. 5
( 8)


other hand, miracles are not intrinsically improbable, then the existing
evidence will be suf¬cient to convince us that quite a number of mira-
cles have occurred. The result of our historical enquiries thus depends
on the philosophical views which we have been holding before we
even began to look at the evidence. This philosophical question must
therefore come ¬rst.48

Lewis is speci¬cally concerned with Christian miracles, and he is most
concerned with the central Christian miracle, the Resurrection. The
philosophical questions he sets for himself are these: Are these mir-
acles possible? If so, putting aside the historical evidence for them,
how probable is it that they occurred? More speci¬cally, are they suf-
¬ciently probable independently of the historical evidence that when
the historical evidence is also taken into account, it is reasonable to
believe that they really occurred? The central project of Miracles is to
establish that the correct answer to this last question is yes.
Lewis de¬nes a miracle as “an interference with Nature by a super-
natural power.”49 His procedure in Miracles is to consider and criti-
cize various reasons one might have for giving the last question just
posed a negative answer. The ¬rst reason he considers is rooted in
Naturalism, according to which nothing outside of nature exists. If
Naturalism is true, then miracles are plainly impossible, as there is
no supernatural power outside of nature that could interfere with
nature. Lewis rejects this reason for doubting the Christian miracles
on the grounds that Naturalism is false, and he relies on the argument
from reason to refute Naturalism.
He next considers this position: Even if a supernatural power does
exist, nature is not the sort of thing with which such a power can
interfere. Rejecting this view involves Lewis in a discussion of the
nature of the laws of nature, the details of which need not concern
us here.50 His next target is the view that even if a supernatural
power does exist and could interfere with nature, the supernatural
power is not the sort of thing that would interfere with nature. One
God and the Reach of Reason

basis for this position is a view Lewis calls “Pantheism,” according to
which the supernatural power is entirely passive. Lewis rejects this
view primarily on the grounds that if Pantheism were true, nature
itself would not exist.51 Another basis for a noninterfering supernat-
ural power is Deism; we considered Lewis™s criticism of this view in
section 3.3.
Thus, in the ¬rst twelve chapters of Miracles, Lewis takes it that he
has established that there is an active supernatural power that might
interfere with nature and that nature is the sort of thing that could
be interfered with by such a power. Lewis then turns his attention to
Hume™s famous argument from “Of Miracles.” He begins by making a
rather Humean point himself: “Most stories about miraculous events
are probably false: if it comes to that, most stories about natural
events are false. Lies, exaggerations, misunderstandings and hearsay
make up perhaps more than half of all that is said and written in the
world.”52 Because of this, Lewis says, “[w]e must . . . ¬nd a criterion
whereby to judge any particular story of the miraculous.”53 As we
will see, the criterion Lewis arrives at stems directly from his main
criticism of Hume™s argument.
Before developing his main criticism, however, Lewis levels a
charge of circularity against Hume. He summarizes the essence of
Hume™s argument this way: “There is, in fact, ˜uniform experience™
against Miracle; otherwise, says Hume, it would not be a Miracle. A
miracle is therefore the most improbable of all events. It is always
more probable that the witnesses were lying or mistaken than that
a miracle occurred.”54 Here is the charge of circularity:

Now of course we must agree with Hume that if there is absolutely
˜uniform experience™ against miracles, if in other words they have never
happened, why then they never have. Unfortunately we know the
experience against them to be uniform only if we know that all the
reports of them are false. And we can know all the reports to be false
only if we know already that miracles have never occurred. In fact,
we are arguing in a circle.55

The crux of Lewis™s criticism is that Hume simply takes as a premise
the claim that no miracle has ever occurred. It should go without

saying that if Hume really makes such an assumption at the out-
set, it renders his argument utterly unconvincing. Does Hume do
I do not think that he does. The crucial phrase here is “universal
experience.” Lewis takes this to refer to all the experiences of every
human being who has ever lived. Interpreted in this way, Hume™s
claim is that no human who has ever lived has experienced a miracle.
And, as Lewis points out, it is hard to see how we could know this
unless we already knew that no miracle has ever occurred. However,
I do not think this is the correct way to understand Hume™s argument.
Notice how I stated the ¬rst premise of Hume™s argument:

1. For any miracle, M, our experience provides us with a (Humean)
proof that M did not occur (excluding any religious testimony
that supports the occurrence of M).

In particular, note the reference to our experience. This indicates that
the relevant experience is not that of every human who has ever lived
but rather the experiences of Hume™s audience. And Hume™s audience
is, of course, limited to people who were born long after the time
of Christ. Hume™s argument is directed toward people who have not
observed any miracles themselves. It is the experience of these people
that Hume claims provides them with a (Humean) proof that any
given miracle did not occur (putting aside religious testimony to the
contrary). Therefore, Hume is not simply assuming that no miracle
has ever occurred; rather, he is making the plausible assumption that
most readers of his essay have not directly observed any miracles
themselves. So Lewis™s ¬rst objection misses its mark.56
However, Lewis immediately offers a far more interesting objec-

The whole idea of Probability (as Hume understands it) depends on
the principle of the Uniformity of Nature. Unless Nature always goes
on in the same way, the fact that a thing had happened ten million
times would not make it a whit more probable that it would happen
again. . . . Probabilities of the kind that Hume is concerned with hold
inside the framework of an assumed Uniformity of Nature.57

God and the Reach of Reason

Lewis™s remarks here seem to be directed toward comments like the

A wise man . . . proportions his belief to the evidence. . . . He weighs
the opposite experiments. . . . A hundred instances or experiments on
one side, and ¬fty on another, afford a doubtful expectation of any
event; though a hundred uniform experiments, with only one that
is contradictory, reasonably beget a pretty strong degree of assu-

On the basis of comments like this I have attributed the following
principle to Hume:

Probability Principle: We should rate the occurrence of event A as
more probable than the occurrence of event B if and only if:
The evidence provided by our experience supports the occur-
rence of A to a greater extent than it supports the occurrence
of B.

Lewis™s point is that the Probability Principle itself relies on what he
calls the “principle of the Uniformity of Nature” according to which
“Nature always goes on in the same way.”59 Earlier, I suggested that,
according to Hume, in light of his past experience a wise man will be
extremely con¬dent in his belief that the sun will rise tomorrow. But
this con¬dence is based on the assumption that the natural universe
will continue to behave in the future as it has behaved in the past.
And this claim relies in turn on the assumption that no supernatural
power will interfere with nature and make it behave differently than
it has in the past. The observed is a reliable guide to the unobserved
only if the unobserved resembles the observed, and we can be sure
the unobserved resembles the observed only if we can be sure no
miracles occur. Thus, Lewis™s objection may be cast this way: The
Probability Principle is true only if the principle of the Uniformity
of Nature is true. And the latter principle is true only if miracles
never occur. Therefore, Hume™s argument against miracles relies on
the assumption that miracles never occur after all (though not in the
way Lewis suggests in his ¬rst objection).


Here, again, is Hume™s argument:

Hume™s Argument against Miracles

1. For any miracle, M, our experience provides us with a (Humean)
proof that M did not occur (excluding any religious testimony
that supports the occurrence of M).
2. For any religious testimony, T, to the effect that miracle M
occurred, our experience contains much evidence that T is false.
3. So: For any religious testimony, T, to the effect that miracle M
occurred, the evidence provided by our experience supports the
falsity of T to a greater extent than it supports the occurrence of
M (from 1 and 2).
4. So: For any religious testimony, T, to the effect that miracle M
occurred, we should rate the falsity of T as more likely than the
occurrence of M (from 3 and the Probability Principle).
5. Therefore, it is never reasonable to believe that miracle M
occurred solely on the basis of religious testimony T to the effect
that M occurred (from 4 and the maxim that a wise man pro-
portions his belief to the evidence).

