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Does Morality Point to "Something Beyond"?

Thomas Whitley

Note: This is part of an ongoing series evaluating C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.Part 1.

I spent the last post on Mere Christianity focusing on what I perceive to be a flaw in Lewis’ entire argument; namely, that morals do not actually come from some Moral Law or Law of Human Nature, rather they are cultural constructs.

Since Lewis stays on the topic of a Moral Law for a few more chapters, I will address that point more, though this time from a slightly different angle.

In chapter 3, “The Reality of the Law,” Lewis reinvigorates his case for a Moral Law, arguing mainly that because most of us feel the “pressing” of morals on us so strongly that it must be a real thing and, what’s more, a real thing that is somehow beyond all else that we know to be real.

Men ought to be unselfish, ought to be fair. Not that men are unselfish, not that they like being unselfish, but that they ought to be. The Moral Law, or Law of Human Nature, is not simply a fact about human behaviour in the same way as the Law of Gravitation is, or may be, simply a fact about how heavy objects behave. On the other hand, it is not a mere fancy, for we cannot get rid of the idea, and most of the things we say and think about men would be reduced to nonsense if we did. And it is not simply a statement about how we should like men to behave for our own convenience; for the behaviour we call bad or unfair is not exactly the same as the behaviour we find inconvenient, and may even be the opposite. Consequently, this Rule of Right and Wrong, or Law of Human Nature, or whatever you call it, must somehow or other be a real thing - a thing that is really there, not made up by ourselves. And yet it is not a fact in the ordinary sense, in the same way as our actual behaviour is a fact. It begins to look as if we shall have to admit that there is more than one kind of reality; that, in this particular case, there is something above and beyond the ordinary facts of men’s behaviour, and yet quite definitely real - a real law, which none of us made, but which we find pressing on us.

I have already spoken to Lewis’ flaw in thinking that morals are universal, surpassing time and culture. The truths of anthropology, psychology, and sociology tell us he is greatly mistaken on that point. The next major flaw in Lewis’ logic is that since, in Lewis’ mind, moral behavior is “a real law, which none of us made, but which we find pressing on us,” then it must follow that there is “more than one kind of reality” and that “there is something above and beyond the ordinary facts of men’s behaviour,” that which he will later say is God.

What Lewis seems to have missed is that there are numerous “laws” surrounding us that we sometimes obey and sometimes do not obey, yet none of them causes us to say there must be “more than one kind of reality” and that “there is something above and beyond” the facts. There are economic laws that press on us constantly. Oh, but man has created those laws, Lewis would likely say and while I would quibble with that in the purest sense, I would likely give him that point.

There is also, though, what some may call the “law of love.” For millennia humanity has believed in this abstract idea of love and its force on humans urging them to act a certain way, whether they end up following that way or not. No one (in the modern world) is arguing based solely on this abstract “law of love” that we should assume that there must be “more than one kind of reality” and that “there is something above and beyond.”

Finally, while we cannot point to a single person or a single group that created morals, or laws of behavior, contemporary sociology (i.e. group identity theory) helps us see how social standards (i.e. laws of behavior) are created by groups. Further, these social standards are also created to make societies function in a certain manner (the precise manner differs depending on the culture, time, and place) and to produce certain results (e.g. a simple system of business, safety, “freedom,” identity, etc.).

We can even speak in a broader sense of “society” and “culture.” No one has made these things yet they exist and they are ideas “we cannot get rid of,” as Lewis put it and they impose very real pressures on people. Nevertheless, simply because “society” or “culture” exists is not reason enough to begin arguing that Something Beyond “made them” or implanted them in the minds of humans.

Morality does not point to Something Beyond any more than love or society or culture do. These are all constructs that come, ultimately, from humanity and while important to how we live our lives they are not sufficient grounds for basing a “God exists” argument. In future posts I will try to limit how much I talk about this aspect of Lewis’ argument, but it is difficult because his entire argument is based on what I (and many others for the past few hundred years) understand to be a deeply flawed logic.

So, now it’s your turn to join the discussion. What do you think about Lewis’ argument from morality? What about my take on his argument?