. 2
( 8)


The contemporary philosopher Peter van Inwagen, who has devel-
oped this particular strand of Lewis™s thought powerfully and at some
length, puts the point this way:

An essential and important component of God™s plan of Atone-
ment . . . is to make us dissatis¬ed with our state of separation from
Him . . . by simply allowing us to “live with” the natural consequences
of this separation, and by making it as dif¬cult as possible for us to
delude ourselves about the kind of world we live in: a hideous world.67

Unlike the ¬rst use of pain, this second use is not applicable only
to the thoroughly corrupt: “[T]his illusion of self-suf¬ciency may be
at its strongest in some very honest, kindly, and temperate people,
and on such people, therefore, misfortune must fall.”68 If this claim
is plausible, it makes Lewis™s view quite powerful, because it allows
Lewis to account for the suffering of those who seem least to deserve
it. And this is surely one of the most problematic kinds of suffering:

We are perplexed to see misfortune falling upon decent, inoffensive,
worthy people. . . . How can I say with suf¬cient tenderness what here
needs to be said? . . . The life to themselves and their families stands
between them and the recognition of their need; He makes that life
less sweet to them.69

This idea meshes with Jesus™ warning to the rich young man that “it
will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. . . . [I]t
is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for some-
one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”70 Wealth tends to
produce contentedness with one™s earthly life, and thus is one of the
main obstacles to seeking happiness in God. As Screwtape advises
Wormwood: “Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he
is ˜¬nding his place in it,™ while really it is ¬nding its place in him.”71
God and the Reach of Reason

Lewis also suggests that understanding this function of pain may
help us to understand the particular mixture of pleasure and pain
that we ¬nd in this world:

We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is
not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our
hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few
moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting
with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency.
Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but
will not encourage us to mistake them for home.72

The third role of pain is the most complex of the three. In explaining
it, Lewis appeals to the principle that “to choose involves knowing
that you choose.” More precisely, Lewis™s principle seems to be that a
person freely chooses x for reason r only if she knows that she chooses
x for reason r. Lewis applies this principle as follows:

We cannot therefore know that we are acting at all, or primarily, for
God™s sake, unless the material of the action is contrary to our incli-
nations, or (in other words) painful, and what we cannot know that
we are choosing, we cannot choose. The full acting out of the self™s
surrender to God therefore demands pain.73

The idea here is perhaps best explained by way of an example. I will
use an example peculiar to my own pleasures, but I am con¬dent
that the reader can adapt the example in accordance with her own
pleasures. Suppose that God commanded me to spend the day play-
ing the X-Box video game Halo 2 while drinking Whiskey and Coke.
Suppose I obey. Can I be con¬dent that I performed the commanded
act because it was commanded by God? (In this example, x = playing
Halo 2, and r = God commanded me to play Halo 2). I suspect that
Lewis would say that the answer is no, for the following reason:
The thing I have been commanded to do is something I ¬nd quite
pleasurable and so am inclined to do regardless of whether I think
it has been commanded by God. Therefore, even if I obey, I cannot
know that I did not perform the action because it was pleasurable
rather than because it was commanded by God. And so it follows
from Lewis™s principle that it is not the case that I freely performed
The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

the act because it was commanded by God.74 It would therefore be
misleading to describe this as a case in which I surrendered myself
to God, despite the fact that I did what God commanded.
To illustrate how pain can enable us to know that we are per-
forming an action because it is commanded by God, Lewis discusses
the Old Testament account of the binding of Isaac, in which God
commands Abraham to kill his only son. This is surely a command
that it would bring Abraham tremendous pain and no pleasure to
obey; nevertheless, he goes about obeying the command, until God
stops the proceedings at the last moment.75 In this example, Abra-
ham can be con¬dent that he performed the action because it was
commanded by God, for there is no other plausible motive. That the
action is one that is so painful to carry out therefore makes this a
case in which Abraham can freely perform the action because it is
commanded by God.76
This completes Lewis™s solution to the problem of pain.77 Accord-
ingly, let us consider again our initial formulation of the problem:

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).

What would Lewis say about this argument? The answer to this
question depends on how we construe the second premise. Specif-
ically, we need to know whether, according to the premise, God™s
moral perfection entails that he desires a world devoid of suffering
more than He desires anything else. If the premise is construed in this
strong fashion, then Lewis would reject it. Lewis™s position is that
God and the Reach of Reason

there is at least one good that is more important than a pain-free
world, a good that might in fact require that the world contain suf-
fering. This great good is, of course, genuine human happiness, and
we have seen why even an omnipotent God may be unable to bring
about this good without also permitting human suffering. Because
the good is so good, God will strive to bring it about even if He must
use suffering as a means to attain it. Of course, Lewis can allow
that God desires that there be as little suffering in the world as is
consistent with promoting genuine human happiness. If the second
premise is construed as claiming that this is all that moral perfec-
tion requires, then Lewis can accept it. However, if the premise is
construed in this way, it is not strong enough to support the fourth
premise. So, in Lewis™s eyes, the second premise is either false or
too weak to support the fourth premise; either way, the argument
One loose string remains: At the end of the earlier section on
omnipotence, I mentioned the problem posed by the internet chat
room. The problem for Lewis™s view was that it seems possible for
there to be a society of free souls in which the souls cannot in¬‚ict
upon each other the kinds of extreme suffering that they can in¬‚ict
upon each other in our world. How, then, can Lewis account for this
feature of our world?79
Perhaps Lewis could draw upon his explanation of natural suf-
fering to answer this question. It may be that there are cases that
require extreme kinds of natural suffering. For instance, perhaps
there are people who will turn to God (and hence toward genuine
happiness) only if they undergo extreme pain. Let™s call such people
“hard cases.”
We have seen why, according to Lewis, a society of free souls
requires the existence of a law-governed environment. Since it is
(typically) via these laws that God in¬‚icts natural suffering, if God is
to handle the hard cases adequately, the laws that govern the envi-
ronment must permit the occurrence of extreme pain. But if the
laws permit such pain, this opens up the possibility that some of the
free agents within the environment will exploit those laws to in¬‚ict

The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

extreme pain upon others. Here is a simple example that illustrates
this point: If God can use ¬re to in¬‚ict pain by way of volcanic erup-
tions and forest ¬res, then humans can master the laws relating to
¬re and exploit those laws to burn other humans. Perhaps the exis-
tence of hard cases explains why we don™t live in an environment
similar to an internet chat room: Such an environment would not
permit God to deal with the hard cases while also leaving the free
will of the agents in that environment intact.
If Lewis™s solution to the problem of pain is to be entirely suc-
cessful, all human natural suffering must be explicable in terms of
the three roles described in this section. Whether this is so is the
main topic of the penultimate section of this chapter, in which we
will consider some objections to Lewis™s solution to the problem of
pain. Before turning to that task, however, it will be useful to con-
sider a literary illustration of some of Lewis™s ideas. Doing this will
both bring Lewis™s ideas to life and help to sharpen our comprehen-
sion of the difference between how human suffering appears when
viewed in light of false understandings of omnipotence, goodness,
and happiness and how it appears when viewed in light of correct
understandings of these concepts.


Leo Tolstoy™s great novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich presents a case study
of at least two of the three roles that Lewis says natural suffering
can play. The story recounts the life and death of Ivan Ilyich. Tolstoy
writes that Ivan lived a life that was “most simple and commonplace “
and most horrifying.”80 For most of his adult life, Ivan is concerned
primarily with advancing his legal career, achieving ¬nancial success,
and arranging his life in such a way as to ¬ll it with his favorite
pleasures. Foremost among these is the pleasure of a good game
of whist.81 Tolstoy makes it clear that along the way Ivan engages
in some morally questionable behavior. This is a consequence of a
certain lack of re¬‚ection on the part of Ivan. He simply adopts the
beliefs and values of the social class to which he wishes to belong.

