Refuting Arguments Against the Soul

I’m convinced that human beings have a soul, we are immaterial persons that also have physical bodies. This is not blind faith or just based on wishful thinking, hoping the Bible is correct (the Bible says we have souls). Strong philosophical, extra-biblical arguments exist that point to the existence of the soul.

Many have argued against the soul. Daniel Dennett and John Searle have written about their interesting anti-soul ideas. Dennett says, “the various phenomena that compose … consciousness … are all physical effects of the brain.”[1]

A friend of mine recently presented some of their anti-soul arguments to me:

1 – There’s an area in the brain that handles language. If that is damaged, you won’t be able to speak or write, but you will be able to do everything else you normally do.

2 – Multi-lingual people who suffer brain damage in particular brain regions lose only particular language capability.

3 – Therefore, the fact that we have particular language brain regions, suggests the brain is hardware and I am just “software” running on the brain’s hardware. In other words, I am my brain and I don’t have a soul.

 

I think there’s a lot going on here in this argument. I always love learning about the capabilities of the human brain. Scientific studies of the Broca area of the brain show that it handles language, but also apparently does math problems and stores information in short term memory.[2] The brain is a wonderful and complex organ and learning more about it is vital for the job of medicine.

But –  it has absolutely no bearing at all on whether I have a soul. I think this fascinating argument is irrelevant to this question. Why do I say that?

 

Well – I don’t think you can prove the existence of the soul using the scientific method. But this does no harm to my proposition that you have a soul. Why? Because a scientific explanation is not the only rational explanation that exists! John Lennox points to a boiling kettle and asks, why is it boiling? The “heat energy from the gas flame is being conducted through the copper base of the kettle and is agitating the molecules of the water … the water is boiling. Or, I may say [it is] boiling because I would like a cup of tea.”[3] Both are valid explanations. Once is scientific, the other is not. It is an explanation involving an agent. Arguments for the soul are usually agent arguments.

 

Problems With Anti-Soul Arguments

My friends argument about language centres of the brain disproving the soul has some problems.

1 – Neuroscience itself requires certain starting points that cannot be proven by science. Things like:

  • Math exists and allows us to predict what happens in the world.
  • The world exists in reality, it is not a concept inside the scientific researchers head, it exists independently of my mind and it behaves predictably.
  • The laws of logic.
  • I can think about these ideas, engage in introspection, and formulate ideas about how to do scientific experiments.
  • My mind is capable of thinking rationally.

The question is – who is forming this argument? And how are they doing it? Answer – with a mind. So, that fact that I cannot prove or disprove the soul using science is irrelevant. Science requires someone with a soul to get started, not the other way round.

2 – Whether I can communicate or not does not change the fact that I am a human being, an agent with a will who communicates. Imaging someone who is born without the physical ability to speak or write. There is still a thinking person inside that body who is able to communicate by other means. I may lose a capability (speaking or writing German) but that does not mean I lose the ability to think, rationalise, form and propose arguments. It probably means that I can’t communicate using a human language.

3 – The brain’s language centres tell us nothing about the mind/body problem, or whether we have a soul. In fact, I think we could interpret these Broca language centre discoveries in at least three empirically equivalent ways:

3a – The use of brain language centres is equivalent to personal agent communication. (I have no soul)

3b – Personal agent communication is a mental property that occurs when the brain areas are used. (I have no soul)

3c – Personal agent communication is an irreducible mental property of the soul and has a physical expression by means of the language centres of the brain. (I have a soul)

 

So – going back to my friend’s original argument, his conclusion simply does not follow because he requires us to interpret the data in only one of these three ways, but there appears to be no good reason for doing this. Other than – perhaps – he may have a bias against the existence of an immaterial soul? However – there are many very good reasons for supposing that we do have a soul.

Putting it another way, I’m an immaterial soul with a will.[4] My ability to communicate relates to an act of will in my soul. The mechanics of speaking/writing/communicating requires a functioning brain. If there’s a brain problem, then my soul decides to express concepts, but my brain restricts my ability to do so. Perhaps (if I am bi-lingual) I can only speak German, and not English.