I believe that Lewis would reject premise (4), as this is the premise
that relies on the Probability Principle. Lewis would point out that the
Probability Principle is true only if miracles never occur. Thus, Hume
ultimately begs the question posed against the Christian by simply
assuming that miracles never occur. If Hume could provide a good
argument for the uniformity of nature, he could save the argument
in “Of Miracles.” Of course, if he could do that, the argument in “Of
Miracles” would be entirely super¬‚uous.
This objection is an interesting one; however, it may be a double-
edged sword. Steve Lovell suggests that anyone who hopes to estab-
lish the occurrence of a miracle on the basis of testimony must also
assume that nature is uniform, at least to a signi¬cant degree.60 As
Hume points out, the case for miracles based on testimony relies
on “our observation of the veracity of human testimony, and of the
usual conformity of facts to the reports of witnesses.”61 If nature

God and the Reach of Reason

is not suf¬ciently uniform, however, then observations about the
veracity of human testimony tell us nothing about miracles. If nature
is not suf¬ciently uniform, past experience tells us nothing about the
unobserved; instead, anything goes.
Both parties to the debate can avoid this double-edged sword by
noting that reasoning based on past experience can be quite reliable
even if nature is not perfectly uniform; all that is required is that nature
is almost uniform.62 Perhaps anticipating this point, Lewis provides
a justi¬cation for the belief that nature is almost perfectly uniform.
The justi¬cation for this belief, he suggests, is rooted in our “sense of
the ¬tness of things”:

˜In science,™ said the late Sir Arthur Eddington, ˜we sometimes have
convictions which we cherish but cannot justify; we are in¬‚uenced
by some innate sense of the ¬tness of things™. This may sound a per-
ilously subjective and aesthetic criterion; but can one doubt that it
is a principal source of our belief in Uniformity? A universe in which
unprecedented and unpredictable events were at every moment ¬‚ung
into Nature would not merely be inconvenient to us: it would be pro-
foundly repugnant. We will not accept such a universe on any terms
whatever. It is utterly detestable to us. It shocks ˜our sense of the ¬tness
of things™.63

It simply seems right that the universe is (at least almost) uniform. But
can we have con¬dence that this feeling of rightness is a reliable guide
to the way the universe actually is? Lewis appeals to his Argument
from Reason to answer this question:

If all that exists is Nature . . . if our own deepest convictions are merely
the by-products of an irrational process, then clearly there is not the
slightest ground for supposing that our sense of ¬tness and our con-
sequent faith in uniformity tell us anything about a reality external to
ourselves. . . . If Naturalism is true we have no reason to trust our con-
viction that Nature is uniform. It can be trusted only if a quite different
Metaphysic is true. If the deepest thing in reality, the Fact which is the
source of all other facthood, is a thing in some degree like ourselves “
if it is a Rational Spirit and we derive our rationality from It “ then
indeed our conviction can be trusted.64


So we can rely on our innate sense of the ¬tness of things so long
as there is a Higher Power that “is more like a mind than it is like
anything else we know.”65 Thus, according to Lewis, we can use
knowledge of the observed to acquire knowledge of the unobserved
only if Naturalism is false.
The ¬nal element of Lewis™s response to Hume™s argument is a cri-
terion by which to judge the probability of any given miracle (inde-
pendently of the historical evidence for the miracle). Lewis says that
we must rely on our innate sense of ¬tness to evaluate the proba-
bility of a given miracle.66 The probability that a given miracle has
occurred (independently of any historical evidence for it) is directly
proportional to its level of ¬tness. If its level of ¬tness is suf¬ciently
high, the miracle may be so probable that the available historical
evidence for it renders reasonable the belief that it really happened.
In relying on “¬tness,” Lewis claims not to be doing anything new:
“Even those who think all stories of miracles absurd think some very
much more absurd than others: even those who believe them all (if
anyone does) think that some require a specially robust faith. The
criterion which both parties are using is that of ¬tness.”67
Thus, Lewis rejects the Probability Principle and, along with it, the
fourth premise of Hume™s argument. The Probability Principle directs
us to consider only past experience when assessing the probability
that a miracle has occurred. Lewis maintains that we must instead
take into account the miracle™s level of ¬tness. This may lead us to
assign a much higher probability to the miracle™s occurrence than we
would assign it if we went on past experience alone.68 It is our innate
sense of ¬tness, then, that not only allows us to know that nature is
(nearly) uniform, but also helps us identify those rare occasions on
which nature is interfered with by a Higher Power. As Lewis cleverly
puts it, “[t]heology offers you a working arrangement, which leaves
the scientist free to continue his experiments and the Christian to
continue his prayers.”69
This discussion has taken several twists and turns, so allow me to
summarize what I take to be Lewis™s most interesting objection to
Hume™s argument. The objection runs as follows: Hume™s argument

God and the Reach of Reason

against miracles requires at least the assumption that nature is almost
perfectly uniform. But we are justi¬ed in believing this assumption
only if we can trust our sense of ¬tness, and we can do this only if
there is a supernatural Higher Power that is the source of our ratio-
nality. If there is such a Power, then (contra Hume) past experience
is not the only relevant factor when it comes to determining the
probability of a given miracle. We should instead rely on our sense
of ¬tness to make this assessment. Thus: If we are justi¬ed in believ-
ing that nature is almost perfectly uniform, then Hume™s Probability
Principle is false. But if we are not justi¬ed in believing that nature is
almost uniform, then we are also not justi¬ed in accepting the Prob-
ability Principle. Therefore, either the Probability Principle is false (if
we are justi¬ed in accepting the near-uniformity of nature), or we
are not justi¬ed in accepting the principle (if we are not justi¬ed in
accepting the near-uniformity of nature). Either way, we cannot rea-
sonably rely on the Probability Principle, and hence the support for
the fourth premise of Hume™s argument is undercut. The following
argument captures the main steps of Lewis™s reasoning:

Lewis™s Objection to Hume™s Argument against Miracles

1. Either we are justi¬ed in believing that nature is almost uniform,
or we are not.
2. If we are justi¬ed in believing that nature is almost uniform, then
the Probability Principle is false.
3. If we are not justi¬ed in believing that nature is almost uniform,
then we are not justi¬ed in believing the Probability Principle.
4. So: Either the Probability Principle is false, or we are not justi¬ed
in believing it.
5. If (4), then we should not accept Hume™s fourth premise.
6. Therefore, we should not accept Hume™s fourth premise.

Lewis is not content with merely refuting Hume™s argument; he
also wants to show that the Christian miracles have high levels of
¬tness “ suf¬ciently high that, when the historical evidence is also
taken into account, it is reasonable to believe that they occurred. In
the next section we examine Lewis™s attempt to establish the ¬tness

of what he labels “the Grand Miracle” “ the Incarnation (“that God
became Man”), of which the Resurrection is a key component.70


The chapter in which Lewis attempts to establish the ¬tness of the
Incarnation is by far the longest chapter of Miracles. He begins by
appealing to the analogy introduced in his response to Hume™s Deistic
argument “ God as Author and His Creation as His Novel:

Let us suppose we possess parts of a novel. . . . Someone now brings us
a newly discovered piece of manuscript and says, ˜This is the missing
part of the work. This is the chapter on which the whole plot of the
novel really turned. . . .™ Our business would be to see whether the new
passage, if admitted to the central place which the discoverer claimed
for it, did actually illuminate all the parts we had already seen and ˜pull
them together™. . . . Something like this we must do with the doctrine of
the Incarnation. Here, instead of . . . a novel, we have the whole mass
of our knowledge. The credibility will depend on the extent to which
the doctrine, if accepted, can illuminate and integrate that whole

