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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I'm reading C.S. Lewis's book, Miracles - a classic work of modern Christian apologetics. I think I dipped into this when I was much younger, but I don't believe I've ever read the whole thing.

Many of the arguments are what you'd expect, and they are put nicely, as you'd hope from an author of Lewis's standing... though with a lot of rhetorical flourishes.

All fine. I'm quite enjoying it, and I'm not entirely out of sympathy with Lewis. Well, maybe I am, but he did write some fiction that is still entertaining. At least up to a point.

Anyway... Lewis puts one of the most popular arguments against philosophical naturalism, and this merits a look (if only to sort out where it goes wrong). It's a classic of its kind. But one passage that leapt out at me early in the book included these sentences:

There is, then, a God who is not part of Nature. But nothing has been said yet to show that He must have created her. Might God and Nature be both self-existent and totally independent of each other? If you thought they were you would be a Dualist and would hold a view which I consider manlier and more reasonable than any form of Naturalism.

Which he considers what? I get that he thinks philosophical naturalism is unreasonable, based on his argument against it in the opening chapter, though really it's not a matter of reasonableness so much as truth or falsity - his argument is either persuasive against it or it's not. Or maybe the argument depends on imponderable premises and is difficult to assess. But whatever you make of that, what does manliness have to do with it? Does Lewis want to persusade us to abandon philosophical naturalism because it's - oh noes! - an effeminate philosophical position, a girlie one?

I mean, really, I know this was first published back in the 1940s, when social attitudes were different, and I'm sure this conveyed something to his imagined (presumably male) reader. But really, what is Lewis talking about? Does the idea of manliness have any actual content here, or is it just an otherwise-meaningless word of commendation? Does he mean something like "realistic" or "respectable" or "logical", or perhaps "hard-headed" or "rigorous"? Or what? What is going on here?

What exactly would it have conveyed in 1947, other than what it does now, i.e. that the book is written by a narrow-minded, sexist clown?


Spencer Troxell said...

Unfortunately, the sexist clown option is probably the right one. If you read A.N. Wilson's biography of Lewis (which is pretty sympathetic) you will get a picture of a man somewhat uncomfortable with women, and a little bit confounded by his own sexuality.

He reached inside for his feminine side and grabbed Rudyard Kipling's mustache instead.

Mathew Varidel said...

That's OK.. it just means that only real men that are comfortable with their own sexuality can be naturalists!

Roi des Faux said...

I'd heard great things about him, and was recommended "Mere Christianity". He didn't have me to begin with, but he *really* lost me when he explained why wives must submit to their husbands.

DEEN said...

So why stop at being a Dualist? I mean, can't we posit an infinite number of entities that are self-existent and totally independent of everything else? Wouldn't that be the most ├╝ber-manly position?

thephilosophicalprimate said...

Perhaps Lewis is just a predecessor for this (to my mind rather juvenile) bit of philosophical humor.

March Hare said...

I would have thought the fact he thinks it more reasonable to posit two uncaused, unrelated entities as more sensible and likely than one would be reason enough to ignore any other part of his argument.

Even though he doesn't deserve it, I'll give him an excuse: it isn't about man vs. woman, it's about man vs. child. He thinks naturalism to be a childish position to hold. Whether that's childish in the sense of rebelling or simply immature in some other respect, I do not know.

Marshall said...

I think "manliness" here is a dated word for public respectability: willing to stand up and be counted, take one for the team, to do one's duty. Brian mentioned Lord Jim; although Jim had a momentary lapse, he was "one of us [people like Marlowe]" and he dealt with his failure in a "manly" way. Crazed, but redemptive. Conrad spends a lot of time around 1900 exploring such manliness in a nearly all-male world. Lewis in the post-war 40's (both WWs) was a relic; that kind of courteous absolutism was no longer viable, or even respectable.

As to Lewis' point, isn't it the same as the modern point that Fundamentalists are (although stupid) more honest or respectable than Gould with NOMA or Andersen and her "apophatic god", since at least the former are willing to put their feet down firmly somewhere? "Accomdationists are wishy-washy"? It is easier to argue with splitters than lumpers, but lumping is not per se cowardly, it says here.

As a reader I do prefer Conrad to Lewis. More interesting scenery, better characters, superior stylist. "I do not mean to be offensive; it is respectable to have no illusions -- and safe -- and profitable -- and dull. Yet you, too, in your time must have known the intensity of life, that light of glamour created in the shock of trifles, as amazing as the glow of sparks struck from a cold stone -- and as short-lived, alas!"

pboyfloyd said...

I think that Mr. Lewis chose his words carefully, therefore this word, which looks like a throwaway, but if you are to focus on it, it opens up a giant can of worms inside 'the male mind'.

I can be sloughed off as simply emphasizing that the sky is 'male' while the Earth is 'female', male being powerful, active(weather) and it injects, right past your consciousness the idea of natural versus 'unnatural' sex, for any males who are doubting 'how they ought to be'.

I think it's just a dirty little hypnotic trick telling men that to be a Christian is to be heterosexual. In this one word, we're being told that to be homosexual goes against order itself and nature itself.

Or maybe it's just time for my medication again.

Russell Blackford said...

So, perhaps he meant "mature"; but it still seems odd to equate "mature" with "manly" - unless you think women don't exist or something.

GTChristie said...

I think March Hare nailed it there. Manlier probably means grownup, as in putting away childish things or wearing long pants instead of short.

Svlad Cjelli said...

I'd guess "brave", "gutsy". Clearly, fighting for a lost cause shows more mettle.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Marshall here. Lewis is using "manly" to mean what we'd probably use "stand-up guy" to mean: someone willing to take a clear position and defend it, even if wrong. Antiquated, yes, but exactly the way someone of Lewis' upbringing and vintage would've understood it.

DesertHedgehog said...

My apologies for being Anonymous in my post about 'manliness'. I'll be using this name. But I will say that Marshall is right here (and now I must re-read Conrad!)--- Lewis uses "manly" to mean "stand-up guy".

H.H. said...

I would say he's using "manlier" to mean the stronger, more robust position. Less weak or fragile. Merriam-Webster still lists this definition of manly: "having qualities generally associated with a man : strong, virile."

Hazel said...

He did seem to think that there was something special (in a spiritual sense) to the male form. You get the impression that, for him, one of the advantages of Christianity is the masculine ideal.

This is very clear in his Priestesses in the Church essay where he argues against (surprise!) lady priests.

This is worth a read to the end, if only for the "splutter moment" that this line causes...

It is painful, being a man, to have to assert the privilege, or the burden, which Christianity lays upon my own sex.

I tell you, my heart bled.