 

Arguments for the Soul:

What are the arguments for a soul? Here are some:

  • If I’m a brain (physical) then I am determined. Either by chemistry, physics, or the algorithm that drives the behaviour of my “software.” Because I have no free will, moral responsibility and punishment is pointless. Physicalism (I have no soul) makes no sense of the world and how humans live.
  • My brain is physically changing all the time (losing cells, adding new cells). However, I am a personal agent who does not change over time. So, I am not my brain. I have a soul.
  • I am capable of introspection, and as I think deeply, I realise I am a simple centre of consciousness, I am a self that is distinct from my physical body. I have a soul.

There are many philosophical arguments like these that ground the vital starting points that scientists begin with when studying the function of brains with their minds, or souls. C S Lewis put it this way:

“[mind is] something more than cerebral biochemistry … the Naturalists have been … thinking [but not noticed] they were thinking. The moment one [realises this] … one’s own thinking cannot be merely a natural event.”[5]

I think the wider evidence suggests people have BOTH a brain that is physical with physical properties, and a mind or soul that is a mental substance that has mental properties.[6] They exist together and support each other. When one is affected, the other is also affected.

I think (in my mind, or soul), that human beings have a brain and a soul and these are two distinct but mutually supportive things that make me human.

[1] Daniel C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained, (New York: Back Bay Books, 1991), 16.

[2] Brain’s Language Centre Has Multiple Roles, MIT News, accessed 29th July 2019, http://news.mit.edu/2012/brocas-area-multiple-roles-1016.

[3] John Lennox, Can Science Explain Everything, (The Good Book Company, 2019), kindle edition, loc 377.

[4]J P Moreland, The Soul How We Know Its Real and Why It Matters, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014),  138.

[5] C. S. Lewis, Miracles A Preliminary Study, (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc, 1977), 41, 42.

[6] Moreland, 199.

Unbelievable Truth and Equality

Beshir Kamel is an Egyptian Christian whose brother was beheaded by so-called Islamic State terrorists. Beshir was interviewed on television, and he openly forgave the terrorists for their atrocity, and prayed for their own souls.

“Dear God, please open their eyes to be saved and to quit their ignorance…”[1]

What is this outpouring of forgiveness about? How is Beshir’s response possible? Isn’t hatred and bitterness more likely?

Last weekend at the Unbelievable Conference, Lorcan Price pointed out that the answer to this question is tied closely to another question. What is truth?

I often hear folks say truth is what you make of it. No wonder then that Unbelievable 2019 focussed on speaking truth to a world that is post truth, and less concerned with what is objectively verifiable and more concerned by how things make us feel.

Lorcan observed some important aspects of truth and equality today:

1 – Christianity is founded upon true statements, which correspond with reality, and have been revealed. God has come to this planet at a point in time and in person to rescue humanity. Yet we have not worked these truths out for ourselves. God has revealed these truths.

2 – Today, people are more concerned with their own truth. For example, Oprah Winfrey will often refer to the importance of “finding our own truth.”[2] Yet there’s a problem. If we focus solely on what is in ourselves, we stop being able to see clearly.

In Old Testament times, they talked about seeing God thru his revealed truth, and it being a bit like peering thru an opaque window. We can kind of make things out…but not clearly. The Apostle Paul alludes to this idea himself.[3] Yet if we stop looking for God’s objective truth, the glass changes and simply becomes a mirror reflecting our own positions and biases. We stop looking for truth, we end up just looking at ourselves.

3 – So why is everyone so concerned about human equality in the world? If Naturalism is true, and we are all just physical accidents of nature alone, then is there really any firm ground for someone to claim that we should treat human beings with equal dignity? Surely survival is key, and seeking equality for the weak, poor and disenfranchised just irrelevant?

You don’t tend to see equality in the natural world, though you do see cooperation going on. Yet humans go beyond mere cooperation. We recognise the need for equality. Why? Because even though all people are different, we are all made in God’s image, we reflect him. This is a gift, it’s not a naturally occurring thing.

4 – Usually it is the weak and small who lose the right to equality, and have their dignity overlooked in society. Think about the elderly and the unborn child. When we move away from absolute truth, and look for our own truth instead, then this has consequences on society. The weak begin to suffer.