The passage gives us some sense of how Lewis understands ¬tness in
this context. The Incarnation is ¬t to the extent that it coheres with,
unites, and explains other things we know.
To make his case, Lewis identi¬es several (in his view) known
features of the universe and outlines their connection to the Incar-
nation. These features are: (i) the “composite existence” of human
beings,72 (ii) descent and re-ascent, (iii) “Selectiveness,” (iv) “Vicar-
iousness,” (v) that humans ¬nd dirty jokes funny, and (vi) that
humans ¬nd the dead uncanny. Let us brie¬‚y consider each of these
in turn.
In speaking of the “composite existence” of human beings Lewis is
referring to his view that human beings have a supernatural compo-
nent as well as a natural component. The natural component is the
physical body; the supernatural component is the part that is capa-
ble of having knowledge. That humans are composite in this way is
entailed by Lewis™s argument from reason. The connection between
God and the Reach of Reason

our composite existence and the Incarnation is fairly straightforward.
The Incarnation involves a special kind of union between the super-
natural and the natural, but something like this union takes place in
the case of every ordinary human being. As Lewis puts it, our own
composite existence is “a faint image of the Divine Incarnation itself “
the same theme in a very minor key.”73
Lewis sees descent and re-ascent at the heart of the Incarnation.
According to that doctrine, God descends “from the heights of abso-
lute being” down to earth, “down to the very roots and seabed of the
Nature He has created.”74 The point of the descent is to bring human-
ity (and, in fact, all of nature) back up with Him, to make humanity
and nature into something far better than they were before. Lewis
claims that this same pattern can be found throughout nature, that it
is “written all over the world.”75 The Incarnation offers a tidy expla-
nation for the universality of this pattern: “The pattern is there in
Nature because it was ¬rst there in God.”76 As examples of this pat-
tern, he mentions vegetable and animal reproduction (e.g., the seed
falls to the ground and then grows upward) and “our moral and
emotional life” (our initial spontaneous desires must be controlled
or killed, and from there we can ascend to virtue).77
“Selectiveness” manifests itself in the Incarnation by God™s selec-
tion, out of all of humanity, of a tiny group of people to be directly
involved in the Incarnation itself. A particular woman is selected to
be the mother of God the Son; a small group of men are chosen to
be His disciples.78 Again, Lewis says, we ¬nd the same pattern in
nature. Out of the vastness of space, only a tiny portion contains
matter. Of the zillions of stars, only a relatively small number have
planets. Of the planets in our solar system, just one supports life. Of
the many species of life on our planet, just one can reason. Of the
many humans, only a few “attain excellence of beauty, strength, or
In speaking of “Vicariousness” in the Incarnation, Lewis is refer-
ring to Christ suffering for the sins of humanity; Christ, in a sense,
takes the place of humanity. Lewis claims that this is also “a character-
istic of Nature.”80 Vicariousness exhibits itself in Nature primarily in
the form of interdependency: “Everything is indebted to everything

else, sacri¬ced to everything else, dependent on everything else.”81
I am reminded here of the concept of a food chain about which I
learned in middle school; each creature in the chain depends for
its sustenance on creatures below it in the chain. Lewis speci¬cally
mentions the interdependency between bees and ¬‚owers, parasite
and host, and mother and unborn child.82
To this point we have examined four themes that, according to
Lewis, can be found both in the Incarnation and in nature. Thus,
Lewis™s case for the ¬tness of the Incarnation so far is rooted in com-
mon themes. The relationship between the two remaining features
of the universe Lewis considers and the Incarnation is somewhat
different; here the idea seems to be that the Christian view of the
universe, of which the Incarnation is a central element, explains the
features in question.
Let us start with dirty jokes. Lewis™s case for a connection between
Christianity and dirty jokes is, to my way of thinking, one of his
more ingenious contributions to the history of ideas. The key to this
connection is the Fall of Man (which, while distinct from the Incar-
nation, prepares the way for it). According to Lewis™s account of the
Fall, one of its consequences was a loss of control by humans over
their desires: “And desires began to come up into the mind of man,
not as his reason chose, but just as the biochemical and environ-
mental facts happened to cause them.”83 Among these is, of course,
sexual desire, which seems to be among the least controllable of our
various desires. Our inability to control sexual desire leads to various
incongruities, many of which are downright hilarious. Any male who
has gone through puberty is familiar with the phenomenon of the
uncontrollable (and often unprovoked) erection. Such events often
occur at the most inopportune times, as when, say, one is asked to
come up to the front of the class to complete a math problem on the
chalkboard. It is the incongruity, the juxtaposition of sophisticated,
noble intellect and uncontrollable, base desire that leads to humor.
Imagine a math whiz asked to approach the board and solve a calcu-
lus problem that is entirely within his intellectual capacity rendered
unable to do so by his stubborn, erect member, and you should get a
sense of what Lewis has in mind here. Through the Fall of Man, the
God and the Reach of Reason

dirty joke is born; because of the Fall, we (correctly) ¬nd ourselves
to be ridiculous.
Another consequence of the Fall is that it makes death possible.
In death the two components of the composite human being (super-
natural and natural) separate, leaving behind a lifeless corpse. The
Fall corrupted nature, and the existence of corpses is both an aspect
and a reminder of this corruption. This, according to Lewis, is why
we ¬nd corpses to be unnerving, unnatural, uncanny.
This completes Lewis™s case for the ¬tness of the Incarnation. It also
completes the central argument of Miracles. It is important to keep in
mind that Lewis does not see his central argument as by itself making
it reasonable to believe that the Incarnation occurred. Instead, Lewis
seeks to complete the preliminary philosophical project of estab-
lishing that our sense of ¬tness shows us that the probability that
the Incarnation occurred is suf¬ciently high that when the historical
evidence is also taken into account, it is reasonable to conclude that the
Incarnation really happened.84
In arriving at this conclusion, Lewis has, if his argument is suc-
cessful, refuted Naturalism, Pantheism, Deism, and Hume™s in¬‚uen-
tial argument that it is never reasonable to believe that a miracle
has occurred on the basis of religious testimony alone. Success in all
these tasks would render Miracles a remarkably signi¬cant work of
philosophy. Whether Lewis has succeeded in all of them is the topic
of the next section.


The most signi¬cant weakness I see in Lewis™s argument is his claim
that we are justi¬ed in believing that nature is (almost) uniform
only if there is a supernatural Higher Power that is the source of
our rationality. The weakness of the claim lies in the fact that either
it is a mere assertion or it depends on the argument from reason,
which, as I argued in the previous chapter, is not decisive. With this
claim unsupported, Lewis™s case against the Probability Principle falls
apart. It is clear enough that we all know that nature is at least nearly
uniform; how we know this is an interesting philosophical question,

but Lewis has not established that this knowledge requires a Higher
Power outside of nature.
Despite this weakness, Lewis has identi¬ed a signi¬cant short-
coming in Hume™s main argument against miracles. To see this, it
will be helpful to consider some areas of agreement between Hume
and Lewis and look at precisely where they part ways. I believe that
both writers would maintain that, in light of the general unrelia-
bility of religious testimony concerning miracles, our initial, default
attitude toward such testimony, prior to any serious investigation,
should be one of skepticism. That Hume holds such a view should
be uncontroversial; I attribute it to Lewis as well, primarily on the
basis of remarks like this one: “Most stories about miraculous events
are probably false: if it comes to that, most stories about natural
events are false. Lies, exaggerations, misunderstandings and hearsay
make up perhaps more than half of all that is said and written in the
We ¬nd ourselves confronted with a mind-boggling array of tes-
timony concerning miraculous events. Hume and Lewis agree that
we know that at best a tiny fraction of these accounts are true. How
on earth are we supposed to ¬nd the needle of truth in this haystack
of falsity? Hume™s answer is that we cannot. Even if some of these
accounts are true, because all we have to go on is experience, we
could never reasonably conclude of a particular account that it is
true. Lewis™s answer is that we can ¬nd the truth by relying on our
sense of ¬tness. Some of these alleged miracles simply make more
sense than others; some of them make enough sense that the histor-
ical evidence together with their ¬tness makes it reasonable for us
to conclude that they really happened. The Resurrection of Christ is
a good candidate for such a miracle.86 As Lewis puts it, “[w]hatever
men may say, no one really thinks that the Christian doctrine of the
Resurrection is exactly on the same level with some pious tittle-tattle
about how Mother Egaree Louise miraculously found her second best
thimble by the aid of St Anthony.”87
Who is right? The answer is that it depends. If we had a good
philosophical argument for the existence of a Higher Power outside
of nature, and it could be shown that it was plausible that this Higher
God and the Reach of Reason

