubt, and the fourth is entailed (more or less) by premises
two and three.19 The substantive premises, then, seem to be two and
Philo has little to say in support of the second premise, but he does
offer a kind of argument for the third, the claim that an all-powerful,
all-knowing God would be able to create a pain-free universe. In
Part XI, Philo describes “four circumstances on which depend all or
The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

the greatest part of the ills that molest sensible creatures.” He suggests
that “[n]one of them appear to human reason in the least degree
necessary or unavoidable” “ although, true to his two-track strategy,
he cautions that “[w]e know so little beyond common life, or even of
common life, that, with regard to the economy of a universe, there
is no conjecture, however wild, which may not be just, nor any one,
however plausible, which may not be erroneous.”20
The four factors that Philo cautiously suggests produce all or most
of the suffering in the universe and that an omnipotent, omniscient
God could easily have avoided are the following: (i) pain (in addition
to pleasure) functions as a motive “to excite all creatures to action”;
(ii) the world is governed by general laws of nature; (iii) nature is
frugal, in that each creature is endowed with just enough natural
capacities to survive but not enough to avoid misery; (iv) the “inac-
curate workmanship” of the world, which seems more like a rough
draft than a completed project.21 There is much to be said about
each of these four circumstances, and we will return to them later,
but for now it is enough to see how they are supposed to support
Philo™s version of the problem of pain. According to Philo, there is
a workable, pain-free alternative to each of the four circumstances,
an alternative that an all-powerful, all-knowing God would have
known of and could have implemented. If this is correct, and the
four circumstances produce all of the suffering in the world, then
the third premise of the problem of pain is established.
Contemporary philosophers tend to draw a distinction between
the logical problem of evil and the evidential or probabilistic problem
of evil.22 The logical version has it that the existence of evil is incomp-
atible with the existence of the God of traditional monotheism,
whereas the evidential version involves only the weaker claim that
the evils of our world, while compatible with God™s existence, consti-
tute evidence against God™s existence. Because Philo™s position seems
to be that suffering is compatible with but counts as evidence against
God™s existence, it is tempting to construe him as offering merely an
evidential version of the problem of evil. However, I believe that the
argument he actually gives “ the argument I have just formulated “
is a logical version of the problem of evil. But if this is right, why does
God and the Reach of Reason

Philo not conclude that the suffering in the world decisively proves that
God does not exist? The answer lies in Philo™s two-track strategy. He
presents a deductive proof of God™s nonexistence based on the pres-
ence of suffering (the atheistic track) but declines to endorse the
proof with certainty himself because he has serious doubts about the
reliability of human reason in this area (the skeptical track). He seeks
to put Cleanthes on the horns of a dilemma: Either admit that human
reason is unreliable when applied to the existence and nature of God
(and hence abandon your design argument), or admit that the pres-
ence of suffering proves that a perfect God does not exist (and hence
abandon your theism).
Lewis™s writing contains responses to both the skeptical aspect and
the atheistic aspect of Philo™s position. The ¬rst order of business is to
examine Lewis™s response to the aspect that consists of the problem
of pain, the atheistic aspect. We will examine Lewis™s response to the
skeptical aspect in Chapters 2 and 3. To address the atheistic aspect,
Lewis argues that once we properly understand God™s omnipotence
and goodness, and the real nature of human happiness, we will see
that it is not at all surprising or improbable that God would permit
(and even cause) human suffering. Making this case is the central
project of The Problem of Pain, to which we now turn.


1.3.1 Introduction
Born in Belfast, Ireland, on November 29, 1898, Lewis was raised as
a Christian, but shed his Christian belief during his early teens while
at boarding school in England. By his own account, at school he got
the impression that “religion in general, though utterly false, was
a natural growth, a kind of endemic nonsense into which human-
ity tended to blunder.”23 At age seventeen, Lewis wrote to his close
friend Arthur Greeves that “I believe in no religion” and described
Christianity in particular as “one mythology among many, but the
one that we happened to have been brought up in.”24 Lewis™s return