God and the Reach of Reason

He has some inkling that what he is doing is not quite right, but
manages to push these feelings of unease aside:

As a student he had done things which, at the time, seemed to him
extremely vile and made him feel disgusted with himself; but later,
seeing that people of high standing had no qualms about doing these
things, he was not quite able to consider them good but managed to
dismiss them and not feel the least perturbed when he recalled them.82

One of the best illustrations of Ivan™s approach to life is his decision
to marry:

Ivan Ilyich had no clear and de¬nite intention of marrying, but when
the girl fell in love with him, he asked himself: “Really, why shouldn™t
I get married?” . . . Ivan Ilyich married for both reasons: in acquiring
such a wife he did something that gave him pleasure and, at the same
time, did what people of the highest standing considered correct.
And so Ivan Ilyich got married.83

Ivan is, in a nutshell, a “bad man, happy . . . without the least
inkling that his actions do not ˜answer™, that they are not in accord
with the laws of the universe.”84 Just when everything has fallen
into place for Ivan, he injures himself in a fall from a ladder, and as
time passes it becomes clear that he is suffering from a chronic and
ultimately fatal illness. One of the ¬rst consequences of the illness
is that it ruins Ivan™s greatest pleasure “ the pleasure of whist. Tol-
stoy describes Ivan™s despondency at the end of an evening of card
playing ruined by his illness: “After supper his friends went home,
leaving Ivan Ilyich alone with the knowledge that his life had been
poisoned and was poisoning the lives of others, and that far from
diminishing, that poison was penetrating deeper and deeper into his
entire being.”85
As Ivan™s illness progresses, it strips him of his ability to experience
pleasure altogether and leaves him isolated and alone. For the ¬rst
time in his life, Ivan re¬‚ects on his life. Eventually he reaches an
awful conclusion:

“What if my entire life, my entire conscious life, simply was not the real
thing?” It occurred to him that what had seemed utterly inconceivable
before “ that he had not lived the kind of life he should have “ might in

The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

fact be true. It occurred to him that those scarcely perceptible impulses
of his to protest what people of high rank considered good, vague
impulses which he had always suppressed, might have been precisely
what mattered, and all the rest had not been the real thing. His of¬cial
duties, his manner of life, his family, the values adhered to by people
in society and in his profession “ all these might not have been the real
thing. He tried to come up with a defense of these things and suddenly
became aware of the insubstantiality of them all.86

In this passage Ivan discovers the moral defects in his character. Else-
where we ¬nd an account of Ivan™s discovery of the amount of true
happiness his life has contained:

[I]n his imagination he called to mind the best moments of his pleasant
life. Yet, strangely enough, all the best moments of his pleasant life
now seemed entirely different than they had in the past “ all except
the earliest memories of childhood. . . . As soon as he got to the period
that had produced the present Ivan Ilyich, all the seeming joys of his
life vanished before his sight and turned into something trivial and
often nasty. And the farther he moved from childhood, the closer he
came to the present, the more trivial and questionable these joyful
experiences appeared.87

Ivan™s illness and suffering play two of the roles described by Lewis.
Ivan discovers that throughout his adult life he has been spiraling
downward into immorality and misery. In his last few hours of life,
Ivan grapples with these discoveries: “Yes, all of it was simply not the
real thing. But no matter. I can still make it the real thing “ I can. But
what is the real thing?”88 He realizes that his prolonged illness and
suffering is torturing his family (he spends the last three days of his
life screaming). At the very end it dawns on him that there is a way
to redeem himself and his wasted life “ a way to make his life “the
real thing”:

And suddenly it became clear to him that what had been oppressing
him and would not leave him suddenly was vanishing all at once “
from two sides, ten sides, all sides. He felt sorry for them, he had to do
something to keep from hurting them. To deliver them and himself
from this suffering. “How good and simple!” he thought.89

God and the Reach of Reason

And so Ivan performs the ¬rst genuinely altruistic action of his adult
life: He lets go and permits himself to die in order to end his fam-
ily™s suffering. With this act Ivan ¬nds redemption.90 There is also
the suggestion that he discovers that real happiness does not lie in
earthly things at all. Throughout his illness Ivan is plagued by an
overwhelming fear of death. But at the very end, after he decides to
allow himself to die in order to spare his family from further suffer-
ing, he no longer fears death: “He searched for his accustomed fear
of death and could not ¬nd it. Where was death? What death? There
was no fear because there was no death. Instead of death there was
light.”91 I suggest that Ivan no longer fears death because he has real-
ized that true happiness does not lie in earthly things, but elsewhere,
beyond this life.92
Let us consider for a moment how someone who accepts the
popular but false conceptions of omnipotence, divine goodness, and
human happiness might view Ivan™s ordeal. Just when Ivan ¬nally
achieves happiness (a comfortable, pleasant life), he is stricken by
an incurable illness that slowly sucks all the pleasure out of his life.
What sort of God would let this happen? An omnipotent God can
do anything, and a God who loved Ivan wouldn™t let such a thing
happen to him. So God must either be a bumbling fool, or he must
not like Ivan very much. When Ivan thinks about God for the ¬rst
time in the story, after his illness has struck, he reaches the latter

He cried about his helplessness, about his terrible loneliness, about
the cruelty of people, about the cruelty of God, about the absence of
God. “Why hast Thou done all this? Why hast Thou brought me to
this? Why dost Thou torture me so? For what? . . . Go on then! Hit me
again! But what for! What have I done to Thee?”93

When seen through the eyes of someone in the grips of mistaken
conceptions of omnipotence, goodness, and happiness, Ivan™s suffer-
ing can seem like overwhelming evidence against the existence of
God. But for someone with a correct understanding of these concepts
(and of Ivan™s character), Ivan™s suffering is no evidence against the
existence of God at all. In fact, Lewis would maintain that once we
The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

understand these concepts correctly, we will see that it is precisely
because God loves Ivan that He permits him to suffer. Lewis™s solution
to the problem of pain, if successful, does more than reconcile God™s
love with human suffering; it illustrates how human suffering actu-
ally ¬‚ows from divine love. God™s goodness is not the senile grand-
fatherly goodness that is concerned only with making you feel good.
Rather, it™s the real, terrible goodness that is concerned with mak-
ing you become good. Perhaps this is why Lewis repeatedly describes
God™s love for humanity as an “intolerable compliment.”94
What is true of Ivan™s suffering is, according to Lewis, true of all
human suffering. Philo sees the distribution of pleasure and pain in
the world as evidence against God™s existence; Lewis sees it as just
what we would expect once we correctly understand the key con-
cepts. To Philo™s rhetorical question, “Is the world, considered in gen-
eral 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?,” Lewis™s response would be: Well, no,
In the discussion of Hume™s Dialogues earlier in this chapter, I
brie¬‚y mentioned Philo™s “four circumstances” “ the four avoidable
sources of suffering in the world. We have already discussed Lewis™s
views concerning the second of these features, “the conducting of
the world by general laws.”96 The remaining three circumstances
are these: (i) pain (in addition to pleasure) functions as a motive
“to excite all creatures to action”; (iii) nature is frugal, in that each
creature is endowed with just enough natural capacities to survive,
but not enough to avoid misery; and (iv) the “inaccurate workman-
ship” of the world, which seems more like a rough draft than a ¬nal
I think we can see now how Lewis would respond to Philo™s sug-
gestion that an omnipotent, good God would have avoided these
three circumstances. With respect to the ¬rst circumstance, Philo
seems to assume that the only way pain can be bene¬cial is by func-
tioning as a motive to perform an action that contributes to one™s
comfort or safety (e.g., by motivating you to pull your hand away
from a ¬‚ame). Lewis has taken great pains to describe the other
God and the Reach of Reason