5 – So Christians must not succumb to the search for “my truth,” and instead must stand for Christ’s objective truth. This is what Beshir Kamel is doing as he prays for his brother’s murderers. He recognises that we are all made in his image with equal dignity – them included. Whatever has been done, there is hope.

Christians will experience hard times as we take a stand for objective truth. But we stand on the shoulders of the Christian martyrs of the past of have taken a stand. And Jesus promise to us is – “I will be with you.”[4]

[1] Modern-Day Martyrs Show Love and Forgiveness, The Aquila Report, https://www.theaquilareport.com/modern-day-martyrs-show-love-forgiveness/.

[2] Oprah Winfrey, Oprah Winfrey: Your Own Truth, https://www.podcastone.com/episode/Oprah-Winfrey-Your-Own-Truth.

[3] 1 Corinthians 13:12.

[4] Matthew 28:20.

Unbelievable 2019 and the Millennials

At the Unbelievable Conference 2019, Kristi Mair gave some great and vital observations about how to position Christianity’s absolute truth claims for millennials.

The plain fact is that our culture does not sit well when an absolute truth is held up. What is an absolute truth? It is “inflexible reality; fixed, invariable, unalterable … there are absolutely no square circles.”[1] Here’s another absolute truth claim. Jesus said it. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”[2] Christianity is built upon absolute truth claims like this one; we can only get to God or ultimate truth through Jesus, not Mohammad, Buddha, etc.

Kristi reminded us there are big problems here:

 

1 – How Dare Christians Impose Truth On Anyone?

Kristi reminded us that this sort of thinking is viewed as archaic, but also highly divisive. How dare anyone put their own “truth” above anyone else? This culture views tolerance as everyone agreeing with everyone else (impossible), and so anyone who makes a unique and absolute truth claim is starting to sound hate filled and just plain wrong.

 

2 – Scepticism is the Norm for Millennials

They tend to deeply mistrust people, viewing us as offering much but delivering little. They’ve been burned once too many times by people. Scepticism is the norm for millennials and is viewed as a healthy way to live because:

  • there are so many options in life, we’ve always got to suspend judgement to achieve mental tranquillity.
  • compelling arguments exist for and against everything, so there is no single way.
  • truth is not absolute. Rather, truth is a culturally conditioned part of our environment.

 

3 – Absolute Truth Claims are Dangerous

Kristi pointed out that the two big historical events for most millennials are 9-11 and the Iraq War, both of which were rooted to some extent in religious truth claims. If this is what religion does, then it is to be feared. Religion is dangerous.

 

 

Yet before truth was a “WHAT” – it was an “I.”

“I am,” Jesus said. The truth is a person. And not just any person. He claims to be God himself. And as such, he is in a position to threaten our desire for self-rule in our own lives. So how does the church engage with sceptical millennials on the person of Jesus? Kristi suggests three important points:

 

1 – Do Not Treat Truth as the Hook

Millennials don’t want to know what your truth claim is in some abstract way. Rather, they want to know how the Christian gospel applies to their lives. This is about reframing their understanding of their humanity and showing that they are part of something much bigger that God is already doing.

2 – Let Them See the Tangible Outworking of Christianity

Because truth claims are often viewed as power plays, we under cut this by actually showing them a tangible outworking of the gospel. How? Invite them into the community of the church.

Kristi positioned the Christian gospel in these terms (I think I’m stating this correctly):

Jesus came so that you can be free to be you to ultimately bring this world to goodness.

3 – I Need to BE A Disciple to Make Disciples

The millennial scepticism radar is looking out for fakes and can spot them. So, the challenge for the Christian wishing to reach millennial culture is to open a portal to our own personal joy and suffering in life. As followers of Christ, and ambassadors of his, we must genuinely be disciples and be willing to invite people into the reality of this in our lives.

 

Kristi pointed to Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” as a picture of what Christ wants to do for us. He wants to love us in a way that both restores and renews us. This is what Christianity is.

 

Stuart’s thoughts:

I appreciated Kristi’s talk and I find her points timely, helpful and challenging. She wants the church to reach millennials, and she’s thought about how we can do that.

