CS Lewis the Atheist

As many people from “both sides of the aisle” know, CS Lewis was an atheist before converting to Christianity in his early 30s. He was been responsible for writing some of the best literature of the 20th Century, thereby influencing many through his writings.

As I’ve laid out before, I’m currently re-reading one of his classics, The Problem of Pain. In the Introductory, he more or less lays out his reasons for not believing in God early in his life.

The Vast Emptiness of the Universe

Look at the universe we live in. By far the greatest part of it consists of empty space, completely dark and unimaginably cold. The bodies which move in this space are so few and so small in comparison with the space itself that even if every one of them were known to be crowded as full as it could hold with perfectly happy creatures, it would still be difficult to believe that life and happiness were more than a byproduct to the power that made the universe.

The Reality of Pain

And Earth existed without life for millions of years and may exist for millions more when life has left her. And what is it like while it lasts? It is so arranged that all the forms of it can live only by preying upon one another. In the lower forms this process entails only death, but in the higher there appears a new quality called consciousness which enables it to be attended with pain. The creatures cause pain by being born, and live by inflicting pain, and in pain they mostly die. In the most complex of all the creatures, Man, yet another quality appears, which we call reason, whereby he is enabled to foresee his own pain which henceforth is preceded with acute mental suffering, and to foresee his own death while keenly desiring permanence.

Mankind’s Terrible History

Their history is largely a record of crime, war, disease, and terror, with just sufficient happiness interposed to give them, while it lasts, an agonised apprehension of losing it, and, when it is lost, the poignant misery of remembering. Every now and then they improve their condition a little and what we call a civilisation appears.

But all civilisations pass away and, even while they remain, inflict peculiar sufferings of their own probably sufficient to outweigh what alleviations they may have brought to the normal pains of man.

The Assured Extinction of Life

Every race that comes into being in any part of the universe is doomed; for the universe, they tell us, is running down, and will sometime be a uniform infinity of homogeneous matter at a low temperature.

Lewis concludes,

If you ask me to believe that this is the work of a benevolent and omnipotent spirit, I reply that all the evidence points in the opposite direction. Either there is no spirit behind the universe, or else a spirit indifferent to good and evil, or else an evil spirit.

Wow…

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12 Responses to CS Lewis the Atheist

  1. Joe says:

    I see why he eventually became a Christian. The single best reason to be an atheist is that there simply is no evidence that there is a god. All the above issues have answers in theology. Answers that seem to satisfy those that wish to believe.

  2. Laz says:

    Thanks Joe for the comment.

    The single best reason to be an atheist is that there simply is no evidence that there is a god.

    Or at least the dream or illusion that there is “no evidence”.

  3. Joe says:

    Feel free to present any.

  4. Laz says:

    It will be of little use to you (as it was for me in the natural or pre-Christian state) for your mind is already made up, as was mine.

    I believe the Apostle said it best,

    But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

    Lewis says something similar though not the same,

    If any [miracle] seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion, if we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say. What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience.

  5. Joe says:

    Exactly. The only evidence you have is only convincing to those that already believe.

  6. Laz says:

    The question then must be, “how did those who believe come to believe?”

    On a personal note, clever arguments, so-called evidence or proofs did nothing to infuse me with belief. This is the work of God, to grant faith, not the work of man.

    I suppose trying to describe conversion or regeneration (“being born again) is similar to what the blind man said after Jesus gave him sight,

    One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see

    Those who remain blind will have a hard time understanding what sight is like, and an even harder time understanding the process by which men see.

  7. Joe says:

    Laz: The question then must be, “how did those who believe come to believe?”

    That is a very good question. In my very limited experience it seems to be extreme crisis or emotional distress. The reasoning if it comes at all occurs after the individual has already chosen to believe in god.

    “On a personal note, clever arguments, so-called evidence or proofs did nothing to infuse me with belief. This is the work of God, to grant faith, not the work of man.”
    I have heard this from many. So I assume from this that you do not bother proselytizing?

    “Those who remain blind will have a hard time understanding what sight is like, and an even harder time understanding the process by which men see.”
    But since god is the one who decides who is blind and who can see, I suppose it is his will that I remain an atheist.

  8. Laz says:

    Your very “limited experience” may or may not be indicative of the majority of conversions (the true ones anyways, and well only God knows those).

    For the sake of argument let us assume that your ‘limited experience’ holds and is representative of all or the majority of conversions to Christianity.

    How would extreme crisis or emotional distress invalidate the existence or a presence of a God who is the Only One who can truly satisfy the longings of our soul?

    If one thinks he is in good health (regardless of the reality of the situation) why would one go to a doctor? One usually pays him a visit when something is wrong but that does not bring into question the doctor’s existence or his ability (this being an analogy, I understand that it is imperfect).

    The Christian position is that something is wrong with this world and to a greater extent, us. We know the things we ought to do, yet we do not do them. Whether or not one believes this is a sign of illness, well, I’m afraid we’ve reached the proverbial presuppositional buzz saw.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “proselytizing”, you’ll have to elaborate.