bene¬cial functions of pain; if Lewis is right, Philo™s assumption is
simply mistaken. With respect to the third circumstance, we have
seen why, according to Lewis, a God who loves us would not want us
to get too comfortable in this world. What Philo sees as unnecessary
frugality that needlessly prevents us from achieving lasting security
and comfort Lewis sees as one of God™s tools for nudging us toward
genuine happiness. Finally, with respect to the fourth circumstance,
we may observe that in order to evaluate the quality of the work-
manship of the world accurately, one must know what the main
purpose of the world is.98 Assuming that the point of the world is
to produce comfortable, pleasure-¬lled lives for its inhabitants, Philo
marvels at its shoddy workmanship. Lewis would suggest that once
we comprehend that the point of the world is to provide an envi-
ronment in which free souls can work toward genuine happiness,
what seem like marks of shoddy workmanship will be recognized as
masterful touches on the part of the Artist.


Perhaps the most extended critical discussion of Lewis™s work in
Christian apologetics is John Beversluis™s book C. S. Lewis and the
Search for Rational Religion. Beversluis devotes a chapter to The Prob-
lem of Pain, and we will begin our critical examination of Lewis™s
solution to the problem of pain by considering some of the more
interesting objections Beversluis offers in that chapter.
I have emphasized that an important part of Lewis™s account is
that genuine human happiness involves freely loving God. In the
words of Screwtape, God “cannot ravish. He can only woo.”99 But
Beversluis suggests that God™s use of severe pain to lead humans to
surrender themselves to Him would amount to ravishing rather than
mere wooing:

Consider the case of truly hard-core sinners who will not turn to God
except in response to pain “ prolonged and excruciating pain. What if
they ¬nally do turn to God as a result? Will they have done so freely?
No. An analogy may help. I ask you for information that I know you
possess. You refuse. So I in¬‚ict pain on you until you tell me everything

The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

I want to know. Have you imparted this information freely? No you
have not. It was the pain that brought you to terms. The same is true
of the pain-racked sinners who ¬nally turn to God as a result of their
pain. . . . In such cases, we have been reduced to a single alternative,
and one alternative is not an alternative at all.100

The objection here is that Lewis™s account is internally incoherent. On
the one hand, Lewis claims that genuine human happiness involves
freely turning toward God. On the other hand, Lewis claims that
God uses pain as a tool to produce genuine human happiness. The
problem, according to Beversluis, is that the use of pain to get us to
turn toward God entails that such turning is not done freely. There-
fore, using pain to produce genuine human happiness is intrinsically
impossible, and hence God cannot do it.
This objection fails because the way God uses pain in Lewis™s model
is quite different from the way pain is used in Beversluis™s example.
In short, Beversluis™s analogy is not very analogous. In Beversluis™s
case, it is clear to the sufferer that there are just two options: reveal
the information or suffer extreme pain. I agree with Beversluis that
someone who reveals information under these circumstances has
not done so freely. The “choice” such a person faces is much like the
“choice” a person faces when confronted by an armed mugger who
says “your money or your life”: it is no choice at all.
However, the case of the sinful human who experiences natural
suffering is not like this at all. This is so because (typically) it is not at
all clear to such a human that the only two options are to surrender
oneself to the Christian God or to suffer extreme pain. God is not
directly present to the sufferer in the way that the torturer is directly
present to the person from whom he intends to extract information
in Beversluis™s example. The situation the sinful human faces is far
more ambiguous, and consequently there are many options available
to him. Surrendering himself to the God of Christianity is just one
of them; there are a host of other putative Gods to whom he might
turn. Another option is simply to maintain that there is no God;
the universe is governed by blind forces, life tends to be painful “
and that™s just the way things are, tough luck. Another option is
to conclude that there is a God, but He™s not particularly good.101
God and the Reach of Reason

Remember Screwtape™s remark that “the Irresistible and the Indis-
putable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme
forbids Him to use”; because God™s presence is not indisputable, He
can use pain in the way described by Lewis without making surren-
der to Him irresistible.102
In Beversluis™s example, the use of pain by the torturer marks
the end of the sufferer™s deliberation about what to do. The pain
makes it clear that there is really just one available option. God™s
use of pain, by contrast, often marks the beginning of the sufferer™s
deliberation.103 We can see this by recalling the case of Ivan Ilyich.
Ivan moves through life unre¬‚ectively until he becomes ill. The ill-
ness stimulates re¬‚ection on his life and how he might change it “
re¬‚ection that would not otherwise have occurred. We might even
go so far as to say that Ivan™s suffering increases his level of freedom,
since the life he lived before the suffering was one lived without
much deliberation at all. In any case, Ivan™s suffering begins a process
of self-examination without limiting that process to a single possible
outcome. Although Ivan does eventually turn to God, his suffering
does not compel him to do so.
A more challenging objection posed by Beversluis has it that
Lewis™s view con¬‚icts with our knowledge of the actual distribution
of pleasure and pain:

Some people who do not suffer seem far from God while others who do
suffer seem close to him. There are ¬‚ourishing atheists and terminally
ill believers. . . . the more you suffer, the further from God you are; and
the less you suffer, the closer you are. Finally, the more you suffer, the
more God loves you, and the less you suffer, the less God loves you,
since it is those we love that we punish and those to whom we are
indifferent that we allow to be happy in contemptible and estranging

There are actually a number of objections posed in this passage; I will
focus on just one of them.105 Consider Beversluis™s remark about
“¬‚ourishing atheists.” It certainly seems to be the case that there
are plenty of people in the world who have turned their backs not
only on God but also on morality and who nevertheless live out
their lives in relative comfort and ease without ever facing the kind
The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

of suffering that Ivan (or Lewis, for that matter) faced. In the ¬nal
sentence of the passage just quoted, Beversluis reminds us of Lewis™s
remark that “[i]t is for people whom we care nothing about that we
demand happiness on any terms.”106 What, then, are we to make of
the vicious yet happy (in the popular sense) among us? God seems
to be permitting them to wallow in false happiness, presumably at
the cost of genuine happiness. As Beversluis hints and Lewis™s own
words suggest, this seems to indicate that God does not love them;
if He did, wouldn™t He use His megaphone of pain to rouse them? If
this reasoning is correct, it follows that God doesn™t love all humans,
and this is hard to reconcile with Lewis™s understanding of God™s
goodness.107 Ironically, Lewis™s solution to the problem of pain may
generate a problem of not enough pain.
The problem of not enough pain is challenging. In order to develop
a Lewisian response to it, we will need to take something of a detour.
We will examine two other objections to Lewis™s view and consider
how Lewis might respond to them. The ideas developed in the course
of this discussion will provide us with the materials we need to deal
with the problem of not enough pain. Here is the ¬rst of the two
other objections to Lewis™s view.
According to Lewis, God sometimes uses pain to nudge His crea-
tures toward true happiness. This suggests that “suffering is good”
and consequently ought “to be pursued rather than avoided.”108
Speci¬cally, the suffering of others is good for them. Aren™t we com-
manded to love our neighbors?109 And doesn™t loving them entail
seeking their good? Therefore, we ought to in¬‚ict suffering on our
neighbors, particularly the vicious among us who live in comfort.110
In doing this, we would be doing “God™s good work.”
In The Problem of Pain, Lewis points out that “suffering is not good
in itself.”111 Pain is intrinsically evil (evil in its own nature); Lewis™s
view commits him only to the claim that pain is sometimes instrumen-
tally good (good because of what it leads to). Speci¬cally, it sometimes
leads to genuine happiness; nevertheless, it remains intrinsically evil.
In A Grief Observed, Lewis writes that “[i]f there is a good God, then
these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being
could possibly in¬‚ict or permit them if they weren™t.”112 Because
God and the Reach of Reason