Yet, I have been pondering on her millennial definition of Christianity.

“Jesus came so that you can be free to be you to ultimately bring this world to goodness.”

Assuming I’ve stated this correctly, I think this poses some questions:

  • What does “free to be you” mean? Does this feed the desire for self-rule? Because unfortunately, the Bible says that self-rule is the thing that got mankind into the mess it’s in today. Our “eyes were opened and we were free to live independently of our loving Creator.[3] I think we need to clearly define what “free to be you” means in terms of our dependence on and worship of God, not on our own self-rule.
  • Are we really supposed to “bring this world to goodness”? This sounds like it might be a job that is beyond the church’s pay grade? But we sure are called to steward the world’s resources better,[4] call people to belief in Christ, and when everything created is finally wrapped up,[5] we are to enter the next reality that’s to come.

As D L Moody apparently said, “I look upon this world as a sinking ship, and the Lord has given me a lifeboat, the only thing that can be retrieved from the wreckage of the world is individual souls; the earth itself is beyond redemption.”

 

 

 

 

UPDATE:

I spoke with Kristi after publishing this blog and she clarified a few things for me:

First – the quote is from Josh Chen:

“Jesus came, lived and died to free you to be who you’re created to be and to restore the world to goodness.”

Second – Kristi feels these ideas resonate strongly with the millennial desire to shape the world, to contribute and bring change in there here and now. This desire is real, and is relevant whatever our eschatological perspective may be. I think she makes a great point here.

 

[1] Absolute Truth, All About Philosophy, accessed 24th July 2019, https://www.allaboutphilosophy.org/absolute-truth.htm.

[2] John 14:6, NIV.

[3] Genesis 3:4.

[4] Genesis 2:15.

[5] Hebrews 1:10-12.

“Evolution” Doesn’t Get You To Human Morality

Over the weekend, I represented my university – BIOLA – at the Unbelievable Conference in London. It was so great to promote their MA programs in Christian Apologetics and Science and Religion to attendees.

One chap spoke to me at the stand, and confessed that he was wrestling with the moral argument for God. I pointed out that these arguments didn’t get you all the way to Christianity…tho they do point to a form of ethical monotheism.

I asked with his problem was. He explained that, he feels evolutionary arguments seem sufficient to justify moral behaviour. So where does that leave God? After all, surely moral actions are ones that preserve the species. And those species who are NOT moral, won’t survive. So species that survive…are moral species.

First – if we are just physical beings, then morality is an illusion. There is no right and wrong, we just have physical brain compositions that may differ from other people…but that’s okay. He responded, “That’s not what I’m saying.” But – I think it is. As soon as you allow for an evolutionary type of explanation for human beings, you cut God out of the picture right away. Evolution is about chance and necessity, it is an unguided process. And not even God can guide an unguided process – that idea makes no logical sense to me.

Second – you can’t really get a hard ought from evolution. When people express moral statements, they do so with force. A moral “ought” isn’t just someone’s opinion. They state it as a demand, not a suggestion. He disagreed with me that evolutionary arguments don’t account for this. But – to my thinking – you need a Moral Law, not a social convention or accepted behaviour, to account for this ought. You also need a personal source to this Moral Law before whom we feel guilty when we inevitably break the law and justify ourselves for doing so.

He wasn’t convinced.

But there are two more problems here.

Three – why is it right for a species to survive? Why is this morally preferable over death? If the fittest must survive, this suggest an element of competition between individuals. Rabid self-interest. What does it benefit me for the species to survive? Perhaps my survival is tied to the species’ survival? Yes – but why is it morally preferable for my people to survive and not die out?

Four – evolution only gets you to survival. It’s doesn’t get you to truth. Alvin Plantiga pointed this out.[1] Caveman A may think the way to hug a tiger is to run away from that tiger. Caveman B may think you need to wrap ones arms around the tiger to hug it. Caveman B dies pretty quickly, and makes a great meal for the tiger. Caveman A survives by running away. But – even though he survives – this does not mean his beliefs are true. In fact, his belief was false, but he survived anyway.

