What You Said When You Were Under

3798806036_eb0490b148_oWe can actually learn something from people who talk “out of their minds” when they are under the influence of anesthesia.

When Bob is “under,” he may say something ridiculous. However, his friends discount any apparent significance of his words because the words do not at all reflect conscious decisions on Bob’s part, but rather are the result of irrational biochemical processes going on his brain, in combination with words or thoughts that he has understood in the past. If all human thoughts were the like this, then we would have no reason to value Bob’s thoughts when he was out of the anesthetic environment any more than we would value the nonsense we hear when he is under the anesthetic. Plainly, we can tell the difference between that which is the product of organization and that which is accidental or the result of randomness.

This is the point undergirding C.S. Lewis’ argument against naturalism. The argument goes like this:

  1. Naturalism is the idea that everything is nature. In other words, everything that has being is governed by natural laws. Thus all events, even our psychological experiences of thoughts, behavior, ideas, wills, etc., are determined solely and completely by biochemical laws. And, all thoughts have irrational causes. Nothing that is is the result of imparted meaning.
  2. But if naturalism is true, naturalism itself is the product of irrationality.
  3. Thus, it is impossible for someone to consistently believe in naturalism.

Here is (in part) how C.S. Lewis concludes on the basis of this argument:

There is no reason, at this point, to bring in either Christianity or spiritualism. We do not need them to refute naturalism. It refutes itself. Whatever else we may come to believe about the universe, at least we cannot believe naturalism. The validity of rational thought, accepted in an utterly non-naturalistic, transcendental (if you will), supernatural sense, is the necessary presupposition of all other theorizing. There is simply no sense in beginning with a view of the universe and trying to fit the claims of thought in at a later stage. By thinking at all we have claimed that our thoughts are more than mere natural events. All other propositions must be fitted in as best they can round that primary claim (“Religion Without Dogma?,” God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970], 138).

Observe the significance of this discussion. If naturalism is true, then there is no supernatural realm. No God, no miracles, no incarnation, no resurrection, etc. If naturalism is false, then there is an order that is not determined by physical laws, i.e., there is a metaphysical (or supernatural) realm. Once we establish that there is a metaphysical realm, we are in a position to ask what this realm is like and how it might relate to us.

Lewis’ argument shows that our souls, by carrying on everyday thought, participate in the metaphysical realm. This is not to say that everyday thought is, properly speaking, miraculous; rather, it is to say that our ideas are not determined by mechanical laws and that we have such thoughts only by virtue of an organizational structure that was imparted from outside of the natural order. We should keep studying in order to see what else might not be determined by mechanical laws. Such a study will lead to a recognition of God’s existence and obedience to His will.


- 2024

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