Power could and would intervene in nature in a particular way, then
it seems possible that these considerations could make it reasonable
to believe that such intervention had actually occurred, if the right
sort of historical evidence were also available.88 If this is right, then
Hume™s case against miracles implicitly depends on the assumption
that we have no such argument. In a nutshell, Lewis has not shown
that the Probability Principle is false, but Hume is not warranted in
taking it to be obviously true.
An interesting question here is whether Hume himself thought
that his argument against miracles implicitly depends on the claim
that there is no good argument for the existence of a Higher Power.
Terence Penelhum suggests that he did not: “The fact that [Hume]
presents [the argument against miracles] before he enters any dis-
cussion of natural theology indicates that he considers [the argument
against miracles] to be decisive even if some form of natural theology
has been agreed to be successful.”89 Evidence that Penelhum is right
about this can be found toward the end of Hume™s essay itself:

Though the Being to whom the miracle is ascribed, be . . . Almighty,
[the alleged miracle] does not, upon that account, become a whit
more probable; since it is impossible for us to know the attributes or
actions of such a Being, otherwise than from the experience which we
have of his productions, in the usual course of nature. This still reduces
us to past observation, and obliges us to compare the instances of the
violation of truth in the testimony of men, with those of the violation
of the laws of nature by miracles, in order to judge which of them is
more likely and probable.90

Hume claims that even if we somehow knew that an omnipotent
supernatural power existed, the argument against miracles would
succeed because we would still have to rely on past experience alone
to assess the likelihood that a given piece of religious testimony in
support of a miracle was true. On this particular point Hume seems
to be mistaken, as Lewis has shown.91
In any case, an important conclusion from all of this is that neither
Hume™s argument in “Of Miracles” nor Lewis™s case for the ¬tness of
the Incarnation sketched in the previous section can stand on its
own. Lewis™s case for ¬tness must rest on a suf¬ciently convincing

argument for the existence of a Higher Power, whereas Hume™s argu-
ment against miracles depends on the claim that there is no such
argument. Without such an argument we are left with experience as
our only guide, and I think Hume™s argument establishes at least this
much: If experience is our only guide, then it is not reasonable to infer
that the Christian account of Christ™s Resurrection is correct on the
basis of the testimony in its favor.
This result has implications for Lewis™s famous “Trilemma.” One
version of the Trilemma appears in Mere Christianity:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said
would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic . . . or
else he would be the Devil of Hell. . . . Now it seems to me obvious
that He was neither a lunatic nor a ¬end: and consequently, however
strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view
that He was and is God.92
The opening line of the passage indicates that the Trilemma is a reac-
tion to the view that Jesus was not divine but was a great moral
teacher, a view held by, among others, Thomas Jefferson, the author
of the Declaration of Independence and founder of the U.S. Repub-
lican Party.93 The Trilemma goes like this: Christ was (a) insane, (b)
evil, or (c) God. But Christ was neither (a) nor (b); therefore, He
was (c).
There are two important things to see about the Trilemma. The
¬rst is that it rests on a comparison of the plausibility of various pos-
sible explanations of the available historical evidence about Christ.
Lewis™s position is that (c) is the most plausible of the three possible
explanations of the historical evidence and hence should be accepted.
The second (and related) point to see here is that (a), (b), and (c)
do not exhaust all of the logically possible explanations. In fact, it
is far from clear that they exhaust all the plausible explanations; it
has been argued, for example, that another plausible explanation
is that Christ mistakenly but sanely believed himself to be divine.94
Here is another explanation that is at least logically possible: At some
point during his life, Christ was replaced by a robot duplicate cre-
ated by extremely technologically advanced aliens. In fact, the aliens
made two identical robots. After the Cruci¬xion and while the ¬rst
God and the Reach of Reason

robot was lying inert in the tomb, the aliens teleported in, replaced
the inert robot with a functional one, and teleported out. Later, the
functional robot emerged from the tomb, walked around on earth
for some period of time, encountered various acquaintances of Christ
who believed the robot to be Christ, and later ¬‚oated into the sky,
whereupon, after vanishing from sight, it was either retrieved by the
aliens or self-destructed.
These observations about the Trilemma suggest two strategies for
resisting it. First, one might accept that (a), (b), and (c) are the
only options on the table, but argue that (c) is not the most plau-
sible option. An example of this strategy is the atheist™s trilemma:
Christ was mad, bad, or God; he wasn™t God or the devil, so he must
have been mad. Psychiatrists have in fact proffered proposals along
these lines. For instance, one psychiatrist has recently and tentatively
suggested that Jesus might have “had a latent homosexual ¬xation
as the result of a negative Oedipus complex.”95 Second, one might
deny that we are faced with a Trilemma at all; perhaps we should
say that Christ was mad, bad, God, mistaken but sane, or an alien
The second strategy makes it clear that the Trilemma works only if
lots of logically possible alternatives can be excluded. Let us consider
three logically possible options, two of which it seems reasonable to
put on the table at least initially, the third of which can be excluded
from the start. Lewis takes the possibilities of Christ being insane
or a liar seriously enough to include them in the Trilemma; what
gets them onto the table? The answer seems to be: experience. Our
common experience contains plenty of liars and lunatics, particularly
in the context of religion. All of us, believer and nonbeliever alike,
surely recognize that there is an abundance of religious nuts and
shysters out there. Next, consider the alien robot option. Even after
it occurs to us, we (rightly, I think) are reluctant to take it seriously.
Why is this? Again, a big part of the answer seems to be experi-
ence. Our common experience contains nothing like the alien robot
scenario, and so we are inclined to think, reasonably, that the uni-
verse just doesn™t work that way. Because of this, the alien robot option


cannot get onto the table of plausible explanations unless there is
some independent evidence in its favor.
A challenge for supporters of Lewis™s Trilemma is that the Christian
explanation of the historical evidence about the life and death of
Christ (the God option) is much more like the alien robot option
than it is like the liar or lunatic option in that our experience tells
against it. If your experience is anything like mine, it includes a
fascinating panoply of liars and lunatics, but no gods or aliens. Thus,
the God option can get onto the table of plausible explanations only
if there is some independent evidence in its favor.
I believe that Lewis recognized this point. Lewis™s presentation of
the Trilemma in Mere Christianity follows his moral argument and his
criticism of Dualism. He brie¬‚y mentions the Trilemma in Miracles,
but only very late in his overall argument.96 A rudimentary version
of the argument appears in the introductory chapter of The Problem of
Pain, where it is presented as a Dilemma (mad and bad are collapsed
into a single possibility).97 It appears there as a fourth “strand” of
Christianity; earlier strands involve the recognition of a great being
or spirit that is a source of awe and of morality. We see, therefore,
that while the Trilemma makes an appearance in each of Lewis™s
three main books of Christian apologetics, it never appears at the
start of his effort to establish the rationality of Christian belief. Why
not simply introduce the Trilemma right off the bat? The answer, I
think, is that Lewis saw that without the right sort of philosophical
foundation, the Trilemma is roughly as convincing as this argument:
Christ was a lunatic, a liar, or an alien robot; since he was not a
lunatic or a liar, he must have been an alien robot.
Where does all of this leave us? Hume was right in thinking that
experience presents a formidable obstacle to any historical case for
the Resurrection of Christ, but wrong in thinking that experience
presents an insurmountable obstacle to such a case. Lewis correctly
saw that the historical case could succeed despite Hume™s argument “
but only if an adequate philosophical foundation for such a case could
be established. His shortcoming, in my view, is that he was unable
to provide such a foundation.