The point here is – moral oughts are understood to be important and true statements. But evolutionary justifications are inadequate to justify true statements. They don’t require something to be true…just to be promoting of survival (even if they are false).

 

My conclusion is that evolution doesn’t do a good job of justifying morality.

[1] Alvin Plantiga, Warrant and Proper Function, (Oxford University Press).

Doing the Right Thing

Jack Malik wakes up, and he doesn’t realise it yet, but the Beatles never existed as a band and never changed the world with their music. If you’ve not seen the movie Yesterday … I’m going to spoil part of the plot for you below. If I were you…I’d watch the movie before reading this.

 

Still here?

 

Ok.

 

I was really struck by the undercurrents in this movie. Part of the genius is … they don’t state it explicitly till later on, you just see it developing on Jack’s face as he decides to bring Beatles music he recalls, to a world that has never heard it. Jack spends much of the movie with an expression of panic on his face. He’s viewed as a musical genius, able to cook up a world changing song in 10 minutes. Of course, he’s doing nothing of the sort. He’s just remembering music composed by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison many years ago and reproducing it. No-one else knows that.

 

Or – almost no-one knows that.

 

Suddenly we discover that two other people in the world – like Jack – remember who the Beatles were! Jack’s NOT alone in his memory of them after all. And these people watch as Jack is propelled to super stardom. The inevitable consequences loom. And finally – these individuals confront Jack – and tell him that they know what he is doing. That he’s not the original composer. Jack’s face says it all – “I’m a fraud, I’ve been found out, I’m finished.”

 

But what happens next is truly special. They basically say to him, “Jack. Thank you. We aren’t musicians. We can’t sing. But we love those old songs. The world is a better place with these songs in it. And you are making this happen. Your secret is safe with us, and we are just thankful that you have the courage to do this.”

Rather than judgement – Jack receives appreciation and thanks.

 

Here’s what hits me about this. Before the conversation with these people, Jack faced a moral crisis. Should I come clean and tell the truth? That I didn’t write these songs? After his conversation with his new friends, he realises what service he is providing to the world, and to those folks who know who the Beatles were. He has every reason to feel justified in keeping quiet about the source of these songs and carrying on regardless.

But he can’t.

Even though he has every reason to carry on his present course…and be the star, he decides not to. Not because he can’t face stardom (tho it has its downsides). Its also because – he realises he has to tell the truth. He cannot lie about what he is doing any more.

C S Lewis said, when someone makes a moral judgement (like Jack saying to himself ‘I ought to tell the truth’), “they think they are saying something … true, about the nature of the proposed action … not merely about their own feelings.”[1] There is something objectively real about the urge pressing on us to act truthfully. And when we act untruthfully, we find ourselves justifying our behaviour to ourselves…as Jack does. But if we don’t believe that decent behaviour is objectively right and we ought to follow this Moral Law, “why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently?”[2]

 

If there is no one who we are ultimately responsible to, why are we built with this moral core, this need to behave morally? Social programming and evolutionary development of society only gets you so far. We don’t feel beholden to abstract principles. No … we are guilty before a person. Jack is caught in the headlights like a frightened rabbit. Why? What is that about?

 

“Surely this ought to arouse our suspicions?”[3] Matter and objects cannot make us guilty, it takes a person to achieve that. A young child drawing on the kitchen wall will not receive punishment from the kitchen table. But when his mother sees what’s he’s done, then he’d better watch out!

 

Surely … our moral obligation points to One who we are ultimately accountable to … a person before whom we are ultimately guilty. A God who is willing and able to communicate, and very interested in right conduct and fair play.[4] It’s before his gaze that I am ultimately guilty.

 

And yet … however real my guilt, a surprise awaits for anyone who faces him. Like’s Jack’s experience in the movie, the outcome is not what we expect. We don’t need to receive judgement. Instead, we can receive acceptance, love and affirmation in spite of it all.

[1] C S Lewis, Miracles A Preliminary Study, (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc, 1977), 36.

[2] C S Lewis, Mere Christianity, (London: William Collins, 2009), 8.

[3] Lewis, Mere, 23.

[4] Lewis, Mere, 30.

Is My Brain Me?

