Ocean Mist

3 Jul 2009

Some Objections

Posted by Phil

mere-christianityMere Christianity by C.S. Lewis – Book 1 Chapter 2: Some Objections

The first objection often made to the Moral Law is that it may just be our herd instinct.  We may simply be reacting to the situation around us instinctually, which is certainly not the same as having a Moral Law.  Having an instinct to do something means to have a strong desire.  Feeling the desire to help someone is different from feeling that you ought to help them whether you want to or not.  This is a subtle, yet very important, distinction.  If it were just instincts guiding us, the stronger would always have to win.  We should prefer the self preservation instinct over the instinct to save someone in a dangerous situation, but this is often not the case.  Why?  Because there is some other force that guides us to make the choice we ought to make over our instinctual objections.  Plus, there is no one instinct that we can always call “good.”  There must be something else telling us when our natural response is good, and when it is bad.

The second objection is that the Moral Law is merely social convention.  Those who offer this explanation often do so under the false assumption that if we learn something from our parents and teachers, then it must be a human invention.  But we do not believe this is the case with multiplication.  A child in the United States would learn multiplication from his or her parents and teachers, and one in a third world country who has had no schooling would not.  But this does not make multiplication a human construct.  Three times four always has equaled twelve and always will, whether we have learned and understood it or not.

So we have human conventions and real truths, but how to determine which category the Moral Law belongs to?  C.S. Lewis points to two pieces of evidence that suggest the Moral Law should belong to the category of real truth.  The first was stated in the first chapter: the differences in morality across geography and time are really not so great, which puts it in the real truth category.  The differences in human convention (which side of the road to drive on, for example) do differ drastically.  The second piece of evidence to place the Moral Law in the realm of real truth is that we often believe one morality to be better than another.  Most would be willing to state that the Christian morality is much better than the morality adhered to by the Nazis.  If we can compare two moralities, and declare one better than the other, then we must be measuring against some standard.  That standard is the real, true Moral Law.

One cautionary note closes out the chapter.  There is a difference between moral principle and matter of fact.  We believe that burning witches was a terrible mistake made in the past, but it was not a mistake in morality.  Certainly, if we believed that there were people selling their soul to the Devil and using their powers to kill neighbors, those people would deserve the death penalty without question.  The mistake made was in fact, not morality.  We only believe the burning of witches to be a terrible mistake because we now know they do not exist.  You would not call a man humane if he decides to no longer set deadly mouse traps if he only ceases because he believes there are no more mice.

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