C. S. Lewis’s Moral Argument for the Existence of God
From Baggett and Walls, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality
1. There is an objective moral law that is binding on our actions. We see this in the ways that we speak. We know this by nature and don’t need to be taught it. Lewis thought we “can just see the difference between right and wrong on our own, or at least we should. Lewis was right that at least many moral facts seem obvious indeed. It’s wrong, for example, to torture innocent children for fun, and we plainly recognize it.” This fact needs explanation. (Good God, p. 9)
2. The moral law that tells how to behave gives us a compelling reason to believe in God. Baggett and Walls (BW) say Lewis may have overstated this, but it is still suggestive.
3. What explanations can be given for the existence of this moral law within us? Lewis narrows the alternatives to two: naturalism and religion.
a. Naturalism is: “the view that the physical world is all there is, and behind it is no ultimate pattern or plan or purpose.” (Ib., 10)
b. “A religious conception of reality, in contrast, holds that behind the physical world is something else, likely a mind of some sort. “That is to say,” as Lewis put it, “it is conscious, and has purposes, and prefers one thing to another. And on this view it made the universe, partly for purposes we do not know, but partly, at any rate, in order to produce creatures like itself . . . to the extent of having minds.”” (Ib.)
4. Lewis believed that “if there is something behind the universe responsible for its existence, Lewis suggests that it would have to reveal itself to us as something other than one of the facts inside the universe.” (Ib.) For Lewis this “something” is the moral law within us that presses on us to behave in a certain way. We feel that we “ought” to do some things, and that we “ought not” to do other things (like kill babies for fun).
5. Lewis does not think naturalism can explain this. BW write: “The source of this moral obligation isn’t likely to be mere matter. An evolutionary account of feelings of or beliefs in, say, moral obligation is certainly possible, but how would naturalism explain obligation itself? How collections of atoms could generate and issue genuinely binding moral commands is altogether mysterious, if not absurd.” (Ib., 11) It’s hard to see how purely empirical properties could account for binding obligation or intrinsic value.
6. If there is something more here, it’s “more like a mind than a collection of atoms or set of empirical properties.” (Ib.)
7. If naturalism does not adequately explain the moral law within, the alternative is theism.
BW sum it up: “Lewis’s essential argument can be summarized like this: There are objective moral facts, among them guilt for wrongdoing and duties we are obliged to obey and are responsible for neglecting, and such objective facts are better explained by a religious understanding of reality than by a Russellian world. So morality gives us some significant preliminary reason to believe in God.” (Ib., 11)
BW then go on to look at the major philosophical objections to Lewis’s Moral Argument for God’s Existence.
BW’s entire first chapter is a very good read and takes us deep into the issues surrounding the Moral Argument.
This serves as an entree for two things: 1) a systematic refutation of the Euthyphro Dilemma; and 2) BW's Moral Argument for God's Existence.