I often hear people saying that I am a complex, biological computer which is located between my ears. I am my brain…my central nervous system…that is me.

Or is it?

 

Fictional stories increasingly today suppose that my mind…or me…is not just my brain. Rather, I am contained within my brain…like a file on a hard drive. And so, before my body dies…my mind will be able to be saved, uploaded to the cloud. I’ll be able to survive the death of my body. Russell T Davies touched on this in his recent series “Years and Years.”

 

These ideas suggest either – I am my brain, or – I am contained within my brain, but can be relocated elsewhere if necessary.

 

I think both of these extremes is mistaken, and I’ll tell you for why.

1 – I Am My Brain

Daniel Dennett has expressed this idea, saying “mind … is the brain, or, more specifically, a system or organization within the brain that has evolved [like our] … digestive system has evolved … the human mind is something of a bag of tricks, cobbled together over eons.”[1] I am my physical brain, physical matter, and chemical biological processes at work. Dennett is basically essentially that “You, your joys and sorrows … sense of identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells.”[2]

Is there a problem with this idea? I think there are MANY problems with this idea. Here’s one.

Let me ask you a question. Does the truth matter to you? Do you need to know where you stand? Do you hate fake news? Do you hate it when people lie to you, and do you try your best to tell the truth? Well – why? Because if my brains just a biological computer…that’s an odd state of affairs.

I say that because if we are our brains, then we result from physical processes. A bit like digestion (Dennett even makes this comparison!) But if my thinking is no different to my digestion…then consider this. The words “true” and “false” are meaningless for digestion. Physical processes are just physical processes. If that’s the situation in our digestive tract, then it’s also the situation in our brains too. Right?

Well hang on. Say I’m a Christian and you are an atheist. Well – then those beliefs are simply how our particular brain chemistry behaves. So what?

But of course – we cannot leave it that way. Truth matters to us. We want to know that we are believing true ideas, and we aren’t being misled by a lie. But if we are just physical…that simply should not be the case! But if we are MORE than just our physical brains…and there’s more to the universe than just stuff…then perhaps that’s why truth is so important to me.

So – that’s one reason I don’t buy that I’m just my brain.

2 – I Am Contained Within My Brain

This idea treats me like a file on a computer disk. What’s that? Well, it’s data, represented as ones and zeros on the disk. So – this idea presupposes that everything about me can be encoded digitally as ones and zeros (or in some other encoding scheme).

The problem is – this idea is confused. I do actually contain information, and my mind can assimilate and use information. So – I cannot just be information. Me – my person – must transcend information in a significant way.

What do I mean? Well first, my body is composed of cells, and those cells are like biological factories teeming with … you guessed it … information. The DNA molecule holds a lot of it.

But also, I assimilate information. As I write this blog, I am generating information that didn’t exist before. And as you read it, you are assimilating that information and considering the arguments that are contained within it. So – me as the producer and you as the receiver – we are both personal minds, who deal in the currency of information.

Consequently, we cannot therefore be decomposed down to information alone. Sure, someone could scan our bodies into a computer. But we would not be there afterwards, though a detailed map of our physical makeup could be.

This idea of me being contained within my brain –  mistakes me “the person” from the information that I deal in and am composed of. It requires me to be physical again, and decomposable to my component parts. But – as we learned before – my mind cannot be physical, this makes no sense.

 

So – if both these ideas don’t describe reality, what are we then? Well – I think the strongest argument can be made for this:

 

3 – I Am a Body With a Brain and also a Mind, or Immaterial Soul

J P Moreland argues the following:[3]

  • I’m aware of myself as distinct from my body. When we shake hands, you aren’t meeting my hand, rather you are meeting me, and we are interacting physically.
  • If I was only physical, then you could describe all there is to know about me from the outside in. But, you can’t.
  • I appear to have free will and moral responsibility.
  • I am the same self over time, even though I age and my body changes (I gather grey hairs, nose hairs, etc) This suggests I’m not my body or my brain, I am my soul.

 

 

If J P Moreland is right, then I am NOT just my brain. I am an immaterial self.

So this suggests that its possible I can survive apart from my body. But I won’t survive as decomposed information. I am an immaterial person with a future on the other side of death.