    Well God decides, but we also have a part in this drama. Being bound by time I can’t outline to you or anyone else just the interplay between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.

    Four years ago, it would have been pretty easy to say what you said regarding God’s will, yet here I stand, convinced that not only He exists but He became a man.

  9. Joe says:

    My limited experience may very well be an anomaly. This is why I added that caveat.

    To pursue your hypothetical. If it is emotion that usually converts the nonbeliever, it is true that it says nothing as to the actual truth of any religious proposition. But what it does demonstrate is that there is little evidence or logical argument for the existence of god that would be convincing to a nonbeliever. (Such evidence is what we were previously discussing.)

    “I’m not sure what you mean by “proselytizing”, you’ll have to elaborate.”
    Trying to lead nonbelievers to your religion.

    “Four years ago, it would have been pretty easy to say what you said regarding God’s will, yet here I stand, convinced that not only He exists but He became a man.”
    So what (if it isn’t too personal) did you find convinced you that god existed?

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  11. Laz says:

    Even conceding that conversion occurs at moments of emotional distress is not the same as saying that emotion converts the unbeliever.

    No, it is not emotion that converts the unbeliever, if it were the case, the Christian faith would be worthless. Emotions are neutral (neither good or bad) but as the base of a worldview, they are of little use.

    As for proselytizing, all I can do is do what the blind man healed by Jesus did and relate my story. Of course, when my convictions are challenged I’m also commanded to,

    sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence

    If this is proselytizing, so be it.

    But what it does demonstrate is that there is little evidence or logical
    argument for the existence of god that would be convincing to a nonbeliever.

    Here we are again at the proverbial presuppositional buzz saw, as you recognized. Which must lead to me answering your last inquiry.

    Joe, I was born into a nominal Catholic home having your run-of-the-mill exposure to the rituals and lingo of that particular tradition.

    Never quite considered myself an atheist though I lived my life as if God did not exist (a practical atheist). Hit 9th grade biology and THE chapter (you must know which I refer to) convinced me that even if there is a God (highly doubtful at this stage of my young life) then He doesn’t give a flip about us one way or the other.

    Went to college, obtained a science degree and was determined to lead a ‘normal’ (whatever that means) life.

    To make a long story short, after my graduation from college, my mother and one of my sisters converted to Christianity, leading her to ‘witness’ (I’m assuming you know some of the lingo) to me, her heathen brother.

    I got so sick and tired of hearing about Jesus and the Bible and salvation and sin etc. My sister especially was persistent and I assure you, quite annoying.

    To get her off my back I did the (in my unregenerate state) worst thing I could have done, I picked up an old Bible to cut her off at the pass. I figured, she’s new in her faith I’ll look through here and find a contradiction or 2 and shatter her faith enough to leave me alone.

    So Joe, I read and read and read. It was not a strange text to me, I was somewhat familiar with the characters and some of the stories (who growing up in the West isn’t?

    I did manage to make my sister angry and won plenty of ‘debates’ against her in her nascent faith. Something started happening to me during this time, the words started changing me.

    With perceived clarity, the text wasn’t some ancient scribble, it was the bread of life. I was convicted of my depravity, of my bankruptcy before a Holy God. As to the mechanism well sorry man I don’t have a protocol, and I’m sure this is strange to your engineering mind as it is to the precepts taught to me in my formal education.

    One night I prayed (gasp!) in my bedroom, as I did so, my skin broke out in goosebumps and all the hairs on my body stood, as though I was cold, yet I was very warm, and in fact I was sweating.

    Joe, that night, I knew. I knew God was real. Looking back, I know understand that night, His Holy Spirit came to make me new and to dwell in this mortal shell. That night I knew Jesus Christ died for my sins and His Spirit had just inhabited this rotten corpse.

    It was like waking up from a bad dream, this does it no justice but that’s the best I can do. Unfortunately I can’t give you empirical evidence that this is what occurred . I can let you talk to some people who have witnessed a life transformed.

    Let me conclude that this is my experience but in no way does it make God’s Special Revelation to mankind (His Word) true. It would be the height of jadedness and arrogance to claim that Scripture is true because of my experience.

    On the contrary, what happened to me, confirmed what God has said in His Word, I hope you can at least see the distinction. Whether you believe it, well that is in God’s hands.

    Am I perfect? No and I don’t pretend to be, I have flaws but I do know that I have been forgiven and called out to live a life sold out to God and go wherever He may lead.

    Hope that sheds some light on your question, if it does not, I understand why it wouldn’t for I’ve been there too.

  12. Joe says:

    Thanks for such a comprehensive answer. It is interesting that the crux of your conversion seemed to be the reading of the bible. I have heard atheists tell a similar tale of their “deconversion”. They were believers who decided to sit down and read the whole book. Then they found out that they didn’t really know what was in there. What they read lead them away from Christianity.

    I guess it just shows that either way it is a highly personal process. There is no general rule about what may lead someone one way or another. It would certainly be something very interesting to have real data about.

    I seem to be rambling though. Thanks for sharing.

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