God and the Reach of Reason


I have argued that Lewis™s proposed solution to the problem of pain
is incomplete, that his cumulative case for the existence of a Higher
Power is, overall, not terribly weighty, and that (consequently) his
effort to establish an adequate philosophical foundation for a histor-
ical case for the Resurrection of Christ fails. However, the arguments
we have considered leave us with puzzles for atheist and Christian
alike. The most challenging puzzle for the atheist that has emerged
in the preceding discussion is accounting for the emergence of inten-
tionality, whereas the most challenging puzzle for the Christian that
has emerged is accounting for the presence of non-victim-improving
natural child suffering in the world.
In the fourth and ¬nal chapter we turn to the relationship between
faith and reason, the argument from design, and the nature of true
religion. In examining these topics we will ¬nd some surprising areas
of agreement among our three thinkers. For all their differences,
they share some important common ground. And if C. S. Lewis,
David Hume, and Bertrand Russell all accept a certain proposition,
we ought to take that proposition quite seriously indeed.




The discussion to this point has focused primarily on areas of dis-
agreement among Lewis, Hume, and Russell. The present chapter is
devoted to an examination of some areas of agreement among the
three thinkers. In particular, we will focus on the nature of faith, the
status of arguments from design, and the nature of true religion. We
will see that the things about which the three agree are fundamental
and sometimes surprising.


4.2.1 Lewis and Russell on Faith
Faith is often contrasted with reason. The popular expression “taking
a leap of faith” expresses this idea; the leap alluded to is a leap beyond
what can be established by reason and evidence.1 The contemporary
humanist and Russell scholar A. C. Grayling succinctly summarizes
this popular view:

Faith is a negation of reason. Reason is the faculty of proportioning
judgment to evidence, after ¬rst weighing the evidence. Faith is belief
even in the face of contrary evidence. Soren Kierkegaard de¬ned faith
as the leap taken despite everything, despite the very absurdity of what
one is asked to believe.2

God and the Reach of Reason

A famous remark by Tertullian, an early Christian thinker, illustrates
this conception of faith in action: “The Son of God died; it must needs
be believed because it is absurd. He was buried and rose again; it is
certain because it is impossible.”3 On this view, believing something
“on faith” is an irrational activity. Russell saw faith as irrational in this
way: “I think faith is a vice, because faith means believing a proposi-
tion when there is no good reason for believing it. That may be taken
as a de¬nition of faith.”4 Seeing faith as a vice, Russell sought the
opposed virtue, which he referred to by a variety of names, including
“veracity,” “truthfulness,” and “intellectual integrity.” He character-
izes this virtue as “the habit of deciding vexed questions in accor-
dance with the evidence, or of leaving them undecided where the
evidence is inconclusive.”5 Russell shows particular scorn for those
who argue that certain propositions ought to be believed not because
they are true or supported by the preponderance of the evidence but
for some other reason, for instance, that widespread acceptance of
such propositions will have good consequences:

As soon as it is held that any belief, no matter what, is important for
some other reason than that it is true, a whole host of evils is ready to
spring up. Discouragement of inquiry . . . is the ¬rst of these, but others
are pretty sure to follow. . . . Sooner or later unorthodoxy will come to
be considered a crime to be dealt with by the stake, the purge, or the
concentration camp. I can respect the men who argue that religion is
true and therefore ought to be believed, but I can only feel profound
moral reprobation for those who say that religion ought to be believed
because it is useful, and that to ask whether it is true is a waste of time.6

Elsewhere Russell offers further reasons why veracity should be
inculcated and faith discouraged. He maintains that knowledge is
one of two essential ingredients in a good human life (the other
being love), and surely veracity is more likely to lead to knowledge
than faith.7 One of Russell™s most extended discussions of veracity
appears in his 1944 essay “The Value of Free Thought.” There, he
characterizes the free thinker (who possesses the virtue of veracity)
as someone who is free from the force of tradition and “the tyranny of
his own passions” when it comes to belief formation.8 Russell writes:

Faith, Design, and True Religion

“He will not bow to the authority of others, and he will not bow
to his own desires, but he will submit to the evidence.”9 A citizenry
of free thinkers will avoid being subject to a tyrannical government,
says Russell, and individual free thinkers will avoid a certain kind
of intellectual cowardice “ namely, that of believing certain claims
despite a lack of evidence because one is too afraid to face the prospect
that such claims are false.10 Thus, a free thinker is not someone who
simply believes whatever he happens to feel like believing, free to
change his beliefs on a whim. He is free in that he is free from all
in¬‚uences save one: the evidence.
Lewis is in complete agreement with Russell when it comes to
the importance of regulating one™s beliefs in accordance with the

Obviously . . . 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. If he were mistaken about the goodness or badness
of the evidence that would not mean he was a bad man, but only that
he was not very clever. And if he thought the evidence bad but tried to
force himself to believe in spite of it, that would be merely stupid. . . . I
am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells
him that the weight of the evidence is against it.11

Lewis also shares Russell™s disdain for advocating the acceptance of
propositions not because they are true but for some other reason,
going so far as to make the method one of the tools of the devil Screw-
tape in The Screwtape Letters: “The great thing is to make him value
an opinion for some quality other than truth, thus introducing an
element of dishonesty and make-believe.”12 Elsewhere Lewis warns
against “foolish preachers” who are “always telling you how much
Christianity will help you and how good it is for society,” whereas
“if Christianity is untrue, then no honest man will want to believe
it,” and “if it is true, every honest man will want to believe it, even
if it gives him no help at all.”13
Given Lewis™s agreement with Russell on these points, Lewis must
either accept Russell™s view that faith is a vice or reject the view that
faith requires believing what is unsupported by the evidence. Lewis

God and the Reach of Reason

takes the second option, claiming that “faith is based on reason.”14
He de¬nes faith as “the art of holding on to things your reason has
once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.”15 He offers the
following example to illustrate how a mood can overpower reason
and alter a person™s beliefs:

[M]y reason is perfectly convinced by good evidence that anaesthetics
do not smother me and that properly trained surgeons do not start
operating until I am unconscious. But that does not alter the fact that
when they have me down on the table and clap their horrible mask
over my face, a mere childish panic begins inside me. I start thinking
I am going to choke, and I am afraid that they will start cutting me
up before I am properly under. In other words, I lose my faith in

A crucial feature of the example is that the beliefs about suffocating
and being cut while still conscious are not based on any new evidence
that has come to light; the new beliefs are produced by emotions that
are not rooted in evidence. Faith is the virtue that prevents this sort
of thing; on Lewis™s account, “[t]he battle is between faith and reason
on one side and emotion and imagination on the other.”17
Russell and Lewis both recognized an important fact about human
beings: We are not purely rational belief-forming machines. We are
susceptible to a variety of emotions, and these emotions in¬‚uence
everything from our actions to our health to our beliefs. Lewis puts
the point this way:

[T]hough Reason is divine, human reasoners are not. When once pas-
sion takes a part in the game, the human reason, unassisted by Grace,
has about as much chance of retaining its hold on truths already gained
as a snow¬‚ake has of retaining its consistency in the mouth of a blast

