Book Review: C.S. Lewis VS the New Atheists

Book Review

‘One of the things that distinguishes man from the other animals is that he wants to know things, wants to find out what reality is like, simply for the sake of knowing. When that desire is completely quenched in anyone, I think he has become something less than human . . . Christianity claims to give you an account of the facts – to tell you what the real universe is like. Its account of the universe may be true, or it may not, and once the question is really before you, then your natural inquisitiveness must make you want to know the answer . . . Honest rejection of Christ, however mistaken, will be forgiven and healed – ‘Whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him’ (Luke 12:10). But to evade the Son of Man, to look the other way, to pretend you haven’t noticed, to leave the receiver off the telephone because it might be He who is ringing up, to leave unopened certain letters in a strange handwriting because they might be from Him – this is a different matter. You may not be certain yet whether you ought to be a Christian; but you do know you ought to be a man, not an ostrich, hiding its head in the sands.’ Williams, Peter. C S Lewis vs the New Atheists (p. 224). Paternoster. Kindle Edition. Original quote from C.S. Lewis, ‘Man or Rabbit?’, pp. 352, 354–5.

Well, that hits home a bit, doesn’t it? At least it does for me, as someone who is wanting to search and ask honest questions and trying to be as real and as honest as I can be with the answers that arise from the search. I am sure I get things wrong, and I don’t want to ask certain questions from time to time, but I do hope that in the longer view I am able to approach things well.

Take the last 20 weeks’ worth of blog posts for example. I’ve had a fascinating set of reactions from both believers and non-believers. The things I have said and read have been challenging, and I am still trying to work them through. Highlighting what makes me stop and think, but also reflecting on what I actually believe about reason, morality and free will (for example). I need to be aware, my answers might be wrong, which is why I don’t want to stop asking the questions.

This book is a really interesting dive into a couple of the major arguments that C.S. Lewis found influential and advanced within his own work. The argument from desire (AFD) or the argument from reason (AFR) for example. Miracles being the most famous of Lewis’ reflections on the AFR, and one that I found profound when I read it.

Peter S. Williams does a really good job of breaking these things down honestly and explaining what some of the major proponents of atheism have said in response to these arguments in the past. Mr Williams gives his take on a lot of these crossing points, for example when looking at purpose and meaning within life he comments, ‘Even if the idea that I can determine the subjective meaning of my life weren’t an illusion, the determination of subjective meaning can never deliver more than the self-deluded illusion of objective meaning.’ Williams, Peter. C S Lewis vs the New Atheists (p. 28). Paternoster. Kindle Edition. What I find helpful about such comments is the honesty upon which they assess the situation. It’s very well and good for me to say to you that I think free will is an illusion, reason is based in evolution, morality is subjective, and purpose is self-defined – but what does this mean for humanity and the reality of our lives if it is true? Mr Williams looks at these questions to greater or lesser extents throughout the book.

Keith Ward, a well-known English philosopher and Christian, explains ‘To believe in God is not to take a leap of blind faith beyond reason. It is to take a leap of faith in reason as the ultimate principle of reality.’ Williams, Peter. C S Lewis vs the New Atheists (p. 125). Paternoster. Kindle Edition. Original quote from Keith Ward, Is Religion Irrational? (Oxford: Lion, 2011), p. 61. This is what Lewis believed as well, and one of the subjects that Peter S. Williams explores in this book. It is something I honestly haven’t seen nonreligious proponents explore very much at all, and something that you as a reader of this blog will know has been challenging for a long time.

I found this book extremely interesting. I come to the end still not believing in a God, but asking the question if this is because I just don’t believe in a God, or rather that all the arguments fail and I can honestly explore where they fail. I am not sure that they do, or that I can. I am also challenged by my own worldview. How I look at things and explain things gets a really hard look over in this book, and the reality that if there is no God then things are not going to be persevered to the extent that I live as if they could be. All this is brought to the table and dissected.

‘That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins – all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.’ Williams, Peter. C S Lewis vs the New Atheists (pp. 26-27). Paternoster. Kindle Edition. Original quote from Bertrand Russell, ‘A Free Man’s Worship’.

There is a lot to take away and digest. Subjects that my knee jerk answers to have been challenged, and if not challenged themselves, then the reality of what life is really like if those answers are true has been challenged.

‘C.S. Lewis knew from personal experience that it takes guts to reevaluate one’s worldview and that it takes time to move from one position to another. He wouldn’t expect anyone to change their metaphysical outlook on the strength of a single conversation or reading a single book (not even one he’d written himself). However, he would point out the importance of recognizing one’s philosophical presuppositions (so as not to beg the question at the outset) and then doggedly heeding the Socratic Club’s call to ‘follow the argument, wherever it leads’: “Here is a door, behind which, according to some people, the secret of the universe is waiting for you. Either that’s true, or it isn’t. And if it isn’t, then what the door really conceals is simply the greatest fraud, the most colossal ‘sell’ on record. Isn’t it obviously the job of every man . . . to try to find out which, and then to devote his full energies either to serving this tremendous secret or to exposing and destroying this gigantic humbug?” (Lewis, ‘Man or Rabbit?’, p. 355.) The new atheists give every appearance of being a movement dedicated to ‘destroying this gigantic humbug’ despite refusing to give due diligence to the primary task of discovering whether or not it is true.’ Williams, Peter. C S Lewis vs the New Atheists (p. 222). Paternoster. Kindle Edition.

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As always, your support enables When Belief Dies to grow, so please consider hitting ‘support’ at the top of this page. You will also find links to the YouTube Channel, Podcast and social accounts up there. You can subscribe via email at the bottom of this post. This blog is roughly twelve to twenty-four months behind where I currently am in my journey out of religion. It’s important to remember that when reading and commenting. –Sam

2 Comments. Leave new

  • Thanks for this. I haven’t read Williams. Are you familiar with John Beaversluis, CS Lewis and the search for Rational Religion (Eerdmans)? It’s a wonderful exploration (critique) of Lewis’s apologetic. Also I turned The Chronicles of Narnia into a lengthy essay about evidentialism (available on Amazon… A Friend to Skeptics). One more resource… http://www.erikreads.wordpress.com (wherein I explore apologetics from a deconstructed POV).

    Reply
    • whenbeliefdies
      January 21, 2022 4:48 pm

      Thanks Erik! I will check those out 🙂

      I hope you enjoy the next few blog posts exploring this space a bit more as well.

      Cheers,
      Sam

      Reply

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