Surely that’s worth using my mind to think about?

 

 

[1] Daniel C. Dennett, Breaking the Spell Religion as A Natural Phenomenon, (Penguin Books, 2007), 107.

[2] Mark D. Linville, The Moral Argument, In The Blackwell Companion To Natural Theology, edited by William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland, (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 433.

[3] J. P. Moreland, The Soul Why It’s Real and Why It Matters, (Moody Press, 2014).

 

Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

Where Our Longings Lead Us

I was nine, and my Dad bought us tickets to see the new movie that was rocking the world. He was even taking us to the grand Glasgow Odeon…our biggest local cinema in 1977.

I couldn’t wait to see Star Wars. There was just one movie called Star Wars, back then. And when the big yellow words crawled across the giant screen in front of my young eyes…something happened. A longing was birthed within me … I touched a desire for something greater, something more. That sense has stayed with me through my life and I’ve recaptured it from time to time. That desire … that nothing in this real world ever seems close to satisfying.

C S Lewis realised something about the desires I’m talking about:

“The books or music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing … Do what we will, then, we remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy.”[1]

It seems this deep desire is sparked within us by different things. Maybe nature, science or the arts. But it points towards something else. And it’s never ultimately satisfied in this life.

French existentialist and atheist Jean-Paul Sartre said, “There comes a time when one asks, even of Shakespeare [and Star Wars], even of Beethoven, ‘Is that all there is?’” Okay … I added Star Wars into the Sartre quote.

That deep longing, was used by C S Lewis to construct an argument pointing us from the thing that sparked our desire … towards God.

 

1 – Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.

2 – There exists in us a desire which nothing in time, or on earth, no creature can satisfy.

3 – Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth, and creatures which can satisfy it.[2]

 

We long for food. Well, there are many sources of nourishment available to us to eat and drink. We long for relationships and intimacy. Well, there are people with which to relate. We have a deep desire that nothing in life can satisfy… Well. If we are plagued by longings in our lives that nothing in this life seems to satisfy, then surely we were made for another world?[3]

 

My desire points me ultimately towards the God who created me who is able to satisfy me.

 

Andy Bannister observes a number of responses to C S Lewis’s argument from desire.[4]

1 – Just because you desire something does not mean it exists.

I would love to fly in the Millenium Falcon. But that doesn’t mean it’s real. (except in Disney Land, right?)

Yet this is a confusion. That’s not what C S Lewis is talking about. He’s referring to nature, innate desires that are universal. They are within all of us, and bubble up within everyone, whatever our culture.

2 – We don’t always get what we want.

But that’s not the point. I may be hungry but my fridge is empty and the shops are shut. Nevertheless, me being hungry points to the existence of food that will satisfy my hunger.

3 – I’m happy as I am think you. I need nothing, certainly not God.

Is this Pollyanna atheism, an unwillingness to face the consequences of unbelief? Kreeft has gone further, suggesting this response indicates that this needs “something more like an exorcism than a refutation.”[5]

Many atheists have been more honest or self-aware. Bertrand Russell has said:

“The centre of me is always and eternally in terrible pain – a curious wild pain – a searching for something beyond what the world contains.”[6]

 

 

 

I think Russel speaks genuinely and honestly out of despair. And I think C S Lewis speaks to those same unfulfilled desires from a position of positivity and hope and purpose. We do not need to live our lives beating back the same of growing hopelessness. Hope is real, and is actually a Person. Our longings form part of the evidence that He exists and can be known by us.

 

 

[1] C S Lewis, The Weight of Glory (1949; report., New York: HarperCollins, 1980), 30.

[2] Andy Bannister, “Old Truths from Oxford C S Lewis and the New Atheists,” C S Lewis Discipleship of Heart and Mind, http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/Old_Truths_from_Oxford_CS_Lewis_and_the_New_Atheists.

[3] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (London:@ William Collins, 2015), 137

[4] Bannister, “Old Truths”.

[5] Peter Kreeft, Heaven, the Heart’s Deepest Longing (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), 225.

[6] Nicholas Griffin, eh., The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell, Vol. 2: The Public Years (London: Routeledge, 2001), 85.

 

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