pain is intrinsically evil, it should be imposed on another only when
there is a very good reason to do so “ for instance, when doing so will
lead to the other person™s genuine happiness. This means that there
are certain restrictions on when it is permissible to cause another
person to suffer; in particular, if you are not suf¬ciently con¬dent
that some good would result from causing someone else to suffer,
then you ought not to cause the other person to suffer.113
In Mere Christianity, Lewis claims that “[w]hen a man makes a
moral choice two things are involved. One is the act of choosing.
The other is the various feelings, impulses and so on which his psy-
chological out¬t presents him with, and which are the raw material
of his choice.”114 We may not have much say in the “raw material”
with which we must contend, and, according to Lewis, “bad psycho-
logical material is not a sin but a disease.”115 Of course, we do not
all have the same raw material, and this generates dif¬culty when it
comes to assessing the character of others:

Human beings judge one another by their external actions. God judges
them by their moral choices. . . . When a man who has been perverted
from his youth and taught that cruelty is the right thing, does some tiny
little kindness, or refrains from some cruelty he might have committed,
and thereby, perhaps, risks being sneered at by his companions, he
may, in God™s eyes, be doing more than you and I would do if we
gave up life itself for a friend. . . . That is why Christians are told not to
judge. We see only the results which a man™s choices make out of the
raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all,
but on what he has done with it.116

The upshot of this is that there is a gap between the knowledge a
human can have of another person™s character and the knowledge
that God can have of that person™s character. In fact, Lewis™s posi-
tion seems to be that only God can have a complete and accurate
understanding of another person™s character. And this means that
only God can know exactly what effect suffering would have on
a given person™s character at a given time. In particular, only God
can know whether the suffering would nudge the person toward
genuine happiness. This gap between our knowledge and God™s

The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

knowledge, together with the principle that it is morally permissible
to cause another person to suffer only if you are reasonably con¬-
dent that doing so would have good consequences, implies that it is
never morally permissible for a human to cause another human to
suffer in order to nudge her toward genuine happiness. James Petrik
makes a point along these lines by likening God to a surgeon:

A surgical procedure that a trained surgeon may benevolently per-
form would be regarded as a moral abomination were I (a surgically
inept professor of philosophy) to undertake the procedure in my base-
ment. . . . In the same vein, it can be said that the reason that it would
be abhorrent for human beings to routinely allow the kind of suffer-
ing that is, according to Lewis, permissible for God to allow is that an
individual™s spiritual and moral development is an extremely complex
affair. . . . Thus, to allow intense suffering in order to effect a moral or
spiritual transformation is to act in reckless ignorance. Of course, God
operates under no such ignorance; therefore, it may well be permissi-
ble for God to allow intense suffering to effect character transforma-
tions when it is not permissible for human beings to do so.117

When it comes to using pain as a tool for the promotion of genuine
happiness, God knows what He is doing; we don™t. This is why it is
permissible for God to use pain in ways in which it is not permissible
for us to use it. So Lewis™s solution to the problem of pain does not
commit him to the view that it is permissible for us to in¬‚ict suffering
on our neighbors in order to turn them toward God.
This response provides us with some but not all of the ideas we will
need to deal with the problem of not enough pain. To get the rest of
the ideas we will need, we must consider Lewis™s response to a certain
objection to the doctrine of hell. Consider the following passage:

A simpler form of the same objection consists in saying that death
ought not to be ¬nal, that there ought to be a second chance. I believe
that if a million chances were likely to do good, they would be given.
But a master often knows, when boys and parents do not, that it is
really useless to send a boy in for a certain examination again. Finality
must come some time, and it does not require a very robust faith to
believe that omniscience knows when.118

God and the Reach of Reason

We have already discussed those “truly hard-core sinners” who will
turn to God only if they undergo extreme suffering. But there is
another category of sinners that must be considered. This category
contains those who would not freely surrender themselves to God
under any circumstances. At one point Lewis remarks that “[p]ain
as God™s megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to ¬nal
and unrepented rebellion.”119 If there are such incorrigibles, God
would recognize them and would know that in¬‚icting suffering on
them would be useless. Because pain is intrinsically evil, God refrains
from in¬‚icting it on those whom He knows it will not help. This could
explain why He allows some people to wallow in false happiness. He
knows that there is nothing He can do for them.
Suppose you knew next to nothing about medicine or even
human biology and physiology. You might be quite mysti¬ed by the
actions of a doctor working in a triage unit; why does he ignore some
patients and treat others? What accounts for the different treatments
he provides to different patients? The answers to these questions
would be beyond you. Now suppose that you thought you knew
something about medicine but had lots of false beliefs in this area.
Under these circumstances you might come to doubt the goodness
or competence of the doctor: Why does he ignore that patient alto-
gether when he could have helped him? Why does he waste his time
on that one who is clearly a goner? Such doubts would be based on
misunderstandings of the situation.
One thing that human beings are remarkably bad at is assessing
character, and not just others™ character but their own character as
well. Our inability to assess the nature of our own character and
motivation is a central theme of Lewis™s novel Till We Have Faces, in
which we ¬nd the following passage:

When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to
utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years,
which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over,
you™ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not
speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of
us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they
meet us face to face till we have faces?120

The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

Our inadequate understanding of ourselves and others has been
insisted on by assorted philosophers and is amply supported by con-
temporary work in psychology.121 Despite this, forming judgments
about the character of others is something we cannot seem to stop
ourselves from doing. It seems to be part of human nature to form
signi¬cantly inadequate beliefs about the character of those around
us. This can help explain why we might ¬nd natural suffering mys-
tifying and consider it to be evidence against the existence of a good
God “ even if we have an accurate understanding of divine omnipotence,
divine goodness, and human happiness. Like the medical ignoramus who
thinks he knows something about medicine and consequently doubts
the goodness or competence of the triage doctor, we are ignoramuses
when it comes to human character and consequently tend to doubt
the goodness or competence of God. Because this doubt is rooted in
ignorance, it is unwarranted. More precisely, the existence of incorri-
gibles, together with our inability to identify them, can lead us (mis-
takenly) to doubt the existence (or goodness) of God. God applies
the awful treatment of pain to those cases where it will be effec-
tive, and foregoes it in those cases where it will not. Because we are
poor judges of character, we are ill-equipped to distinguish the two
kinds of cases, even when it comes to ourselves. This seems to me
to be Lewis™s best available response to the problem of not enough
Let us return to the event that was discussed at the beginning of
this chapter “ the 2004 Indonesian tsunami. Can Lewis™s solution to
the problem of pain adequately explain events of this sort? In answer-
ing this question, we should focus exclusively on the suffering caused
by this event rather than on the deaths it caused, as Lewis™s main
project in The Problem of Pain is to explain suffering rather than death
itself.123 Can the suffering caused by the 2004 tsunami be plausibly
construed as God nudging humanity toward genuine happiness?
The sheer scale of the event makes an af¬rmative answer to this
question seem unlikely. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of
people suffered as a result of the tsunami. The extent and nature
of this suffering seemed to depend on an incredibly large num-
ber of variables. Are we really to believe that all this suffering was
God and the Reach of Reason