The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

to Christianity was a gradual and complex process. In both his
letters and the autobiographical Surprised by Joy, Lewis notes the
in¬‚uence of H. V. V. Dyson and J. R. R. Tolkien. In a 1946 letter, Lewis
lists the main factors in his conversion as philosophy, increasing
knowledge of medieval literature, the writers George MacDonald and
G. K. Chesterton, and discussion with his friend Owen Bar¬eld.25 In
a letter written much closer in time to the event itself (1934), Lewis
describes his “route” as running “from materialism to idealism, from
idealism to Pantheism, from pantheism to theism, and from theism
to Christianity.”26 The process culminated with a famous trip to the
zoo in late September 1931, when Lewis was thirty-two years old:
“When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of
God, and when we reached the zoo I did.”27 About a month later,
almost exactly ¬fteen years after he had written to Arthur Greeves
that he was an atheist, Lewis described his new view of Christianity
in another letter to Greeves: “[T]he story of Christ is simply a true
myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with
this tremendous difference that it really happened.”28
The Problem of Pain, ¬rst published in 1940, was Lewis™s ¬rst
book-length work in Christian apologetics. I have suggested that the
work was inspired by Parts X and XI of Hume™s Dialogues. However,
nowhere in The Problem of Pain does Lewis mention Hume or the
Dialogues. What, then, is my evidence for the alleged connection
between the two works?
There are two kinds of evidence. First, there is what we might call
external evidence “ evidence outside of the relevant works them-
selves. Lewis both studied and served as a tutor in philosophy at
Oxford, and in fact planned to become a professor of philosophy
before switching to English literature in 1925.29 Hume™s Dialogues
has long been considered one of the great works in the philosophy
of religion; that Lewis could have studied philosophy at an advanced
level at Oxford without having read it is almost, if not actually, impos-
sible. We know from Lewis™s own words that he read at least some
of Hume™s works; in June 1924 he made the following entry in his
diary: “I then began Hume: and greatly enjoyed the perfect clarity,

God and the Reach of Reason

ease, humanity, and quietness of his manner. This is the proper way
to write philosophy.”30 Of course, this establishes at most that Lewis
probably read the Dialogues, but not necessarily that The Problem of
Pain is a response to Hume™s work. To establish this further claim,
we must consider the works themselves. As we will see, The Problem
of Pain contains responses to many of the speci¬c points that arise
in the Dialogues. Moreover, the presentations of the problem of pain
itself in the two works are strikingly similar. For instance, in Part XI
of the Dialogues, Philo says:

Look round this universe. What an immense profusion of beings, ani-
mated and organized, sensible and active! . . . But inspect a little more
narrowly these living existences, the only beings worth regarding.
How hostile and destructive to each other! How insuf¬cient all of
them for their own happiness! How contemptible or odious to the
spectator! The whole presents nothing but the idea of a blind nature,
impregnated by a great vivifying principle, and pouring forth from her
lap, without discernment or parental care, her maimed and abortive

Shortly after these remarks, Philo reaches his conclusion that the
hypothesis that the ¬rst causes of the universe are morally indifferent
is “by far the most probable.”32
The opening chapter of The Problem of Pain begins as follows: “Not
many years ago when I was an atheist, if anyone had asked me, ˜Why
do you not believe in God?™ my reply would have run something like
this. . . . ”33 Note the parallels between Lewis™s explanation of his past
atheism and Philo™s speech just quoted:

Look at the universe we live in. . . . [W]hat is [life] like while it lasts? It
is so arranged that all the forms of it can live only by preying upon one
another. In the lower forms this process entails only death, but in the
higher there appears a new quality called consciousness which enables
it to be attended by pain. The creatures cause pain by being born, and
live by in¬‚icting pain, and in pain they mostly die. . . . If you ask me to
believe that this is the work of a benevolent and omnipotent spirit, I
reply that all the evidence points in the opposite direction. Either there
is no spirit behind the universe, or else a spirit indifferent to good and
evil, or else an evil spirit.34

The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

Finally, consider Lewis™s own account of the problem of pain, and
note its similarity to Philo™s description of the problem, which I
quoted in the previous section:

˜If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly
happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He
wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God either lacks
goodness, or power, or both.™ This is the problem of pain, in its simplest