Russell and Lewis lamented this feature of human nature. Lewis
lamented it because it makes possible a whole slew of attacks on
Christian belief that cannot be effectively countered merely by the
use of reason. In Lewis™s view, the evidence favors Christianity. But
because human beings cannot be counted on to believe in accor-
dance with the evidence, merely showcasing the evidence is not,
Faith, Design, and True Religion

by itself, suf¬cient for conversion, or for the preservation of belief in
the already converted. Lewis remarks: “[I]f you examined a hundred
people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many
of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest
argument? Do not most people simply drift away?”19 This view is also
evident in The Screwtape Letters, where Screwtape routinely encour-
ages his nephew Wormwood to focus his efforts on exploiting the
emotions of the “patient” he is trying to draw away from Christian-
ity. The third sentence of Screwtape™s ¬rst letter to Wormwood is this
sarcastic remark: “It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the
way to keep him out of the Enemy™s [God™s] clutches.”20 And the
letter ends like this: “Do remember that you are there to fuddle him.
From the way some of you young ¬ends talk, anyone would suppose
it was our job to teach!”21
Russell thought that the evidence did not point toward Chris-
tianity. He lamented the in¬‚uence of emotions on belief formation
because he thought that such emotions, primarily fear, were the main
causes of belief in harmful superstitions, including Christianity:

Religion is based . . . primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the
terror of the unknown and partly . . . the wish to feel that you have a
kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and
disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing “ fear of the mysterious,
fear of defeat, fear of death.22

Russell and Lewis agreed that one ought to follow the evidence when
it comes to forming one™s beliefs, though they disagreed about where
the evidence leads when it comes to Christianity. And both saw
human emotion as among the primary obstacles to forming one™s
beliefs properly. This is why the capacity to resist such emotions is
so important. Note the striking similarity between the following pair
of passages. The ¬rst is from Mere Christianity:

[M]oods will change, whatever view your reason takes. . . . That is why
Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods ˜where
they get off™, you can never be either a sound Christian or even a
sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs
really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion.23

God and the Reach of Reason

The second is from Russell™s 1930 essay “The Sense of Sin”:

Men must not allow themselves to be swayed by their moods, believing
one thing at one moment and another at another. . . . Do not be content
with an alternation between moments of rationality and moments of
irrationality. Look into the irrationality closely with a determination
not to respect it, and not to let it dominate you. . . . Do not allow your-
self to remain a vacillating creature, swayed half by reason and half
by infantile folly.24

4.2.2 Christian Obstinacy
John Beversluis would reject the interpretation of Lewis™s views on
following the evidence that I have just given. He writes: “[I]t would
seem that Lewis™s concept of rational religion requires that we pro-
portion our beliefs to the state of the evidence at any given time. In
fact, however, this was not his view.”25 Beversluis bases this claim
primarily on Lewis™s 1955 essay “On Obstinacy in Belief,” alleging
that Lewis there endorses a signi¬cant quali¬cation to the view he
puts forth in Mere Christianity. However, I think that a careful reading
of the later essay reveals that it is perfectly consistent with Lewis™s
earlier view.
In “On Obstinacy in Belief,” Lewis distinguishes “the way in which
a Christian ¬rst assents to certain propositions” from “the way in
which he afterwards adheres to them.”26 He never explicitly iden-
ti¬es the propositions he has in mind, but the ensuing discussion
suggests that the proposition that the Christian God exists is among
them. Here is a passage that seems to be at odds with the view I
ascribed to Lewis in the previous section:

But we have now to consider something quite different; their [Chris-
tians™] adherence to their belief after it has once been formed. It is here
that the charge of irrationality and resistance to evidence becomes
really important. For it must be admitted at once that Christians do
praise such an adherence as if it were meritorious; and even, in a
sense, more meritorious the stronger the apparent evidence against
their faith becomes.27

Faith, Design, and True Religion

It certainly looks as if Lewis is suggesting that his general rule that
one should believe in accordance with the evidence admits of one
exception: Once one becomes a Christian, one should no longer be-
lieve in accordance with the evidence when it comes to Christianity
itself. Rather, one should continue to believe Christianity regardless of
the evidence against it. If this interpretation is correct, Lewis has made
a radical break with his view in Mere Christianity that “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.”28 In
the later essay, is Lewis suggesting that Christians ought to indulge
in a kind of insanity?
I have already made it clear that I think an interpretation of the
later essay that does not force us to this conclusion is available. The
time has come for me to provide this interpretation. It will turn out, I
think, that what Lewis calls “Christian obstinacy” is perfectly in line
with the general rule that one should believe in accordance with the
evidence at all times.29 To see this, we must examine two examples
Lewis discusses in “On Obstinacy in Belief.”
One of the examples is described in these lines:

It is one thing to ask in vacuo whether So-and-So will join us tonight,
and another to discuss this when So-and-So™s honour is pledged to
come and some great matter depends on his coming. In the ¬rst case
it would be merely reasonable, as the clock ticked on, to expect him
less and less. In the second, a continued expectation far into the night
would be due to our friend™s character if we had found him reliable
before. Which of us would not feel slightly ashamed if, one moment
after we had given him up, he arrived with a full explanation of his
delay? We should feel that we ought to have known him better.30

In this example, the increasing lateness of the hour constitutes grow-
ing evidence against the proposition that So-and-So will arrive. Yet,
Lewis suggests, we should adhere to our belief that he will arrive.
Why? One way of understanding the passage is that Lewis is suggest-
ing that we ought to persist in believing that So-and-So will arrive
despite the fact that, on balance, the evidence tells against it. But a
careful reading of the passage reveals that this is not what Lewis has

God and the Reach of Reason

in mind. Notice the last line. The case Lewis describes is one in which
we know something about So-and-So™s character. Lewis™s idea is that
by abandoning our belief that So-and-So will arrive because of the
lateness of the hour, we would be failing to give suf¬cient weight
to another piece of evidence at our disposal, namely, the nature of
So-and-So™s character. The lateness of the hour is merely a part of the
evidence, not all of it. Adherence to the belief that So-and-So will
arrive is required by the rule that one should believe in accordance
with the total available evidence. Our acquaintance with So-and-So
provides us with evidence that we would not otherwise have, and
this evidence makes all the difference. The relevance of this exam-
ple to Christian obstinacy is that Lewis thinks that Christians know
something about God™s character:

For it seems to us . . . that we have something like a knowledge-by-
acquaintance of the Person we believe in, however imperfect and
intermittent it may be. We trust not because “a God” exists, but because
this God exists. Or if we ourselves dare not claim to “know” Him, Chris-
tendom does, and we trust at least some of its representatives in the
same way: because of the sort of people they are.31

The idea is that Christians ought to adhere to belief in the God of
Christianity in the face of certain kinds of evidence against that belief
because they have access to additional evidence such that, on bal-
ance, adhering to Christian belief is required by the rule that one
should believe in accordance with the evidence. This adherence is
meritorious not because it involves believing contrary to the avail-
able evidence, but rather because it is based on a not-easily-achieved
insight into the nature of God™s character.
So far not much has been said about what kind of evidence against
the Christian God™s existence Lewis has in mind. A second example
discussed by Lewis sheds light on this issue:

There are times when we can do all that a fellow creature needs if
only he will trust us. In getting a dog out of a trap, in extracting a
thorn from a child™s ¬nger, in teaching a boy to swim or rescuing one
who can™t, in getting a frightened beginner over a nasty place on a
mountain, the one fatal obstacle may be their distrust. We are asking

Faith, Design, and True Religion

them to trust us in the teeth of their senses, their imagination, and their
intelligence. We ask them to believe that what is painful will relieve
their pain and that what looks dangerous is their only safety. We ask
them to accept apparent impossibilities: that moving the paw farther
back into the trap is the way to get it out “ that hurting the ¬nger very
much more will stop the ¬nger hurting [etc.].32

It is no accident that these examples all involve pain, danger, and/or
fear. I think that these are precisely the kinds of cases Lewis has in
mind when he speaks of encountering apparent evidence against
Christianity. In short, Lewis is thinking here primarily of suffering as
apparent evidence against the existence of the Christian God. Lewis
connects the examples in the passage I just quoted with Christian
obstinacy as follows:

Now to accept the Christian proposition is ipso facto to believe that
we are to God, always, as that dog or child or bather or mountain
climber was to us, only very much more so. . . . If human life is in fact
ordered by a bene¬cent being whose knowledge of our real needs and
of the way in which they can be satis¬ed in¬nitely exceeds our own,
we must expect a priori that His operations will often appear to us
far from bene¬cent and far from wise, and that it will be our highest
prudence to give Him our con¬dence in spite of this.33

Christianity, properly understood, implies that there will be suffering
in the world for which there is no apparent explanation. Christianity
includes the proposition that there is an enormous gap between the
cognitive abilities and knowledge of human beings and those of God.
The truth in the saying that “God works in mysterious ways” is that
God sometimes works in ways that are mysterious to us “ just as, for
instance, our efforts to move the dog™s paw further into the trap may
be quite mysterious (or downright alarming!) to the dog. As Daniel
Howard-Snyder puts it, “[w]hen God is in the dock . . . we cannot
presume to know quite well the sorts of reasons that he would be
privy to.”34
If Christianity implies that there will be suffering for which there
is no apparent explanation, it follows that the presence of suffer-
ing with no apparent explanation is not really genuine evidence
against Christianity at all.35 If we think of Christianity as a theory,
God and the Reach of Reason

then we can put the point this way: Christianity predicts that the
world will contain suffering for which there is no obvious explana-
tion. So the presence of such suffering hardly constitutes evidence
against the theory. In his discussion of Christian obstinacy Lewis
very often (but not always) speaks of obstinacy in the face of appar-
ent evidence against Christianity. For example, when ¬rst describing
Christian obstinacy he says that it is “more meritorious the stronger
the apparent evidence against their faith becomes.”36 I think it is
no accident that Lewis often includes this quali¬cation. His view is
that suffering with no obvious explanation may seem to be evidence
against Christianity, but a fuller understanding reveals that it is not
genuine evidence against Christianity.
It is worth revisiting the discussion of the problem of pain from
Chapter 1 in light of this point. At the end of Chapter 1, I suggested
that in The Problem of Pain Lewis fails to provide a plausible expla-
nation for the existence of non-victim-improving natural child suffering,
which is suffering experienced by a child that is not the result of
human free action and does not contribute at all to the genuine hap-
piness of the child who experiences the suffering. I suggested that the
presence in our world of such suffering constitutes evidence against
the existence of the God of traditional Christianity. But such suffering
is suffering for which there is no apparent justi¬cation. Does it fol-
low from Lewis™s position on Christian obstinacy that such suffering
is not evidence against Christianity after all?
I think not, and the following simple example should illustrate
why. Imagine a scienti¬c theory that predicts both that (i) there are
spherical objects and that (ii) there are no blue objects. Suppose we
encounter a blue sphere and offer this as evidence against the theory.
It is no good for a defender of the theory to point out that the theory
predicts the existence of spheres and that because the putative evi-
dence against the theory is a sphere it does not constitute genuine
evidence against the theory at all. This defense of the theory fails
because the object in question is also blue, and it is its blueness that
makes it evidence against the theory.
Consider an instance of suffering that both (i) has no appar-
ent explanation and (ii) is non-victim-improving natural child
Faith, Design, and True Religion

suffering. If someone were to suggest that such an instance of suffer-
ing is evidence against Christianity in virtue of being suffering that
has no apparent explanation, then the Lewisian point that Chris-
tianity predicts suffering with this feature is both relevant and
effective.37 But I am suggesting that such suffering constitutes evi-
dence against Christianity in virtue of being a case of non-victim-
improving natural child suffering. The Lewisian point does not apply
to this claim; arguing that such suffering does not constitute gen-
uine evidence against Christianity because it is suffering that has no
apparent explanation is no more sensible than arguing that the blue
sphere does not constitute evidence against the scienti¬c theory just
discussed because it is a sphere. So I am inclined to stick to my initial
contention that the fact (if it is a fact) that our world contains non-
victim-improving natural child suffering is evidence against Chris-
tianity. The gap between the cognitive abilities of human beings and
God posited by Christianity may prevent the presence of non-victim-
improving natural child suffering from being decisive evidence against
Christianity, but it does not prevent it from being evidence against
In any case, Christian obstinacy is perfectly consistent with the
rule that one should believe in accordance with all the available
evidence. Lewis offers two distinct arguments that support this posi-
tion. First, the Christian will take the nature of God™s character into
account when assessing the relevant evidence for and against Chris-
tianity. This evidence will often be suf¬cient to tip the scales in favor
of Christianity despite the presence of evidence against it. Second,
the Christian will realize that certain features of the world (e.g., that
there is suffering that has no obvious explanation) that may on their
face appear to be evidence against Christianity are not in fact evi-
dence of this sort after all. To those who lack the insight of the Chris-
tian, it may appear as if the Christian is continuing to believe despite
overwhelming evidence against Christianity, but this is mere appear-
ance. The Christian™s obstinacy is meritorious because it involves a
more accurate assessment of the evidence at hand. If this is correct,
then, contra Beversluis, Lewis™s later essay on obstinacy is not at
odds with his commitment to the principle that we ought always to
God and the Reach of Reason

believe in accordance with the evidence. Christian obstinacy is an
extension of Lewis™s account of faith based on reason.
I therefore stand by my contention that Lewis and Russell believe
that we should always strive to follow the evidence but disagree
about where the evidence leads. When one thinks that the avail-
able evidence supports a given position but ¬nds that many people
incline toward a different position, it is tempting to attribute the
others™ beliefs to irrationality. This is a temptation to which Russell
often succumbs when it comes to religious belief, and some of Lewis™s
remarks in Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters give the impres-
sion that Lewis succumbs to the same temptation when it comes
to nonbelief. However, in “On Obstinacy in Belief,” Lewis offers an
assessment of the situation that strikes me as (almost) absolutely

Men wish on both sides. . . . [T]here is fear-ful¬llment as well as wish-
ful¬llment, and hypochondriac temperaments will always tend to
think true what they most wish to be false. Thus instead of the one
predicament on which our opponents sometimes concentrate there
are in fact four. A man may be a Christian because he wants Chris-
tianity to be true. He may be an atheist because he wants atheism to
be true. He may be an atheist because he wants Christianity to be true.
He may be a Christian because he wants atheism to be true. Surely
these possibilities cancel one another out? . . . I do not think they over-
throw the view that there is evidence both for and against the Christian
proposition which fully rational minds, working honestly, can assess

4.2.3 Hume and Evidentialism
The inquisitive reader is perhaps by this time wondering about
Hume™s views on faith and reason. Hume seems to think of faith
along Russellian lines, as something that is rightly contrasted with
reason rather than subsumed under it.39 Hume™s position on argu-
ments for (or against) propositions based on the consequences of
accepting such propositions is somewhat different from the straight-
forward disdain shared by Lewis and Russell. On the one hand, Hume

Faith, Design, and True Religion

sees that the consequences of accepting a certain proposition tell us
nothing about its truth, observing that “it is not certain that an opin-
ion is false, because it is of dangerous consequence.”40 Elsewhere he
observes that “the love of truth . . . never is, nor can be, carried to
too high a degree.”41 And, of course, we have already seen his claim
in “Of Miracles” that “[a] wise man . . . proportions his belief to the
evidence.”42 In light of remarks like this, David O™Connor classi¬es
Hume as an “evidentialist,” one who accepts the principle that “any
belief is rational only in direct proportion to the balance of evidence
in its favor.”43 On the other hand, we also ¬nd in Hume the following