distributed in such a way that each person who suffered received
precisely the right amount of pain required for the promotion of
genuine happiness?124 Frankly, this is hard to swallow.125
On the other hand, I have offered an explanation of why such a
claim might strike us as implausible even if it were true “ namely, our
incompetence when it comes to assessing character. How might we
go about investigating such a claim? The task would be stupendous;
it would require examining the long-term (presumably lifelong)
impact of the suffering of each individual affected by the tsunami. To
establish that Lewis™s view cannot explain all this suffering, we would
need to ¬nd at least one instance of suffering that did not promote
genuine happiness in some way. Given the dif¬culty of assessing the
character of others, it is hard to see how we could be con¬dent that
we had found such an instance. So while the claim that the suffer-
ing caused by the tsunami was the work of a master Surgeon and
that not an iota of that suffering failed to promote genuine happi-
ness strikes me as implausible, I do not know how to turn this sense
of implausibility into a decisive objection to Lewis™s solution to the
problem of pain.
However, there is another kind of suffering that merits consi-
deration: the suffering of children. One of the most famous philo-
sophical discussions of this sort of suffering is found in an oft-
anthologized chapter of Fyodor Dostoevsky™s 1880 novel The Brothers
Karamazov entitled “Rebellion.” The chapter consists of a discussion
between two of the Karamazov brothers, Ivan and Alyosha. Ivan
describes a series of horrendous examples of the suffering of chil-
dren. One of the most powerful examples appears in the following

And so these re¬ned parents subjected their ¬ve-year-old girl to all
kinds of torture. They beat her, kicked her, ¬‚ogged her, for no reason
that they themselves knew of. The child™s whole body was covered
with bruises. Eventually they devised a new re¬nement. Under the
pretext that the child dirtied her bed . . . they forced her to eat excre-
ment, smearing it all over her face. And it was the mother who did
it! And then that woman would lock her little daughter up in the

The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

outhouse until morning and she did so even on the coldest nights,
when it was freezing. . . . Imagine the little creature, unable even to
understand what is happening to her, beating her sore little chest with
her tiny ¬st, weeping hot, unresentful, meek tears, and begging ˜gen-
tle Jesus™ to help her, and all this happening in that icy, dark, stinking
place! Do you understand this nonsensical thing. . . . Tell me, do you
understand the purpose of that absurdity? Who needs it and why was
it created?126

In each of Ivan™s examples, children suffer at the hands of adults. Per-
haps this suffering could be explained by the free will defense. How-
ever, there is plenty of natural child suffering “ suffering that is the
result not of free human action but rather of disease or natural dis-
aster. Consider, for example, late infantile metachromatic leukodys-
trophy. This is a genetic disorder that affects the development of the
myelin sheath, the fatty covering that acts as an insulator around
nerve ¬ber. Children with this disease have dif¬culty walking after
the ¬rst year of life. As the disease progresses, the symptoms typically
include blindness, muscle rigidity, convulsions, impaired swallow-
ing, paralysis, and dementia. Eventually af¬‚icted children become
bedridden, blind, and enter a vegetative state, typically dying by age
ten.127 Childhood diseases like this, which mercilessly strike the most
innocent and helpless among us, seem to constitute one of the most
horri¬c kinds of natural evil. Can Lewis™s solution to the problem of
pain account for this kind of suffering?
The case that it cannot begins with the observation that in suf¬-
ciently young children, suffering cannot play any of the three roles
described by Lewis in his attempt to explain natural suffering. This is
so for the straightforward reason that pain can play those three roles
only in individuals who have a suitable grasp of certain key con-
cepts (e.g., God, moral rightness and wrongness), and suf¬ciently
young children are incapable of grasping such concepts. Very young
children cannot freely surrender themselves to God for the same rea-
son they cannot play chess: They simply lack the requisite cognitive
equipment. Therefore, it is hard to see how suffering could nudge
them toward genuine happiness.

God and the Reach of Reason

It might be suggested that there could be a substantial temporal
gap between the suffering and the turn toward God. Perhaps suffer-
ing as a child, even unremembered suffering, can lead to a surrender
to God later in life. This is an interesting suggestion. However, even if
we grant it, it will not completely solve the problem. This is because
there are some children who suffer and then die without ever acquir-
ing the cognitive equipment required to surrender to God. It seems
clear that this sort of suffering cannot possibly contribute to the gen-
uine happiness of its young victims.
In his defense of Lewis™s account of divine goodness against the
objections of Beversluis, Petrik suggests that “some suffering may be
for the sake of the spiritual development of a person other than the
sufferer.”128 The ¬fth-century theologian Augustine applies this idea
to the suffering of children, remarking that “[s]ince God achieves
some good by correcting adults through the suffering and death of
children who are dear to them, why shouldn™t those things take
place?”129 Although Lewis never explicitly makes this sort of point,
there are hints of it in his writing. Recall his remark concerning
apparently undeserved suffering: “The life to themselves and their
families stands between them and the recognition of their need; He
makes that life less sweet to them.”130 Lewis speci¬cally mentions
the family as something that can function as an obstacle to genuine
happiness. Children would obviously fall into the category of fam-
ily, and it is hard to imagine a more effective way of removing the
sweetness from a person™s life than allowing her children to suffer
and die.
Can the pain-¬lled life of a child who lives in agony for a few
years and then dies without the slightest glimmer of understanding
of what is happening to him be justi¬ed by the bene¬ts that such a life
(eventually) produces for those affected by the child™s suffering? That
it can is a bitter pill to swallow indeed. Toward the end of “Rebellion,”
Ivan presents Alyosha with a challenge:

“[L]et™s assume that you were called upon to build the edi¬ce of human
destiny so that men would ¬nally be happy and would ¬nd peace and
tranquility. If you knew that, in order to attain this, you would have

The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

to torture just one single creature, let™s say the little girl who beat her
chest so desperately in the outhouse, and that on her unavenged tears
you could build that edi¬ce, would you agreed to do it? Tell me and
don™t lie!”
“No, I would not,” Alyosha said softly.
“And do you ¬nd acceptable the idea that those for whom you are
building that edi¬ce should gratefully receive a happiness that rests on
the blood of a tortured child and, having received it, should continue
to enjoy it eternally?”
“No, I do not ¬nd that acceptable” Alyosha said. . . . 131

Ivan™s point is that it is not morally permissible to permit the suffering
of children, even if doing so is the only means of attaining genuine
happiness for the rest of humanity.132 This is a case where the end
fails to justify the means because of the severity of the evil involved
in the means.
Suppose there is a person who will acquire genuine happiness if,
and only if, a child lives a pain-¬lled life for a few years and then dies
in agony. Would a good God attain the good of genuine happiness
for such a person at the cost of the suffering of the child?133 To
answer this question we must weigh the child™s suffering against
the adult™s genuine happiness. Augustine™s answer to the question
is yes. After all, genuine happiness lasts forever, whereas the child™s
suffering is only temporary: “Once the suffering is past, it will be for
the children as if they had never suffered.”134 My own view is that
the answer to the question is no. I believe that even if the happiness
outweighs the child™s suffering, justice requires that the happiness
be withheld because it is not the child who gets the great good of
happiness but someone else.135 A person whose genuine happiness
can be acquired only through the horri¬c suffering of a child should
not receive genuine happiness.136
The reader must draw her own conclusion on the issue. If I am
correct, then Lewis™s solution to the problem of pain is incomplete
because it cannot account for all cases of child suffering. This point
can be put a bit more precisely: If the explanations of human suffering
proposed by Lewis in The Problem of Pain were the only explanations
for human suffering, then our world would not contain the sort of
God and the Reach of Reason

suffering by children that I have described. On the other hand, if
Augustine is correct, then Lewis™s view can account for this sort of
suffering. If Augustine is right then God™s love for us might lead Him
to permit our children to suffer and die. And this realization brings
new signi¬cance to the following lines from Lewis™s work A Grief