Lewis observes that there are three key concepts that lie at the heart
of the problem: divine omnipotence, divine goodness, and human
happiness. According to Lewis, there are popular but false ways of
understanding each of these three concepts as well as less popular but
correct ways of understanding them. The problem of pain rests upon
the popular conceptions. Since these conceptions are ¬‚awed, the
problem of pain fails, and once we have an accurate understanding
of the three concepts, we will see how the problem can be solved.
The reason that most people ¬nd the problem of pain convincing
(at least initially) is that they accept (at least implicitly) the popular
but false understandings of omnipotence, goodness, and happiness.
In unraveling Lewis™s solution to the problem of pain, therefore, it is
essential that we distinguish the true and false ways of understanding
each concept. We will begin, as Lewis does, with divine omnipotence.

1.3.2 Divine Omnipotence
Most people, when asked to de¬ne omnipotence for the ¬rst time,
come up with something like this: Omnipotence is the ability to do
anything. This view has a scriptural basis: “[F]or God, all things are
possible.”36 There is, however, a long and glorious tradition accord-
ing to which this de¬nition must be quali¬ed somewhat, and Lewis
is part of this tradition. The tradition goes back at least as far as the
great thirteenth-century theologian Thomas Aquinas, who main-
tained that “there does not fall under the scope of God™s omnipotence
anything that implies a contradiction.”37
A popular example of something that lies beyond the bounds of
omnipotence is the creation of a round square. Since round shapes
God and the Reach of Reason

have exactly zero corners, and square shapes have exactly four cor-
ners, a round square would have precisely zero corners and also
precisely four corners. This seems to be just plain impossible. Not
even God could create such a shape. However “ and this is crucial “
God™s inability to create such a shape does not indicate a lack of
power on God™s part; rather, the notion of creating a round square
just doesn™t make sense. Lewis classi¬es things like round squares as
“intrinsically impossible” and puts the point about omnipotence this

His Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible,
not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to
Him, but not nonsense. This is no limit to His power. . . . It remains
true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities
are not things but nonentities.38

It is important to avoid a certain kind of confusion here. Sometimes it
is suggested that God could make a round square simply by changing
the meanings of the terms “round” and “square.” For instance, if God
were to change the meaning of “round” so that it meant what the
word “green” currently means, then making a round square would
be a straightforward matter.
However, making the sentence “There is a round square” true is not
quite the same as actually making a round square. When we con-
sider whether God could make a round square, we are considering
whether God could make a shape that would be round (given the
actual meaning of “round”) and also square (given the actual mean-
ing of “square”). And, given the actual meanings of these terms, it
seems clear that God couldn™t make a round square. He could ¬ddle
about with language in such a way as to make the sentence “There
is a round square” come out true, but He would still have failed to
create any round squares.39
Sometimes it is suggested that round squares are impossible only
given the actual laws of logic, and that since God is the creator of
those laws, He could alter them in such a way that round squares
would be possible. My own view is that this suggestion really doesn™t
make sense and is rooted in the mistake of taking the expression
The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

“laws of logic” too literally. More importantly, the proposal seems to
have some practical implications that theists might ¬nd problematic.
Consider, for instance, divine promise making. Theists typically think
they can count on God™s promises in the following sense: If God has
promised that some situation p will not occur, then we can be darn
sure that p will not occur. However, if God can alter the very rules of
logic as He sees ¬t, then God™s promises guarantee nothing, since He
could simply change the rules of logic so that, for instance, bringing
about p is perfectly consistent with keeping one™s promise not to
bring about p. So theists who think we can count on God to keep
His promises ought to reject the view that God can modify logic as
He sees ¬t.
Here, then, we have the ¬rst distinction between a popular but
false understanding of a concept and the true understanding of that
concept. The popular but false understanding of omnipotence is
that omnipotence is the ability to bring about absolutely any situ-
ation, including situations that are intrinsically impossible. The cor-
rect understanding of omnipotence, according to Lewis, is that it is
the ability to bring about any situation that is intrinsically possible.40
With this understanding of omnipotence in hand, Lewis seeks
to make the case that the class of intrinsically impossible situations
includes the following: that there is a society of free souls in which
no soul can in¬‚ict pain on another soul. Lewis™s argument for this
claim can be construed as consisting of two main steps. Each of the
steps is an alleged entailment or necessary connection between two
situations, p and q, where p entails or necessitates q in such a way that
it is intrinsically impossible for p to obtain without q also obtaining.
The two necessary connections are these:

Necessary Connection 1: If there is a society of free souls, then there
must also be a relatively independent, law-governed environment
containing that society of free souls.
Necessary Connection 2: If there is a relatively independent, law-
governed environment containing a society of free souls, then the
free souls that belong to the society must be capable of in¬‚icting
pain on each other.
God and the Reach of Reason

The two necessary connections together entail Lewis™s desired con-

Conclusion: If there is a society of free souls, then the free souls that
belong to the society must be capable of in¬‚icting pain on each

A society of free souls is a group of souls with certain properties. Each
soul has the capacity to act freely, recognizes the distinction between
itself and other souls, and is capable of interacting with other souls to
some extent. A relatively independent and law-governed environ-
ment is an environment shared by the various free souls that is not
under the complete control of any one of them and instead behaves
according to some set of exceptionless (or nearly exceptionless) laws
that cannot be modi¬ed by the souls.
Two questions arise concerning the ¬rst necessary connection:
Why does a society of free souls require an environment at all?
And why must the shared environment be independent and law-
governed? Lewis™s answer to the ¬rst question is that without a
shared environment the souls could interact with each other only
if it were possible for “naked minds to ˜meet™ or become aware of
each other.”41 However, this is not possible, argues Lewis, because
such a meeting could transpire only if one soul were to become
directly aware of the thoughts of another soul. The problem is that
this would leave each soul with no way of distinguishing thoughts
originating in itself from thoughts originating in other souls. Each
soul would ¬nd itself confronted with a host of thoughts but would
have no way of knowing which ones (if any) were produced by other
free agents.42 Therefore, no soul would be in a position to know that
there were free agents distinct from itself.
With respect to the second question, Lewis argues that the only
alternative to a “neutral ¬eld” with a “¬xed nature of its own” is
an environment that is entirely under the control of a single free
agent.43 Under such circumstances, only the controlling agent would
have the ability to act freely, because no other agent would be able to
in¬‚uence the environment at all. So a ¬xed environment is required
if all the souls in the society are to have the capacity for free action.
The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

In support of the second necessary connection (that free souls in a
stable environment must be able to in¬‚ict pain on each other), Lewis
argues that an independent, law-governed environment makes con-
¬‚ict between the various free souls possible, and that this in turn leads
to the possibility that they will in¬‚ict pain on each other:

If a man travelling in one direction is having a journey down a hill,
a man going in the opposite direction must be going up hill. If even
a pebble lies where I want it to lie, it cannot, except by a coinci-
dence, be where you want it to lie. And this . . . leaves the way open
to a great evil, that of competition and hostility. And if souls are free,
they cannot be prevented from dealing with the problem by com-
petition instead of courtesy. And once they have advanced to actual
hostility, they can then exploit the ¬xed nature of matter to hurt one
another. The permanent nature of wood which enables us to use it
as a beam also enables us to use it for hitting our neighbour on the

With this, we arrive at one of those advertised occasions upon which
Lewis directly responds to a point from Hume™s Dialogues. In the pre-
vious section I brie¬‚y described four circumstances that, according
to Philo, account for most or all of the suffering in the world and that
an omnipotent God could have avoided. The second of these circum-
stances is that the world is governed by general laws of nature. Philo
claims that rather than setting up the world so that it follows gen-
eral laws of nature, God might have created a world “conducted by
particular volitions.”45 The suggestion here is that God might inter-
fere in some undetectable fashion whenever He sees that events are
unfolding in a way that, if unchecked, would lead to suffering. Philo