[T]hough the philosophical truth of any proposition by no means
depends on its tendency to promote the interests of society; yet a man
has but a bad grace, who delivers a theory, however true, which, he
must confess, leads to a practice dangerous and pernicious. . . . Truths
which are pernicious to society, if any such there be, will yield to errors
which are salutary and advantageous.44

This passage suggests that perhaps the passion for the truth can be
carried too far if it leads one to promote truths that are pernicious to
society. It is important to note, however, that the bad grace manifests
itself in the deliverance of the pernicious theory, not in the acceptance
of it. So it may be that Hume thinks that we should always follow the
evidence when it comes to the beliefs we hold but not necessarily
when it comes to the beliefs we share with others.
It turns out, however, that Hume is not a straightforward eviden-
tialist. To get clear on Hume™s views on reason, evidence, and belief,
we must brie¬‚y consider his larger philosophical project. Hume was
arguably as much a psychologist as a philosopher. He was concerned
with understanding the nature and limits of the various capacities
of the human mind. As he put it, he hoped to “discover, at least in
some degree, the secret springs and principles, by which the human
mind is actuated in its operations.”45 He was particularly interested
in laying out once and for all the limits of human reason, in delin-
eating the subjects about which human reason could be expected

God and the Reach of Reason

to yield knowledge and those that lie beyond its reach. One of the
main bene¬ts of this project, in Hume™s eyes, is that it would put
an end to “abstruse philosophy and metaphysical jargon,” thereby
freeing humanity of the burden of trying to understand subtle and
often obscure philosophical works.46 Hume acknowledged that this
project itself would require some subtle and dif¬cult philosophy but
argued that “[w]e must submit to this fatigue, in order to live at ease
ever after.”47 As H. O. Mounce puts it, Hume™s view is that “to cure
the disorder in philosophy, we must . . . ¬rst consider what it is in the
world that we are ¬tted to understand.”48
As Hume carries out his investigation into the limits of reason, he
discovers some serious gaps in what reason can do. One of the most
famous of these gaps involves the problem of induction. To borrow
one of Hume™s examples: In the past, all the bread I have eaten has
nourished me. Recognizing this, I infer that all bread “ even bread
I have not eaten or even encountered “ nourishes.49 With respect
to this sort of transition, Hume writes: “I shall allow, if you please,
that the one proposition may justly be inferred from the other: I
know, in fact, that it always is inferred. But if you insist that the
inference is made by a chain of reasoning, I desire you to produce
that reasoning.”50
Hume proceeds to argue that there is in fact no adequate chain of
reasoning that would license the sort of inference under discussion.
He points out that “all inferences from experience suppose, as their
foundation, that the future will resemble the past,” but there is no
good philosophical argument that establishes this supposition.51
Let us put aside the question of whether Hume is right about this.
What is important for our purpose is the further conclusion Hume
draws from the alleged failure of reason to justify induction. One
might expect Hume to deny that inductive reasoning can lead to
knowledge. But this is not the conclusion Hume draws. In fact, there
is already a pretty clear hint that Hume will not draw such a con-
clusion in the passage I just quoted. In that passage, Hume concedes
that “the one proposition may justly be inferred from the other.”52
Yet the inference is not accomplished via any chain of reasoning.
Therefore, it must be accomplished in some other way.
Faith, Design, and True Religion

The section immediately following the one in which Hume dis-
cusses the problem of induction is titled “Skeptical Solution of These
Doubts.” In it, Hume draws precisely the conclusion I just described:

[I]n all reasonings from experience, there is a step taken by the mind
which is not supported by any argument or process of the under-
standing. . . . If the mind be not engaged by argument to make this
step, it must be induced by some other principle of equal weight and

Hume identi¬es the “other” principle or faculty as “Custom or Habit,”
which he describes as “the great guide of human life.”54 He explains
custom™s importance in these lines:

Without the in¬‚uence of custom, we should be entirely ignorant of
every matter of fact beyond what is immediately present to the mem-
ory and senses. We should never know how to adjust means to ends,
or to employ our natural powers in the production of any effect. There
would be an end at once of all action, as well as of the chief part of

This passage makes it clear that custom can produce knowledge.56
Custom seems to be an innate instinct or disposition that produces
certain beliefs under certain circumstances. Returning to the bread
example, when I re¬‚ect on all the bread I have eaten, custom causes
me to form the belief that the future will resemble the past, and
hence I arrive at the conclusion that the bread I eat in the future will
nourish me just as the bread I have already eaten did. Or perhaps
custom simply causes me to form the belief that all bread nourishes
(once I have eaten a lot of nourishing bread).57
Beliefs produced by custom may have warrant and hence can
be instances of knowledge even though they are not arrived at via
any sound philosophical argument.58 Hume believes in what con-
temporary philosophers call properly basic beliefs.59 These are beliefs
that have warrant that is not derived from any other belief. (Non-
basic beliefs, naturally, are those whose warrant, if any, is derived
from other beliefs.) Custom is an important source of properly basic
beliefs; indeed, according to Hume, without custom we would lack
the knowledge requisite for action of any sort.60
God and the Reach of Reason

Thus, Hume does not maintain that all beliefs are warranted only
to the extent that they are supported by the total balance of the
available evidence. Some beliefs are properly basic. We are justi-
¬ed in accepting such beliefs even if we have no evidence that sup-
ports them.61 This is because no evidence is necessary to support
such beliefs; typically (but not always) properly basic beliefs are sim-
ply obviously true. Hume seems to include the proposition that the
future will resemble the past in this category.62 So Hume holds what
we may call quali¬ed evidentialism. This is the view that there are
some properly basic beliefs that we are justi¬ed in believing even if
we have no evidence that supports them, but that we should always
believe in accordance with the evidence when it comes to nonbasic
It turns out that Russell and Lewis hold precisely this view as well.
Russell writes:

[S]ince proofs need premise, it is impossible to prove anything unless
some things are accepted without proof. We must therefore ask
ourselves: What sort of thing is it reasonable to believe without proof? I
should reply: The facts of sense experience and the principles of math-
ematics and logic “ including the inductive logic employed in science.
These are things which we can hardly bring ourselves to doubt.63

And Lewis has this to say:

I believe that the primary moral principles on which all others depend
are rationally perceived. We ˜just see™ that there is no reason why my
neighbor™s happiness should be sacri¬ced to my own, as we ˜just see™
that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to one another.
If we cannot prove either axiom, that is not because they are irrational
but because they are self-evident and all proofs depend on them. Their
intrinsic reasonableness shines by its own light.64

Hume, Lewis, and Russell, therefore, are quali¬ed evidentialists.
Each maintains that there are properly basic beliefs that need no evi-
dence (though they do not always agree on what these beliefs are).
But they believe that when it comes to beliefs that are not basic, we
should always believe in accordance with the evidence available to
us at the time.
Faith, Design, and True Religion

In the next section we return to a topic that we touched on brie¬‚y
in Chapter 2: arguments from design. We will once again discover
some surprising areas of agreement between our three thinkers on
this topic. We will also gain some insight into the views of our three
thinkers on the nature of true religion and how it differs from its
false imitators. This distinction between true and false (or corrupted)
religion, a distinction examined by all three philosophers, will be the
focus of the ¬nal section of this chapter.


4.3.1 Hume on Design
In Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Cleanthes offers the following
version of the argument from design:

Look round the world: Contemplate the whole and every part of it:
You will ¬nd it to be nothing but one great machine, subdivided into
an in¬nite number of lesser machines, which again admit of subdivi-
sions to a degree beyond what human senses and faculties can trace
and explain. All these various machines, and even their most minute
parts, are adjusted to each other with an accuracy which ravishes into
admiration all men who have ever contemplated them. The curious
adapting of means to ends, throughout all nature, resembles exactly,
though it much exceeds, the productions of human contrivance; of
human design, thought, wisdom, and intelligence. Since therefore the
effects resemble each other, we are led to infer, by all the rules of anal-


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