The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can
believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man
might be bribed “ might grow tired of his vile sport “ might have a
temporary ¬t of mercy, as alcoholics have ¬ts of sobriety. But suppose
that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are good.
The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will
go on cutting.137


Suppose that my claim that Lewis™s theory in The Problem of Pain
cannot account for certain kinds of suffering experienced by chil-
dren is correct; how damaging is this to Lewis™s overall project? In
thinking about this question, it is useful to distinguish more and less
ambitious projects that a theist might undertake. One kind of project
could be called a defense; this is the task of showing that the existence
of evil (or of a particular kind of evil) is compatible with the existence
of God.138 A more ambitious project is that of providing a theodicy;
this is the task of providing an actual (or at least plausible) explana-
tion for why God would permit evil (or a particular kind of evil). A
still more ambitious project is that of providing a complete theodicy “
providing actual (or at least plausible) explanations for all the evils
of the world.
Some of Lewis™s remarks suggest that he is engaged only in a
defense against the problem of pain. At one point he says that his
project is “to discover how, perceiving a suffering world, and being
assured, on quite different grounds, that God is good, we are to con-
ceive that goodness and that suffering without contradiction.”139
However, there is good evidence that Lewis in fact has aims that
are more ambitious than that passage suggests. For instance, when
The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

turning from the topic of moral evil to natural evil, he says that
“[e]ven 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.”140 The passage makes it clear that
Lewis intends to offer a suggestion about the actual explanation of cer-
tain kinds of suffering. Moreover, the very nature of Lewis™s solution
to the problem of pain suggests that he aims for at least a partial
theodicy; he is clearly concerned to offer a plausible account of why
God might permit the kind of suffering we actually ¬nd in the world.
There is some indication that Lewis strives even for a theodicy that
covers all suffering. For example, he offers distinct treatments of the
suffering of those in hell as well as animal suffering, recognizing that
these kinds of suffering cannot be explained in the same fashion as
earthly human suffering.141
My charge of incompleteness, if sound, shows that Lewis has
not presented a theodicy that covers all suffering; the correctness of
my criticism is compatible with Lewis having provided a successful
defense as well as a theodicy that accounts for some of the suffering
we ¬nd in the world. The charge of incompleteness does, however,
suggest a revised version of the problem of pain that has been the
focus of this chapter. Let us de¬ne non-victim-improving natural child
suffering as suffering experienced by a child that is not the result
of human free action and does not contribute at all to the genuine
happiness of the child who experiences the suffering. (As noted pre-
viously, such suffering may contribute to the genuine happiness of
someone else).

The Problem of Child Suffering

1. If God exists, then He is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally
2. If God is morally perfect, then He wants there to be no non-
victim-improving natural child suffering in the world.
3. If God is omnipotent and omniscient, then He can bring it about
that there is no non-victim-improving natural child suffering in
the world.
God and the Reach of Reason

4. So: If God is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect, then
there is no non-victim-improving natural child suffering in the
world (from 2 and 3).
5. But there is non-victim-improving natural child suffering in the
6. Therefore, God does not exist (from 1, 4, and 5).

As before, (2) and (3) are substantive premises. In this argument,
premise (5) also seems to be substantive in the sense that it is not
beyond question in the way that the original version of the premise
was. What are we to make of this argument?
We would be well advised to remember Philo™s warning 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 plau-
sible, which may not be erroneous.”142 Perhaps for some unknown
(by us) reason not even an omnipotent and omniscient God can pre-
vent all non-victim-improving natural child suffering. Lewis warns
us that we often make mistakes when it comes to determining
which things are intrinsically impossible.143 Perhaps what appears to
be non-victim-improving natural child suffering somehow, in some
fashion not conceived of by Lewis, does contribute to the child™s gen-
uine happiness after all.144 Or perhaps such suffering is connected up
with some great good in a way we cannot fathom “ a good so great
that, contrary to Ivan Karamazov™s position, it justi¬es the existence
of the suffering.145
These days, the heady dream of providing a decisive proof or dis-
proof of God™s existence “ an argument that would compel accep-
tance by any rational person who could understand it “ is widely
regarded as a mere dream. Increasingly, theists and atheists alike are
turning instead to cumulative-case arguments “ arguments that draw
on a large body of evidence and aim at showing that, all things con-
sidered, their favored position is the more reasonable one. Let us
therefore consider traditional Christianity as one position and Philo™s
atheistic hypothesis of a morally indifferent cause of the universe as
another. It seems to me that the existence of non-victim-improving
The Love of God and the Suffering of Humanity

natural child suffering, while compatible with both positions, is less
surprising on the supposition that Philo™s atheistic hypothesis is cor-
rect than it is on the supposition that traditional Christianity is cor-
rect. I think, therefore, that such suffering counts as evidence for the
atheistic hypothesis and against traditional Christianity.146
Of course, in the context of cumulative-case arguments, this
hardly settles the issue. It may be that there is evidence that supports
traditional Christianity that is suf¬cient to outweigh the evidence
against it. In order to investigate this possibility we must consider
the positive arguments Lewis offers in support of Christianity. These
arguments are the focus of the next two chapters.




According to Lewis, “a sane man accepts or rejects any statement, not
because he wants to or does not want to, but because the evidence
seems to him good or bad.”1 This statement encapsulates Lewis™s
approach to religion: Follow the evidence. The overarching project
of Lewis™s Christian writings is to make the case that the evidence
leads to Christianity. In the previous chapter, we examined Lewis™s
attempt to show that the suffering we ¬nd in the universe does not
constitute decisive evidence against the existence of God. In this
chapter and the next, we turn our attention to Lewis™s positive case
for the truth of Christianity.
It is helpful to view this case as having two main components.
The ¬rst component consists of arguments for the claim that there
is, in addition to the natural, physical universe that we perceive with
our senses, some transcendent being, a Higher Power that created the
natural universe and is “more like a mind than it is like anything else
we know.”2 Lewis™s writings suggest three main arguments for this
conclusion or something like it. As Lewis is well aware, establishing
such a conclusion does not establish the truth of Christianity, which
adds to this claim a particular conception of the nature of this Higher
Power as well as a host of additional theological and historical claims.
The second component of Lewis™s positive case for Christianity is
intended to go at least part of the way toward establishing the further
conclusion that the Higher Power is indeed the God of Christianity

Beyond Nature

and that the most important historical episode of Christianity, the
Resurrection of Christ, really occurred. The topic of the present chap-
ter is the ¬rst component of Lewis™s case for Christianity. We will
examine the second component in the next chapter.
Before we consider Lewis™s arguments for a Higher Power, we
should brie¬‚y consider his explicit rejection of a particular kind of
argument for such a Power. The type of argument Lewis rejects is
one of the oldest, most popular, and most enduring types of theistic
arguments on the market: the argument from design. Many have
thought that this type of argument is endorsed by Paul the Apostle
in these lines:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodli-
ness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the
truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because
God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his
eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been
understood and seen through the things he has made.3