A being . . . who knows the secret springs of the universe might easily,
by particular volitions, turn all these accidents to the good of mankind,
and render the whole world happy, without discovering himself in
any operation. A ¬‚eet whose purposes were salutary to society might
always meet with a fair wind: Good princes enjoy sound health and
long life: Persons born to power and authority be framed with good
tempers and virtuous dispositions.46

God and the Reach of Reason

Lewis™s response to Philo™s suggestion is that if God interfered often
enough to prevent any agent from causing another to suffer, the
freedom to choose between right and wrong would vanish entirely:

[S]uch a world would be one in which wrong actions were impossible,
and in which, therefore, freedom of the will would be void; nay, if
the principle were carried out to its logical conclusion, evil thoughts
would be impossible, for the cerebral matter which we use in thinking
would refuse its task when we attempted to frame them. All matter
in the neighborhood of a wicked man would be liable to undergo
unpredictable alterations.47

What Lewis has offered, to this point, is a version of the free will
defense, one of the most ancient and popular proposed solutions to
the problem of evil.48 A key tenet of Lewis™s approach is that a society
of free souls who cannot in¬‚ict pain on each other is an intrinsic
impossibility. Thus, it is no more within God™s power to create such
a society than it is to create a round square. If God brings into being
a society of free agents, He thereby makes suffering possible.
At this stage, I would like to point out two shortcomings in what
Lewis has said so far as well as a question that remains to be ans-
wered. Neither of the shortcomings is fatal, and Lewis does provide
an answer to the question in due course. I mention these things
now so that we can see that Lewis has more work to do, at least if
he wants to account for all of the human suffering in the world.49
A distinction is often drawn between moral and natural evil. As
our focus is on suffering, we may distinguish between moral suffer-
ing (suffering that is the result of free human actions) and natural
suffering (suffering that is not the result of such free actions; this
would include suffering caused by natural disasters like the 1755
Lisbon earthquake and the 2004 Indonesian tsunami). This distinc-
tion allows us to see the ¬rst shortcoming in what Lewis has said so
far: He has addressed only moral suffering. He has said nothing yet
that would explain why God would permit natural suffering.
The second shortcoming is that what Lewis has said so far does
not seem suf¬cient even to account for all of the moral suffering we
¬nd in our world. To see this point, consider the recent phenomenon
The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

of the internet chat room. A chat room is a shared, neutral environ-
ment that allows various free agents to recognize the existence of
other free agents and interact with them. Agents interacting in such
an environment can in¬‚ict some types of pain on each other: They
can frustrate each other™s desires, insult each other, induce various
kinds of emotional pain in each other. But no free agent in such an
environment can, for example, cause electrical shocks to be emitted
from the keyboard of another user, or whirling blades to pop out of
another user™s screen, or another user to burst into ¬‚ame. But in the
actual world, free agents can (and sometimes do) electrocute, stab,
and incinerate each other. The point is that it is possible for there to
be a society of free souls without it being possible for them to in¬‚ict
these kinds of suffering on each other. So these more extreme types
of suffering seem to remain unaccounted for at this point.
Finally, here is a question for Lewis: If a society of free souls does
require the possibility of the sort of suffering we ¬nd in our world,
why would God not simply skip the society of free souls altogether?
Another way of putting this question is this: What is so great about
a society of free souls that makes it worth all the suffering?
To see how Lewis might address these various concerns, we must
examine the rest of his solution to the problem of pain. Two of
the three key concepts involved in the problem remain to be dis-
cussed: divine goodness and human happiness. Following the order
of Lewis™s presentation once again, let us turn to his analysis of divine

1.3.3 Divine Goodness and Human Happiness
Lewis™s discussion of divine goodness in The Problem of Pain focuses
on God™s love for humanity. Though Lewis does not think that love
is the only aspect of God™s goodness, it is the one that is most rele-
vant to the problem of pain. What makes human suffering so puz-
zling is that God is supposed to love us. To explain God™s love for
humanity, Lewis ¬rst draws a distinction between genuine love and
mere kindness. The primary goal of kindness, as Lewis understands
it, is a pleasant existence. To be kind to someone is to reduce her
God and the Reach of Reason

suffering or increase her pleasure. The popular way of thinking of
divine goodness is as kindness. This false conception of divine good-
ness has it that God™s goodness amounts to nothing more than His
wanting humans to live comfortable, pleasant earthly lives. Comfort
and pleasure, then, constitute the popular but false conception of
human happiness:

We want . . . not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in
heaven “ a senile benevolence who, as they say, ˜liked to see young
people enjoying themselves™ and whose plan for the universe was sim-
ply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ˜a good time was
had by all™. Not many people, I admit, would formulate a theology in
precisely those terms; but a conception not very different lurks at the
back of many minds.50

To say that God is good is to say that He loves us, which is to say
that his overriding goal for us is that we live pleasurable, comfortable
earthly lives: “Kindness . . . cares not whether its object becomes good
or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering.”51
But, says Lewis, genuine divine goodness involves love rather than
kindness. To explain the nature of divine goodness, Lewis examines
four kinds of love. Although none of the four kinds corresponds
perfectly to God™s love for humanity, the idea is that these imperfect
approximations have certain features that can shed some light on the
nature of God™s love for humanity. The four kinds of love are (i) an
artist™s love for his creation, (ii) a person™s love for a beast (e.g., the
love of a man for his dog), (iii) a father™s love for his son, and (iv) a
man™s love for a woman.
One element common to all four is that the lover in each case
wants the object of his love to be a certain way. Speci¬cally, the lover
wants the beloved to be perfect: “Love . . . demands the perfecting of
the beloved.”52 It is important to note that the love is not conditional
upon the perfection of the beloved; instead, the love precedes the
perfection of the beloved object, and the love persists even if (as is
often or perhaps always the case) the beloved object never becomes
perfect. A consequence of this aspect of love is that if the beloved

The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

object is not perfect, the lover will want the beloved to approach as
near to perfection as possible. Accordingly, the lover may attempt to
transform the object of his love.
Two aspects of this process of transformation are worth noting.
The ¬rst is that the beloved object may well fail to understand the
point of the process of transformation imposed upon it. The second
(and related) aspect is that the transformation may require suffering
on the part of the beloved:

[O]ver the great picture of his life “ the work which he loves . . . [the
artist] will take endless trouble “ and would, doubtless, thereby give
endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a
sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and recommenced for
the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumbnail sketch whose
making was over in a minute.53

Similarly, because God loves us, He wants us to approach as near to
perfection as possible. This means that each of us needs to be trans-
formed, and, like Lewis™s imagined sentient painting, we ¬nd the
transformation painful. The painting example may be misleading in
an important way: It might convey the impression that the transfor-
mation is entirely for the sake of the lover. After all, a great painting
primarily bene¬ts its artist; the painting itself seems to get little out
of the deal! Has the happiness of the beloved dropped out of Lewis™s
account of love altogether?
The answer is no. Lewis writes that “when we are such as He can
love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy.”54 But what
does it take to become the sort of being that God can love without
impediment? An important difference between us and a painting is
precisely that we are capable of entering into a personal relationship
with our Creator. Unlike the painting, we can love the Artist back “
and I believe that Lewis™s view is that it is precisely love for God that
renders us worthy of God™s love: “God wills our good, and our good
is to love Him.”55 Loving God entails striving to become like God
(in certain respects): “We are bidden to ˜put on Christ™, to become
like God. . . . To be God “ to be like God and to share His goodness

God and the Reach of Reason

in creaturely response “ to be miserable “ these are the only three
alternatives.”56 The ¬nal wrinkle is that we must love God freely.
God does not want coerced love but rather freely given love. Freely
loving God is true human happiness. The devil Screwtape explains
some of these ideas to his nephew Wormwood in Lewis™s ¬ctional
work The Screwtape Letters as follows:

He really does want to ¬ll the universe with a lot of loathsome little
replicas of Himself “ creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will
be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but
because their wills freely conform to His. . . . But you now see that
the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the
very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to override a
human will . . . would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only

This completes Lewis™s analysis of the three key concepts involved in
the problem of pain. The following chart summarizes Lewis™s views
on these concepts:

False Conception True Conception

Divine omnipotence Ability to do Ability to do anything
absolutely anything that is intrinsically
Divine goodness Desire that humans Desire that humans
have false happiness have true
Human happiness Comfortable, pleasant Freely loving God and
earthly lives striving to become

We are now in a position to see Lewis™s answer to the question
that I posed at the end of the previous section: What is so great
about a society of free souls that makes it worth all the suffering?
The answer is that only free souls are capable of achieving genuine
happiness. This is the great good that makes a society of free souls

The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

worthwhile, even if it brings along tremendous suffering as a conse-
We are also now ready to see Lewis™s explanation of natural suf-
fering. The essence of that explanation is that natural suffering is one
of the tools God uses to transform us, to nudge us toward genuine
human happiness while leaving our freedom intact. Natural suffering
plays a “remedial or corrective” role.60 Lewis™s discussion of the four
kinds of love hints at the fact that the transformation of the beloved
by the lover may be painful, but we still need to know exactly why
making human beings more “Christlike” sometimes requires that
they suffer. As Lewis observes: “Not all medicine tastes nasty: or if it
did, that is itself one of the unpleasant facts for which we should like
to know the reason.”61 The role of suffering in our transformation is
the topic of the next section.

1.3.4 God™s Three Uses of Pain
Lewis writes:

When souls become wicked they will certainly . . . hurt one another;
and this, perhaps, accounts for four-¬fths of the sufferings of
men. . . . But there remains, none the less, much suffering which can-
not be traced to ourselves. Even if all suffering were man-made, we
should like to know the reason for the enormous permission to torture
their fellows which God gives to the worst of men.62

In these lines, Lewis implicitly acknowledges the distinction between
moral and natural suffering. To account for natural suffering, Lewis
describes three ways that God might use pain to nudge us toward
genuine happiness.
The ¬rst use to which God sometimes puts pain is to get us to
recognize our moral shortcomings. Part of loving God is obeying
the moral laws that God has laid down for humanity. But a person
who doesn™t realize that he is violating the rules of morality will
never even attempt to obey them. Among the components of moral
corruption is blindness to one™s own corruption: “[E]rror and sin
both have this property, that the deeper they are the less their victim

God and the Reach of Reason

suspects their existence.”63 Pain can function as a kind of wake-up
call, stimulating the corrupt person to engage in self-examination,
which may lead him to recognize his corruption:

[P]ain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our plea-
sures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His mega-
phone to rouse a deaf world. A bad man, happy, is a man without
the least inkling that his actions do not ˜answer™, that they are not in
accord with the [moral] laws of the universe.64

The passage indicates that pain is just one of the tools in God™s tool-
box, but in some cases it may be the only effective one: “No doubt
pain as God™s megaphone is a terrible instrument. . . . But it gives the
only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment.”65
Lewis describes a second use of pain in these lines:

God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness
lies in Him. Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any
other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for. While what we
call ˜our own life™ remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him.
What then can God do in our interests but make ˜our own life™ less
agreeable to us, and take away the plausible source of false happiness?

Imagine that you have a child who loves to play video games. Your
child loves video games so much that he thinks of nothing else; he
is perfectly happy to play video games until, as they say, the cows
come home. Suppose also that you know that your child would be
happier, would lead a fuller life, if he were to put aside his video
games and devote his energies elsewhere. One way to get him to
do this would be to ruin video game playing for him. If you could
somehow make the video games boring or unpleasant for him, this
would motivate him to look elsewhere for ful¬llment.
Lewis™s idea is that humans are somewhat like this video-game-
playing child. We tend to look for happiness and ful¬llment in earthly
things and do not look for happiness in God. One of the dangers of
free will is that we might misuse it: “From the moment a creature
becomes aware of God as God and of itself as self, the terrible alter-
native of choosing God or self for the centre is opened to it.”66 God
knows that our true happiness lies in Him but sees that we will never
The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

turn to Him if we remain content with earthly things. He needs a way
to nudge us away from earthly things without eliminating our free
will. Lewis™s idea is that God can accomplish this by using pain to
spoil the earthly things for us. This frees us of the illusion that the
earthly things hold real happiness and inclines us to look elsewhere.

. 1
( 8)