A key element of the argument from design is the idea that the
observable universe has certain features that indicate intelligent
design at work in its formation. This argument comes in many vari-
eties and has had many defenders. As I mentioned in Chapter 1,
Hume has the character Cleanthes defend a version of the design
argument in the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, and that argu-
ment is subjected to scathing criticism by Philo and Demea. Lewis,
interestingly, is no friend of the design argument either. In the early
stages of Mere Christianity, he writes:

We want to know whether the universe simply happens to be what
it is for no reason or whether there is a power behind it that makes
it what it is. Since that power, if it exists, would not be one of the
observed facts but a reality which makes them, no mere observation
of the facts can ¬nd it. . . . If there was a controlling power outside the
universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the
universe “ no more than the architect of a house could actually be a
wall or staircase or ¬replace in that house.4

God and the Reach of Reason

This rejection of the design argument is fairly crude; the idea at work
in the design argument is not that the creator of the universe is some
component or aspect of the universe. Rather, the idea is that certain
components or aspects of the universe point beyond themselves and
toward a creator; they are indicators of a creator. The reasons Lewis
provides here for rejecting the argument from design may not be
particularly convincing, but the passage makes it clear that Lewis
does in fact reject that argument. He claims that a creator couldn™t
reveal itself to us by way of any observable feature of the universe,
which seems directly at odds with Paul™s claim that God™s existence
and nature can be “seen through the things he has made.”
A more reasonable concern about the design argument appears in
the opening chapter of The Problem of Pain:

If the universe is so bad . . . how on earth did human beings ever come
to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good Creator? Men are
fools, perhaps; but hardly so foolish as that. . . . The spectacle of the
universe as revealed by experience can never have been the ground
of religion: it must always have been something in spite of which
religion, acquired from a different source, was held.5

Here, Lewis appears to endorse Philo™s claim that “however consis-
tent the world may be, allowing certain suppositions and conjectures
with the idea of such a Deity, it can never afford us an inference
concerning his existence.”6 Lewis realizes that the design argument
could never lead to a good Higher Power; in fact, insofar as it tells
us anything about the moral attributes of the Higher Power at all, it
points away from a good Power. Similar ideas can be found in a letter
Lewis wrote in 1946:

The early loss of my mother, great unhappiness at school, and the
shadow of the last war and presently the experience of it, had given
me a very pessimistic view of existence. My atheism was based on
it: and it still seems to me that far the strongest card in our ene-
mies™ hand is the actual course of the world. . . . I still think the
argument from design the weakest possible ground for Theism, and
what may be called the argument from un-design the strongest for

Beyond Nature

Lewis thinks that to ¬nd evidence of a Higher Power we should
look not to the physical universe but rather to ourselves. The follow-
ing slogan captures the general thrust of Lewis™s approach: Human
nature cannot be explained by Nature alone. Lewis identi¬es three
features of human nature that point to a Higher Power: human
morality, our capacity to reason, and a kind of desire he labels “Joy.”
Each of these aspects of human nature constitutes the starting point
of a theistic argument. In thinking about these arguments, it will
be helpful to keep in mind the concept of a cumulative-case argu-
ment that I introduced at the end of the previous chapter. None of
Lewis™s arguments is intended to be a decisive proof that there is a
Higher Power; instead, Lewis strives to present a cumulative case
for the existence of a Higher Power through the combined force of
the three arguments. Robert Holyer describes Lewis™s overall strategy
this way:

On their most common construction his arguments are all attempts to
show that the theistic explanation of a certain human phenomenon
makes better sense of it than do non-theistic rivals. It is this general
argument that Lewis prosecutes in the speci¬c cases of romantic long-
ing, morality, and human reason. . . . Lewis would seem to be arguing
that these three human phenomena are most at home in the Christian
vision of things.8

We begin with the argument from morality.


2.2.1 Lewis™s Presentation of the Argument
Book One of Mere Christianity is devoted to expounding the ¬rst
of Lewis™s main arguments for a Higher Power. Some brief back-
ground about Mere Christianity will be useful before we consider the
argument. The book was developed from a series of radio talks by
Lewis that the BBC broadcast from 1942 to 1944. In the Foreword
to my edition of Mere Christianity, Kathleen Norris aptly describes the
book as “a work of oral literature, addressed to people at war.”9
One consequence of this is that Lewis™s presentation is sometimes
God and the Reach of Reason

compressed or oversimpli¬ed. We should keep this in mind when
considering Lewis™s moral argument. To provide the most charitable
interpretation of that argument we may need to ¬ll in some gaps in
Lewis™s presentation.
The moral argument is based on the existence of certain moral
phenomena. The ¬rst of these is what Lewis calls “the Law of Nature.”
When Lewis talks about the Law of Nature in this context he intends
to speak of what I call universal, objective moral truths. Consider, for
instance, the claim that it is morally wrong to torture innocent chil-
dren purely for entertainment. To label this moral claim “universal” is
to say that it applies to all normal human beings whether they know
it or not. To label this claim “objective” is to say that its truth is inde-
pendent of human emotions, beliefs, and conventions in a certain
way. For instance, the claim is not made true by the facts (if they are
facts) that (a) all or most normal humans have a certain emotional
reaction when they re¬‚ect on torturing children just for fun, (b) all or
most normal humans think such torture is wrong, or reprehensible,
or (c) torturing children just for fun is at odds with the established
customs or practices of some or all cultures. The sort of objectivity I
have in mind here might roughly be characterized as follows: Just as
it is a fact that the earth™s moon is 2,160 miles in diameter, regardless
of what anyone may think of it, similarly, child torture just for fun
is morally wrong, regardless of what anyone may think of it.
Lewis suggests not only that there are universal, objective eth-
ical facts, but also that most of us know at least some of these.10
This phenomenon of moral knowledge has at least two components
in addition to the ethical facts themselves. There is a psychologi-
cal component (our moral beliefs) and a normative component (the
warrant or justi¬cation possessed by at least some of these beliefs).
In light of Lewis™s earlier claim in connection with the design
argument that a Higher Power could not reveal itself through any
observable facts, we can infer that Lewis thinks that at least some eth-
ical facts are not known on the basis of observation. This is certainly
plausible; it seems unlikely, for instance, that we learn that tortur-
ing innocent babies just for fun is wrong by observing such torture
and perceiving the wrongness of the act by way of sense perception.
Beyond Nature

Indeed, it seems clear that we do not need to observe this sort of tor-
ture at all in order to know that it is wrong. This knowledge seems
to be an instance of a priori knowledge (knowledge that does not
depend on experience). Lewis says that “people thought that every
one knew [the Law of Nature] by nature and did not need to be
taught it. . . . And I believe they were right.”11 What does it mean
to know something “by nature”? One possibility is that Lewis means
that moral knowledge is innate knowledge, knowledge that normal
human beings possess when they are born. But a more likely possi-
bility is that Lewis means that each normal human, once she under-
stands concepts like innocence, torture, and moral wrongness, can
come to know that baby torture just for fun is wrong simply by
re¬‚ecting on the relevant concepts.12 Lewis appears to endorse this
second option in his later work Miracles: A Preliminary Study: “I believe
that the primary moral principles on which all others depend are
rationally perceived. . . . Their intrinsic reasonableness shines by its
own light.”13
Finally, there is a cluster of moral emotions associated with our
knowledge of these moral facts. Lewis speaks of “a Something which
is directing the universe, and which appears in me as a law urging
me to do right and making me feel responsible and uncomfortable
when I do wrong.”14 Lewis alludes to two feelings here, one of which
is pretty clearly guilt, and the other of which we might call a sense
of obligation “ the feeling that one must (morally speaking) perform
a certain action.
If we grant that the phenomena just described are real, how do
we move from their existence to the existence of a Higher Power?
Lewis explains the crucial transition this way:

If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show
itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe. . . . The only way in
which we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as
an in¬‚uence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way.
And that is just what we do ¬nd inside ourselves. Surely this ought to
arouse our suspicions? . . . I ¬nd that I do not exist on my own, that I
am under a law; that somebody or something wants me to behave in
a certain way.15

God and the Reach of Reason

This is one of those places where we need to ¬ll in some gaps in
Lewis™s presentation. It is tempting to put an uncharitable interpre-
tation on Lewis™s remarks here, as I think John Beversluis does in
C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion. Beversluis construes
Lewis™s argument as having the following structure: (i) If there were
a Higher Power, then it would manifest itself as an internal com-
mand urging us to behave morally; (ii) we ¬nd within ourselves
such a command; (iii) therefore, there is a Higher Power.16 As Bev-
ersluis notes, formulated this way the argument is formally invalid,
committing the fallacy of af¬rming the consequent.17
Now, intelligent people rarely commit simple logical fallacies of
this sort. Such a mistake would be particularly surprising coming
from Lewis, who received substantial training in philosophy. This
suggests to me that Beversuis probably has not formulated Lewis™s
argument correctly and that we should look for a better interpre-
tation. And, indeed, a better interpretation is available. To see the
better interpretation, consider for a moment how scienti¬c theories
come to be veri¬ed. Suppose we have some scienti¬c theory, T, which
makes predictions P1, P2, and P3. Through observation, P1 is con-
¬rmed. This is taken as evidence for the truth of T. But what sort of
reasoning is being employed here? Super¬cially, the reasoning seems
to commit the fallacy of af¬rming the consequent: (i) If T were true,
then P1 would be true; (ii) P1 is true; (iii) therefore, T is true. Are
we to conclude, then, that this commonly employed method of con-
¬rming scienti¬c theories is in fact based on a logical fallacy?
The answer, fortunately, is no, because there is a better way of
understanding what is going on here. The implicit reasoning that
is used in such cases relies on abduction, or inference to the best
explanation. The reasoning is more happily formulated this way: (i)
P1 is true; (ii) the best explanation of the truth of P1 is the truth of T;
(iii) therefore, T is true. This is a perfectly respectable and fallacy-free
form of reasoning.
With this in mind, let us return to Lewis™s argument. Let us call
the three moral phenomena upon which the argument is based
“Lewisian moral phenomena.” In light of the lesson we just learned,
it seems likely that Lewis™s moral argument relies on the following
Beyond Nature

reasoning: (i) Lewisian moral phenomena exist; (ii) the best expla-
nation of such phenomena is a Higher Power; (iii) therefore, a Higher
Power exists. Lewis also thinks that we can know some important
facts about the nature of this Higher Power. Because the Higher
Power gives us instructions via the Law of Nature, we can infer
that the Power “is more like a mind than it is like anything else
we know.”18 Furthermore, the kind of instructions the Power gives
us reveals something about its character:

[T]he Being behind the universe is intensely interested in right con-
duct “ in fair play, unsel¬shness, courage, good faith, honesty and
truthfulness. In that sense we should agree with the account given by
Christianity and some other religions, that God is ˜good™.19

In light of all this, I think that Lewis™s argument is best formulated
as follows:

Lewis™s Moral Argument

1. Lewisian moral phenomena exist.
2. The best explanation of the existence of Lewisian moral phenom-
ena is the existence of a Higher Power that created the universe.
3. So: There is a Higher Power that created the universe (from 1
and 2).
4. The Higher Power issues instructions and wants us to engage in
morally right conduct.
5. If (4), then there is a good, mindlike Higher Power that created
the universe.
6. Therefore, there is a good, mindlike Higher Power that created
the universe (from 4 and 5).

After giving this argument, Lewis notes that “[w]e have not yet got as
far as the God of any actual religion, still less the God of that particular
religion called Christianity.”20 He also makes the following comment
about his method: “We are not taking anything from the Bible or
the Churches, we are trying to see what we can ¬nd out about this
[Higher Power] on our own steam.”21 Thus, Lewis is engaged in an
exercise in natural religion.
God and the Reach of Reason

In the previous chapter we saw that in Hume™s Dialogues, Philo™s
criticism of Cleanthes™s position has two aspects or “tracks.” One
of these is the skeptical track, according to which human reason
is impotent when it comes to understanding God. In advancing a
philosophical argument for the existence of a good, mindlike Higher
Power, Lewis is implicitly attacking Philo™s skeptical track. But how
convincing is Lewis™s argument? Our discussion of this question
begins with an objection from Russell.

2.2.2 Russell™s Objection
Bertrand Russell lived for nearly one hundred years. Born in Wales
in 1872, he was twenty-six years Lewis™s senior, yet outlived Lewis
by nearly a decade, dying in Wales in 1970. Russell was an often-
harsh critic of religion in general and of Christianity in particular.
Consider, for instance, the opening lines of his 1929 essay “Has Reli-
gion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization?”: “My own view on
religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as
a source of untold misery to the human race.”22 Like Hume, Russell
drew the ire of the religious establishment as a result of his criti-
cism of religion. In the previous chapter I mentioned Hume™s being
denied a professorship at Glasgow University in 1752; Russell was
similarly denied a position at City College in New York City in 1940.
One of Russell™s more infamous essays on religion is the 1927 piece
“Why I Am Not a Christian.” There, Russell considers and rejects a
number of arguments for the existence of God, including one he calls
the moral argument. Though Russell™s essay precedes the talks upon
which Mere Christianity is based by over a decade, the moral argument
Russell considers is quite similar to Lewis™s moral argument. Russell
has this to say about the argument:

One form is to say that there would be no right or wrong unless God
existed. . . . The point I am concerned with is that, if you are quite sure
there is a difference between right and wrong, you are then in this
situation: Is that difference due to God™s ¬at [command] or is it not?
If it is due to God™s ¬at, then for God Himself there is no difference

Beyond Nature

between right and wrong, and it is no longer a signi¬cant statement
to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do,
that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some
meaning which is independent of God™s ¬at, because God™s ¬ats are
good and not bad independently of the mere fact that He made them.
If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only
through God that right and wrong come into being, but that they are
in their essence logically anterior to God.23

A key element of Russell™s argument here is a certain view about
what it takes for God to be good. Russell claims that God is good
only if “for God Himself” there is a difference between right and
wrong. The idea is that God™s goodness requires that He be subject
to morality in the sense that there are certain moral principles of
which God is not the author and which govern His actions. Russell™s
claim is:

(RC) The only way a being (even God) can be good is by conform-
ing its actions to a moral law of which it is not the author.

In Mere Christianity, Lewis maintains that God is good and is the ulti-
mate source of objective rightness and wrongness. But (RC) implies
that God cannot be both of these things together. Hence, Russell™s
objection strikes at the heart of the view about God™s relationship to
objective morality that Lewis puts forth in Mere Christianity.
In his 1943 essay “The Poison of Subjectivism,” Lewis considers
an objection that bears a striking similarity to the one presented by
Russell in the passage just quoted.24 There, he describes the view that
God is “the mere executor of a law somehow external and antecedent
to His own being” as “intolerable.”25 Thus, Lewis rejects (RC). But
this means that it is incumbent upon Lewis to provide an alternative
account of the nature of God™s goodness: How can God be good if
not by conforming to a moral law of which He is not the author?
I believe that Lewis™s writings suggest three distinct answers to this
question. We shall consider each in turn. The ¬rst answer is suggested
by Lewis™s response to the Russell-style objection in “The Poison of
Subjectivism.” The central question of that discussion is: “[H]ow is


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